Q&A with Jodi Paloni

With just one week to go until the Carver Contest closes, next up for our Q&A series is fall 2012 2nd place prize winner Jodi Paloni. She talks about the making of her story, “screaming silently” about the news of her win, and a fun, new project she’s currently undertaking involving reading one online mag/journal short story a day.

Carve: What inspired “The Third Element?”

Jodi Paloni: I’m working on a collection of stories linked by place. Every now and again, characters walk in and out of each other’s stories and either start trouble or help out. In two other stories I wrote, a secondary character, an art teacher new to town named Meredith, showed up to serve as a “fulcrum character.” Since she popped in twice, I became curious about her. But I didn’t sit down and say, now let’s see, what could Meredith get up to today. Instead, I thought about where she would be hanging out in her free time and she appeared in my imagination, sad, lonely, surrounded by art supplies in her garden shed. Then the neighbor boy arrived in the yard and started up a mower. I was bummed because my plan was to write a story in the quiet of the afternoon. I decided to go with how I felt about the “intrusion” and Sky Ryan arrived on Meredith’s porch.

Carve: What was your reaction like when the story won 2nd place in the fall 2012 Carver contest?

JP: August 13th, 2012. I remember being alone in the house, a summer evening, when I casually scanned e-mails and saw “RE: [Carve Magazine] in my inbox. On behalf of everyone at Carve Magazine, please accept our congratulations!” I freaked. Quietly. I don’t know about you, but when I’m alone, I’m more likely to feel self-conscious about skipping around the house and yelling swears, so that’s why I screamed silently, although I had a writing teacher once tell me not to write stuff like that. How can you scream silently? The dog barked. I think I sent an e-mail or two to close writing pals. Then I talked with Carve editor-in-chief Matthew Limpede about an interview, and what a treat that was.

C: Has the contest affected your writing or the direction of your writing career in any way? If so, how?

JP: A year ago, I wasn’t submitting much. In fact, I was terrified about submitting. I’d sent out one story to a dozen places and not until nine months later was it accepted by upstreet. I had almost forgotten about it! Then on the afternoon of the deadline for the Raymond Carver Short Story Prize, a friend who swaps stories with me for edits sent me an e-mail reminding me to submit to June 30 deadlines. Again, I was alone in the house, cleaning my kitchen and everything was all over the tables, counters, and floor: half empty jam jars, pickles, bags of stale grains, shriveled fruit, pots and pans; you get the picture. For some reason, I told myself to drop what I was doing and get a story out. “The Third Element” was a favorite of mine. I polished it up and pushed “Submit.” It was easy. A month and a half later, I got the news that I won.

I guess winning and publishing shouldn’t be an important aspect to writing, because submitting with success is a complex endeavor. It takes guts to get stuff out and a tough skin to field rejections. Eight months later, I’ve submitted a dozen more stories to three or five or seven places per story, depending on the story. I’ve gotten a few stories accepted, some encouraging rejections at journals I greatly admire, and some flat-out no’s from a few of the “tough boys” as we call them in our writing group. This is my long way of saying that the editors and readers and the guest judge at Carve helped me feel like my work was worthy, which boosted my confidence. Success is 95% confidence, I’d say, after you’ve done writing you can be proud of.

C: Can you give us an update on your writing since the contest? Any recent or forthcoming publications or projects we should be on the lookout for?

JP: You couldn’t tell from the length of my interview answers, but I am enjoying writing flash these days. Since Carve, I’ve had three short shorts published in online journals:  Monkeybicycle, Spartan, and The Lascaux Review. I did a couple of really fun readings at the AWP Conference in Boston, where I also got to have lunch with Matthew Limpede. That was a bunch of fun. We talked and talked. Meeting writers and giving readings is maybe more interesting to me than publishing. I don’t know, though. I’m ready for another acceptance or two soon and I hope the editors are as wonderful as Matthew. I have a lot of stuff out there right now. It’s been a long cold winter in Vermont. I’m also working on a project called 365 Short Stories in 2013, which is a forum where I read and give a brief review of an online short story every day of the year. I’m almost to 100! Curating the project has introduced me to more magazines and writers than I ever imagined. One link always leads me to another. I needed the discipline to get out of my “print only” mindset. Anyone can join. Search for the group “365 Short Stories in 2013” on Facebook to find me.

About the AuthorJodi Paloni lives and writes in southern Vermont. Her short stories appear in Carve, upstreet, Monkeybicycle, Spartan, andThe Lascaux Review. She earned an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She curates the forum365 Short Stories in 2013, in which she reads and comments on one short story a day. She blogs at Rigmarole.

The 14th annual Raymond Carver Contest is now open until May 15th.