Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Q&A with Jessica Jopp



Jessica Jopp is the author of the new novel From the Longing Orchard. She also has written the poetry collection The History of a Voice. She teaches in the English department at Slippery Rock University, and she lives in Indiana, Pennsylvania.


Q: What inspired you to write From the Longing Orchard, and how did you create your character Sonya Hudson?


A: I had a friend several years ago who told me his story of internalized homophobia and of the damage it had done to him. He struggled with agoraphobia, in part brought on by the influence of his Catholic upbringing. Fortunately, his mother was eventually supportive, and this allowed my friend to overcome his fear and live happily as an out gay man.


I had a struggle too, and so there are some autobiographical aspects, though it is fiction.


To create Sonya Hudson, I was challenged with trying to imagine the world from the view of a visual artist, which is something foreign to me. I could not draw my way out of a paper bag! I do know people, though, who are artists of that kind, and so I relied on the inspiration of knowing them for that portrayal.


More broadly, though, Sonya’s story is an illustration of the line from Polonius: “To thine own self be true,” a theme common in fiction.


Q: The writer Tony Eprile said of the book, “Filled with beautiful descriptions of nature and told through the sensibility of a deeply sensitive and observant young girl growing into adulthood and her own queer sexuality, this novel has a quiet but powerful impact that will live on in the reader's memory.” What do you think of that description?

A: I have a lot of respect for Tony Eprile, and I am pleased that he wrote a blurb for my book. I studied with him at the New York State Summer Writer’s Institute at Skidmore, and his incredible and meticulous attention to an early draft of my novel was instrumental in my sticking with the process.


I certainly DO hope that the book will linger with anyone who reads it! I very much like his description.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I will answer without giving away too much about the ending! I knew the general direction, as far as the outcome of the protagonist’s central struggle, but I did not know exactly how I would ferry her to that spot.


As far as changes, yes, the narrative trajectory, the structure of the whole, changed, in large measure due to Tony Eprile’s advise. So the route to the end changed, although the end itself was clear to me.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: For its first few years the novel had another title, Coming Back From Seed, which fit thematically, but it did not feel quite right.


A more literal answer to “how” the title was chosen is that it involved much scribbling out of ideas longhand on paper, scrapping and starting over. This was also when I was revising the book’s structure. Then eventually, after much scribbling, I came up with the current one, and it felt right!


The title was chosen to reflect several central components of the novel, among them the idea that the human condition is imbued with longing and that we seek balm in the natural world.


Several of the characters, in addition to the protagonist, are shaped by a struggle of some kind. I hope that the title speaks to both that yearning and to the healing found in nature.


Though there is a literal orchard in the story, the concept is also meant figuratively. As Sonya’s father says, “A tree is a metaphor.” And I love the way in which the title itself affirms what this character has said to his daughter.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on my third collection of poetry. (My first, The History of a Voice, received the Baxter Hathaway Prize in Poetry from Epoch, and it was published by Headmistress Press. And a second is complete, though as yet unpublished.) I have published several poems from the third manuscript in journals, and I hope to complete it in the coming months.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: By way of encouragement, if that is what a reader of this seeks: keeping with a project for a long time, as I did with this, can be very gratifying.


I would also say that in this current climate of backlash against the LGBTQ community, I hope my book speaks to, and for, any young queer person who might feel isolated. Thank you for asking!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

No comments:

Post a Comment