•  Q&A With WriteByNight Consultant Jessamine Chan

     


    Jessamine Chan, consultant and coachJessamine Chan’s (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
    fiction has appeared in Tin House and Epoch. She has received fellowships and scholarships from Columbia University, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Jentel, the Wurlitzer Foundation, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center, the Anderson Center, the Ragdale Foundation, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She holds an MFA in Writing from Columbia University, where she taught undergraduate academic writing seminars and a fiction workshop, and a BA in English & American Literature, with Honors in Creative Writing, from Brown University. From 2011-2014, she served as a nonfiction reviews editor at Publishers Weekly. She is currently working on a novel.

     

     

    Where are you from?

    I grew up in Oak Park, Illinois. After college in Providence, I moved back to Chicago for many years, then moved to New York for graduate school. I moved to Philadelphia in summer 2014.

     

    Where did you study?

    I earned my BA in English & American Literature, with Honors in Creative Writing, from Brown University, and my MFA in creative writing from Columbia University’s School of the Arts. I’ve also taken four workshops at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

     

    How did you get your start as a writer?

    I’ve always been an avid reader. As a child, becoming a writer never seemed like a viable thing to do. Children of immigrants are supposed to have far more practical dreams, and my parents certainly hoped I’d at least channel my humanities-tendencies into a law career. I considered becoming an English major, with the hope of being a book editor one day, but didn’t imagine writing books myself. During my freshman year at Brown, I was unhappy and considered transferring, but I applied, via the lottery for classes, for a beginning fiction workshop. One day, a neon green index card (this was the late ‘90s) arrived in my mailbox, granting me a spot in the class, and that is literally the reason I started writing. My workshop teacher, Jane Unrue, truly changed my life. I turned in awful (awful!) stories, but Jane saw some talent there, and it was her encouragement and amazing example that put me on this path.

     

    List some of your influences.

    Writers I return to constantly, to hear their sentences aloud and fill my mind with their images: Michael Ondaatje, Marguerite Duras, Anne Carson, Dorthe Nors, Lorrie Moore, Joan Didion.

    For inspiration on the story and plot level: Mary Gaitskill, Rebecca Curtis, Margaret Atwood, Diane Cook, Shirley Jackson, Miranda July, Yoko Tawada.

     

    What is the hardest part of writing for you?

    No part of it is “easy” for me, but I think the hardest task is switching off the self-conscious part of your brain and allowing your thoughts and feelings and ideas to flow on the page. To say the things you’re not supposed to say, write about subjects that feel dangerous. I’ve found that this flow is impeded when I try to compose on the computer, since my instinct is to delete every sentence as I go. Pretty much since I started writing at 18, I’ve composed longhand, which is very slow, but allows me to just move forward, rather than doubling back and trying to make each line perfect. When I write by hand, I can truly get lost in the process of composition, rather than thinking about what a sentence or paragraph or pages of writing will become. Also, there are no high-tech distractions when it’s just you, a pen, and a notebook.

     

    What is the last book your read and what did you think of it?

    The Star Side of Bird Hill, the debut novel by Naomi Jackson. Naomi is a friend, so I came to the book biased. That said, I’d love this novel no matter who wrote it. The characters are richly drawn, and the book’s spirit is big-hearted, even as it attends to a huge amount of family tragedy. I was impressed and enchanted by the amount of wisdom in this novel. Next up, I’m planning to reread 1984 by George Orwell, and Taking Care by Joy Williams.

     

    Where do you see the world of writing and publishing heading?

    Having recently worked in the publishing industry, I’d say the business is going through big transitions, with major bookstore chains closing, e-books becoming more popular, people reading less generally. However, there are so many books published every year, including a staggering number of debuts. If writers and readers want to support this industry, they need to keep buying books, especially in hardcover, especially from independent bookstores. The town where I grew up no longer has a real bookstore, which is tragic! Also, I once heard an agent say that every short story writer has a responsibility to buy short story collections in hardcover – something to consider the next time you go shopping.

     

    Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?

    Keep going! Be willing to radically revise your drafts. Don’t expect perfection on the first, second, third, fourth (and so on) try. Read constantly, and read widely.

     

    Interested in working with Jessamine? Request a free consult now




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