Pamela Carter Joern is the author of three works of fiction: In Reach, The Plain Sense of Things, and The Floor of the Sky. She participated in the summer 2014 writing workshop, Apart and Yet a Part, and the summer 2007 writing workshop, Believing in Writing. Her latest release, In Reach, recently won a Nebraska Book Award.
It’s thrilling, of course. When you’re sitting alone writing, you never know if the work will be ignored or appreciated. Stories are hard to place because fewer readers enjoy them. An award like this means someone has paid attention. That’s very gratifying.
Has recognition of this sort (you’ve won a Nebraska award twice now) affected how you write, or how you think about writing?
I wouldn’t say it has affected how I write, but it has reinforced my courage to keep writing.
President Obama recently interviewed Marilynne Robinson. That had to be quite a heady moment for her, even with a Pulitzer Prize under her belt. What would be the highest compliment to your writing that you can imagine?
Who wouldn’t like to meet President Obama? Or win a Pulitzer? I can’t say I’ve spent much time dreaming toward these ends. I have very young grandchildren. Someday, I would love it if they picked up my books and found them true and engaging. If they learned something about what it is to be human, if the books led them toward compassion and empathy, I would be ecstatic.
What are some of the perils of writing short stories? What are the charms?
I would say the perils are also the charms. The main thing is, short stories are short. You don’t have the luxury of developing long backstories or complicated twists of plot or multiple character viewpoints. You can’t hide mistakes. However, what I love about writing stories is that we (both the writer and readers) are dropped into a life at a pivotal moment, a small moment usually, the kind of moment that we generally recognize as significant only in retrospect. I think writing stories has helped me to be more aware of the meaning residing in the ordinary. I hope reading my stories does the same thing.
What is it about writing that keeps bringing you back to the page day after day?
Discovery. I know that’s a writer’s cliché, but it’s also true. I write to deepen my understanding and my compassion. I love the flow of words on a page. Even after all this time, I’m surprised when something unexpected occurs. I know the fallacy of waiting for inspiration, and yet I fall into that trap. I wait, thinking I don’t know what to write about. Eventually, not writing is more painful than writing, so I sit with the empty page, and then clues start to unfold. I wish I could circumvent the painful emptiness stage of this process, but it doesn’t work that way for me. There’s empty; then there’s the story revealed. And for me, that is enough.