I Predict a Word Riot
Interview by Lee Rourke.
Jackie Corley’s writing is pretty damn original, avoiding the hipsters of a la mode hotspots such Manhattan’s East Village and Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and instead imbedding itself in the vast suburban sprawl of New Jersey. I first heard of Jackie Corley a long time ago, when I stumbled upon her great literary site Word Riot. I remember thinking that she must be pretty damn cool to have set up such an interesting platform for new and exciting fiction and poetry. I was even more impressed when I began to read her own writing. Its immediacy struck a chord in me, even though I knew nothing of working-class New Jersey and its environs Corley’s topographical and social portraits of suburban ennui seemed familiar to me. There is something of the marginalised individual in her writing, something of the other, of the lower order of things. Her writing reminds me of growing up in working-class Manchester and wondering what it was like to live in London and then learning not to care what it was like. It has that same ‘so what’ attitude possessed by most Mancunians, but unlike your average mouthy Manc Corely’s voice is subtle and multi-layered, littered with nuance and studied bathos, sometimes so subtle you’re almost hoodwinked into a false sense of hope or security, the idea that something will lift you from such doldrums. But this bathos isn’t some nadir, some low point of Corley’s writing, like in Beckett it is something to be celebrated. There is poetry in her portrayal of the everyday. In her debut collection The Suburban Swindle we are treated to a realism of suburban distaste, dislocation and longing. A dense, rather edgy book that outwits the ubiquitous pull and bright lights of New York and instead embeds itself within the ordinary.
3:AM: Is the short story, as a genre, important to you as a writer?
JC: I personally prefer working on novels to working on short stories. No matter what I’m working on I feel some sort of intimate attachment to my characters. Characters have such short life-spans; they’re sort of born terminally ill. You spend a couple days, months, years, whatever with your characters and then you have to let them go. I like novels because you can stretch out and enjoy your time with your characters. Short stories allow you a more piercing glimpse into your characters lives and because of that small, intimate space, the language is necessarily tighter, more efficient. Artistically, I think I’m better at short stories than novels because I won’t let myself wander as far. But I really love the expanse of novel.
3:AM: How long did Suburban Swindle take to write?
The first story I ever wrote was ‘Catfish Boys’ and that was in 2003 and the last piece in the book, ‘Fine Creature’, is from a novel I’ve been working on. I think that excerpt is from 2007. I didn’t write the short stories with any particular plan in mind. I sort of wandered into them when I needed a break from novel writing and there was a particular scene or image unrelated to the novel that I wanted to follow.
3:AM: Is there a certain audience/demographic you are writing for?
JC: Bored suburban teenagers and twenty-somethings. Not so much hipsters as disenchanted, angry punk rocker types. I think P.H. Madore is representative of the demographic my writing is aimed for.
3:AM: Your stories are short, yet there is a weight to them, can you discuss the themes which influenced the writing?
JC: A lot of folks have said the stories are gritty or edgy or dark or whatever. I don’t set out with the intention of writing a heavy story. Like, I’m kind of shocked when the stories are called violent because the violence in the book is sort of inserted in the middle of these bored, typical worlds. The violence upsets the characters and their order because they are used to a non-violent world.
My main objective is to explore naked emotions, without gimmicks, without irony. I can veer toward the sentimental, so I have to watch myself with that. But I aim for brutal emotional honesty.
Class consciousness is a pretty big theme for me. I was raised in an upper middle class environment that I felt somewhat apart from. My circle of friends was working class/lower middle class and I’ve always sort of bought into the mythology of the working class hero. When I became a reporter, my coverage area was very blue collar and I felt very comfortable in that setting. Some political blogger who didn’t like my reporting called me the “Queen of White Trash” and it was this huge badge of honor for me. I think a lot of my writing is informed by a level of class awareness or discomfort.
3:AM: Which other writers have influenced you?
JC: I’m a huge J.D. Salinger junky. Norman Mailer is brilliant, so are Ernest Hemingway and Walt Whitman. Flannery O’Connor is one bad-ass female. I think F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is the most perfect novel there is. I’ve read it a bunch of times and I’ve got an audiobook of it on my iPod that I listen to once a month. I read Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis and didn’t think much of it, but I read American Psycho recently and I thought it was pretty ingenious stuff. Hubert Selby Jr.’s Last Exit to Brooklyn is pretty mind-blowing, as well.
3:AM: Why do you think the short story collection is in a healthier position in the US, compared to Europe?
JC: I think in the major publishing world in the US, the short story collection is on life support. But in terms of independent presses, both in the US and in Europe, the market is incredibly strong. There seem to be new presses publishing impressive short fiction collections popping up every couple months. It’s an exciting time to be involved with small press.
3:AM: Has the internet played its part in strengthening its position? It seems more short stories are published online now than at any other point in its history?
JC: Internet readers are accustomed to receiving written information in shorter doses, and that’s why you’ve seen the success of so many long-running online magazines. And the result of those Internet magazines has been the creation of these communities of people all over the world who will go a plunk down $10 to read a short story collection by some hip new writer.
3:AM: Tell us about Word Riot?
JC: Word Riot is an online literary magazine that I co-founded with Paula Anderson in 2002. We publish fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, book reviews and author interviews. Our focus is on up-and-coming writers.
3:AM: Have you unearthed real talent in Word Riot’s history?
JC: I don’t that we’ve singularly unearthed anybody (the internet is such a collective — a Word Riot writer is a 3:AM Magazine writer is a Pindeldyboz writer, quite often). But we’ve certainly published writers who are making names for themselves. I consider David Barringer an uber genius in terms of writing and design. That guy is so under-appreciated. I have no idea why a mega publisher hasn’t snapped him up.
We’ve published Pia Z. Ehrhardt and Blake Butler. An agent signed Blake Butler after reading a story of his on Word Riot. I’m really proud that Word Riot has some footnote in the Blake Butler juggernaut. Blake has grown tremendously as a writer these past few years.
3:AM: Who are your favourite contemporary writers? Are there any we should look out for?
JC: I think Everyone’s Burning by Ian Spiegelman is one of the best works of contemporary fiction out there. Kevin Sampsell, Amanda Stern and Stephen Elliott are fantastic, as well.
Word Riot Press authors Nick Antosca, David Gianatasio and Timmy Waldron should be on everybody’s radar.
3:AM: How has The Suburban Swindle been received?
JC: The reviews have been pretty positive, much more generous than I expected.
3:AM: What’s next for you? Are you working on another collection?
JC: I’m working on a novel tentatively titled Fine Creature. It’s my sex and politics book. I’m having fun with it, even if it’s all dark and noir-y.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, July 29th, 2009.