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Sunday, November 19, 2023

Interview with Jacqueline Doyle, Runner Up in the WOW! Q4 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest


Jacqueline Doyle is the author of The Missing Girl (Black Lawrence Press). She has published creative nonfiction in EPOCH, The Gettysburg Review, Passages North, Pinch, Fourth Genre, and elsewhere. Her work has been featured in Creative Nonfiction’s “Sunday Short Reads” and has earned nine Notable Essay citations in Best American Essays. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find her online at 

 ----------Interview by Renee Roberson 

WOW: Hi Jacqueline, congratuations, and welcome!  “Dear Maddy” is about the suicide of a family member and the lingering questions such an event leaves behind. How did this essay evolve over time and how has it helped you process your aunt’s death? 

Jacqueline: I started writing late in life, just after my father died, and I thought I would write about him. I was surprised when the first piece I produced was a grief-saturated dream fragment about my aunt’s suicide, which had happened long before. By the time I wrote “Dear Maddy,” I had already written a few longer essays about my aunt and I was wondering what role those essays played in my writing in general. It did not seem like a subject I could lay to rest. In many ways she is the central inspiration for my current WIP "The Lunatics’ Ball," where I explore the family legacy of bipolar mood disorder and the treatment of female “lunatics” throughout history. 

WOW: That also sounds like a therapeutic project. Can you tell us a little more about your flash fiction collection, “The Missing Girl?” 

Jacqueline: "The Missing Girl" started with the last story, “Nola,” and the encouragement of J.T. Hill, the editor of Monkeybicycle. I had already published a lot of flash by then without thinking about a collection. The flash in "The Missing Girl"—about girls and women who’d been silenced, abused or gone missing, and about abusers and predators—felt like they belonged together. It’s been a while since it was published, and I’m always excited when it attracts new readers. I just visited Kathryn Kulpa’s Cleaver workshop on the flash collection, where she taught the book. I loved talking to her students. 

WOW: What is your writing process like? Do you prefer to outline even your shorter pieces or are you more of a “pantser” with first drafts? 

Jacqueline: I’m definitely not an outliner. The most exciting pieces to write are voice-driven stories and essays that start with a first line that takes me somewhere I don’t expect. But I sometimes spend a lot of time rearranging pieces like a jigsaw puzzle’s to see where they fit, discarding the pieces that I don’t need. Segmented essays like “Dear Maddy” often work that way for me. I also tend to revise as I write, though you’ll find craft books that advise against that. I revise obsessively once I have full drafts as well. 

WOW: As someone who has published an impressive amount of work in literary journals (and been nominated for and received many awards) what advice would you offer writers who are looking to submit their own writing? 

Jacqueline: I would advise writers to spend some time reading the magazines where they submit to get an idea what the magazine publishes. When I first started submitting flash, I sometimes kept my flash open on the desktop while I opened flash from the literary journal I was interested in to see whether I could picture my flash in their pages. And I find this one difficult: don’t get too discouraged by rejections. Take them in stride and keep submitting. I’m an editor at the literary journal CRAFT and I know that really great work is rejected every day for a whole variety of reasons (often simply for lack of space). You might want to rethink and revise your piece after many rejections, but don’t lose heart. 

WOW: Can you share with us what you are reading right now? 

Jacqueline: I’m often catching up with new publications, but right now I’m reading four brand new books: Ross Gay’s new collection "The Book of (More) Delights," Jayne Anne Phillips’ new novel "Night Watch," and two new anthologies—"Best American Essays 2023," edited by Vivian Gornick, and "Awakenings: Stories of Body & Consciousness," edited by Diane Gottlieb. I’ve been reading bits of the three collections for a few weeks. It’s Sunday afternoon, a bit chilly for Northern California, my husband made French toast for brunch, and now I’m looking forward to curling up on the couch in front of the fireplace with "Night Watch."

WOW: Thank you so much for these thoughtful responses. We look forward to hearing more from you!

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