Holly Goddard Jones

Holly Goddard Jones is the author of Girl Trouble, a collection of stories, and The Next Time You See Me, a novel. Her short stories have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, The Gettysburg Review, Tin House, Epoch, and elsewhere, and they've been anthologized in two volumes of New Stories from the South (2007 and 2008) and in Best American Mystery Stories 2008. She was honored with a Peter Taylor Scholarship at the Sewanee Writers' Conference in 2006 and was the winner in 2007 of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award, a prize of $25,000 given to only six emerging women fiction writers each year. A graduate of the MFA program in creative writing at The Ohio State University, she has taught at Denison University, the Sewanee Young Writers' Conference, and Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky.

1. You come from Kentucky yourself. How much of The Next Time You See Me is autobiographical?

When I was a little girl, a phone line repairman found a murdered woman’s body in an abandoned shack on a property near my neighborhood. It’s a cliché to say this, but that was a different time, and I spent much of my summer days unsupervised, and the subdivision I lived in was lined on a couple of sides by undeveloped wooded areas where I wasn’t supposed to go but often did. I thought it was thrilling to explore those woods, and I was fascinated by the idea that death had happened so close by—that it might have been me to find the body, under other circumstances. So that was the germ of the idea with Emily Houchens, her discovery, how entangled that discovery gets with her games of make-believe. But Emily’s story obviously isn’t mine, though we share some commonalities, such as having a father who works at a factory. And Emily isn’t me, thank goodness. I wanted there to be a disconnect in her, something missing. For all her sensitivity, she’s a character who has a hard time understanding the experiences of others, which is what I think her mother was actually talking about when she encouraged Emily to be “normal.”

2. The Next Time You See Me depicts the intricacies and the dark elements of a small community. Why did you choose to write about small town life?

Well, the short and easy answer is that I understand small towns—I’ve lived the majority of my life in them. But a small town is also an excellent backdrop for tragedy, because a death like Ronnie’s reverberates in a way that it wouldn’t in a city. You can see how her story touches all kinds of people, how it ignites the best and the worst qualities in each of them. I like setting fiction in small towns, too, because it gives me the opportunity to write about so many different ways of life. In a town of 10,000, the rich kids and the poor kids, the black kids and the white, are all going to go to the same school. Their parents are going to shop at the same grocery store.

3. What is your writing process? How was writing a novel different from writing your short story collection, Girl Trouble?

My writing process is “any which way I can,” and what that has often meant for me is fits of creative energy alternating with quiet, fallow periods, in which I’m thinking about the characters but not necessarily sitting down and making sentences. That method works better with short story writing, because I can draft a piece in a handful of those intense sessions, then focus on revision. A novel resists fits and starts—it doesn’t offer the same kinds of immediate payoff. With my stories, I’m often carried through the home stretch of a draft by the sheer emotional intensity of the experience, but you can’t live for years that way. So learning to write a novel was partly, for me, about learning to live more happily in the quiet writing moments, when I’m not necessarily worked up into an emotional lather.
I think it’s also easier in a story collection to leave your characters’ lives in shambles, and I couldn’t have seen my way to the end of this book if I didn’t think there would be light at the end of it, even if that light is very faint and distant.

4. Who are your writing influences? Any books you are currently reading that you would recommend to your readers?

Some writers who inspired this book in particular are William Faulkner—the Ronnie section in the middle of the book owes a debt to the Addie Bundren section in As I Lay Dying—and Margaret Atwood, whose Cat’s Eye and The Blind Assassinshowed me some tricks about how to move a story between past and present. Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply gave me a model for a contemporary book that straddles perfectly that line between a literary novel and a suspense novel. Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children helped me with conceiving a book as a series of alternating 3rd-person perspectives, including the ways that a writer can get mileage out of the gaps—the stuff that happens between chapters, when one character hands the story off to another. But the book that most captures what I strive to do as a novelist is William Trevor’s Felicia’s Journey. I just love it so much. I realized this only in retrospect, but Wyatt certainly has some Mr. Hilditch in him.
The books I’ve read most recently—and I loved all of them—were Christopher Coake’s You Came Back, Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot. I went to grad school with Chris, and I looked up to him, and it’s just such a pleasure to read this novel, which is a page-turner but also heartbreaking and artful. The Art of Fielding was interesting to read after The Next Time You See Me was copyedited and out of my hands. I’m glad I didn’t read it sooner. The books aren’t obviously alike, outside of the fact that Tony is a baseball player, but the big cast of characters, and the approach to point of view, are similar.