Jennifer Acker is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Common and has published several short stories, translations, and essays. Her forthcoming works in 2019 include a long personal essay from Amazon Original Stories and her debut novel, THE LIMITS OF THE WORLD. She will appear on the panel Writing the Short Story. She was interviewed by Linda Rowland-Buckley.
I’ve loved both reading and writing since I learned to follow words on a page. My great-grandmother was an amateur poet, and although I don’t remember her, my grandmother used to read me her verses. I won a statewide poetry competition when I was young and was flattered to read my piece in front of the governor! Sad to say, my poetry abilities left me a long time ago, and I’m now squarely a prose writer.
Would you tell us about your writing process?
I usually start with a character in a situation I find interesting. Some kind of “fish out of water” story or a vexed ethical dilemma. I love building characters and setting scenes; it’s creating a tight narrative that is the bane of writing for me. Getting through a first draft is therefore pretty painful. I relax when I enter the revising and editing process.
What are your writing goals?
To write something that other people want to read! And that explores some thought or issue that’s been bubbling up inside me.
What inspired you to found The Common?
Being a word person who had worked in a variety of trade and freelance publishing jobs, I wanted to start a literary venture closer to home, one that would build literary community. I was also beginning to notice the many ways in which the constant mobility of modern society is somewhat in tension with many people’s desire to be from somewhere and to identify with a particular place.
The Common has published several reputable authors and poets including Lauren Groff, who is shortlisted for the National Book Award for FLORIDA, her new book of stories, Rafael Campo as well as Sarah Smarsh, who is also shortlisted for the NBA in Nonfiction for her memoir HEARTLAND. Can you offer a piece of writing advice you have garnered over the years as Editor, or just the best suggestion you have received as a writer?
Publishing is a dance between one’s own ideas and language, on the one hand, and the concerns and expectations of readers on the other. In America, we have a wonderful editorial system that connects editors and writers so that they can work together to honor both forces/constituencies. It’s essential, in this process, to be both honest and humble. I’m very grateful for what I’ve learned from the writers I’ve had the pleasure of working with, and I believe they have learned something from me as well.
Would you like to give us a hint about the writing project you’re working on now?
Right now I’m revising a long personal essay that will be published with Amazon Original Stories next year. It’s about the impacts of illness on my marriage. I’ve never written so revealingly about myself, so facing up to these revisions is a bit intimidating!
Your debut novel THE LIMITS OF THE WORLD will be released in 2019. Can you describe it for us?
Thanks for asking! The novel is about three generations of an East African Indian family, the Chandarias. The book explores cross-cultural and intergenerational conflicts, and the ways in which we think about making moral decisions.
You’ll be a part of the Short Story panel this year. Can you say a bit about what you are planning?
I’m looking forward to talking about what goes into selecting, editing, and publishing short fiction in The Common.