Interview with Jay Lake Winter 2006

Jay Lake’s story, The Black Back-Lands, appears in the Winter 2006 issue of Shimmer. Jay’s story Shedding Skin; Or How the World Came to Be also appears in The Clockwork Jungle Book (Issue #11), and you can hear him read it here! (12mb, mp3 format)  Jay’s website is at, or you can email him at

Questions about the story:

Where did the idea for The Black Back-Lands come from?
The writers’ group I work with, Wordos in Eugene, Oregon, has holiday readings every year for Halloween and Christmas. I wrote this story for Halloween, naturally. The title comes from a book of classic Irish fairy stories I was reading to my daughter at the time — in that English translation, ca. 1890 I think, what we might think of as “Elfland” or “Under the Hill” was called “the Black Back-Lands”. That must be a literal translation of an Irish Gaelic term, as I’ve never heard it before, but it’s evocative. I wrote to the title, basically, transposing the idea of “Under the Hill” into a post-apocalyptic setting. The pathway on which the story takes place would be on the east face of Rocky Butte, in the very eastern end of Portland.

Do you work with a critique or writers group?
Wordos, in Eugene, Oregon. I’ve been there since December of 2000.

How did the story change as you developed it?
It didn’t, actually. I wrote it to be read aloud, in one quick sitting (it is flash), and except for some minor line editing, it remains as it emerged from my fingertips.

Do you have any cut scenes/outtakes/etc that might be entertaining/informative? Any interesting anecdotes?
I don’t really have any cuts to share, since the story emerged pretty much organically from my keyboard. This is quite typical for me, by the way, especially with shorter work. I will comment that having carried water camping a time or two I was somewhat consumed with the idea of how much those buckets would weigh. That east face of Rocky Butte is mighty steep. Believe it or not, I spent time thinking about the economics and defense practices of clifftop village in hostile terrain.

Questions about writing:

Who do you write for? Yourself or someone else?
I write for the story. That may sound pretentious, or even goofy, but it’s true. I don’t owe the audience anything, I owe the story everthing. Once I have released it into the wild, the story speaks for itself to the audience.

How long had you been submitting before you made your first sale?
Eleven years.

How did you celebrate your first sale?
I geeked out badly.

What writing projects are you presently working on?
I have a novel under contract to Night Shade Books which I need to finish soon. (Ahem.) It’s called Trial of Flowers and is a follow-on of sorts to my short story The Soul Bottles which appeared in Leviathan 4, ed. Forrest Aguirre. I’ve got another novel in progress called Original Destiny, Manifest Sin, a sort of magical alternate history of the Old West. I have to do some road-tripping this summer to Montana to do field research on the locations in that book.

Does popular culture/entertaiment influence your writing?
Not too much. I haven’t watched broadcast or cable TV since about 1994, and I get to the movies maybe five or six times a year. I don’t own a videogame system. I do pay a lot of attention to the news, via NPR, several dead tree magazines, and a number of Web sites, and I read a lot of fiction. So obviously those things filter in to me.

What time of day do you prefer to do your writing?
Any time works, but for reasons of my personal schedule early evening seems to be the most typical by far.

Favorite short story read this year?
It’s January 10th. What can I say?

Favorite book read when you were a child?
Lord of the Rings, of course.

Random Questions:

If you could trade places with anyone, who would it be? And Why?
Are you nuts? I’m having the time of my life. Now, I wouldn’t mind trading bank balances with a few people…

Do you believe in ghosts or the supernatural?
Do I believe? No. I am a dyed-in-the-wool empiricist. I would love to see evidence, or have a meaningful supernatural experience of my very own. I’ve had a couple of marginal supernatural experiences, but not enough to convince me. This of course in no way affects my ability to shamelessly exploit the noumenal world in my fiction.

If you have a day job, what is it?
I’m a marketing director for a Midwestern telecommunications company. Really. They all think I’m a total weirdo, but I do good work, so everybody’s happy.

Fast food: Yea or Nay?
Yeah baby. Junk food junkie.

Favourite food?

Favourite restaurant?
Nice restaurant: Castle Hill Cafe, Austin, TX
Pizza: Flying Pie, Portland, Oregon
BBQ (my other favorite): The Salt Lick, Driftwood, TX

Name one place in your hometown that you love to go to and would recommend to others to visit.
I don’t really have a hometown — born and raised overseas — but Forest Park in Portland, where I live now, is deeply awesome. Hundreds of acres of deep Northwest forests dark enough to put frost on your soul, right in the middle of town.

What are some of your hobbies?
Writing, writing, and, uh, writing.

Cat or dog person? (or something else, like birds, iguanas, or even evil robot monkeys?)
Cats. Dogs are ok, but not my thing. Cats are worthless parasites of course. Just ask mine.

Is there anything that you would “sell your soul” for?
More time in my life to write, both every day and on a lifetime basis.

All-time favourite movie?

If you had a working time machine what advice would you give a younger self?
Write more. Get serious sooner. (I made my first sale at 37.) And don’t eat that cheese whopper in the summer of 1986, cause that trip to the E.R. for food poisoning really sucked.

Do you have a secret skill that you never get to show off? (i.e. ambidextrous writing, blood-curdling screams, double-jointed, badmitton champion…)
Only with very close friends.

How many writers does it take to change a lightbulb?
None. We’re always working in the dark.

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