Writer Wednesday: Jessica May Lin


Today’s writer is Jessica May Lin. I discovered her when I read her amazing flash piece, “Mortar flowers”, in Nature‘s Futures section, and then read her “Dark, Beautiful Force” at Daily Science Fiction, found out we have friends in common, she’s going to school in the first town I moved to when I left home after high school, and she’s a fellow Codexian. Naturally, I had to ask her a million questions. (Okay, ten. Ish.)

When she’s not writing, Jessica is a student at UC Berkeley. She is also an acrobatic pole dancer. You can find her at www.jessicamaylin.com.

1. How does your life as a full-time university student inspire and/or detract from your writing? Does your major influence your writing, or do you keep the two separate?

I think the exciting thing about being a student is that every day, you get tons of new stuff thrown at you from all sides, which is inspiring in strange ways. Once, after being unable to fall asleep all night, I misunderstood some theory my physics professor was describing, which eventually inspired me to write a story with the title “The Insomniac’s Guide to Collapsing Universes.” I’m majoring in Comp Lit, which has introduced me to radically different ways of storytelling that depart from the Western emphasis on plot and interiority, my two current favorites being Chinese vernacular literature and Soviet avant-garde cinema.

That aside, my writing life, my student life, and my dancing life are all pretty different from each other with very few overlaps, and I like to think that each one engages a different side of myself. It’s kind of like living in 3 different worlds at once with the ability to jump between, but I like it that way. When I get overwhelmed by one, I can easily slip into another. That way, everything I do always feels fresh.

2. What local authors groups or online communities do you actively participate in?

I’m very close with the Odyssey Workshop Class of 2012, who are the first writer friends I’ve ever had. It’s been pretty exciting, watching their careers blossom over the past year and getting to cheer them on from the sidelines. More recently, I made a lot of new friends at Taos Toolbox 2013, who I’m still in touch with. I’m also a member of Codex Writers Forum, which is a supportive, insightful resource that throws the best contests.

3. You’ve written and published some excellent very short fiction. You’re also working on a novel, A Dream of Burning Cities. Do you prefer one kind of writing over the other?

I’m a novel person through and through. When I get an idea I’m super excited about (which happens like, once a year), I want to hold on to it and explore it in as much depth as possible. Sometimes I think I get too invested. I do feel like there’s more room for experiment in short stories though, so every now and then when I stumble across a catchy concept that I can’t stop thinking about, I will write a short story.

4. Which publication are you most proud of, and why?

The bit of writing I am most proud of is actually something I wrote this summer. It hasn’t found a home yet, but I like it because it forced me out of my comfort zone. It was definitely a risk, but one I’m glad I took.

5. You’ve already attended a couple of writing workshops (Taos, Odyssey), which is unusual for a young writer so early in her career. What did you get out of those experiences, and which workshops do you want to attend next?

Before attending workshops, my writing was pretty much an explosion of feelings and ideas without much organization. I liked painting pretty pictures with my words, but I had no idea what a plot was… I think I’m much more disciplined now. Also, I’ve met some incredible people and mentors, who have been there for me through thick and thin. However, I think I’m done attending workshops for a while. For me, there are two parts of learning to write, which are 1) learning to write and 2) living and growing. I’ve been spending a lot of time learning to write but I don’t think I’ve been on an adventure in a while, so I think I’m going to do that next summer.

6. You’re a student, working as a research assistant in a psychology lab, studying acrobatic pole dancing, living with roommates, and writing. Do you sleep? 

I have power napping down to an art! I can fall asleep anywhere, anytime in less than five minutes. I usually nap for 1 hour before going to pole, otherwise I get a little worried about hanging upside down ten feet in the air…

But aside from that, I either have a very short attention span or I’m very good at juggling things (I can never tell). If I try to do a single task for a long time, I never finish it, but if I switch between multiple things, I can finish all of them with my undivided attention. Because there’s so much to do (on top of trying to have a social life), I get very creative about how I fit things in too. I take pictures of my readings on my cellphone (lame, I know) so that I can read while standing at the bus stop or waiting at a restaurant for food—anything that frees up extra time!

7. What’s your publishing goal? Market you most want to crack?

I would love to have a novel published sometime in the next few years, but in terms of short story markets, Clarkesworld and Shimmer.

8. Who do you read for fun? Who’s style would you love to steal?

I’m all for beautiful, lyrical language and overcomplicated, layered plots (e.g. Inception). I also love stylistic mash-ups and Surrealism. Most of the SF/F I read these days is short fiction because I have so much non-SF/F reading to do for class, but my favorite short story this year is “Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream” by Maria Dahvana Headley. I’m also a huge fan of Clarkesworld. (My favorite non-SF/F books are Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath)

9. How much planning and preparation do you do for a story? Do you outline, make notes, research … or do you let an idea percolate in your head before writing it out organically?

I jump right in! Sometimes I have an image or a sentence I want to use, but most of the time I discover what I’m writing as I write it. After I’m done with the first draft, I go back and try to make sense of everything.

10. When I lived in Berkeley, I spent a lot of time at the UC Theater (which is sadly gone now), Other Change of Hobbit (also gone), Comic Relief (also gone… hey, I’m sensing a theme…), and I wrote/ate at Bangkok Thai, Au Coquelet, Zachary’s on Solano, Triple Rock, Caffe Med… Well, at least the food is still there. Where do you go to eat, relax, and write?

I recently moved to a new location in Berkeley, so I’m still exploring, but I hang out at People’s Café quite a bit since it’s right by home. The two Thai places, Bangkok Thai and Thai Noodle, which are both open till 1:30 a.m., are awesome after late night dance practice, although I’ve never considered writing there… As for Au Coquelet, I did spend one memorable night there right before my week one submission for Taos was due, when I really fell behind due to summer school finals and wrote 3,000 words in one sitting, the most I’ve ever done. Besides that, my living room couch is my favorite place to write, relax, and eat.

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