Kicking off Season 2 of So You Wrote a Book? is the one and only Jayne Martin and her debut flash fiction collection, Tender Cuts!
From my blurb: “Tender Cuts is about seeing and not seeing, what we are blind to and what’s right in front of us. In this debut flash fiction collection Jayne Martin’s writing is compact, dense, often heartbreaking, always illuminating, and woven with a strange nostalgia; she has a way of reconciling the child with the adult, the pain with the beauty of tragedy, the tragedy still seeded with hope.”
I’m so excited to welcome Jayne Martin!
Nancy Stohlman: Describe this book in 6 words:
Jayne Martin: Tiny tales for the time challenged.
NS: This is your first book of flash fiction but not your first book—you also have a book of humor essays, “Suitable for Giving: A Collection of Wit with A Side of Wry.” Talk about how you have changed as a writer from that first book to Tender Cuts.
JM: All that’s changed really is my focus. I still enjoy writing humor, though little of it finds its way into my flash. In the humor essays, I reveal much more of myself, while the stories in “Tender Cuts” are 100% fiction. I’m probably a much better writer, but you do this stuff long enough you can’t help but get better and I’m into my fourth decade now. In “Suitable for Giving,” I could be self-indulgent. Flash has got to be tight. Get in, get out, and keep it moving. I have a keener eye for edits now and much less resistance to “killing my darlings.”
NS: Your stories are accompanied by illustrations by Janice Whitby and Indigo Roth. The style of the illustrations almost seem like doodles, the kind you would find carved into desks or doodled onto notebook paper. What was your vision for including images with your stories?
JM: There are so many collections out there. It’s hard to make yours stand out. I wanted to give the readers another way to experience the story. The drawing for the title story is a heart with a crack and a bandage over it. The heart motif continues throughout to reinforce the theme of cuts or wounds that the characters experience. The “doodle” style was chosen to add a bit of whimsy because many of the stories are quite dark.
NS: Julie Sue is a reoccurring character in this book. She first shows up as a young “pageant princess” and by the end of the book she is a mother with her own daughter. Where did the character of Julie Sue come from?
JM: Julie-Sue originated in your November 2016 Flash Nano from the prompt “winning a prize.” It went on to be published in MoonPark Review’s first issue. When I was assembling the collection, I knew I needed a spine to hold it together, so I wrote the three additional Julie-Sue stories, which have not been seen until now. Once I had those, I had a structure for the book. And I owe it all to you. 😊
NS: Awww, you are too kind, Jayne! I’m thrilled to be part of your process. Now your stories tend to be really short. Always or is short a continuing evolution?
JM: Miniatures appeal to me. Micro has a lot in common with bonsai. Having said that, unless I’m writing for a particular word-count guideline, it’s rarely my intention to write so short. Most of the time the story just ends and I’m as surprised as anyone else. Occasionally, the Cosmos will bless me with a sentence that blows me away. At that point, I say, “Well, it ain’t gonna get better than that.” But mostly, when it’s done it’s done.
NS: You used to write for television (your credits include “Big Spender” for Animal Planet and “A Child Too Many,” “Cradle of Conspiracy” and “Deceived By Trust” for Lifetime.) How has television writing helped you as a flash writer (or not)?
JM: It’s helped enormously. Movies for network television, even more so than big-screen, are regimentally structured to fit a 93-minute time slot. Each has seven acts to accommodate six commercial breaks, and each act has a defined number of scenes. As in flash, the writer must enter the scene late, move the story along and leave before it’s resolved. This is especially true of act breaks where the audience has the power of the remote so you better leave them wanting more.
NS: Love the absurdity in your story “Lobster in a Laundromat”—it’s simple but brings up a deeper truth of how we all want to be desired and “seen”, even by a lobster and even in my blurb I say your book is about the many ways we are seen. Talk about this theme in your writing? Is in intentional or unconscious?
JM: Thank you. “Lobster” came out of a Meg Pokrass workshop on writing the surreal. Most of my stories sway heavily toward realism and I wanted to stretch. As soon as I had the first line, I had the story. It was a fun write. I’d say the theme you mention is more unconscious than intentional, but then I never know what a story is going to be until it’s written. I try not to overthink the process, because my best works have always been happy accidents.
NS: You won the Vera Prize for “When the Bough Breaks,” which appears in Tender Cuts, and you have also won or been nominated for various other prizes. How important do you think contests are for a flash writing career?
JM: Receiving an award or a nomination is a lovely thing. In an industry that most often rejects us, it’s a wonderful validation, a boost of encouragement. As to importance in terms of a career, I don’t really know. It looks nice on my bio, but I don’t think any journal has ever published me just because I won a Vera. Every day is a new blank page. Every day you’re Sisyphus at the bottom of the damn hill and you have to prove yourself all over again. Maybe it matters more when one is looking back over their accomplishments at the end of a career.
NS: Tender Cuts is published by Vine Leaves Press. Can you talk about your pathway to publication?
JM: I’m a big believer in the power of intent and its ability to bring about the means to achieve a goal once that goal is clearly defined and infused with energy. You can’t just say you want something and then sit on your ass and do nothing. The Universe rewards action. With that in mind, my clear intent was to find a publisher and failing to find one was never a consideration. I’m a Taurus. What can I say?
I started by approaching publishers who had published other collections by writers I admire. I also utilized Poets & Writers database, combing through site after site. I’d gotten several of my blurbs already and I included those with my query letters. I think all together I submitted to six publishers. Vine Leaves Press used to publish Vine Leaves Journal, which solicited what they called “vignettes” and I call micro-fiction. I got an offer from them in three weeks and I could not have found a more perfect fit for the book. They’re a dream to work with.
NS: Your best advice to someone writing a book?
JM: I didn’t set out to write a book. The 38 stories in “Tender Cuts” were gleaned from a folder of stories going back to 2010. In 2017, I finally saw a through line in terms of a theme and the collection began to take form. In terms of setting out to write a book, I can only draw on my experience writing screenplays. You need a story compelling enough to drag you along because the time commitment is huge. Something you have to write because you can’t shake the damn thing any other way. I can only imagine it’s that way for a book, as well.
NS: Anything else you want to add?
I often hear the flash community express frustration about the lack of attention from the larger publishing world: “When are they going to notice us?”
We flash writers tend to be an insular bunch. Sometimes it seems like we’re writing more for each other than to entertain an audience. We all submit to and read the same journals and buy each other’s books, but few “civilians,” those non-writing folks who just want to escape into a good story, have heard of any of those journals or any of us.
That brings us back to the aforementioned description of my book in six words: Tiny tales for the time challenged. I’ve heard it said that it’s insulting to the genre to describe it that way. I disagree. Having put the sweat into writing the book, now I’d actually like to sell a few copies, and recognizing that people experience a constant demand for their finite amount of time is part of that effort. So is writing stories that don’t require an MFA to understand.
Getting the attention of the larger publishing world may just be a matter of inviting them into ours.
Jayne Martin lives in Santa Barbara, California, where she rides horses and drinks copious amounts of fine wines, though not at the same time. She is a Pushcart, Best Small Fictions, and Best Microfictions nominee, and a recipient of Vestal Review’s VERA award. Her flash fiction collection, “Tender Cuts,” from Vine Leaves Press, is available now by visiting her website: www.jaynemartin-writer.com.
Preorders are available now from Amazon U.S. & U.K, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s. Links on Jayne’s spiffy new website!
Jayne Martin lives in Santa Barbara, California, where she rides horses and drinks copious amounts of fine wines, though not at the same time. She is a Pushcart, Best Small Fictions, and Best Microfictions nominee, and a recipient of Vestal Review’s VERA award. Her flash fiction collection, “Tender Cuts,” from Vine Leaves Press, is available now by visiting her website: