Friday, May 19, 2023

Q&A with Jacqueline Vogtman




Jacqueline Vogtman is the author of the new story collection Girl Country. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Hunger Mountain, and she is associate professor of English at Mercer County Community College.


Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories in Girl Country, and how did you choose the order in which they would appear in the collection?


A: I could say that it took me 15 years to write this book, since three of the stories in this collection were written about that long ago, when I was in grad school in Bowling Green, Ohio—but that would be a lie.


Even though those three stories survived and made their way into this book, the collection I was writing back then was wholly different from this one, and most of the stories in Girl Country were written more recently, once I got over the “dry spell” that followed the birth of my daughter and the challenge of trying to balance work and motherhood.


Quite a few of them were written during the pandemic in the early-morning hours before the commencement of my daughter’s virtual schooling.


The order of stories has shifted over the course of writing the book and editing it with my wonderful editor, Michelle Dotter, but the first story (“Girl Country”) and the last (“The Preservation of Objects Lost at Sea”) have always held their place.


Using those two as “bookends” helped shape the collection, and when arranging the others I thought about tone, theme, and how the ending of one story might somehow lead into or juxtapose the beginning of another, but also more practical things: stories that were too similar shouldn’t be placed too close together, adding variety by not putting too many stories in a row with the same POV, etc.

Q: The writer Bess Winter said of the book, “Girl Country is a wondrously inventive journey through the monstrous landscapes women and girls must navigate, and an inquisitive, visceral, and often funny exploration of the monsters that dwell in every woman.” What do you think of that description?


A: I think it’s wonderful and apt, and I’m so grateful for her words. Many of the stories find women up against threats from their environment, society, or people trying to exploit them. But I hope they also show the wild animal strength that can arise from being faced with situations like that.


Q: How was the book’s title (also the title of the first story in the collection) chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: I’m notoriously bad with titles—it takes me so long and so many tries to find the right one—but this one came easily when I was writing the title story. Then, it seemed a natural fit for the whole collection, as the stories all focus on the lives of women and girls.


The title also has a sort of animal connotation (“deer country”), which I think is appropriate for the collection, as there are a lot of connections to nature, animals, transformations, etc.

Q: Writer Dustin M. Hoffman said of your writing, “In her stories, magic isn’t just believable. It’s inevitable.” What role do you see magic playing in your work?


A: It’s so important! It’s why I wanted to write fiction in the first place, though I think my focus on it has changed over the years. There’s the fabulist sort of magic (like “Children and Other Artifacts,” in which a woman keeps giving birth to children from different time periods), but there’s also the everyday magic that can be found in nature and in our unexpected connections with one another. I’d like to think my collection has both.

Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m in the very early stages of a novel about a working-class American family at different time periods in history (and possibly the future). I’m also allowing myself to just play around with various things I haven’t done much of recently, like poetry.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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