Author Interview

Interview with Writer Jenny Irish

Meet Jenny Irish, an Assistant Professor of English at Arizona State University and the author of the new short story collection, I Am Faithful, published by Black Lawrence Press. Staff writer Edward Dolehanty had a chance to talk to her about her new book, names characters, dogs, and more!

1. How would you describe I Am Faithful to a potential reader?

First, thank you so much for these wicked smart questions.
I love what you all are doing with The Spellbinding Shelf!

Second, that’s a big first question! Okay! Buckle up!

I Am Faithful is a collection of stories about the experiences of the working, lower class. As a writer, I want to challenge stereotypical representations of Americans living at the edge of poverty and engage the complexities of human experience and the effects of multigenerational poverty. These are stories posing questions about privilege, power dynamics, and the consequences of the choices and compromises people make when attempting to improve their conditions. And I also try to ensure that every story avoids simplifying things that are knotty and entangled.

Across the stories in I Am Faithful, there’s also a focus on the experiences of girls and women.
It’s common for girls and women find themselves preyed upon because they’re physically desired, because of the body they inhabit—but that same physical desirability, in a certain context, also gives them a degree of power. What happens, then, when a woman who is dependent on being desired—who commodifies her sexuality out of necessity or choice—becomes a mother, her body altered and her freedom encroached? What happens to the children of these women, especially their daughters, who may become viewed as competition?

2. One of the things that I most enjoyed while reading I Am Faithful is the way that a lot of character’s emotional ranges are shown through their relationship to dogs. How did you come up with the idea to so creatively incorporate dogs into your work?

*whispers* I wanted to be a Rottweiler when I was little.

I think for many writers there are things that appear in their work consistently. Whether these elements make it into the “final” version of a piece or not, the majority of my writing will have dogs, snow, and PBS in it. Some of it is because of familiarity, some of it is because of curiosity, and some of it is because it’s what feels right in the particular piece.

I love dogs. With the exception of a sad, short stretch in graduate school, when it wasn’t financially possible, I’ve always had dogs. My first favorite book was the AKC Complete Dog Book, with all the pictures of breeds, and diagrams, and descriptions of temperaments. And dogs are amazing because they direct back the energy that they feel from a person. In that they’re a kind of magic mirror that can show what’s inside someone.

I also think it’s incredibly telling how people treat things that are dependent on them: children, seniors, strangers they could help, animals in their care. So, I try to address this in my work. I also think that it’s important to recognize that there are different motivations for similar actions. The story “I Am Faithful” is very much about this.

3. So many of the stories in I Am Faithful feel delightfully uprooted from time through the use of flashbacks to inform the present moment. Does this relationship to time come naturally to you in your writing or is it something that you think about a lot in the drafting process?

This is just the way that I tend to write, without thinking about the work or having a plan. Most of the stories don’t follow a straight path, chronologically. Instead, they’re moving associatively. I think there’s a relationship between how elliptical stories can be “uprooted” from chronological time and the operation of memory. Associations carry us from one place another, and that movement isn’t necessarily be linear.

4. Something that stuck out to me about I Am Faithful is how most of the narrative characters go without a name. For me, as a reader, this allowed who the characters are to shine as opposed to highlighting what they are called. Could you discuss your relationship with naming characters in your writing?

There is something entirely mortifying to me about naming characters. In I Am Faithful, I think there’s only two characters with names, girls who have the same name, and much of the story is dependent on their shared name because of the comparison it invites between the two.

For me, characters are representative of real people, experiencing things that happen in the world, but they could be anyone. These things, or things like this, they happen to a lot of people.

5. One of the themes that resonated most with me in your collection is the sacrifices so many of the characters make in the name of independence. How they are willing to put themselves into compromising situations physically, socially, and morally, for the satisfaction of having something to call their own—no matter how small. In the story, “Worry,” the opposite is true of the narrative character, who is willing to make these sacrifices in the name of dependence. Did you find that the process of writing this story differed greatly from the others in I Am Faithful?

Thank you for telling me you appreciated this story. I’m proud it, but it hasn’t been particularly well received.

In “Worry,” a young girl disappears, and her mother is largely unconcerned. The mother’s smitten boyfriend—who is the narrative lens—was witness to the hostile relationship between his girlfriend and her daughter. He desperately wants to believe the woman he worships wouldn’t have harmed her child, but struggles with what he’s seen. This is a story, for me, about how complicated sexual commodification is and how powerful a motivator loneliness is. It’s also one of the longest stories, because it needed to be.

Love is complex and love isn’t always healthy. I think, when we talk about sacrifice, we often link it to punishment, but sacrifice can be a true act of love. In the collection, there are mothers who experience the sacrifices that parenthood demands—whether they choose to make those sacrifices or not—as a punishment and their relationships with their children reflect that feeling. I hope that there are other examples who see love in the sacrifices they make, and in that have the potential to be affirmed by their choices, even as they’re struggling.

I’ve already said a version of this, but I think it’s worth repeating: I hope to always avoid good/evil binaries, which I think are dangerously simplistic and generally false. Though there is one unquestionably “bad mother” in the collection—the mother in “Worry”—I think there are more people who are trying to be better than their circumstances, but making uncomfortable compromises along the way.

6. Each one of these stories strikes me as authentic and true even though they are fiction. I think that this in large part to the way in which the characters are presented as they are and, unless intentional, without the prejudice for impoverished people that is quite prevalent in society. Is this something that you were conscious of while writing this collection?

The very first rule of fiction, or, the very first rule of fiction workshop, is that we never ever conflate author and story. That said, like many writers of fiction, I do draw on my own experiences in writing.

When I was child, I always had an awareness of my class positioning. The reminders of it were constant. I always had an awareness that my mother was struggling to make ends meet. There was a perpetual anxiety about how to scrape things together in a way that would allow a precarious situation to keep going. I watched the people around me beg, borrow, and steal, and I understood that it was my job to conceal that. Hiding how bad things were was huge part of my childhood.

So yes, a goal of I Am Faithful is to be authentic and in that, capture the anxiety and varied forms of violence, desperation, and hope that come with living a life scraped together from scraps. Too often, I feel like these experiences are grossly simplified and fetishized. I’d rather they be honest and as ugly as they need to be.

7. A question we love to ask of our guests here at The Spellbinding Shelf is, what are you currently reading?

Ahhhh! I love books! I just finished We Will Tell You Otherwise by Beth Mayer, and re-read The White Book by Han Kang, and right now I’m reading By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart and Blood Box by Zefyr Lisowski.

Thank you so much for reading I Am Faithful and this conversation!


For more information about Jenny Irish, click here. Buy I Am Faithful locally here.


Thank you to Black Lawrence Press for providing an ARC and making this interview possible.

Interview with Novelist, Screenwriter & Director, Stephen Chbosky

Meet Stephen Chbosky, whose 1999 novel, Perks of Being a Wallflower took the world by storm, inspiring young people everywhere to participate in the world around them. This novel has transcended time and remains an important staple in YA fiction—it was even made into a movie in 2012, which Chbosky wrote and directed as well. Now, 20 years later, he has written a new novel, Imaginary Friend, and I have had the pleasure to speak with him about it.

1. I’m sure most people are familiar with your first novel, Perks of Being a Wallflower, but your new novel, Imaginary Friend, takes on a much different genre than Perks. What was your motivation/inspiration behind this change?

My motivations for Imaginary Friend were many. One of my favorite genres is horror, I love Stephen King. I also love coming of age stories. Perks came out of my love for coming of ages stories, so Imaginary Friend came out of that same love, but for horror. I had such a great time with the Perks movie. It was the most satisfying experience of my life, so I wanted to do that again but in a different way. Also, to prove that I could write another novel. Most of what I do is in movies and T.V., and I wrote Perks when I was younger.

2. Imaginary Friend came 20 years after Perks. Was this lapse in time intentional, or did it stem naturally from your writing process?

It wasn’t a deliberate career move, but it’s how things worked out. It was a very ambitious book and I wanted it to be special. If I put something into the world, I want people who like my work to know that it was my best effort. When I wrote Perks I was single and had no children. I could throw 16 hours into writing, but now I have a wife and children and my family comes first. I started Imaginary Friend 10 years ago.

3. How has your relationship with writing changed/evolved over the years and what (if any) factors have influenced this change?

It has changed as I’ve gotten older. It is harder now, harder to find time and to focus. Due to that, I’ve had to change some of my process to accommodate that. It’s harder to write now but it’s also more meaningful. Every time you stare at a blank page is a chance to do something special with it and I take that more seriously now, because now that I am older I have less blank pages to work on. It adds a lot of meaning for me.

4. Not only are you an author, you are also a screenwriter and director. How do these overlap and what challenges do you face trying to balance them all?

All of the different things I do influence the other. Writing screenplays are merciless when it comes to structure and because of that I am always thinking about the story moving forward, even in a longer book like Imaginary Friend. Naturally, as a film director it has made me think more visually with hearing and sound. So when I write a book, all these elements find their way into a novel. On the flip-side, since novels are treated as more serious than movies, my novel writing always reminds me to make sure my movies are quality. I always try for my best no matter what.

5. What is some advice you have for aspiring authors working towards publication?

1st is to never use the word aspiring again. I wrote Perks when I was 26 and the 2nd draft when I was 27. I couldn’t find an agent for a year, and due to circumstance and luck I got a publisher and an agent. Was I writer when I was 27 when I didn’t have a publisher? Yes of course, if you write you are a writer. It isn’t up to some publisher. It is important that writers and artists feel they are a part of their work.

2nd work hard to find your authentic voice. I don’t mean to write about your childhood, unless that is your voice. Think about the books that you love and have inspired you. I wrote coming of age stories because I love them, I wrote a horror novel because I love horror and Stephen King. Those are my passions, so I did it. I did because I loved it and it was my authentic voice. If you do that—where you’re always challenging  yourself to get better—you’re gonna have a much better time with it. There are writers who write pulp fiction and that is their authentic voice, and it is just as authentic as Fitzgerald and Hemingway. All that matters is their authentic voice.

3rd I offer a 4 point plan; One is to write down every idea you have. It is very important that it is every idea. It could be page, a paragraph or a sentence. Two create a PDF of that document and register it with Writers Guild of America East or West for proof that it is your idea. Three share it with 5-7 friends or family members. It has to be people whose taste you trust and who want you to succeed. No frenemies or people that would want you to fail. Four is listen to them. Say it takes you a year to write a book or story, so say you’re 20 years old, you have 60 chances to write something remarkable. Time is so precious, what if you spend 1 of your 60 years on one idea, but these people love this other idea more. By having this discussion, little by little you learn about your characters and a genre that you weren’t sure about and find your best narratives and titles and themes. What’s funny is we as readers can identify peoples identities. You know what a Stephen King book is, everyone who writes has that style and their version of it. It helps them find it a little faster. You never know when the right time is going to come and you never know when you won’t get the chance. If George Orwell had written Animal Farm at a different time, or gone with a different idea, it may not have become what it did. Write the story that feels right to you, but find the things that are most intriguing to others as well. It really increases your chances of having a successful novel.

6. Do you have any ideas or plans for future novels at the moment?

I believe that I will write a sequel to Imaginary Friend. I have many other ideas, I love directing movies which is a (good) distraction. I have many ideas though and Imaginary Friend will not be last my book.

7. And lastly, we like to ask all of our featured authors to share their current read. Are you reading anything right now that you would recommend?

Ironically, my current read is the novel Dear Evan Hansen. I am directing the movie of the musical and it is quite good. I am reading it professionally but it’s a great book, so I would recommend it to anyone.


I had an amazing time speaking with Stephen, everything he says is full of little nuggets of wisdom, all of which I made sure to share. I have always been a big fan of his work and I couldn’t be more grateful for the experience. If you wish to purchase Imaginary Friend, you can do so from Changing Hands here. You can also read my review of the novel here if you’re on the fence about it, I promise it’s worth it!

Author Interview

Interview with Novelist Melissa Duclos

Meet author Melissa Duclos, whose new novel, Besotted, is out now from 713 Books. Listen as staff writer Edward Dolehanty has a conversation with the author about her debut novel, the drafting process, and the work she is doing to shed light on small literary presses!

Melissa Duclos interview

For more information about Melissa Duclose, click here.


Thanks to the publicist at TNBBC Publicity for
providing an ARC and making this interview possible.

Author Interview

Interview with Author & Photographer Anna Jean Ouellette

Meet Anna Jean Oulette, a local author and photographer from sunny Arizona! Anna is the author of the Raz series, Soft Soul, and 46 Miles. She is currently working on her sixth book.

1. You’ve already published five books in the past six years, which is certainly a very fast pace! How were you able to keep up this writing speed and motivation? Do you have a regular writing routine?

My writing routine has changed a lot throughout the years. In high school I used to wake up at four o’clock in the morning to walk to the nearest coffee shop and write my stories. Since I was such a morning person, this was a regular routine for me and not a difficult one either. However, when I started college, I no longer had the motivation to wake up at four in the morning, and my writing routine began to slack a lot.

Now, I work full time at a daycare for some extra money, so when my two year olds nap each day, I use that opportunity to write. Even though that is only an hour a day, versus the two to three hours that I used to commit, sometimes even more, words still get on a page, and my creative outlet continues to thrive. Writer’s block is definitely something that has existed, especially when writing 46 Miles. However, I usually overcome it by skipping whatever scene I am working on and writing a future chapter, which excites me enough to continue my current scene.

2. You began writing at a very young age, with your first novel, Raz, published at age 14. Now, six years later, have you noticed any changes in your approach to or relationship with writing?

I unfortunately write considerably less now than I did when I was fourteen. I used to sit in my room all day, challenging myself to test how many words I could write in a single day, one time reaching 20,000 as I was writing Izz. Now, I typically only write 1,000 words a week, but I definitely have a lot more in my life to balance now with two full time jobs, my family, planning a wedding, and writing. I wish I still had as much free time to spend writing, but I definitely take what I can get and make the best of it.

3. How did writing your first book compare to writing your subsequent novels? Did the writing process get easier or did you face any unique challenges with your later writing?

One challenge that presents itself when writing each new book is the need to grow. Each new book needs to be better than the book before, but I think my stories have definitely improved since Raz. There was slightly less pressure when writing my first book both because of that reason and because now people are waiting for the next book to be published. It has been a year and a half since 46 Miles was published, and the pressure of having to finish my next book before people forget about that one sometimes outweighs how much enjoyment I get out of writing. It’s definitely different to write with other people’s opinions in mind, rather than just writing for the sake of the story.

4. Your first book was the product of a NaNoWriMo project, which is a writing challenge to complete a novel of 50,000+ words during November, or National Novel Writing Month. Some writers criticize this challenge, arguing that the process doesn’t encourage enough reflection time. Yet, other writers praise NaNoWriMo, saying that it gives them the motivation they need to devote their time to a single creative project. In fact, several amazing published works started as NaNoWriMo’s, including Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and—of course—your very first novel! What are your thoughts on the NaNoWriMo process? Do you think the challenge helped your writing endeavors? 

I absolutely love NaNoWriMo! I have always been very competitive, so the challenge to write 50,000 words in a month definitely stuck out to me! I did it with some friends, so my competitive side made sure I was always ahead of them and on track to finish. I got trifold boards and planned out all my characters and a basic plot line during October and then actually began the writing process on November 1st. I think having some aspects planned out ahead of time helped a fair amount. This challenge definitely helped me write Raz, and then I made my own personal goals for Izz and Adz. I wrote Izz in a month, as well, and Adz in three weeks. I spent a much longer time revising the second two books, however. 

5. In addition to being a published author, you are also the photographer behind AJ Photography, where you capture headshots, senior portraits, wedding events, maternity photography, as well as photos for couples, newborns, families, models, and more. Do you notice any connections between your creative work as an author and as a photographer?

I brainstorm creative ideas in the same way for photo shoots as I do for my books. I get my inspiration from dreams, things other people say, and ideas that I randomly get and pick apart, until they become an entirely different idea. I am constantly daydreaming, and these daydreams are what turn into my stories and photo concepts.

6.  Although most of your photography is professional work, one of the photo collections that stuck out to me most was your creative project—the Invisible Illness Project—which portrayed eight different mental illnesses in an attempt to defy our modern misconceptions. Can you share a little bit about your creative process in this work? How did you decide the ways you wanted to depict these illnesses?

I definitely got a lot of help from both friends and the internet when brainstorming for this idea. I chose models who have struggled with (or known someone who has struggled with) one or more of the mental illnesses that I chose. The models were then able to help better the ideas that I already had and bring them to life. When I displayed these pieces of art in the RAW Phoenix Gallery, I received enormous appreciation for my work, and many people said that they were able to relate to each piece.

7. And, finally, we like to ask all of our featured authors to share their current read. Are you reading anything exciting at the moment?

My latest read is Different by Janet McLaughlin. It’s definitely an easier read, good for younger ages, but is about a girl with Tourette Syndrome, something I struggle with personally and that very few people write about in books. This author is amazing because she is helping spread awareness and overcome misconceptions of Tourette’s. I think that is why this book speaks to me so profoundly, even though it is written for a younger audience. 


Learn more about Ouellette’s books here. You can also view her photography website here.


Author Interview

Interview with Songwriter Thomas Muglia

Here at Spellbinding Shelf, we are so excited to announce our newest addition to the blog—author interviews!

In the coming years, we will be sitting down with local authors—ranging from poets, to novelists, memoirists, and beyond—to bring you several interviews.

Our managing editor was lucky enough to sit down with her friend and fellow ASU student, songwriter Thomas Muglia, to kick off our author interview series.

Listen along in this podcast-style interview as they discuss every topic from Thomas’s recent album drop to writing inspiration—with many laughs in between.

You can learn more about Tommy and his music here.

Thomas Muglia Interview