I first came across Jackson Bliss in the comments section of another writer’s blog. He seemed smart and ballsy yet warm, which is my favourite kind of troublemaker. Fascinated, I followed the trail back to Jackson's own blog. His posts were emotionally raw and honest, and unabashedly confident. In fact, I'd never come across a writer so self-assured. It was refreshing and inspiring; it made me think differently about writers, about how we're perceived by the world, and how we take ownership of our merit and value. I read some of his short stories and essays, my fingers crossed that he was as good as I hoped he was -- and he did not disappoint. Jackson's style knocked me on my ass. It has a kinetic energy to it that feels almost dangerous, incendiary, even when he's being a poet, even when he's reflecting on his grandmother. Once he gets his big break, Jackson is going to have a devoted readership, fans who will argue over his books until their knuckles bleed. He’s just that type. Passionate. Controversial. The guy is going to blow up.
Here’s Jackson on Jackson and the question Where does your confidence come from?
Much of my swag comes from being discouraged to write fiction. There was the time the director of the creative writing program at Oberlin (which has an excellent undergrad major in creative writing) asked me what year I was in college after I'd handed in my application to the program. When I got rejected later that month, one of my friends explained that upperclassmen almost never get accepted into the program. The absurd thing is, I transferred to Oberlin, so I'd arrived as a Junior. I never had a chance! Then, there was the time I was about to enroll in David Shields’s intermediate fiction class at U Dub. I was dreadfully poor at the time, had just moved to Seattle, and didn't have a printer to my name to give a writing sample, so I brought my clunky laptop to his office and said: --I'm sorry about this, but I have my story ready for you to read. Take as long as you want. His response: --No way, I'm not doing that! Write something tonight and bring it back to me. So I did, and of course it was shit, and of course, he rejected me from his workshop the next day. Even once I'd been accepted to multiple MFA programs, I realized that in my workshops, my manuscripts were almost always destroyed. That may sound like self-martyrization, but over time many friends and classmates confirmed my own suspicions, which made me realize that my writing affected people, even if it wasn't always the reaction I wanted. The long of it is, that many people didn't want to help me write at all, or criticized me for the way I did write, but I believed in myself and knew that I had talent, even if it was extremely raw. If nothing else, I wanted to see how it all played out and I wasn't gonna let people who had no fucking love for me or my writing, decide whether I became a writer. I guess I'm stubborn like that.
Over the years, I've felt like the world of literary journals has confirmed what was once a secret (and sometimes irrational) belief in my own writing ability. I've had a good amount of stories accepted in respected journals of national distribution, and I've also received enough great rejections from the best glossies in the world to know that I'm no longer the only dude who thinks my writing has merit. This confirmation has been helpful for me because it helps me understand that I'm not completely delusional about my own self-diagnostication when it comes to my own writing. People can hate you all they want, but when an editor publishes your shit, especially when it's something workshop hated, this shows how disconnected workshop can often be from the publishing industry itself, how legit your voice really is, and how unique and exciting your writing can be, if only for a tiny second.
The best sort of confirmation, though, I think, is from readers themselves. When they write me and tell me how much my writing has moved them, my body gets a contact high. When I read those emails, my heart melts. My soul aches. Eventually, you realize that you're not just writing because you're talented anymore, or even because you have lots of important things to say, but also because you want to create things that affect people, that move them, that connect to them and challenge them in some way. For me, having an audience is game changer.
Jackson Bliss earned his MFA from the University of Notre Dame where he was the Fiction Fellow and the 2007 Sparks Prize Winner for his debut novel, The Amnesia of Junebugs. He also has a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from USC where he worked with TC Boyle, Aimee Bender, and Percival Everett as a College Merit Award Fellow in Literature and Creative Writing, FLAS fellow in Japanese, and two time ACE/Nikaido Fellow. Jackson was the 1st 2012 Runner-Up for the Poets & Writer’s California Exchange Award in fiction. His short stories and lyrical essays have appeared in Tin House, Antioch Review, Kenyon Review, Fiction, Santa Monica Review, Boston Review, Quarterly West, ZYZZYVA, Fiction International, Notre Dame Review, African American Review, Kartika Review, Quarter After Eight, Connecticut Review, Stand (UK), 3:am Magazine The Good Men Project, and the Huffington Post UK, among others. Jackson is a lecturer at University of California Irvine.
Stay tuned for the fourth "where does your confidence come from?" post coming soon!