Guest editor Monet P. Thomas organized and ran the Big O Challenge, four stories from which she selected for publication in Issue 42 of Jellyfish Review. She speaks here to TJ Fuller. If you want to read TJ’s story, Hotel Sex, go here
How did you feel going into the Big O Challenge and how did you feel once the challenge was over?
I probably felt the way I feel going into any submission process, hopelessly optimistic. Maybe this time. Maybe this piece. I mean, it’s a competition, right? It’s fun, and it’s inspiring to read the other work, but I also wanted to win. No one voted for my BJ Challenge piece — no one would vote for my Big O story — but I went in hoping to impress, hoping to make the second round.
Afterward, I was disappointed that I didn’t make the second round, and I was proud of what I had written. In the last year, I’ve come to appreciate prompts. When I am stuck on a longer piece, the prompt is a nice relief, an escape, and I’ve enjoyed the work I’ve made using prompts more than I expected to. Maybe prompts felt like a cheat when I was in grad school. Maybe I believed, without articulating it, that I should be making something out of nothing. But some of my favorite work I’ve done this year has come in response to prompts, this challenge included.
I think women get this question on the opposing end and I’m not sure how often it gets asked of men, AND I think you pulled it off here, so I was curious about your thought process for writing inside the mind of a woman?
Mostly, I am just writing myself. I know what it’s like to feel hemmed in by obligation. I know what it’s like to have many people to please. There’s also a sense in which I am thinking of my family and friends, trying to do justice to their experiences as I see them, the way obligations and people pleasing can be gendered. But I never know if I am accurate there. I know when I can identify with a character. I hadn’t planned for this to be a Margaret story. I just got to the end of that first paragraph, and I’ve written one hundred Ben stories (I’m in the middle of Ben draft now) and I wondered what the story might look like through her eyes.
I’m glad this became a Margaret story. I love the Ben stories, too, but this one feels like new ground for you. I’m glad you brought up obligation because that is a very gendered topic and I think especially in sexual acts and intercourse. On the other hand, desire is more universal. Can you talk about the different layers of desire in this story?
That’s a good question. Ben’s desire is obvious (though maybe there is something more complicated in his unwillingness to take anything seriously). The desire we see of the mother’s is for Margaret, refracted through a series of disappointments, probably first for herself. For Margaret, I’m not sure it’s so much about what she desires as it is about the chance to desire unobserved. Her mother and Ben desire so strongly, so unabashedly, she needs to get away from them. I’m not even sure she knows what she wants beyond that chance to ache out of the sight of the people whose desires she cares so much about.
Image (pinked): 克里斯多福·米歇爾 CC2.0
Monet Patrice Thomas is the Interviews editor at The Rumpus. Her writing can be found online and in print. She currently lives and works in Beijing, China.
TJ Fuller writes and teaches in Portland, Oregon. His fiction has also appeared in Hobart, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere.