Interview: Kelly Ann Jacobson

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Kelly Ann Jacobson is a fiction writer and poet who lives in Falls Church, Virginia. She recently received her MA in Fiction at Johns Hopkins University, and she is the Poetry Editor for Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine. Kelly is the author of the literary fiction novel Cairo in White and the young adult trilogy The Zaniyah Trilogy, as well as the editor of the book of essays Answers I’ll Accept. Her work, including her published poems, fiction, and nonfiction, can be found at

Are there any themes that tend to pop up frequently in your writing? What draws you to write about these? What appeals to you about the particular genre(s) (i.e., poetry, fiction, non-fiction, etc) you tend to write in?
Literary fiction, especially novella-length or novelette-length fiction, is definitely my home base, and from there I venture into poetry, YA, nonfiction, flash fiction, longer novels, or any other strange fusion of these forms and genres that I can come up with.

My writing is usually very serious, though you wouldn’t be able to tell from the pieces I’ve published in Promptly—then again, that’s the beauty of the prompts! They take you out of your comfort zone and into a new space you may never have considered, and keep you from writing the same thing over and over again. I kept saying to my boyfriend as I was writing the various sections: “I’m having so much fun! It’s just so fun!” “Carlos & Sylvia” was a great wakeup call about how I should always be having fun as I’m writing, and that it’s okay to be funny and just enjoy yourself. In general, I often write a lot about family and what ties them together/tears them apart. I’ve also noticed a theme of drowning, though I’m not sure that’s positive, and I have no idea where it came from.

Does your writing tend to be factual, fictionalized, or some combination of the two? What about these pieces in particular?
As a young adult I used to write a lot of my fiction based directly on my personal life, but it was pretty terrible. Then I wrote a “memoir” when I was about eighteen years old about my life up until that point, just hashed out all of the anger and happiness and frustration I had inside me at the time, and though I never published it (and never will!), from that point on I was able to shift into fiction “inspired by” my personal life but not directly about my personal life. This piece, however, has almost nothing factual about it, it’s fun and ridiculous, and that’s what I loved about writing it. I had a great time, and as most writers say, that’s the most important part. You, as a writer, need to be entertained by your own writing before you can entertain others, and it’s refreshing to just let loose and write a piece meant purely for enjoyment.

How do you go about revising a piece, and how do you know when a piece is finished?
I am the first to admit how terrible of an editor of my own work I am—thank goodness for my wonderful editors at Musa and Books to Go Now (and you!), who catch my mistakes and point out any inconsistencies I missed. Honestly, the biggest indicator for me that a piece is finished is that I get bored. As I mentioned above, you should be entertained by your own work, and when I stop being entertained and figure out the ending (I do this as I write, not beforehand), I know the piece is coming to an end. After I’m done I evaluate my piece, and if it’s terrible I usually scrap it (unless it’s Cairo in White, my literary fiction novel, which I worked on for five years before starting all over again from the beginning), and if I think it’s any good, I send it out to see if anyone else thinks it’s any good.

What pieces or projects are you currently working on? Is there an idea you’ve had that you’ve been wanting to see come to life but hasn’t yet?
I just finished a short novel that I’d planned on turning into a long novel, but, per my rule, ended early. I went back through it, desperately trying to find places where I could add or subtract, but there weren’t any. Pieces find their own form if you sit back and let them, and they find their own length too. I just try not to get in the way. Since I write poetry, I tend to hate fiction that goes on and on with no substance, too wrapped up in its own language to remember that it’s supposed to be entertainment first, not last. I’d rather have a short, tight novel than a long-winded novel any day, even if it would sell better. That’s why I love well-written YA so much—the story is always moving forward.

Back to the short novel I just finished, all I can really say right now is that it takes place in the Maldives; it’s third person but moves between characters, times, and countries; and the main character’s name is Ibrahim Waheed.

What was the first (or an early) work of literature you remember falling in love with? What appealed to you about it?
I had so many favorites as a kid, I’m not sure I could pick one. I loved Dealing with Dragons, a young adult fantasy novel by Patricia C. Wrede; though I haven’t read that book in a long time, the memory of it and how much I loved it really influenced me as I wrote my own young adult book, Dreamweaver Road (Books to Go Now). The dragons and the magic were wonderful, but I also just enjoyed the sense of adventure and the way that book opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for me. The same thing was true with Ella Enchanted, another book I read over and over again.


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