I’ve been pondering the idea that women are writing the best psycho-noirs out there right now. I haven’t really dug too deep in to this idea but I think it could make for an interesting discussion, especially if we try to figure out why. Pillow Talk by Jodi MacArthur certainly lends credence to the idea.
Where are you, right now, as you’re writing these answers?
Where X marks the spot.
Who are your influences and what is your unlikeliest influence?
There are so many influences. It is impossible to list simply, but I’ll bring up one. My grandfather was a military man. He was a gruff, honest person who didn’t speak much. He had tattoos up and down his arms, ear hair, and thick, black rimmed glasses. Most memories of him involve reading books. He’d often read a novel a night, though I’m not sure how he did that with me (and the other grandkids) pestering him so much. I would sit on his lap, pat his tummy, look at the book covers and jabber away about what the stories could possibly be about, and then, after thoroughly exhausting myself, I’d lie back on his big shoulders and stare at his ear hair wondering if anything lived in there. Remembering back, I’m pretty sure he read pulp.
Hmm… maybe the men in pig masks who tried to abduct my mother, siblings and I when they thought we were stranded on a mountain pass. Or maybe a rock I haven’t stubbed my toe on.
Why do you write?
I write from a dark place. It helps me find the light. It is a need as much as a desire.
What issues or ideas about fiction have been foremost in your mind of late?
I’ve been thinking about how the truth of the story trumps technique or style. Which means: It’s more important to say the truth and have the writing be sloppy, than to have the words be preened to a slick slippery sheen and have them mean a pretty fake nothing. Because the writing skill will come if a writer will always tell the truth. But if you sacrifice the truth and have the best writing skills in the world, your writing will always amount to a big smelly pile of lies. And there is nothing to remedy that.
When did you start writing and what prompted you to do so?
I wrote as a child. But only started up as an adult three years ago. I decided this was what a Jodi was made for.
Leaving out the circumstances of why, where, or how. I was sitting in front of the computer one day and pulled up whatever writing software I had. I remember staring at the blinking cursor. The image came to mind of this nasty, old woman who loved cranberries and thought her pet parakeet named Butter was a demon. I started to write about her. Her name was Marley. I wrote her into a story called Killing Angels. I found an online critique site called critters.org, critiqued a couple stories (had NO clue what I was doing), had KA critiqued, rewrote it a few times, and figured out how to submit a story. The first two mags I submitted to wanted it. I was thrilled. Until I realized the dilemma that they BOTH couldn’t have the story. Everyone at critters had told me to plan on being rejected, so I had simultaneously submitted (sounds like a disease). After writing to both the magazine editors and explaining the situation (like a newbie), they both promptly turned the story down, breaking my heart.
Lesson learned? Anyone can get a reject. Prepare for success.
The story was accepted immediately by another magazine. Right before publication they wrote me and said, “We’re sorry, we decided to pull the story. But please, feel free to submit again sometime!” That was after we had signed a contract. That one made me mad. That was a breaking point. Either I was going to work harder and show these editor people that they couldn’t possibly afford to lose me or I was going to quit. At this point, I had written 10-15 more shorts and began the editing/learning curve that any new writer will jump on if they are in it to win it. I decided to stay in and went on to get rejects for at least another year or more. My goal moved on from writing short stories to wanting to write novels. But I felt like I needed to have a good handful of pro rate magazines in the resume. I met a wonderful person and writer named Sean Ferrell who gave me a good email/pep talk. He said you don’t need “their” approval. You’ve got everything you need inside you. You work at your own pace, when you want, what you want. You don’t need an editor of a preppy magazine to say, ‘Oh, now that you are with us. You’re good enough. Now you can write a novel and retain a high profile agent.’ (I’m paraphrasing this, of course). I realized that he was right. I was letting the approval of others hold me back. That night I felt a cord was cut. It was amazing. I had never felt more free in my writing. I began my first novel, Devil’s Eye, the very next day. Now, I write and submit whatever the hell I want, to wherever the hell I want, because I want too, not because I want somebody’s approval or because I feel I need to be on someone’s elite list to get somewhere. It’s a wonderful feeling and I believe I have a broader, more diverse audience because of it. Sit back and I’ll show you how it’s freakin’ done. *Flexes fingers*
What do you most value in the fiction you love?
Truthfulness. Originality. Strong voice. Fearlessness. Vulnerability. Joy. Risk taking.
How would you describe your style?
I try to apply what I value.
What’s your favorite story written by someone else?
My favorite story/novel in the entire universe is David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.
What is the value and purpose of short fiction in mystery/crime fiction for you personally and overall for the form and genre?
I’ve loved crime fiction since I can remember. I don’t remember the first stories I read, but I know Sir Conan Arthur Doyle really sparked my imagination when I was younger. “The game is a foot!” Also, at one point during my teen years, I turned to adult crime novels. I wasn’t impressed. There were a couple good ones, but plain ol’ mystery I found to be very much like romance. Cookie cutter. I discovered Alfred Hitchcock Mystery magazines after someone started donating them to the library. The short stories were twisty turny condensed explosions of who done it fun. And it wasn’t always who done it. They had variety. I liked that then. I still do now.
Who is the best short story writer that people haven’t gotten hip to yet?
Oh geez. This is quite the absolute question. The best short story writer nobody’s heard of? Gah. Most people who write well and keep at will stick out eventually. And the ones who don’t stick out and aren’t given as much recognition and credit in their field(s) are usually too busy writing and completing a manuscript to socialize in the interweb worlds. Two that come to mind are the amazing, excellent noir writer Pamela Payne and the quirky-every-genre-writer-in-the-world-but-I-really-love-his-horror-serial-killer-stories (like Don’t Go Down in the Basement), Sean Monaghan.
What do you like most about short fiction?
It’s like dynamite. Light the fuse and toss.
Of your stories, which is your favorite; the one that showcases best your abilities?
My abilities? Who are we fooling? I go fishing in the Sea of Imagination, and up pop these characters and their stories. I don’t feel “I” have anything to do with it. So, I feel they should get the credit and not my “talent” or “abilities”. I honestly can’t tell which story/character the audience will connect with. I will say that Henrietta from Pillow Talk & Buffalo Gal made quite a splash this last winter with readers. There is something when writing Henrietta that is real, dark, and vulnerable. Her voice is strong and she wants to be heard. There are many stories to come, and possibly a novel she has to tell.
Do you have any short story publications forthcoming?
I can’t announce many of them yet because they are TOP SECRET. But I will say several (Yes, crime and pulp!) anthologies, e-books, and ezines later this year. There is always an ongoing mass of publications in the works and I try to keep that updated on my site (which I will admit to be lazy about as of late. I remodeled the site, and have been ill the last couple of months, and haven’t put things back together, so…ugh). I’m very fortunate to have open invitations from magazines and editors, so I kind of flit and float between here and there and everywhere. You can always find me at the mighty Pulp Metal Magazine, home of my ongoing pirate series, The Wicked Woman’s Booty. Big thank you to Jason Michel.
Where can readers check out some of your work?
At my website www.jodimacarthur.blogspot.com you can click on the fiction links off to the side (or the top- I’m always changing, not sure which works better). However, if you’d like to specifically read some of the crime/noir/suspense stories I’ve written over the years, here’s a couple titles for you. Pillow talk, Buffalo Gal, Rigged, Painted Black (scroll down), Halloween Games, WildCard, Art, Hollow Secrets, Rabid.
What are you working on now?
Several things as usual! I’m mainly focused on final drafts of my novel, Xscents. I’ve been researching ants, coca plants, gypsies, South American drug cartels, Peru, Gotca Falls, Soviet war in Afghanistan, Attila the Hun, and… pheromones, the sense of scent. On Sundays, I write pirates. And usually one or two days a week I take a break from Xscents to write on a fresh short story or edit a current short story. Or work on a poem to get my mind to twist in a new direction. I like variety.
How do you plan to rectify your booklessness?
The Plan for World Domination:
A: Finish Xscents and begin querying this summer.
B: Start editing Devil’s Eye this summer and query next spring.
C: Finish 1st draft of Glas Voyeur on a break between drafts of Devil’s Eye.
D: Rinse and Repeat.
I’ll keep this up until I find a good agent, or until hell freezes over. Even when I find an agent, I plan on keeping up this pace, just hopefully producing more fruit. I still feel like I’m a kitten with a ball of yarn. I’m making more of a mess than anything, and having a real good time.
Do you have a completed manuscript floating around?
Almost! It’s the almosts that kill you.
Care to tell us about it and maybe share a paragraph or two?
In The Beginning
and when they had fallen asleep
the women brought the men to the
tunnels, where they attached their
feet to iron balls and chains
they came to capture
and became the captured
ironies of life
keep us chained
to the same patterns
cocaine holds nothing
to desire held at arm’s length
between a man and a woman
in the end, this power
consumes us all
Note: This might possibly be one of the oddest books I have or ever will write.
Exiled in deep southern Texas, Jodi is a Seattle author hoping to write her way back to the Pacific Northwest. She writes omnivorous fiction favoring fable, suburban punk, pulp, horror, and bizarro.