The fiction editors, Rappahannock Review: In “The Kid Next Door” Justin and Cassie seem to struggle with the idea of raising a child. The lack of one in their lives creates uncomfortable space between them as well as the reader. What inspired you to write a story focused on this idea of a child as the missing piece?
Zeke Jarvis: The major inspiration was the gap between considering having a child and actually having a child. You really can’t know what you’re getting into until you’ve had a child, and then you can’t go back. So, that weird tension and projection was interesting to me. I think gaps are interesting because they let all of the characters be a little bit right and a little bit wrong, and that lets you develop a rhythm of the characters sometimes being right and sometimes being wrong.
RR: We understand you got your BA in Math and English before you went on to earn a PhD in creative writing. Were you considering another path in college before you decided to pursue creative writing? If so, what pushed you to creative writing?
ZJ: I actually thought that my skillset always led me towards being a late night talk show host, but that hasn’t worked out so far. Being a professor of creative writing was the closest that I could get. I really do enjoy teaching, and I think I’m better at teaching writing than I was at tutoring math. That said, I do sometimes use mathematical concepts in my writing. I have a short story looking at the idea of convergence, and I was working on a chapbook of math poems, but I eventually tossed most of that idea out. I did, though, use some if it for my first book So Anyway…, which is a collection of introductions to poems that don’t exist. See, my training for becoming a late night talk show host lets me seamlessly work in plugs for work. Take note Hollywood!
RR: On your bio page on Eureka College’s website you note that you enjoy spending time with your wife and child. “The Kid Next Door” focuses on family and relationships. Would you say you pull from your own experiences when writing?
ZJ: It came even more from my experience than you might think. Near my in-laws’, there’s this very tall guy with lots of tattoos who walks by their house (they live in a condo complex. When my daughter was young, if she was naughty at my in laws’, then we’d tell her that the Monster Man would come and yell at her. He never knew this, but I thought the story would be much better if there was some kind of exchange between the family and the “monster”.
RR: The monster functions in different ways in the story. In one way it is used as a punishment to the kid next door, and in another way Justin uses it in bed to become more assertive. Both are used as a way to make Justin more dominant, which is a big part of his relationship with Cassie. When you began writing the story did you have the idea for the monster to function in both ways, or is that something that developed once Justin’s character began to grow?
ZJ: It developed as I wrote, for sure. I think that the best way to develop a conceit like the one in the story is to start with the basic premise and then imagine what impacts this would have in the characters’ lives. In this case, I tried to think about how this kind of game or deal would bleed over into the couple’s life. This is what I came up with, and hopefully it works.
RR: What advice would you give young writers?
ZJ: Read a lot and write a lot. More than anything, be patient. Don’t rush to your first publications. Once a piece is in print, you really can’t go back and develop it. Don’t be afraid to throw stuff away. Use exercises as experiments, and don’t feel like you have to develop every piece into something. Being selective will help you to think about what you want to do with your writing. Read a lot of different things so that you can decide what genre and mode your idea best lives in. Reading and buying/subscribing to literary magazines and presses also makes sure that they’re still around when you’re looking to publish your own work.
Zeke Jarvis’ work in Issue 2.2: