Q&A — Jenny Xie, author, “Pigeon Forge”

Jenny Xie’s “Pigeon Forge” was published in The Offing’s Fiction department on November 6, 2017. Q&A conducted by Jax NTP, Assistant Editor, Fiction.

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Jax NTP: The penultimate image of “Pigeon Forge” reminds me of the psychological phenomenon, pareidolia. In reference to architecture, how do you come up with images like “human faces wearing wizard hats”? Do you usually come up with images first and then write towards them; or do you create images organically as the story moves along?

Jenny Xie: Building that road in Pigeon Forge, TN was tricky because it was an instance of fact being much stranger than fiction. I was on a family road trip and was passing through town; I was struck by the garishness of the attractions that sit just at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s sort of like how they point lasers at Niagara Falls at night: that immense contrast between hokey entertainment and ancient, dignified landscape. So, many of the attractions in the story are real. I don’t remember if there really is a castle with turrets shaped like “human faces wearing wizard hats,” but the spirit of it is absolutely representative of the actual place. In terms of images, I spend a lot of time visualizing a scene before writing, and that actually is a lot of my process — seeing something clearly enough to be able to conjure it for the reader, too. What makes it into a piece does feel organic, although in this case I knew I wanted to end with this parade of kitschy attractions.

JNTP: “Pigeon Forge” starts off and continues on from a very intimate 2nd person point of view. What do you find most challenging about composing from the 2nd person perspective; versus, what do you find most challenging when consuming the 2nd person perspective as a reader?

XIE: As a writer, there’s the fear of being precious or gimmicky when using the second person point of view, isn’t there? I don’t use it often, but composing from that perspective can feel very intimate and tender. The “you” is meant to draw the reader closer, but also to speak directly to the main character as I create her, as though I am giving her stage directions — but stage directions that fill out her inner life. That’s really satisfying. In that sense, it’s very easy to write in second person, but I think the challenge is in trying to sustain the magic in a longer piece. I imagine it would start to feel limiting. I think as a reader, you sometimes come up against the presumptuousness of the writer in casting you in the story, but if it’s well done, it’s not a huge hurdle.

JNTP: How is “Pigeon Forge” in conversation with the rest of your writing? Is it an accurate sample of your aesthetic or is it more of a deviation from your larger body of work?

XIE: That’s an interesting question! I wrote this story because I needed to take a break from my novel, which I’m currently revising. It is aesthetically in line with my other stuff, though I haven’t written many short-shorts. My goal was to keep it at 1,000 words or less (I cheated a bit — it’s just over 1,200), and really enjoyed the feeling of pressure building within a condensed environment.

JNTP: What books are you currently reading? How often do you re-read a book? If you can, name one book you’ve read at least 3 times.

XIE: I rarely re-read a book, but Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita surprises again and again.

Jenny Xie is a writer based in Oakland, California. Her work has appeared in Ninth Letter Online, PANK Online, Necessary Fiction, Adroit Journal, Phoebe, Hyphen Magazine, and Gulf Coast Online, among others. She won the 2014 Driftless Prize in Fiction from Devil’s Lake, the 2015 Narrative 30 Below Story Contest, the 2017 Joyland Open Border Fiction Prize, and was included in the 2016 Best of the Net Anthology. A recipient of a Bread Loaf scholarship and a MacDowell fellowship, she holds degrees from UC Berkeley and Johns Hopkins University. Find her on Twitter @msjennyxie.