After his story Sammy went up in the August issue of PANK, Jason Jordan posted some interesting thoughts on the genesis of his story. That inspired us to start an interview series where we talk with PANK contributors about their writing and other fun things. First up, Jason Jordan, editor of decomP talking about Sammy, seals and subtext.
1. Over at your blog, you explain that this story came about after you saw a pattern in the shower stall that looked like a seal and then you thought, what if a seal just appeared in a guy’s bath tub. Does your mind always work like that?
I think so. Usually I start with an idea or image and move from there. I never sit down to write if I don’t have an idea first.
2. This story details a scenario that (as far as we know) is not possible so it demands from the reader the suspension of disbelief. Having said that, I wasn’t distracted by the fantastic nature of the overall premise because you wrote so convincingly and rationally. How did you manage that?
I’ve discovered that there’s a fine line between being too concerned with the fantastic elements and not concerned enough. Balance is key. For instance, I think it’s important to avoid dwelling on the logistics, so I didn’t include exactly how or why Sammy appeared in the bathtub. Yet, I did include his diet because that was easy to explain and didn’t steal focus from the main narrative. The more technical aspects you include, the more questions they’ll raise. Most readers are more than willing to suspend their disbelief. I think we want to believe extraordinary things can happen that can’t be explained rationally.
3. I sensed a lot of subtext in this story, particularly in terms of protagonist trying to make money using Sammy as an attraction, and plying his trade on children, and then we have the ending which I found brilliant. Was this subtext deliberate or something I brought to the story as a reader?
Yes, it was deliberate. Lately I’ve been trying to infuse my stories with more specific, intended meaning than I used to. I try to refrain from being preachy, because I’m not an activist or anything, so I don’t feel that I’m in the position to get on a soapbox. Rather, I simply point out some things that, in my opinion, are worth considering.
4. If you actually encountered a seal or other sea animal in your bath tub, would you be able to deal with the situation rationally?
Yep! Actually, it depends on the animal. Seals are seen as innocuous, so I wouldn’t feel vulnerable getting close to one, aside from normal apprehension. If it were a shark, stingray, or crocodile/alligator, I’d feel differently, of course.
5. There seem to be a great many writer/editors. Why do you think there is such a cross over between writing and editing? Does editing make us better writers?
I think editing does make us better writers in the sense that it teaches us what we like, what we don’t like, and why, which can help in the writing process. It’s certainly instrumental in a dos and do nots kind of way. Otherwise, I believe I’m an editor because I love to read, provide an outlet for great work, and champion it. Also, editing can serve as inspiration, prodding me to write, as well as give me another acitivity. Both can be very rewarding.
6. Was Sammy the only title you came up with for this story? If not, what were some of the others?
Yes, it was. It’s strange because I usually start with a shitty title, change it to something I’m okay with, and then, either settle or try to find a truly great title, a rarity.
7. What is your writing process like?
I used to fret when I read about writing process, because it’d always convince me that I’m not writing often enough. But, over the past few years, I’ve accepted that everyone’s process is different, and that’s all right. We all have schedules that we prefer–not that they can’t be altered.
Typically I wait until an idea inspires me enough to write about it. Then I try to hammer out the first draft in an evening, or, at the most, a couple days in a row. From there, I’ll send the first draft to my reader–Nick Ostdick, who does a phenomenal job giving me useful feedback–and revise according to his advice. I read the revised version aloud, testing diction, rhythm, and sentence length. I tinker until I’m ready to submit it to a few places. If I rack up several rejections, I usually revise again. It’s easier when you’re confident about the quality of a story. If you aren’t, that compounds the difficulty.
A few months ago I decided to write at least one, “finished” story per month. I keep a list of them on a Post-It by my computer, so there’s evidence. Sherrie Flick recommended doing this. One may not seem like that much, but it’s a pace I’m comfortable with. Some say that you shouldn’t wait for inspiration to strike, though it always does sooner or later, and it’s much more fun to write when you want to.
8. Are aquariums and zoos cruel and unusual to animals?
Yes and no. This is naturally an issue that I bring up in “Sammy.” I understand the pros of zoos–people learning more than they would if they didn’t visit, being able to see exotic animals firsthand, and others. However, the con is that a zoo imprisons animals that should be roaming free. But then that brings up the issue of domesticated animals, which, I think, lead happier lives on average than ones in zoos. Still, ethics aside, zoos make money, and as long as they do, they’re here to stay. I don’t have any solutions to any perceived problems in this regard, nor do I pretend to. Like I said, it’s just something to think about.
The original ending didn’t have “Myself included” as the final line. Another editor told me it “rings a bit sanctimonious”–an understandable complaint. I think I was relying too heavily on the reader to notice the irony–hey, this guy is imprisoning an animal and making money off him, which is hypocritical–but ultimately decided to force him to acknowledge his hypocrisy. Plus, I was trying to avoid the cliche ending of a person freeing zoo animals.