Editor’s Note: We asked author and FC member/contributor, Arya F. Jenkins, a few questions about her book of short stories.
Interview with Arya F. Jenkins
Author of Blue Songs in an Open Key
Short stories published by Fomite, 2018
When did you first get the idea to write this book?
I was in the midst of a long love affair with jazz when I first started writing fiction with the idea of having it published. I decided to do something a little different and interweaved my love for that music into a story. My short story, “So What,” was inspired by the first cut in the seminal album by Miles Davis, Kinda Blue, and won first prize in a fiction contest in Jerry Jazz Musician, a jazz-based zine run by Joe Maita.
That was in 2012, and subsequently I was asked to write more stories for Jerry Jazz Musician, which I did, at the rate of three or four a year. The stories were all jazz inspired and interwoven into them were aspects of my own experience.
As a minority writer, a Colombian/American, I felt I had a unique place in this genre, which musically-speaking–and historically in jazz lit as well–has excluded virtually everyone save white and black men. I wanted to write about the experience of women, the disenfranchised and outcasts in society that are the subjects of jazz music, and also to toe the line thematically as bebop does, the music that was largely inspiring me. There are elements of improvisation in some of the stories–the idea of musical riffs, for example.
So anyway, by 2018, I realized I had written more than 20 stories in this genre, enough for a book, and I began thinking of publishing a collection.
What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?
Each story in Blue Songs in an Open Key is unique to the particular idea, feelings, history and music that motivated it. Writing these stories over a period of time involved probing my own past as well as researching some of the characters I was exploring. For example, “Blue Kiss,” one of the stories in my book, was animated by a painting by Toulouse Lautrec, as well as by Dexter Gordon’s Ballads. I wanted to connect divergent ideas, times and cultures through the music, by writing a story inspired by the two prostitutes in Lautrec’s painting. What surprised me most as I experimented with each story was how natural it felt to interconnect diverse elements, and how I felt this somehow added to their truth.
Did you have a particular aim with this collection?
Yes–in no particular order–I wanted to move people to listen to jazz, to feel for characters I had written about that represent difference, exclusion. I wanted readers to hear music in the writing and to be inspired. I also wanted people to feel they were reading something other than what they expected—both in terms of short story form and content. Of course, readers get what they will out of art and literature, but these were my aspirations.
What creative people (not writers) have influenced you and your work?
The people that have inspired me most are writers—in my own family, my mother who was a superb short story writer and wrote and published three books, and my sister who is a jazz critic–and many writers living and dead.
As a writer I am inspired by all the arts—film, music, photography and painting especially.
My obvious inspirations as regards Blue Songs in an Open Key are jazz artists, mostly from the bebop period—Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Vi Redd, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Wayne Shorter.
The painters and sculptors that have influenced me most are Toulouse Lautrec, Jackson Pollock and Rodin. Lautrec was a tragic character as was Pollock, both of them riddled by drink and depression, and they led messy lives. These are the tales of jazz too.
Persuade someone to read Blue Songs in an Open Key in less than 50 words.
These are stories steeped in noir, drugs, art and jazz, interweaving personal and musical history, intended to inspire writers and artists and to reach the heart of everyone.
Arya F. Jenkins is a Colombian-American whose poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have been published in journals and zines such as Across the Margins, Anti-Heroin Chic, Black Scat Review, Brilliant Corners, The Feminist Wire, Front Porch Review, KYSO Flash, The Matador Review, Metafore Literary Magazine, Mojave Literary Review, Vol. 1 Sunday Stories Series, and Provincetown Arts Magazine. Her fiction was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2017 and garnered three nominations in 2018. Flash is forthcoming in Cleaver Magazine. Her poetry chapbooks are: JEWEL FIRE (AllBook Books, 2011) and SILENCE HAS A NAME (Finishing Line Press, 2016). Her short story collection BLUE SONGS IN AN OPEN KEY (Fomite, 2018) is available on her website. This is her second feature on The Fictional Café. You can find her first here.