This post is part of the Candlesticks and Daggers Interview Series run by contributor Sati Benes Chock. For more about the book, please follow the link here.
Excerpt from Jacquelyn Bengfort’s story “A Spell for Salvation”
I brought her shoes and lustrous frock;
She called me good
(I knew she would)
Born with long, fair hair. The midwife called it ominous. She washed it, dried it, sheared it, leaving the child with the expected cap of curls suitable to a baby. About the talking, the midwife could do nothing. The little one spilled words from the hour of her birth. They slipped from her toothless mouth even as she worked at her mother’s breast.
I told her, “Home by twelve o’clock.”
She said, “Divine.”
(Her soul was mine)
You are a talented writer and poet who also does theater work, and you are a naval veteran and former Oxford Rhodes Scholar. You’ve accomplished so much so far! Can you tell us a little about how you became a writer? Did you always know that you wanted to be one?
Thank you–that’s very kind! I grew up in North Dakota and spent a lot of time reading, so “author” was what I told people I wanted to be when I was young. But then, that seemed very impractical, so I went off and joined the Navy. I began studying craft and writing seriously in those years at sea. When I resigned from the service, I decided to work as a freelance writer to give me flexibility while I started a family, and I’ve continued to pursue creative projects in whatever moments of time I can find between full-time childcare and part-time freelancing.
Your “A Spell for Salvation” revisits the story of Cinderella in a fresh and innovative way. Do you often write reimagined fairy tales? If so, what tales or themes most appeal to you, and why?
I employ the fairy-tale tone quite often in my short fiction–that sort of flat, matter-of-fact, unadorned style. And occasionally I try to extend a tale forward (as I did in “The Queen’s Child” here: http://fictionaut.com/stories/jacquelyn-bengfort/brief-studies-of-doomed-females) or imagine the backstory, like I did in “A Spell for Salvation.” Giving minor characters their own story is quite fun. I actually wrote the verse parts in an Eckleburg workshop taught by Brenda Mann Hammack back in 2014–I was trying to meet a deadline, and I rushed and threw together this very weird set of tercets–and the workshop response was not particularly good, but I believed in the premise, and eventually wrote the story of the spell’s speaker. That’s when the whole thing really came together.
What do you read for fun?
I recently started reading Tana French’s mystery novels–the first one was excellent, and I’m looking forward to the next. A lot of my other reading is determined by the two excellent book clubs I’m a part of–one for parents in my neighborhood, and the other for area writers. I also read several poetry collections a year and I’ve recently been giving audiobooks a try–I really enjoyed listening to Carrie Fisher and Billie Lourd reading The Princess Diarist.
Some writers have rituals that they feel helps them with the creative process. Do you employ any rituals, or do anything regularly that helps keep you on track with your writing?
I’m pulled in a lot of directions right now, so, not really–my days are really inconsistent, and my progress slow. I take several workshops a year to make sure I keep writing new work and improving my skills, and I host a writing group a couple of times a month. If I have an idea, I’ve learned that I absolutely need to get it recorded in the moment, so I have a waterproof notepad in the shower and often text myself things or make voice recordings on my smartphone. There are scraps of paper everywhere. Perhaps someday I’ll be more organized. I did do a big start-of-2017 reorganization and tidy-up of my writing space. We’ll see if it sticks.
You were recently a finalist for SmokeLong Quarterly’s prestigious Kathy Fish Fellowship (Congrats!). What are your thoughts on applying for fellowships or residencies? Any tips?
Hmmm…keep trying? This was my second year applying for the KFF; the first year I made the first cut, and this year I was a finalist. And try to find a good fit. I enter lots of contests and apply for fellowships aimed at veterans–I know, right away, that there’s a smaller applicant pool and that improves my chances. I’m also pretty picky about paying fees. I look for applications that have no fee or a small voluntary fee (which I will happily pay if the organization is upfront about what the money does). All that being said, I’ve yet to win a fellowship or residency, so that should probably temper any advice I give!
If you could tell beginning writers one thing about the publishing process, what would it be?
It’s hardly novel to say this: you will get rejected a lot. I have tried lots of different submissions strategies in the last five years, and I’ve gotten better at targeting submissions, and that has helped, but I still get rejections, and I always will so long as I’m trying to get my work into the world. Don’t wish for a thick skin, necessarily–I think a thin skin is actually an advantage for a writer who wants to write things that make their readers, in turn, feel things–but just steel yourself to getting told “no” a lot.
Any future projects that you’d like to tell us about?
I am working on a book about my time in the Navy, and planning to make significant progress on it this year–a complete draft by this time in 2018. It’s like a memoir but with all the boring bits stripped out. At least, that’s the idea. It’s part poetry collection, part the sea stories I’ll get to telling if you ask me about my service. I’m having fun working on it at any rate, so I hope that’s a good sign!
Jacquelyn Bengfort was born in North Dakota, educated at the U.S. Naval Academy and Oxford University, and now resides in Washington, DC. Her work has appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Gargoyle, Storm Cellar, District Lines, and the anthologies Magical, Unrequited, and Dear Robot, among other places. Find her online at www.JaciB.com.