From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Paul Jessup, author of The Adventures of Petal, the Paperdoll Pirate

Paul Jessup has been published in many magazines, including ClarkesWorld Magazine, Strange Horizons, Apex Digest, Fantasy Magazine, Farrago’s Wainscot, Post Scripts, Electric Velocipede, Pseudopod, Flashing Swords, Nanobison, Journals of Experimental Fiction, Jacob’s Ladder and the Harrow. He is also the recipient of the 2000 Kent State University Virginia Perryman Award.

In 2009 he has two books coming out. PS Publishing will publish his collection of short stories, Glass Coffin Girls, as part of their PS Showcase series and Apex Publishing is putting out his surrealistic space opera, Open Your Eyes.


Tell me a little about “The Adventures of Petal.” What was the first image or phrase or impetus that made you sit down and spin it out?

To be honest, this one was written because I wanted to write a pirate story, plain and simple. I like pirates, pirates are cool and things blow up and they storm into places and swashbuckling and ARRR MATEY and all that fun stuff. So I wanted to write a pirate story, but it’s me. And I can’t ever just write something normally.

So I decided, hey, what can I do differently? Well, we were making paper dolls with my daughter and the idea just clicked. Pirates made of paper doll, made of popsicle sticks, all that fun stuff. To make it a quest for being, for finding the creator of the world who had abandoned it goes back to movies like Puff the Magic Dragon and The Brave Little Toaster. In fact, you could say The Brave Little Toaster was a huge influence.

Where do you get your ideas?

Cartoons mostly. Fairy tales. Random thoughts, random images. It usually starts with my mind playing, toying with ideas. Layering things. After awhile of compounding stuff in my mind, it feels ready to come to life. That’s when I start writing.

You say you get many ideas from fairy tales, but “The Adventures of Petal” isn’t a retelling of a familiar story. Do you also write retellings, or do you just use fairy tales for the germ of ideas?

Petal is not a retelling of a fairy tale at all. I don’t really write retellings, the ones that get inspired by fairy tales (like “Ghosts We Have Become,” or the stories in my upcoming collection, Glass Coffin Girls) are more like thematic inspirations. I combine characters, ideas, symbolisms and basic narrative strands and then rearrange them in such a way that something new arises out of this whole symbolic soup. Usually my fairy tale styles stories are very different from their inspirations.

You’ve published a lot of short stories, but you have a novel coming out this year. Is this the first novel you’ve written? Do you find that your writing process differs for short stories and novels, and do you find one easier to write than the other?

Novels…well, the first book I’ve got coming out this year is a novella, which I think works kind of differently than a novel or a short story. This is the first novella I’ve written, with two more written after that (my favorite of which is called A Crown of Autumn). The problem with novellas is marketing them- not very many people want to publish them. So I usually shirk away from novellas and stick to either novel length works or short stories.

As to novels themselves, I’ve written so many I’ve lost count. I wrote my first on in about 1st or second grade. It was about transformers. I’m not kidding. I’ve written tons of others, and I actually started shopping my first novel around to agents when I was sixteen. It went absolutely nowhere, which should come as no surprise to anyone. I needed to learn a lot where writing was concerned.

My writing process for novels is completely different from short stories. It’s much more involved, with far more pre-planning. Short stories I just write and move on. Novels I swim in, I drown in. I drink them in, breathing them. Dreaming about them. Novels are also more difficult for me to write. The process is much more complicated.

What are your favorite words?

I don’t have any. That would be like asking me which is my favorite tooth, or which eyeball I prefer to look out of, or if any of my fingers feel more fingery.

Your favorite names?

Alice, Nimue, Zoey and Jack.

What does your writing space look like?

A laptop.

If not yourself, who would you be?

A spinning top.

Where did you get such awesome hair?

From my mom.

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