The women in Jules Archer’s Little Feasts are hungry. They’re chowing down on fat slices of tempeh, ripping napkins apart while watching the Investigation Discovery channel, licking spoons laden with whipped cream. They’re cycloning swirls of olive oil in the charred bottom of a skillet, slurping hot bowls of soup over webcam. But there’s much more than food at stake in this evocative collection. As ingredients meld carefully, tension whirls under the table. The question surfaces: will food be enough to satisfy their hunger?
Below, I speak with the author about her debut collection, writing under quarantine, and—of course—food.
Hi, Jules! Thank you so much for taking the time out to chat with me! Where are you writing from, and how are you holding up?
Hi Gauraa! Thank you so much for this! I’m excited. I am writing from Arizona, where the temperature is finally dropping into the 90s. Overall, I am holding up well. Everything feels like it’s been a whirlwind of emotion, so if you asked me this question in April, I’m sure I’d have a different answer. Right now, I’m just trying to remember what day it is. I also feel like you can’t trust your emotions in 2020. Like my eternal thoughts are, I have no friends, I hate my clothes, I’ll never travel again, I’m eating like shit. Oh wait. It’s 2020 and it’s a pandemic. Lovely.
How have you been spending your time in quarantine?
Honestly, I feel a bit guilty saying this, but I’ve been spending my time writing. I’m probably getting more writing done during quarantine than prior. I’ve written two novels. I know a lot of writers on social media have been saying they can’t write, but my writing’s been a form of sanctuary. The one place I can tune out the real world for a few hours and write gorgeous imaginary characters.
Your story collection, Little Feasts, is out now from Thirty West Publishing! Congratulations! Thirty West also published your chapbook, All the Ghosts We’ve Always Had. Could you tell us a little about your publishing journey? What drew you to Thirty West?
Thank you! My chapbook was born in a Kathy Fish flash fiction workshop. When I started subbing it around Thirty West caught my eye because—while they hadn’t published a ton back in 2017—I liked their website vibe and the titles they had published and the unique way they made chapbooks. After we worked together on All the Ghosts We’ve Always Had, Josh, the EIC reached out to me asking if we could collab again on a short story collection and I was super psyched. They have been fabulous to work with. They’re reliable, pay royalties on time, and let the author have a nice say in the entire publishing process. Writers, hit them up! They have some amazing books.
Most of the stories in Little Feasts concern the appetite. I have to ask: what does food mean to you, and what keeps you coming back to the subject in your stories?
Food means a lot to me. Overall, I have a complicated relationship with it, but I love freaking delicious food. I hate the word, but I’m definitely a foodie. I used to work in the restaurant industry and my one story “Everlasting Full,” was definitely inspired by that. Not the cannibalism though. I think food works in many ways – showing love to others, to yourself, acting out your emotions through food. Whether or not you think about it, food definitely has a tendency to control and influence. And please enjoy my one philosophical comment for this whole interview.
What would you consider your favorite meal?
So difficult, Gauraa! Okay, I have to say, I fantasize about this meal probably more than I should admit. I have detoured a road trip to go to this restaurant and get this meal. Brown Dog pizza in Telluride, CO. Detroit style pizza. My go-to is the Parma Italia. And then a draft beer from the bar. Oh man, heaven.
Do you have a ritual when it comes to writing—a specific time, or day, or perhaps, a particular space where you prefer to sit down and write?
Yes, I most definitely have a writing ritual! I write every morning from about 7:30am to 11am. I stick my kid in front of the TV and write in my office at my desk. I love that I have a ritual because it keeps me on track, but it’s also slightly frustrating because I feel like I have to be in my element to write. I can’t pick up and go to a coffee shop or spend a weekend writing in a posh hotel. I need my desk!
Could I see a picture of your desk?
You’ve mentioned before, in previous interviews, that you’ve had some difficulty “cracking” a novel. Could you tell us about the difference between working on a book vs. a work of flash fiction? Do you find that each form exercises different muscles?
Gosh, how long ago were those interviews? Can I rescind/amend that comment? Ha! I only say this because I have written several novels and I am embracing that fact and proud of it! They just aren’t ready or haven’t found the right publisher or maybe they just need to stay silent in a drawer. BUT yes, I think flash fiction, while the brevity is tough, is more fun because you don’t need to say everything. I also tend to write more literary in flash fiction and then voicey/genre-y in novels. I feel like novels need more explanation and backstory, which is my downfall. I can do it, but I think flash fiction is almost like immediate gratification because it doesn’t need a ton of rounds of edits and you can get published relatively quickly. At least in my experience.
How long do you like to sit with a piece or project before submitting?
Probably a few days. I usually come back to it three times though. I write the initial story quick and dirty, then go through it and finesse. That part probably takes the longest. Then I let it sit for a few days or hours and then come back and do nit-picky edits or trim it down. Then off it goes into the Submittable void!
How do you know when a project is not working? Do you ever abandon a story, or do you keep returning until it works?
I’d say 85% of the time I keep working on a story. Maybe I abandon ideas or lines but never a fully fleshed out story. I had one recently published “Human Dead Things” that took almost two years to publish, I think. I reworked it a lot and kept the faith and it happened. But I definitely trust my gut if a project isn’t working.
There’s a tendency toward macabre in each of these stories, especially “Everlasting Full” and “Hard to Carry and Fit in a Trunk”. How do you maintain that delicate balance of horror and dread?
This is hard to answer because I haven’t really thought about how to do this. I don’t sit down and aim to make the story horror. Maybe it’s subconscious, I can’t say. In fact, the mere fact that Little Feasts is being lumped with horror is awesome and amazing and an honor. I love horror. I just never thought I fit in there. That all said, I definitely like to weave in the warped. I have a ridiculously strange imagination and instead of saying my thoughts out loud to people I just put in on the page.
What’s the scariest work of art you’ve experienced in the past ten years? And what do you think makes it so effective?
The past ten years? Ugh, I’m sure my memory will fail me, so I’ll go with what sticks out the most in my mind. I think I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara creeped me out a ton. It was before the East Area Rapist was caught so I would read it (when I was home alone, mind you) and just sit in bed and stare at the doorway, freaking myself out. Telling myself that the guy was still out there. That others like him existed. I think that was what made it so effective. It was real and the guy was still out there. True crime tends to freak me out the most because unlike scary movies about ghosts, it actually happened. I mean, I do believe in ghosts, but I’m not terrified by them. Famous last words, right?
Could you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on at the moment?
Right now, I am writing romance. I was hit by an idea for a series and I’ve been cranking that out. Next, I want to write either a chapbook idea I’ve had for a while, or pick back up my Gone Girl inspired thriller. Who knows! I’m having a lot of fun writing romance at the moment and it’s been hard to break away from that.
What are some books you’ve read and loved recently?
So, during this whole pandemic I have been having the worst time concentrating on reading. I’ve been so slow on my reading list. But there are two books that have gotten me over the hump. Luster by Raven Leilani was amazing and totally immersed me. I’m currently reading Self Care by Leigh Stein and am plowing through that as well. The writing is super buzzy and has me gobbling it down. Anything faster paced or true crime related is grabbing me. I pray 2021 will give me the power to finish all those great books I grabbed at AWP.
Lastly, is there an indie bookstore you’d like to recommend to our readers?
As a warning, I will not limit this to just one indie bookstore. Changing Hands in Phoenix, AZ is my favorite in my area. Also, another one that I visited last year in Phoenix is: Palabras Bilingual Bookstore. My longtime love is CityLights in San Francisco. Some typical good one’s are Powell’s in Oregon, and The Strand in NYC. BUY BOOKS. BUY ME BOOKS. Just kidding. Everyone buy books for anyone you can!
Little Feasts is published by Thirty West Publishing, and available wherever books are sold.