Rappahannock Review Contributor Spotlight:
Interview with Jared Yates Sexton

The fiction editors, Rappahannock Review: In the story, there is speculation of the couple having a job that is not considered “a real job.” For this narrator, what constitutes authentic work?

Jared Yates Sexton: I think in a lot of my stories there’s a real tension developing from both an emotional and economical place. Though the latter isn’t always emphasized, it’s brewing under the surface. The reason that’s the case is because I grew up in a very poor family where every single day and action was tinged with worries about money. We were always one broken refrigerator away from a complete meltdown of our lives, and I saw the toll that takes on a person. Most of my characters are in that same circumstance and that worry really permeates their relationships, whether they realize it or not. It adds tension and speaks, I think anyway, as to the inherent unfairness of working-class life in America.


RR: Why did you choose to not include quotation marks within this story?

JYS: It was probably six or seven years ago that I stopped using quotes in stories. They’re still there in my novels because, let’s be honest, it would be hard to read a three or four hundred page book without quotations. But in stories, I think the lack really makes my dialogue better and demands more of the reader. If there aren’t those quotes I think the reader has to read closer in order to discern, and that’s a responsibility that makes them think more about what they’re reading. Plus, in all honesty, I think quotation marks are kind of ugly looking and usually unnecessary.


RR: There seemed to be a lot of purpose behind the bands and music that you chose to focus on in this story. This was especially apparent in the line, “There wasn’t even a single, solitude purpose to blasting Promised Land at two in the morning.” Did this music come from personal preference, or was there a lot of research involved? How did the music turn into something that drove them even farther apart from each other?

JYS: Well, the story is a bit autobiographical. Whenever I’ve had an especially bad day, or I’m fighting off the start of a depression, I tend to hole up in my office at home and listen to records all night. It’s a coping mechanism, I guess, and that’s the seed from which this story emerged. The songs and albums are intentional. Promised Land is this amazing song by Bruce Springsteen about being in this desperate, awful place but holding out hope that there’s good days ahead. Besides the fact that that’s one of those albums – Darkness on the Edge of Town – I listen to late at night, it’s also there to be a piece of remaining hope in the narrative. Zevon and Dylan and even The Kinks have this really dark underlining cynicism and despair, that highlight what’s going on under the surface of this piece. And, besides, they’re all just great.


RR: You’re very well known for your shorter works of fiction, and you are able to capture the humanity of different situations in only a few pages. What do you think are the secrets to your success in writing shorter fiction?

JYS: That’s a hell of a question. I think I could point at some things but I’m not so sure I understand it anymore than an outsider would. I try and tell the truth in my stories. I try and paint characters who exist in real life, characters I’ve either known or been or loved. The stories themselves, besides my experimental work, are the so-called slices of life and I think they’re honest. They’re people who are probably trying to make it down the street from me or back home.


RR: You were able to use a colloquial tone in this story, which made it extremely relatable to the reader. What advice would you give writers who feel apprehension regarding the use of colloquial terms?

JYS: There’s absolutely no reason to be afraid to write in colloquial or an honest voice. So many writers kill themselves trying to outwrite each other or show off their chops, but when it gets down to it there’s something to be said for simple, concise language that propels story and speaks honestly. In fact, I think that’s one of the reasons why people don’t read as much as they did in the past. They have an entire generation of authors who are trying to dazzle them with words or gimmicks and at the end of the day they’re looking for something that speaks to them, that tells their stories. We’ve done a damn terrible job of giving them those stories and telling their stories, and I don’t necessarily blame them for turning their back on a lot of today’s literature.


Jared Yates Sexton’s work in Issue 2.3: 

“Where We Are”