Meet Our Very Short Fiction Judge

This year’s Very Short Fiction Contest Judge is the author Jac Jemc. Jemc’s debut novel, My Only Wife, was a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize. Booklist Booklist noted the “wit and punch” of the stories in her first collection of stories, A Different Bed Every Time. Her most recent novel, The Grip of It received a starred review in Kirkus. Her new collection of stories, False Bingo, came out in October. Our Festival Associate, Drew Jordan, spoke with Jemc about the new book, as well as what draws her to the very short fiction form.

False Bingo is your second collection of stories. Did you notice a change from how you put together your first and this one?

 Yes, I began thinking about the stories in False Bingo as a question much earlier. That meant I started imagining them in conversation with one another. I thought about ways the stories might complement each other, reversals, and the balance of different styles and lengths. With my last collection, I wrote the stories and then collected them. This one was more intentional from the start.

In addition to short stories, you have written novels as well. Do you find yourself gravitating more to one form than another?

I like what both forms give me. I like diving deep with novels and living with it for a long time, and figuring out all of the challenges that come from a project of that size. With short stories I like that I can experiment and take chances, and that the satisfaction in finishing one comes more quickly. 

One of my favorite stories was the haunting “Don’t Let’s.” What was the impetus for this story?

The inspiration for “Don’t Let’s” is connected to a month I spent at a residency in the Georgia lowlands. There were a handful of other people around, but it was a really solitary month and the atmosphere was definitely haunting. I was also thinking about who we excuse for bad behavior, and the concept of who we trust vs. who we write off to overreaction or paranoia. 

False Bingo is a mix of more traditional-length stories and shorter works. How does your process/ approach change when you are writing the shorter pieces from the longer?

I think my only answer for this is that the story dictates the length. Once I get started the story takes on a life of its own and there’s an internal logic that I learn from it and then try to refine. Sometimes I think I’m going to write a really short story, and sometimes it keeps going. Sometimes I think a story might take its time and it’s able to wrap itself up pretty quickly. I’m bad at telling my own fortune. 

What do you look for in very short fiction pieces? What as a judge excites you?

With short fiction, I love a story that takes chances: experimenting with voice and form or the rules of reality. A story that’s concentrated and succinct can make its own rules, and can lead to such exciting discoveries.