A stick of dynamite is about the size of a banana. It doesn’t necessarily look dangerous, but it carries with it a huge blast. This little book reminds me of TNT. I thumb open the The Daddy Chronicles and find the prologue is titled “Ode to the Lone Sperm” followed by this first sentence “Eager Little Swimmer.” I know immediately I’m reading something deep and powerful. Jayne Martin is the grand mistress of short and tight. Her ability to say so much in so few words is astounding and in this micro-flash memoir she says much with drama and suspense as well as humor.
I interviewed Martin to find out more about how she approached this very personal material.
Gay Degani: How did embarking on this journey come about? Did you have it in mind for a long time or did you wake up one day and just start writing?
Jayne Martin: The book came as a complete surprise. In the fall of 2020, I was taking a workshop with Meg Pokrass based on her novella-in-flash, The Loss Detector. The first story I wrote was about a woman whose married lover has stood her up for a dinner. “The Other Woman” is now the first story in the book, but at that time I had no idea. Next, I wrote about a baby in a playpen crying for her father’s attention while he turns up the sound on the TV to drown her out. That’s when I had an epiphany: The woman and the baby are the same person—and that person is me. I kind of freaked out at that point. I felt myself strongly pulled to fill in those years while scared of what I’d have to deal with emotionally if I continued down that road. I’d never looked at how deeply being rejected by my father had affected all the other relationships I would ever have.
As I wrote, the long-buried pain and anger started boiling to the surface. I had a rough draft by the end of that year.
GD: Was it your original intention to write a fictionalized account of losing your father at an early age or did you intend this to be a memoir?
JM: Once I realized it was a memoir, it could be written in no other way. I’m still nervous about what people will think of me and some of the choices I made in my younger days, but I don’t feel as alone in these things as I once did. Mine is just one story and it’s not at all unique. One in three women identify as fatherless in this country. That’s a staggering statistic. I wanted to honor their stories as well. I couldn’t do that if I hid behind fiction.
GD: You start out right after you are born and use the word “Tilt” three chapters in to show how the father cheated by leaving. How do you think about imagery as you write? Does it just show up or do you go back, reread, and come up with something that works for you. Do you find your access to “the perfect image” gets easier the more you write?
JM: I spent 25 years writing movies for television, so I think in scenes vivid with imagery when I write anything. But of course, the first thing is just to get the story out of your system and onto the page. “The vomit draft,” as coined by Anne Lamott. Then as I begin to revise, some images are tossed, and new ones appear. I’m working at the sentence level now as opposed to the story level. I don’t know that imagery necessarily gets easier with experience because the more I write, the greater challenges I set for myself. This is just another way of saying I’m never completely happy with anything.
GD: Alienation is a theme in this book as well as abandonment. Being shifted from relative to relative must have undermined any sense of stability. Do you often use these themes in your other work or do you range over many different emotions?
JM: I’d like to think I have an emotional range, and I’m also certain that those themes are always in the undercurrent of my writing somewhere. It’s the view from which I see the world. It colors everything. In rereading some of the stories from my flash collection, “Tender Cuts,” I realized that each one involved a character facing some emotional challenge and dealing with it on her own. I seldom reach out to others for help and, apparently, my characters don’t either. When you have such instability in your early childhood years, you learn to depend only on yourself.
GD: One of the things that appealed to me were your chapter titles. In a book where words are purposely kept to a minimum, your titles help tell your story. I was struck with Chapter 8 which you call, “Bless Me Father for I Have Sinned.” As memoir, was this difficult for you write?
JM: I backed away from this chapter more times than I can tell you. One common thread shared by many fatherless daughters is the use of sex to get love and conflating the two. This was the moment when that got hard-wired into my young mind. I’ve always felt a lot of guilt about allowing it to happen. That chapter title tells the whole story. I didn’t blame Sam. I blamed myself. I was the same age as my photo on the cover of the book at the time.
GD: Who are some of your favorite writers of flash and flash memoir?
JM: Jacqueline Doyle, The Missing Girl, comes to mind immediately because she so fluidly crosses between those two genres. Sheila O’Conner’s work, most recently in Evidence of V from Rose Metal Press,is a stunning hybrid of the two. Also from Rose Metal Press, Ghostographs by Maria Romasco Moore, flash fiction based on antique photos recently blew me away. And Mary Robison’s Why Did I Ever is just genius. Robert Scotellaro is another flash fiction writer whose new works I always eagerly await. So many. I couldn’t begin to name them all.
GD: Thank you, Jayne, for talking with me about the The Daddy Chronicles.
Gay Degani has received nominations and honors for her work including Pushcart consideration and Best Small Fictions. She’s published a collection of eight stories about mothers, Pomegranate, a full-length collection, Rattle of Want, (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). She occasionally blogs at Words in Place, gaydegani.com.