Short Story Interview: Zachary Jernigan


The stories, poems, and visual works for the 2014 Art & Words Show have been chosen, and I’m excited to see what everyone comes up with for the final show; view the selected visual works and the authors involved here. Here’s a sneak peak of some of the previously published written works:

My short story “Old Boys” was also posted yesterday for free reading at The Colored Lens. The magazine issue is also available as an ebook for $2.99.

Today’s featured interview is with Zachary Jernigan, whose collection At the Bottom of the Sea I reviewed a while backand who is coming out with another mini-collection of short stories, which I cannot wait to read.
Here is his bio:

Zachary Jernigan is a 33-year-old, quarter-Hungarian, bald male. He has lived in Northern Arizona, with occasional forays into the wetter and colder world, since 1990. His favorite activities include: listening to 70s-00s punk and post-punk music, cooking delicious and often unhealthy foods, riding human-powered vehicles, talking and/or arguing about religion, and watching sitcoms.

During his rare periods of productivity, he writes science fiction and fantasy. NO RETURN, his first novel, comes out March 5th, 2013 from Night Shade Books. His short stories have appeared in a variety of places, including ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION, CROSSED GENRES, and ESCAPE POD.

Visit him at

Q: Tell me about your short stories.
I tend to write narratives about love, I think, both romantic and familial — though to say that they are love stories might not be appropriate. Oftentimes, my characters don’t achieve what they want, or can’t even see what they want. Still, love fascinates me, and never more so than when it occurs between unusual people in alien — or simply unusual — places. I very rarely ever write outside the speculative genres of science fiction and fantasy, because they allow me so many interesting possibilities.
The real world is great to live in, sure; I mean, it’s got elephants and stuff; but for fiction I can’t see how it gets better than having the whole universe as your sounding board for ideas.
Q: What is one of your favorite stories you have written and why?
Oy. Y’know, I hate ’em all!
       Nah. Not really. But I do think most of my stories are pretty far short of where they should be. (This is where my agent, should he be reading this, starts pulling his hair out and saying, “No! Jernigan! You don’t tell potential readers that!“) I look at the short stories I admire, and then at mine, and go, “Well. One of those is definitely crap.”
That being said, I’m fairly pleased with my short story, “Fear of Drowning,” which I put in my collection, The Bottom of the Sea. It ended up being better than I’d thought when I wrote it. You can read it here for free, if ya like! 
Q: Are there stories you’ve published, perhaps earlier in your career, that you would change, if you could?
Oh, yeah. Definitely. I think my first published story, in fact, is a real crapper of a thing. It’s called “Only For Myself: Japan, 2043,” and it was published by the awesome Circlet Press in one of the anthologies.
The problem with it is this: Japan. I’ve never been to Japan, and I know not too much about the country. Why — why, oh why — would I write a story set there? It comes across as a total fail of a reach, and I regret it.
I did that later, in another story set in Dubai. Again — Dubai?
I’m not saying a writer can’t set a story in a place she or he has never been, but I’d advise against it without massive amounts of research.
Q: How do you write stories? Do you edit extensively? Do you write so much per day? 
I do what (nearly) everyone says you shouldn’t do: I edit as I go along. Thus, the process is usually pretty damn slow, but in the end I don’t do too much editing, per se. Typically, I add content, as opposed to taking away. (There are writers who write overlong. I’m the opposite.) I generally, nowadays, have a somewhat rough outline.
As for words per day, I’m lucky to hit five hundred, and super-duper lucky to hit a thousand. I usually quit when the rage starts turning my hands into fists and I can’t type any more.
Q: What themes and subjects do you find yourself drawn to? Why do you think you’re drawn to these subjects?
I tend to write a lot about the far future, though this might not be explicitly said. A lot of my characters are immensely powerful, often altered in horrible ways by that power. In that setting with these characters, as I said previously, I write a lot about love. Attendant to that are always questions of morality: What does it mean to be a good person? How does someone become a good person? Also, and perhaps most importantly, how actions contributing to or detracting from the lives of others?
I think I’m drawn to these situations because of my upbringing as a Mormon. I’m no longer Mormon — haven’t been for most of my adult life — but I can’t deny that being raised that way has had a considerable impact on me. I think a lot about perfection and purity, and carry unreasonable guilt for things I should not. I am consumed by the desire to be a better person, to live a worthy life and not repeat mistakes, and this carries over into my writing.
Q: What do you have coming out, and what can you tell us about these stories?
Well, the one big one I can’t really talk about because the project hasn’t been announced, but it’ll be about a robot. A BIG ROBOT. Beyond that, I’ll be releasing another mini collection of short stories later this year, focusing on my more explicitly erotic writing.
Q: What are your favorite short story magazines?
I like Crossed Genres a lot. Clarkesworld is consistently fantastic. Beneath Ceaseless Skies often brings the amazing. It’s tough, these days, though, isn’t it? So often you end up reading from an individual author, following their pathways to publication, and so the rest of the magazine is left sadly unexamined. 
Q: Who are your favorite short story writers?
Here goes, in no order of preference, really:
  1. James Tiptree, Jr. / Raccoona Sheldon / Alice Sheldon
  2. Cordwainer Smith
  3. Carol Emshwiller
  4. Edward Bryant
  5. Ian McDonald
  6. Joanna Russ
  7. Elizabeth Hand
  8. Samuel Delany
  9. Roger Zelazny
  10. J.G. Ballard
Q: What are five of your favorite short stories (by other writers)?
Again, in no order of preference:
Thanks for having me, Bonnie!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s