Jennifer Pashley

How did you become a writer?

I think I was born this way. I hear words and sentences in my head the way a composer hears music. I notice things. People like to tell me things. I started writing to uncover the truth without knowing that's what I was doing. I was raised in a cloud of secrets; every sentence digs a little further. When I realized I could write myself free, I kept going.

Name your writing influences.

I read a lot of novels as a kid, and wanted to write, wanted to imitate the sentences, the novel structure of writers like A.S. Byatt, or Anne Rice. But it wasn't until I read Raymond Carver stories that I realized I could do it. That's when I realized that what I knew of the world was valid, and that it could be told simply and have a huge impact. So, Carver helped me to be brave enough to tell stories, but the novel that really made me want to be a writer was Written on the Body, by Jeanette Winterson. I'd never been so moved by language before. It's so brief, and it's so heartbreakingly beautiful. I try to stay on that spectrum, somewhere between beauty and minimalism.

When and where do you write?

I write mostly at home, in a small office, at a desk I've had since I was a teenager. It's a hundred-year-old Stickley that came second hand from a music company, and it's beat up as hell. I do, however, often write on the road. I do well in a hotel room, because it's clean, and quiet, and anonymous. It's the setting equivalent of white noise. I don't write everyday, and I do beat myself up about that. When I was working full time, I wrote most of my stories, in between the office and home, or a lot of the mental work I did while driving. But for the big world of a novel, I find that I need longer stretches of time to fall in. And that's harder to come by sometimes, or maybe just harder to train yourself to do.

What are you working on now?

I'm working on a new book, a literary suspense novel.

Have you ever suffered from writer's block?

No. I'm full of ideas. But I have suffered from writer's discouragement, or frustration, or depression. There are times when I don't write, but it's not because I have writer's block. It's because I've lost my way in some other sense. I've doubted what I'm doing, or I've lost track of the magic in some way. The work is always there. But there's a lot of plate spinning involved, and sometimes, when you let one fall, they all come crashing in on you.

What's your advice to new writers?

Read everything, old, new, high literary and pulp. It's immensely important. You can learn just as much about telling a story from a romance novel as you can from reading Proust. And don't wait for permission. No program or degree is going to give you permission to write. You have to do that for yourself.

Jennifer Pashley is the author of two story collections, States, and The Conjurer, and the novel, The Scamp (Tin House Books, 2015). Her writing has appeared widely in PANK, SmokeLong Quarterly, New World Writing, Spectre Magazine, and others. She lives in Central New York with her family, and dogs.