jensen-1Jensen Beach lives in Massachusetts with his family. His fiction has appeared or soon will in Avery, The Lifted Brow, PANK, Everyday Genius, Waccamaw and the Best of the Web 2010 (Dzanc). Two of his stories were recently named to the Wigleaf Top 50. He helps edit Hobart and can be found online at

Q (Meg Pokrass): When in your life did writing become a passion?

First, thanks for asking me to do this, Meg. I really look forward to these interviews from Fictionaut, and I’m honored to be asked to participate. I guess around 2001 or so I first discovered that people were publishing stories and poems online. I was living in Hungary then and a friend of mine in the Bay Area (where I’m from) sent me a link to the McSweeney’s website. It was a total eye opener for me. I had no idea that things like this existed. Aside from reading certain books for the first time, I think discovering websites like McSweeney’s, Eyeshot, Surgery of Modern Warfare and later Hobart, Smokelong, Pindeldyboz, (there are too many to list) was a watershed kind of moment for me. It helped me meet people who were interested in similar types of reading and writing that I was, and it introduced me to new writers and new journals and books to read. This is probably around the time I started taking my own writing seriously, meaning I read and wrote a lot and sent my work out and so on. But it wasn’t until I started an MFA program and moved back to the US that I became more disciplined and regimented in my work.

Do you have a mentor, or have you ever.

At UMass, where I’m getting my MFA right now, I’ve been lucky enough to work with Chris Bachelder, Noy Holland and Sabina Murray. They have all helped me enormously. I’ve worked the most with Chris, though, and can’t say enough about him as a writer and a teacher. The way he thinks and talks about fiction has helped me a lot.

What are your favorite short stories or story collections of all time?

Of all time, huh? Well, I guess Flannery O’Connor is probably my favorite writer of all time. Bobbie Ann Mason’s collection Shiloh is probably the book of stories I’ve read most after O’Connor’s collected. But there are a whole bunch of writers, some of whom I have discovered more recently, that have stories or whole books that make me kind of tingle with excitement from the sentences. Denis Johnson (“Emergency” gets me every time, and the feeling I get from near the end of “Car Crash While Hitchhiking” when the wife is screaming is one that I chase after in all the rest of my reading. Amy Hempel, Grace Paley, Hemingway, Padgett Powell, Barry Hannah, Joy Williams. Honored Guest might be up there on the list for me, too. “Charity” is, I think, maybe one of the best short stories ever written. “Marabou” is another great one. This is tough. William Saroyan, Tennessee Williams, Tom Drury, Sam Lipsyte. I don’t know that I have a single favorite necessarily, but that’s a list of some of them.

Tell us about what you are working on and what is new!

I’m working a collection of stories, mostly set in Sweden, that explore place in a way that is new to me. The stories are much longer than I usually write, which has been an interesting experience.

What do you love about flash fiction?

I love lots about flash. I think I feel a kind of playful freedom when I write things that end up being shorter. I allow myself more consciously to work with structure or constraint in ways that until recently were hard for me in my longer work. Beyond that, I like reading flash because I like the feeling of keeping the whole shape of a story in my head at one time. I find this much easier in flash fiction than in longer stories. This is probably also true when I write flash, now that I think of it.

How do you get unblocked or unstuck (creatively)?

I read. I always start my writing day by reading. Even if just a few sentences to remind me of how great it feels to live with an amazing sentence. Then I can chase after that feeling in my own work. But, really, I don’t often feel blocked or stuck. If I’m not hearing a sentence in my head, I wait until I am. Or if I’m feeling especially critical and cranky, I’ll work on revising something. As far as being stuck in a particular story, that is my favorite part of writing a story. I love feeling stuck in the sense that I have no idea what is coming next, and just writing to figure it out.

The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is an editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and her stories and poems have been published widely. She blogs at

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