This past May, Jennifer Pashley released her second collection of short fiction, The Conjurer (Standing Stone Books), which includes the stories for which she won The Mississippi Review Prize and the Carve Magazine Esoteric Award for LGBT Fiction. Her first collection, States (Lewis-Clark Press, 2007), was lovingly praised by authors like Frederick Barthelme and Aimee Bender, who called it “an inviting and well-carved debut.”
A former editor at Stone Canoe, Pashley teaches writing at Syracuse University and at the YMCA’s Downtown Writer’s Center. In 2002, Pashley was a student at the Writer’s Center, as well, working with the author and Post Road editor, Christopher Boucher, when one of the stories she wrote for the group wound up being her first publication with The Mississippi Review. After Boucher’s departure, Pashley took over his position and has been there ever since.
Born and raised in Syracuse, Pashley is more than familiar with the downtrodden economy and the unclear future of the upstate New York area. While the setting of many of her stories might not be Syracuse outright, the confining spaces she fills her stories with are oftentimes borne out of the city, which frequently serves as the backdrop to the lives of characters who make extremely poor choices. For Memorious #20, Pashley tapped back into that space and composed the outstanding story, “What You Know.”
“What You Know” comes stocked with several of the components found in your collections—abusive families, emerging sexuality, tough women—but it’s got that pesky measure of hope, as well. How did the story come about?
It came about the way it does in the story: my son, who was in 10th grade at the time, had an assignment for English to give a speech on something he knew how to do. And I thought, This can’t bode well for some kids. The story developed from there. What if? That kind of thing. Once I lighted on that character, I just let her tell her story.
My dad was an anomaly. I wasn’t born until he was 53. He was in World War II, was an accordion virtuoso, toured with the Three Stooges stage show in the 1940s, and set up his own accordion school in Syracuse in the 1950s. While he himself is not in any of the stories, his ’57 Impala is in “How to Have an Affair in 1962” [also featured in The Conjurer]. My kids always remember his slight of hand. He was really good at making things disappear, or pulling a quarter out of your ear.
How would you say the stories in The Conjurer differ from your first collection, States? What, then, would you say are the constants in your writing?
The Conjurer is the sophomore release, right? I kind of want to say it’s my Pinkerton, but that’s not quite right either. The stories are longer, and the characters are older in most cases. When you see it altogether, it’s a sad book. There’s a lot of longing, a lot of missed connection. Those are probably also the constants in my writing: longing, missed connection, or even near-miss mistakes (like the situation in “Something Good”). I like characters who make bad decisions, characters who are flawed, characters who have some pain to sort out. This usually revolves around sex, because, doesn’t it always?
We hear that you’re working on a novel. Can you tell us a bit about it?
I could. But I would have to knee-cap you. I will tell you this: it’s called True Love. You can decide for yourself what that might mean.
For original poetry, fiction, art song, and interviews, please visit our magazine at www.memorious.org.