Interview with Jason Tinney
Jason Tinney is judicating the Poetry Category for the 2015/2016 Maryland Writers’ Association Writing Contest. He graciously agreed to a question and answer session with Pen in Hand’s editor, Kirsten (Kit) O’Neill.
Q&A: Jason Tinney
What inspires your writing?
Characters and simply trying to tell a story to someone who might want to listen. There’s also an element of getting voices inside of you down on paper, giving them someplace to go. But really it’s just: “So, I was at the grocery store yesterday and this man behind me in the check out line had 17 jars of mustard—that’s all. You’ll never believe what happened next.
How long have you been writing?
Fifteen years ago I started to take it seriously.
What is your writing process like?
It’s a distilling process. For the most part—whether it’s prose, poetry, lyrics—it starts as hand written notes that get whittled down in journals before typing them up and then continuing to distill through drafts.
What are you currently reading?
Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock and Poachers by Tom Franklin—both story collections.
Do you have a favorite author (or two or three)?
I tend to gravitate South: Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Richard Ford, Clyde Edgerton, Larry Brown. A few on a very long list.
What types of works do you most enjoy? Why?
Short stories. I love the flexibility of the form. You can cook one up in 500 to 1500 words—more or less. They can easily be adapted into scripts. If you have 15 short stories, taking a step back, you may realize you have a novel.
What words of wisdom would you share with a younger version of your writing self?
Have you ever struggled with writer’s block?
No. I’ve been distracted. The kid is sick; you’re having a tough time in a relationship, worrying about paying bills—all those kinds of things can get you off track. Writing is focused work. You never hear of a physician getting “doctor’s block.” And if they do, there’s usually a lawsuit involved.
How did you overcome it?
In terms of distractions, Faulkner used to take the door knob off of his office door so no one would disturb him. I just keep writing—whatever comes to mind—and try to plow through. Stay seat belted in. The editing process will weed out whatever nonsense you’ve put down. Or I get up and do the dishes.
You are not only a writer, but also a musician. Writer David Sheinin observed that you have “a musician’s ear for dialogue.” Do you listen to music as you write? How does music influence dialogue, and does it help set the rhythm and pacing of your stories?
There was a time when I couldn’t write without music. Then I went through a phase when I needed complete silence. Now, I go back and forth. Depends on the mood, I suppose. I love this band Shovels and Rope. Whenever a story is going stale, I throw them on to kick start the thing. Words have a built-in musicality to them; Mississippi is one of my favorite musical words. What I mean is there is a melody and rhythm to the word. Dylan Thomas used to choose words simply because he liked the way they sounded. When reading over drafts I stomp my foot to find the rhythm of words within a sentence structure. Speaking of Dylans, a colleague and I came up with the Dylan Litmus Test. We read our stories aloud in Bob Dylan’s sing-song voice to test those rhythms. If Dylan can’t read it, who else would?
This edition of Pen in Hand focused on Flash Fiction. In Ripple Meets Deep, a series of vignettes are woven throughout the story. How would you describe the difference between a Vignette and a longer story? What elements do you think they have in common?
Some of the best jokes are told in five lines. They are stories. As long as the story is told well, length doesn’t matter.
Jason Tinney is the author of Ripple Meets the Deep, named Best Book of 2015 by Baltimore Magazine. His previous books are Louise Paris and Other Waltzes (poetry/prose) and Bluebird (short stories/poems). He has been a contributor to several magazines, including, Baltimore, Style, Gorilla, Her Mind, Urbanite, and Maryland Life, which won the International Regional Magazine Association’s Award of Merit in the category of Culture Feature for his article, “The March,” a first-hand account of life on the front-lines with American Civil War reenactors. Jason co-authored the play, Fifty Miles Away, winner of the 2015 Frostburg State University Center for Literary Arts One-Act Festival.
Harry Crews blurbed fellow Southern writer Larry Brown’s debut book by succinctly stating, “Talent has struck.” This book of short stories by Jason Tinney, a Frederick resident and occasional contributor to Baltimore, brings Crews’s quote to mind. Tinney, like the aforementioned writers, crafts bold and sensual stories that ripple with nuance below the surface. His self-conscious characters might bleed and bruise, but it’s the seemingly offhanded comment that hangs in the air or the sense of unspoken longing that nudges them toward profundity. They grapple with aging and mortality and a sense that the open road, once so inviting, might lead nowhere good. They also sense that the salvation they’re seeking might be found closer to home, in things like the hushed beauty of a snowfall or the warmth of a pre-dawn embrace. But the restlessness stirs, bringing tension and an aching humanity to Tinney’s prose.
-John Lewis, Baltimore Magazine
Author Photo by Skye Sadowski-Malcom
Jacket Cover by Brian Slagle, provided courtesy of Jason Tinney