Jessica Klimesh is the author of edition four's "Whiskey Burns Faster," one of my favorite pieces! If you'd like to read her piece before reading the interview, just click on the "editions" tab of the website and scroll down to edition four.
Q: This story seems like a deeply personal piece, was it based off your own experiences? If so, was this a painful story to write? How did you work through all those emotions to write something as beautiful as "Whiskey Burns Faster?"
A: Yes, the piece developed out of my own experience with grief after the death of a friend, but I actually found it more therapeutic than painful to write. I was about six months removed from the loss by the time I sat down to write the story. The emotions were still certainly fresh, but I was able to view them with more rationality and reason by that time—I was able to separate truth from fiction but also use truth to enhance fiction. My original intent for the piece was very different; how it turned out was actually a lovely surprise.
Q: The moon becomes an important symbol throughout the story. At various points, the narrator says the moon is made of glass, paper, wood, and plastic. What is the meaning of these images? What makes of moon of glass so different from a moon of plastic?
A: As both a (current) technical editor and former teacher of academic writing, I’m fascinated by the writing and revision processes. I love seeing how pieces develop and change. I mention this because the moon is, indeed, quite important to the story, yet there was no mention of the moon at all in early drafts of this story. I wrote the initial draft of the story in a short amount of time and then revised it (though not radically) several times within a few short weeks. However, the feedback I was receiving from my writing group confirmed my own dissatisfaction with those early drafts of the piece. So I put the story away for a couple of months, but I was constantly thinking about it. The female character in the story is struggling with insomnia, something I’ve also struggled with, and my insomnia was especially bad after the loss of my friend. There were nights when I literally felt like I’d never sleep again. On one such night, during the time when I was revising the story, I looked out the window and took note of the moon. That was when I decided that I had to include the moon in the story. I also observed that a consistent lack of sleep combined with drifting in and out of dreams during the night, just on the edge of unconsciousness, creates a confused and somewhat hallucinatory state of mind—what is real? What is imagined? To that
end, it seemed natural that the female character would perceive the moon as more or less a character itself. I believe the moon represents her psyche in a way—perhaps different levels of consciousness she’s experiencing. A moon of glass is fragile or delicate—breakable—but looks clear and clean. A plastic moon may be more durable (in some respects), but the view may be more distorted.
Q: There are certain times when the narrator chooses to repeat words. For example, "The clock-radio alarm alarms her, she has just fallen fallen. Asleep and dreaming, holding hands with his ghost, while he's in the cemetery, deep in the earth." How did you choose which words you wanted to repeat, and what was the significance of having repetition in the first place? What, as an author, do you think that repetition adds to a piece, specifically this one?
A: In general, I love repetition. I am drawn to work that uses strategic repetition. In “Whiskey Burns Faster,” the repetition is sometimes used for rhythm and cadence. I listened to the words as I wrote, and that helped me decide which words to repeat. In at least one place, I did it for the rhyme, too (“spinning spinning” and “grinning grinning”). But none of the choices were random. The repetition is often used to emphasize a word or idea. But it’s also used to invoke again that sense of unreality—that blurry line between wakefulness and sleep. I see the narrator as being in a dreamlike, stream-of-consciousness type of state. Especially if she’s also experiencing anxiety, which I imagine she is, there’s that loop of thought that a mind can get stuck in. In my own experiences with both anxiety and insomnia, I’ve lay in bed, seemingly thinking the same few thoughts over and over again—in different ways—for hours. Although the repetition in “Whiskey Burns Faster” doesn’t mimic that loop of thought exactly, I think it represents it and hints at it. Another of my stories (currently unpublished) includes repetition of several lines throughout. In that story, the narrator is responding to trauma; the narrator’s reaction manifests itself through a psychological response very different from that of the narrator in “Whiskey Burns Faster.” In this other story, the word “fixation” is even used; the repetition, then, underscores that fixation. It’s important to me that any technique I use (e.g., repetition) be used purposely—a way of connecting the form with the content.
Q: Why did you choose to title the piece "Whiskey Burns Faster?"
A: My titles tend to come from intriguing turns of phrases within the piece. Choosing a title this way, though, means that the phrase also has to have some larger meaning in regards to the piece’s theme—not just a random and interesting expression. Alcohol is important to “Whiskey Burns Faster” and reflects (in a sense) the male character’s loss of innocence. It can be inferred from the context that the male character was an alcoholic; it’s left purposely ambiguous, though, as to whether alcoholism had anything to do with his death. While I chose the title “Whiskey Burns Faster” partly because I like the poeticism of the phrase, it also reminds me of the expression about burning a candle at both ends—living too fast or too hard (if either thing can be quantified) or doing too much. To burn one’s candle at both ends also contributes to the image of burning out, which, in many respects, is applicable to both characters
in the story. There is also urgency. Time is running out. For all those reasons—and perhaps more—it’s an apt title.
If you'd like to find out more about Jessica, here is a link to her website: https://jekproofreadingandediting.com
Photo credits to Rebecca Trumbull Photography.