Jackie Corley is on a literary roll – founder of a growing online journal and out with a short story collection (The Suburban Swindle) that has been compared to Denis Johnson’s iconic Jesus’ Son. KGB sat down with the busy writer and indie publisher to talk about these very things and more.
KGB: You founded the literary journal Word Riot in 2002. Since then, it has held up as a place where writers of diverse backgrounds, experiences and styles can publish their work. How did you go about establishing the journal, and what has been your guiding principle to keep it true to its mission and to get out the best possible stories?
Jackie Corley: The journal started as the literary section of an online music magazine called Communication Breakdown. The founder of that magazine was Paula Anderson. She was just this vital, exuberant personality, a whirling dervish. I was the reliable, steady part of the equation, so when Paula went offline on one of her adventures, I took over. (Paula died in a car accident in 2004 when she was 22. It’s very important to me that Word Riot carries on her legacy.)
Word Riot was part of an eclectic crop of online literary magazines that came up in the early 2000s—Pindeldyboz, Eyeshot, Small Spiral Notebook, Opium. I began scouring these journals and others, looking for writing that turned me on. I was 19, 20 at the time. I was always a big reader but I never veered far from classic American lit, so reading some of this new writing online—even if it was derivative of Dennis Cooper or Amy Hempel or William S. Burroughs or Denis Johnson or whoever—was just a revelation for me. I couldn’t get enough of it. I couldn’t wait to publish it. I loved diving into the slush and watching a writer do something structurally I hadn’t seen before. And it was exciting to be part of the start of a writer’s career.
I think being an online publication, and one of the early ones, allowed writers to get a good sense of what the Word Riot aesthetic is. It’s very easy to read back issues and get a sense of the thematically bold and structurally experimental material we publish. The quality of submissions has solidly increased of the years.
I’ve also kept the number of people who read submissions at a minimum—just me and two or three editors at any given time (right now Kevin O’Cuinn is our prose editor and Martha Clarkson is our poetry editor). The editors I’ve worked with have a very strong sense of Word Riot’s mission. I think that’s helped the consistency and quality of the publication.
KGB: In a similar vein, what was your impetus for founding Word Riot Press, and what are your goals for this vehicle moving forward?
JC: I was always interested in print, but I couldn’t afford to do anything when Word Riot was first getting started. I spent a couple years researching printers and trying to find one that had the production quality I wanted at a price an undergrad could swing. We published a few chapbooks until I finally found Offset Paperback Manufacturers, which allows us to do short runs of 100-200 copies. That was really convenient in the beginning. And it helps now when we have to re-up quickly.
Our next project is going to be Word Riot’s 10-year anthology, which will feature new work by writers we’ve previously published.
In terms of what’s ahead, I’ve formed a nonprofit called Word Riot Inc. It’s in its VERY early stages, but the focus of it is going to be assisting small press writers and advancing the mission of independent lit community. We’ll be awarding small travel grants to help with the expenses associated with reading tours. We’re going to offer a book award for a small press title. And we’re also going to be publishing.
KGB: Your published short story collection, The Suburban Swindle, received great reviews, many of which mention the unique “American” voice in the writing. Did you set out to paint a picture of the America as you see it when you put the collection together, or did it come together naturally?
JC: I’ve always had a fascination with classic American writers—Fitzgerald, Twain, Salinger, Hemingway, Whitman.
I think with The Suburban Swindle I was focused on language and voice above everything else. The flash fiction pieces, for example, are mostly language play and that’s totally me ripping off Whitman.
I wouldn’t say I was operating with much of a grand scheme when piecing these stories together, but I would say those American voices influenced how I approached the work. I wanted something that felt exuberant, desperate, urgent. An angry, hungry, entitled kid who doesn’t know when to shut up.
KGB: For many writers, the most difficult aspects in putting together a short story collection is keeping the integrity of each story while having them be part of a cohesive, integrated book. How did you address this challenge and overcome it?
JC: I think putting together The Suburban Swindle so that it presented as a coherent whole was mostly a matter of excising material. I would write these very language-heavy stories when I was taking a break on the novel I was working on. I just wanted to escape from narrative and focus on creating a mood. The stories that didn’t fit into that mold or got worse with age got cut.
KGB: What’s your next writing project?
JC: I’m working on a novel about this chick out of college who figures out what she’s about through her job. She comes home, starts working as a reporter at a dying weekly paper, and gets back into a relationship with her high school ex. There’s an S&M element to the relationship that wasn’t there before and at the same time she’s getting a charge from the aggressive politics and power plays she’s thrown into because of her work.
I’ve gotten really fascinated by the role work plays in informing who we are and how we respond to the world. I’ve been working on a few short stories in which a character’s job in central to advancing the narrative.
Jackie Corley was born in 1982. She developed Word Riot in March 2002 with the help of Paula Anderson. Word Riot Press, an independent publishing company, evolved out of the magazine in January 2003. Her writing has appeared on-line at dispatch litareview, MobyLives.com, 3AM Magazine and Pequin, among others, and in various print anthologies. Her short story collection, The Suburban Swindle, was published in October 2008 by So New. She is represented by Blauner Books Literary Agency.