Challenging our grasp of reality with Psychological Realism, THE DARK SIRE presents an interview with Jeremy Zentner.
If you have read Jeremy Zentner’s short story In Service (Issue 4) once, you have probably read it twice, maybe even three times. It is a masterful piece of Psychological Realism that challenges the readers grasp of reality. When seen through the eyes of an unreliable narrator, the reader is compelled to question everything. What is real and what is not? The story begs the question. Dostoevsky would be proud. THE DARK SIRE found this story so intriguing that we put together some questions for the author that we thought you, the readers, might also like answered.
TDS: First off, we want to say how brilliant we think In Service is. We were completely shocked and surprised by the story, in the best way. It is a perfect psychological realism story. That being said, we were curious to see how you first started writing in this genre and what has helped you curate such a wicked story?
Jeremy Zentner: Thanks for the kind compliments! To answer your question, I guess, I started writing in the genre because of my interest in similar stories. For a short story, I believe In Service is rooted in creating a strange reality out of a realistic background. I always had an interest in mind bending stories that may be grounded in a sort of normalcy and then turned into something a bit more fantastic. I like things like The Twilight Zone and The Black Mirror, Chris Nolan films and Palahniuk novels, so I have often written about stories that challenge our grasp on reality. In addition, stories about possession have always held a special interest for me, so that also led to a thing like In Service.
TDS: As the narrator is a woman, we felt like we were reading a story written by a woman as well, and was surprised to see it was written by a male as it was written so well from her perspective. Was it challenging to write as the opposite gender or was it easier than might be expected?
Jeremy Zentner: Well, again, thanks for the high praise. To be honest, it's sometimes more fun writing a story about a female narrator. Sometimes writing can be a dull process, so doing things like writing from a different perspective spices up the grind of writing. It also helps me truly create a fictional, fleshed-out character instead of installing my own personality into the written avatar. In simple terms, it forces me to think more. I also enjoy women authors like Laurell K. Hamilton, Rachel Harrison, Marge Piercy, and Aimee Bender, so their books have certainly influenced how I may better write a story as if I were a woman. So, I would say it was fairly easy because it was simply so fun.
TDS: When thinking of what you want to write, do characters normally come to you first or the storyline and then they develop?
Jeremy Zentner: I usually have a story I want to tell first, no matter how undeveloped it might be, and then characters quickly populate it and drive the story on. Sometimes a character can be the story, but the story is usually the origin point. This goes back a little to the question about writing about the opposite gender. In Service only works if the narrator was female, so she was characterized as such early on. The original idea was about a nun being exorcized by a priest she had an infatuation with, so naturally the protagonist was female and her background fleshed-out later.
TDS: Something that stuck out to me was the story of how they received their "miracle" baby. Why was this significant?
Jeremy Zentner: I think this part of the story illustrated the protagonist's secular background, while also showing how she actively joins into her husband's heavily Catholic background. Infertility is often an unspoken struggle for a lot of families and it can test the core of everything they are, so it's only natural for it to expose who people are and also change who they are.
TDS: What are some of the themes you like in psychological realism works and how do you use them in your writing?
To preface, I am not an expert in psychology and consider some of my writing to be closer to magical realism or surrealism when I’m writing about the mind, though In Service is closer to psychological realism, in my opinion. Psychological realism can bring up some rather fantastic internal imagery and apply that imagery into unique action. I think psychological horror/realism blurs the line with reality and makes the world a bit more fantasy-driven and fear-driven according to the character’s thoughts. It’s also an interesting way to explore magical realism when that line with reality is blurred. As far as a theme goes, I enjoy blurring that reality line and asking if something actually happened or if it was a product of the character’s fantasy, which can also merge into surrealism. Slaughterhouse V reminds me of this as Vonnegut created a character dealing with time travel, aliens, and/or dealing with the horrible effects of WW2 and the bombing of Dresden. Even though it may not be too psychologically descriptive, I think the story tells a great deal about the state of mind and questions how unreliable our own reality can be. When it comes to these types of stories, I almost like to believe that the fantastic is happening, if only for a brief period of time. I’m not sure if that answers the question, but maybe it explains a bit about me.
TDS: Can you tell us what the meaning of this story is to you?
Jeremy Zentner: To me, the story represents how bizarre of a place our hidden desires can lead us.
TDS: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. I only have one more question. It seemed that the ending and story overall was left open to interpretation by your readers. What can you say about how you'd like them to interpret this and what you'd like them to take away from it?
Jeremy Zentner: That's difficult to answer. As far as interpreting it goes, I suppose I would keep in mind that the narrator is very cognitive of her background, but she still ends up in a bizarre situation. As far as taking anything away, I kind of just want the reader to have a good time.
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Keep the conversation going! If you have any questions for Jeremy, please leave them in the comment section. We will get you the answers.
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