- Joan Schweighardt
Spotlight on Jayne Martin
I first interviewed Jayne Martin (for Occhi Magazine) when her flash fiction story collection, Tender Cuts, launched this time last year. I knew nothing about flash writing at that time. To help me better understand, Jayne quoted Toni Morrison: “It’s what you don’t write that frequently gives what you do write its power.” And its beauty, I would add. I’ve been a fan of flash ever since, and when I heard that Jayne had written a flash memoir, I had to interview her again. If you’ve not yet encountered flash writing, you’re in for a treat.
How has your career writing for movies and TV influenced your literary career?
Screenwriting is the quintessential example of the writing adage, “Show, don’t tell.” I learned to think in scenes, to visualize what I wanted to see on the screen. To tell a story through action. To enter a scene in medias res, move the story forward, and end the scene such that the viewer/reader wants more. Such skills made writing flash/micro in both fiction and now memoir a natural fit for me.
Please summarize what The Daddy Chronicles is about.
To put it simply, my father never wanted me. By the time I was born, he was forty-two, ten years older than Mother, and he’d had her to himself since she was just seventeen. Theirs was a lifestyle of gambling, travel, drugs, alcohol, and no responsibilities to tie them down. But my mother wanted a child, and as I grew to take over her body, so grew his resentment. She left him to come home to her family while still pregnant.
In a series of fragmented vignettes, the book charts my earliest memories of my father, in and out of our lives as my parents attempted and failed to reconcile, through my adult years as I continually sought out emotionally unavailable men and threw myself into trying to get them to love me. This is a typical pattern for fatherless daughters, who also are prone to use sex as a substitute for love, to conflate the two. One out of three women in the U.S. identifies in some way as fatherless—emotionally, physically, through death or divorce. It’s a staggering statistic. While as an adult I learned to understand and even forgive my father, the child inside me was still in pain. Writing this book allowed her to finally have her say. This book is ultimately about her healing.
Having won numerous awards for your flash fiction, what made you decide to write a memoir at this time?
Oddly, I’d never thought of doing so. The book came upon me kind of like an unplanned pregnancy. I only knew I wanted to write a collection of linked stories. I was in a flash fiction workshop with Meg Pokrass—where I wrote the opening story, “The Other Woman,” about a woman whose married lover fails to show up for their date, and “First Love,” about a baby in a playpen whose father drowns out her cries by increasing the sound on the television—when I was struck by an epiphany. They were the same character, and that character was me. From there, the need to fill in those years would not let go. I was surprised by the anger and heartache I was still carrying around. The book seemed to write itself. I had a first draft in a month, and I’ve never experienced anything like that in my entire writing career. I felt a real need to connect with other fatherless daughters because all my life I’d felt broken in ways I thought were unique to me.
The flash structure seems especially appropriate for memoir writing. But I imagine every detail has to really count, has to take the reader farther faster. Talk about the challenges of writing memoir in flash as opposed to writing flash fiction. Do you start with lots of material and whittle down, like a sculptor?
For me, writing this book was a process of discovery. I didn’t have lots of material. I didn’t know what I had until I began writing, just putting one memory after another, and sometimes new ones would pop up that had been long buried and they’d surprise me. Eventually, I had a structure and from there I began to fill in the connective tissue. It was kind of like those connect-the-dot drawings for children, where the picture slowly emerges as you connect more and more dots.
If I’m not mistaken, Mom, Daddy, Franny, and Sam are the only precisely designated people in the book. Others are more loosely labeled: the-boy-who-likes-me, the-woman-who-is-my-therapist, the-girl-who-is-not-my-sister … Yet somehow this method seems more exacting than if you had simply changed people’s names. How did you decide to work this way?
When you give a character a name, it gives that character a certain amount of weight, and the reader expects to learn more about them in the context of the story. I wanted to keep the reader’s focus on my narrative. This way of labeling these characters was completely organic. I didn’t stop and think “how am I going to handle this?” It’s the way they appeared, and it felt right. Often in writing the “feeling” is all you have to go on.
Please provide an overview of Tender Cuts, your previous book. Do the characters in Tender Cuts have anything in common with the people we meet in The Daddy Chronicles?
Tender Cuts is a collection of microfiction, each story under three hundred words, that captures the characters at moments of most vulnerability. In these thirty-eight tiny tales, everyday people do their best to manage the types of wounds life inflicts on all of us. In hindsight, I realized that what I have in common with all of them is that they are dealing with these challenges on their own. A common trait among fatherless daughters is a fierce independence. This “I’ll do it myself” attitude comes from deep trust issues formed in childhood when the adults could not be counted on to provide a safe, stable environment. Aside from my father’s abandonment, there was a lot of alcoholism in my family, a lot of moving from place to place, as you’ll read in the chapter “Pinball.” That’s exactly how I felt, like a pinball always batted about at the hands of others. As a result, I grew into an adult with strong control issues that I’m working on even to this day.
Jayne Martin is a Pushcart, Best Small Fictions, and Best Microfictions nominee, and a recipient of Vestal Review’s VERA award. Her collection of microfiction, Tender Cuts, from Vine Leaves Press, was published in 2019. The Daddy Chronicles: Memoir of a Fatherless Daughter came out in December 2021 with Whiskey Tit Books. She lives in California but dreams of living in Paris. Find out more about her at www.jaynemartin-writer.com. Follow her on Twitter (@Jayne_Martin) or on Facebook at Jayne Martin-Author.