The Writer’s Handful with Jeff Jacobson

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Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

Jeff Jacobson will make your skin crawl. Really. Well, not Jeff, exactly—because he is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever want to know—Jeffory Jacobson’s writing will make your skin crawl. His work lives in the creepy shadows, he digs into the muddy plots of our nightmares, preys on our irrational (and our rational) fears. And he’s funny.

SLEEP TIGHT. FOODCHAIN. WORMFOOD. The titles of his novels sound almost innocent…His next one, due out in July, is called GROWTH. How scary can that be? Answer: very. And not just scary, but good. Very, very good.

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Welcome Jeff!

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

Fuck yes. I’m staring down the barrel of a deadline for my next novel, so whether the writing is good, bad, or ugly, it’s gotta get done. This one is about a small town under siege from a nasty threat slithering out of the cornfields. Basically, I’m exploiting concerns and fears about GMOs and the role food plays in our lives, but of course, as usual, the serious stuff is buried inside a goofy plot about monsters eating people.

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

The first thing longer than a page that I remember creating was a story called “Creature from the Black Swamp” somewhere around the first grade. I think it was essentially a retelling of “The Creature From the Black Lagoon,” where an adventurer/explorer hero goes searching for Bigfoot, and the monster tears the hell out of everything. Clearly, my writing has really evolved since I was a kid. The first time I ever felt a story take off and leave my control was my junior year of high school. A twist came out of nowhere and knocked me sideways and I felt the hair rise on the back of my neck. Later, I discovered that particular twist has been done a million times and it’s a godawful cliché, but at that particular moment, Sleep Tight Coverwhen I didn’t know it was a cliché, man, it fucking ruled. 

What are you reading right now?

I’m rereading A Feast of Snakes, by Harry Crews, to get a feel for how he tackled the POV shifts in a small town. Plus, it’s just flat-out amazing.  Sometimes I’ll read it out loud before I dive into my own stuff and hope that some of it will leap out of the book and into my own voice.  

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

Pretty much every rule I’ve ever read about writing has an exception, so I suppose the simplest advice is the best. I first encountered it from Joe R. Lansdale, but I think he heard it from someone else. Anyway, it wasn’t complicated. “Put your ass in front of a typewriter.” You can argue with just about any “rule” about writing, but you can’t really find a crack in the sentiment that if you want to be writer, you gotta write. The only other “rule” that I try to follow is pretty absolute as well: “If you want to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader.” You could try to argue with that one, but you’d be wrong.

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

God, how I long to say that my writing is like a Great White Shark, because it’s a fast, sleek, killing machine with a mouth full of teeth. But it wouldn’t be honest. I have too much fun pushing things to ridiculous extremes. So I’d have to say that my writing is more like one of those bears that’s been trained to ride around a circus on a tricycle. It’s sort of threatening when they first bring it out, then you get to laugh at the absurd image, and just when you least expect it, the bear lunges into the audience and rips somebody’s face off so they have to shoot it with tranquilizers before it kills anybody else.

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Jeff Jacobson‘s most recent novel, GROWTH, will be released this summer. His short stories have appeared in All American Horror of the 21st Century, Read by Dawn, and the forthcoming Cemetery Dance anthology Shocklines. He teaches Fiction at Columbia College Chicago and lives near the city with his family and far too many animals.


→Thanks, Jeff, for the chat. Feeling a little afraid of going to sleep tonight now, though. Anyway, thanks everyone, as always, for reading! – PMc←

3 Replies to “The Writer’s Handful with Jeff Jacobson”

  1. I enjoyed reading this and I especially enjoyed that bear on a tricycle and the thought of Patty not being able to sleep… and then this spilled out…. so I gift it to Jeff Jacobson and to Patty.

    It looked sort of sweet and silly at the same time. The bear was so big and so brown that it was almost black and its face was so serious or so blank. And it was pedaling a tricycle made for an infant. And it was steering it round the full curve of the ring and everyone was laughing and clapping and pointing.

    And then I was that bear all hunched over and my legs all cramped and crumped and so many fingers pointing at me, and all of them sharp as knives and the laughter sharp too. And I made a noise somewhere in the back of my throat, a low and muffled growl and no one heard. No one ever hears, and it is like the rumble of thunder far off and the sky darkens and I taste metal or blood on my tongue.

    Still they laugh and they jeer and they throw popcorn at me and peanuts in their shells. And I see that they feel safe and they do not know, do not notice the tensing of my muscles or my teeth beginning to grind together or my crushing paws clenching the handles of the too small red tricycle. And there’s music playing somewhere, a song I recognize, that plays over and over inside my head, all brassy and blown, and a thumping drum fast like the beating of blood, and fright-full cymbals clashing.

    Twice round the ring and one more for luck, that’s what I know. Only, tonight I don’t feel right. The music or the crowds, there’s something wrong. Maybe a smell that’s different, like honey or musk or last year’s wet leaves, and it reminds me of forests and birdsong and the play of light through the trees. And the smell taunts me, and it has pointed fingers and laughter, and something in me breaks, like the sky split open with a bright jagged light and a godly handclap of thunder.

    I leap off the tricycle and in one sleek slippy bound I am out of the ring and into the audience, and the laughter there turns to cries and the people drop their hands and flee and I lash out in all directions, and my claws scissor the air to ribbons of red and the growl that was inside me is let out and the people hear me then.

    And behind me there’s a man with his eyes wide and his voice its own growl and he cracks a whip, and another man beside him cracks a gun, and the sharp hornet sting of a bullet in my shoulder brings me out of the dream. And I am alone in the sudden dark and I’m breathing fast and a song plays in my head as it was in the bear’s head, except now it is a quiet song and something slowly soothing.

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