Welcome to the blog, Janet. It’s a great thing to have you on here. I’ve been reading, and thoroughly enjoying, your short story collection ‘The Creepy Girl and Other Stories’ – could you tell us a little about it?
Want to tell you first off, Nik, how the collection got its name because it didn’t win the prize—thanks Ted, Lance, again—with that title. I won’t say what it was but basically the editor and my then-agent didn’t like the title, and I remembered what a classmate of mine, Holly Brickley, said about my work: she pulled at the skin on her wrist and said, “Your stories just get under my skin and stay there. You are the Creepy Girl!” I found it to be high praise—the part about my stories getting under her skin, not that she thought it was creepy that they did so—and the editor and then-agent thought it was a great title, and so… Though, I have to say, I never have really imagined myself as a stone statue, in wax perhaps, though.
These stories are very interested in language, its rhythms, its possibilities.
They came out of a place that wasn’t always pleasant to be—sometimes when I’m reading one of them out somewhere, I can feel myself want to cry as I did when I was writing them, but I don’t; well, I haven’t yet —and so they are where my heart was when I was writing them.
Why do you write? How did it start?
I have always written and been encouraged to. My mother was always telling me excitedly that she had a writer. She kept most of my writings from when I was very young and I still have them. I can still hear the teachers telling me that I had such a wild imagination. A crazy head. I don’t think of my imagination as wild or crazy because it is just who I am, how I see things.
If I am not writing, I don’t know who I am. I lose my way.
And why short fiction?
I love short stories, the way you can sit down and read one and carry its feeling with you for the day, hopefully longer.
Novels are wonderful too, and I’m working on one now. We’ll see how long it takes.
How would you describe a Janet Mitchell story? Do you think the short form gives you more opportunity to write in the Janet Mitchell way and to address the themes you address?
A story that is interested in language, at times word-drunk and wants to be read out loud. Lyrical but also tough and pulling no punches. My stories cost me and I want them to. I like to dig myself a hole and then get out of it. And there is probably something about my mother, a mother, someone’s mother. She was one of the loves of my life and she was taken from me too soon.
In terms of short form vs. long form, I believe that a story, the writer, will know its length. Kind of like the way a sculptor sees a piece of marble and can see what is inside there.
As to themes, I’m interested in families, especially mothers, for the reasons I said.
What’s your writing process?
Sitting down and peeling away until I get to a sentence I can go forward with. Same time every day is what I prefer and for as many hours as possible. I prefer same place as well.
What does the word ‘story’ mean to you?
‘Story’ means to me giving testimony, the utterances that only you as the writer could give. Your fingerprint, as it were, in lines on a page.
I do have preferences in the kinds of stories that I want to read. Such as not wanting to read something that anyone could have written and that goes from A to B to C without any risks, any costs to the writer.
I want to be taken places where I haven’t gone before and many times I want to fall in love with what I’m reading. I want to be taken by the hand by the write. I do.
Also, I don’t need a ‘story’ to always tell me a story. They can be just a few lines but if there are the right few lines I’m satisfied.
Whose work do you most admire? Is there anyone who’s particularly influenced your writing?
Jack Gilbert for years now. I take him me. He’s essential. Zbigniew Herbert too.
As for prose writers, Marilynne Robinson. HOUSEKEEPING is essential for me and I read it every few years. The silence in it. That train. Those characters. Those sentences.
Harold Brodkey. Barry Hannah, dear Hannah. Mark Richard. Marquez, especially CHRONICLE OF A DEATH FORETOLD. And Faulkner. And Kesey. And W.G. Sebald.
There are more. There are always more.
What’s next for you?
Working on the novel. Have a story coming out in the next GARGOYLE, “Scenes From A Funeral.”
Could you recommend a short story collection to the readers here?
Anything you’d like to add?
Thank you for having me on, Nik.
JANET MITCHELL received her Master of Fine Arts in Fiction from Columbia University, where she was the Bingham Scholarship recipient. Her work has appeared inThe Brooklyn Rail, The Quarterly, and The Pomona Valley Review and has been optioned by Lifetime Television as well as by independent producers.
She earned her Master of Fine Arts in Film Production from the University of Southern California. Here she won the John Huston Award for Best Director and a Paramount Pictures Fellowship. Her award-winning short film “How Does Anyone Get Old?” starring Mark Ruffalo and Mina Badie was featured on IFC’s “Inside the Indies” and on NBC’s “Starwatch.” The film has been widely acclaimed, including praise from directors Bob Rafelson and Ivan Passer. Her educational video “Behind Closed Doors” won a Cine Golden Eagle and is currently being used in over 250 schools and domestic violence centers nationwide.
She received her Bachelor of Arts from Dartmouth, where she was awarded many honors, including Highest Distinction in English for her creative writing thesis.
She was born and raised in South Jersey, where her heart still resides.
THE CREEPY GIRL was chosen as 1 of the 12 best books of 2011 by the staff of small press distribution.