Corey Zeller: I want to start by saying Mira Corpora is amazing and I was honored to read it. It is a punk masterpiece and one of the best novels of 2013. I truly loved it and have been recommending it everywhere! That being said, I want to start with the author’s note. Why did you decide to include it?
Jeff Jackson: It needed to be clear right away that the narrator is the same throughout the book. And that this narrator shares my name: we’re both Jeff Jackson. I wanted readers to feel the pressure of a presence on the other side of the page. My old journals were the spark for the novel so it made sense to acknowledge that – plus it set up the short sections about writing that appear throughout the book. The author’s note was included in an early draft, then it got cut, then it reappeared toward the end of the process.
CZ: How long did it take you to write the book? Was it written in the order it appears or did you move sections around?
JJ: Oh man, it took over five years to write. Almost nothing was written in order. In fact, there’s an earlier version of the book that’s 150 pages longer and made up of 35 short chapters that kept changing tone, point-of-view, and setting. The first chapter of that version is now the last chapter of Mira Corpora. I was way too ambitious about what I could pull off. I had to cut a lot good material and find a more manageable structure. The manuscript was rearranged and stitched back together many, many times. It took a while to get it right.
CZ: Is there anything you wish you could change about the book now that has been published?
JJ: The one advantage of endlessly and maddeningly reworking the sentences and structure of the novel is that I feel satisfied with the it. There’s only one small thing that I’m tempted to rewrite if there’s ever a second printing. It involves the character of the reclusive singer Kin Mersey. There was a real-life musician who was one of the inspirations for him and a few readers have spotted that. I worry it’s been distracting for them. I meant the character to come across as more of a composite – especially because chunks of him came straight from my imagination. So there are a few sentences I might rework to better cover my tracks.
CZ: How did you get into writing? How has it been transitioning into fiction from plays? Correspondingly, how did you get hooked up with Two Dollar Radio?
JJ: I was a fiction writer before I was a playwright. Fiction has been my main thing ever since I was teenager. It’s just taken me a long time to write fiction that was worth publishing and in the meantime I’ve had a bunch of plays produced. Theater has been the more public side of my creative efforts. In some ways, the plays came easier because they were collaborations with a very talented company. The creative burden was distributed across many shoulders and the process was a lot less lonely than writing fiction, too.
I got hooked up with Two Dollar Radio because they were the publishers brave enough to take on Mira Corpora. Unlike almost everyone else, they were immediately excited by it. They publish great books and have a wonderful design aesthetic. Their track record speaks for itself. I couldn’t be prouder that the novel was put out by them.
CZ: I know you’re a huge music fan, so I wondered what you were listening to as you wrote the book. Or even better: if Mira Corpora was turned into a film what are some tracks you’d put on the soundtrack?
JJ: What I listened to while working on the book is probably different than what would work for a film. I often listened to minimalist music by composers like Terry Riley while I wrote, partly to get me into a sort of focused trance. I did a music playlist for Largehearted Boy that has songs that were on my mind for various reasons while I wrote the novel. And I did a playlist that features music more reminiscent of the vibe of the book on Electric Literature. Tunes by Nico, Burial, DJ Screw, Dr. John’s hoodoo version of “Walk on Gilded Splinters.” My fantasy is one day Harmony Korine will make a film of the book. And, hey, whatever he picks for music is fine by me.
CZ: If you could trade the existence of this book to change a major moment in your past would you? If so, what would that moment be? I guess I also want to ask (on that note) how important is it to write?
JJ: It’s hard for me to place a value on a book compared to anything from real life. I mean, it’s definitely nowhere near as important as my marriage, my friends and family, my cat. But then about 18 months ago, I had a cancer scare. The first thing I thought after “Holy crap, I’m gonna die” was “At least I managed to finish Mira Corpora.” Which wasn’t the reaction I would’ve expected from myself. The idea that I was leaving something behind, however meager a testament, provided a bit of solace. So probably the writing has more value in the end than I think it does.
For me, there’s no question it’s important to write. Part of my struggle has been accepting that simple fact. I still fight to find the time and not get overwhelmed by working to pay the bills and whatnot. I’ve got a storehouse of stories and images that I want to get out into the world. But if you don’t feel the burning need to write, there are definitely much better ways to spend your time. For starters, I’d say there are too many writers and not enough good readers.
CZ: There was something about this book that really spoke to the lost teenager in me. I imagine this book will strike a chord with lots of young writers who feel lost. I wondered if you had some advice for them. What would you tell them about life? What would you tell them about writing?
JJ: Sadly, almost all advice is useless. I’m afraid anything truthful I could say wouldn’t sound like hard-earned wisdom but overly earnest bullshit. Everyone’s path is different and the best lessons are learned the hard way, seared into your own skin through your own stupid mistakes. But see, even that has a bit of a phony ring. One thing that was helpful for me was to clear my head of other people’s interests and figure out which obsessions were really mine. And then I tried to delve deeper into those. Another thing is that I was trying to write non-traditional fiction and as a result it took me a long time to learn the skills I needed to pull off my ideas. Some teachers and fellow writers tried to get me to “normalize” my writing so it would be more successful. But sometimes it’s better to be a failure in the short term so that you can develop a style that’s really yours.