Welcome, dear readers, to our Issue 051 author interviews! We have 15 outstanding stories in this issue, and we’re diving deeper into all of them by finding out what inspired our authors to write them. To start us off, we have Jenna Glover and her thoughts on “Peanut Butter Elegy.”
LSQ: This story has one heck of an opening line. How did you come up with it? Did it shape the story, or did the story take shape first?
Jenna: Thank you! The opening line definitely shaped the story. It actually was the very first thing to come to me, which was quite surprising. Usually when I’m brainstorming, vague emotions or character desires kickstart the outlining process. Very rarely do I get something as concrete and specific as a first line, so this was great. It gave me an excellent starting point. I had characters and conflict, I just needed to figure out where they came from and what would happen next. I even had a tone. To say something so devastating so bluntly really told me a lot about the mother’s state of mind, cluing me in to what sorts of things she’d be thinking and doing after such a revelation. The first line is, I think, the only part of the story that has remained the same from first draft to publication. It really was a miracle brainstorm for me. Fingers crossed it happens again sometime.
LSQ: I’m a sucker for stories that blend the mortal and magical worlds together. What made you want to set your story in this kind of world?
Jenna: Mostly because I am also a sucker for such stories. Actually, a lot of my short fiction blends the magical and the mortal, and I don’t really think the two concepts are as separate as we think. At least for me, I come from a religious background, and one of the core beliefs that I struggle with sometimes is the existence and possibility of miracles. I’ve dealt with chronic illnesses my whole life, and “Peanut Butter Elegy” kind of came about from the frustration I felt at there being this miraculous potential in life but not seeing it come true in my own life. Where was my miracle cure? Where was my magical intervention? The mother in this story is a non-magical person living in the presence of magical possibilities, and yet she still suffers from the tragedies of life. What the hell, right? That doesn’t seem fair. That feeling, that disconnect between what you’ve been told is possible and what is actually happening to you right now, that’s where I see the blend of the magical and the mortal. It’s not that one is true and the other is fiction. It’s that they are both true, but there’s friction between them. Every relationship between people, places, and things is fraught with tension. It’s the nature of this life. Navigating that tension, finding goodness in it and in spite of it, that’s magic.
LSQ: At its core, this is a story about grief. The mother lies to Abigail to keep her from grieving, which only makes her own grief harder to bear. What was it like to write from the point of view of someone avoiding the truth, and thus her grief, in this way?
Jenna: Quite eye-opening! The idea of the mother completely denying her own emotional journey is not a new one. Swallowing our negative emotions, bottling them up, and then moving through the inevitable fallout, that’s a common human reaction. It’s very indicative of the stages of grieving, and the early drafts really showcased that. They were very angry, very obvious, a quite linear battle with the mother’s emotions. But that didn’t feel right. I wanted to show something quieter, more intimate and grounded in the almost paralyzing absurdity that is living after a loss.
I redirected my research from the stages of grief to more personal anecdotes and experiences, and I found this really interesting infographic about the nature of grief. Essentially, it said our grief never goes away. When we are first grieving, it feels overwhelming and all-consuming because it is. It is the biggest aspect of our life, and it is taking up too much space. The way through grief isn’t to make the feelings themselves smaller; it’s to make everything else in your life bigger, big enough to contain the grief.
This is what I wanted to convey with “Peanut Butter Elegy.” There is nothing wrong with the mother’s grief and its presence in her life. What’s wrong is that she is not creating space for it to exist. She’s denying it for herself and completely blocking it for her daughter, so it comes bleeding out into her life in other ways, like the hyperfixation on peanut butter. This revelation about grief is also why I wrote the ending (spoilers!) without a clear resolution, without moving the mother through the stages of grief. She’s grieving, and she will have that grief forever, and that’s okay. Grief demands a response not so it can go away and be forgotten, but so we can grow and hold it safely. I never really thought about that before writing this story, so in the end, this experience taught me something new about how I can process my own grief and move forward with it.
LSQ: Who and what inspires your writing?
Jenna: Oh, so many things. In a broad, generic sense, my inspiration comes from just consuming stories. Yes, that means books, movies, TV, games, etc. But also just…being open to seeing a story in whatever is around you. A wayward balloon in the sky. The clicking sound your laptop keys make. The taste of a baked potato (that one got me an entire novel, if you can believe it). I call this practice flexing my wonder muscle, a term I did not coin, but its origins escape me. Basically, it’s just wondering about the world you interact with every day and creating a story from those musings.
On the more specific end of inspiration, I’m a huge fan of John Wiswell’s short stories. One of my favorites is “For Lack of a Bed” which explores chronic pain-induced insomnia with supernatural elements. I have insomnia, and this was the first time I read a story that centered it, and I remember thinking, “We can do that? We’re allowed to write about real-life illnesses and diseases? They can be the focus?”
The thing about chronic illnesses, they stick around. When your friends and family ask you for updates, the answer is the same a lot of the time, and, well, that’s kind of depressing. They get upset, then you feel bad for making them upset, and in the end, you just start keeping it quiet, keeping the peace. This is, obviously, wildly unhealthy to do, but I did it to the point that I kept my own lived experiences out of even my fiction. But seeing chronic illness and disability reflected so boldly and honestly in Wiswell’s work changed the way I look at my own struggles and what I want my writing to do. My stories this past year have been a lot more personal, which is hard sometimes. I take longer to write some stories now. But my writing has improved, my ideas have improved, and hopefully I’m able to maybe inspire readers the same way I was inspired.