Jazmine is a fascinating and conflicted character. What was it like to write from her point of view?
Jazmine was a bit of a departure for me as a character, and I have to admit she was fun to write. As a polite and kind person, as I like to think of myself, it’s oddly liberating to try to access the mind of someone who has unthinkable impulses and explore the monster within us all. In that way, she’s somewhat similar to the protagonist in my short story “The Lake,” who literally becomes a sea monster as an outward manifestation of her predatory nature. I’m not sure there is a “fix” for Jazmine, just as there are people who actually cannot be fixed and make us unsafe in their midst. What’s most interesting to me about Jazmine is that, unlike my character in “The Lake,” she can SEE another way to be, and strives to fit herself into an acceptable mold, but she ultimately seems helpless to control herself. In that way, some readers might see her as a bit tragic.
The last time I interviewed you back in 2012, you said that all of your supernatural stories, “. . . are metaphors for true life challenges and observations.” What challenges and observations are you tackling in “Migration?”
One disclaimer: Jazmine is a bit of a guilty indulgence and really does not represent any of my own true-life struggles. Sure, drivers are annoyed by cyclists, but we all understand that we can’t simply run people down with our cars because their presence on the road annoys us. Maybe Jazmine is just an acknowledgment of those impulses most of us suppress to the point that we don’t notice them. Maybe the “demon” is a lack of a filter. But I have found that I usually have no need to search for a purely supernatural explanation for human evil. It exists fine on its own. If anything, this story plays with the line of “Is she possessed?” or “Is she just a terrible, violent person?”
Tell us about your process. Do you typically begin with a particular character in mind? Or does the idea/situation/plot come first?
My process is most often a combination of character and premise, or alternating between the two. In this case, I believe the story came premise first: What if an exorcism didn’t work? Then the character emerges: What would it feel like to realize you had foreign impulses inside of you that you cannot control?
Congratulations on your first short story collection, Ghost Summer: Stories, being nominated for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work, Fiction! How are you feeling about the reception it’s been getting?
Short story collections can be difficult to publish, and I seriously considered self-publishing it when my commercial publisher did not want it. But I had a long-standing relationship with editor Paula Guran, and I was pleased with Prime Books’ publication of Nnedi Okorafor’s Kabu Kabu, so I decided to give Prime a try. We’re now in a second printing, which I’m grateful for. I also just had the astounding experience of optioning it to a TV network to create a TV pilot with my husband and collaborator, Steven Barnes. So now, of course, I’ll never shut up about how writers should work on short fiction even while they continue to work on novels, for a variety of reasons: short stories are faster to finish than novels, easier to publish, and they can help establish writers much faster. A good short story might also be nominated for an award and help a writer build a name that would make it easier to publish a novel later. Collections may still be challenging to publish, but individual stories can make a big difference. Even as an established writer, I have learned that many readers are discovering my work for the first time because of my short stories. My experience with Ghost Summer has only further convinced me that short stories will always be a part of my life.
What’s up next for you?
I am working on a novel set at a haunted reformatory in Florida, and I’m hoping to finish that this year.
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