Friday Feature: Interview with Jordan McNeil

Each week, the editors of Jenny Magazine sit down with either fellow literary magazine editors or past Jenny contributors for short interviews. This week’s interview is with Jordan McNeil, a past contributor of Jenny Magazine.

Describe your first publication. Where was it, when, and what was the piece about? How old were you at the time and how did it feel?

Okay, so in middle school the teachers would have us send in our poetry to these anthologies and they’d get published. If you want to get technical, that would’ve been my first publication — but I don’t really count that.

My first publication that I count would be a poem I wrote in early high school. A guy in my hometown (the son of my high school Spanish teacher, actually) put together an anthology of local writers. Looking back, I’m not sure that my poem is really all that great, but it was the first time I actually felt like a writer — like my work was being seen by people other than myself and teachers.

Some of the poems of that anthology were put up on the SARTA buses, and mine was one of them. A cool moment out of that is the fact that a cousin of mine was riding one and a man sitting next to her remarked on my poem and how he related to it. I’m pretty sure I’ll never forget that story.

What inspired your pieces in the Jenny?

I want a summer thunderstorm” and “His scent lingers on my skin” were both written for my Intro to Poetry class. For the first one, I saw the first line “I want a summer thunderstorm” somewhere on Twitter. It struck something with me — I wrote it down for later and eventually it became the poem.

Cedars, a bar in Youngstown, holds swing dancing nights on Thursdays. A group of us are more-or-less regulars in attendance. I ended up writing multiple pieces based on dancing — “His scent lingers on my skin” is one of them.

What got you into writing?

I can’t pinpoint a specific age or moment. I grew up in a reading household — my mom read, my dad read, me and my sisters read. As long as I can remember, stories have always captured my attention. At some point, my imagination started creating new stories and I tried writing them down.

I do know that I first identified myself as a writer in 5th grade. We were given the assignment to rewrite “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” After that, I wrote my first “novel” (it was maybe 12-14 pages long) and I’ve been writing ever since.

What do you like writing the most? Is there a certain style you prefer?

Despite the fact that most of my publications so far are poetry, I’m a fiction writer. I fancy myself a novelist, although I haven’t completed a manuscript yet. I have big ideas that most of the time seem too large for short stories.

As for a specific style, I’m not sure I have one. I guess it depends on your definition of “style.” I focus mainly on genre fiction stories — I’m still pretty confused on what “literary fiction” really is, and ultimately I think genre is more fun to write and read.

What are your influences? Who are your favorite writers?

Warning, this is probably going to sound corny. I truly believe that anything I come into contact with in my life — books, television, people, classes, music, nature, the wacked up dreams I sometimes get — influences my writing. Images, snippets of conversations, intriguing character arcs, these all get stored into my various idea notebooks I have floating around. Some may never get looked at again, but a lot end up becoming something more. There are many times that I’m reading or watching a movie or talking to someone, and I think “What if…” and there you have it — a story idea is born.

I always get tripped up on the “favorite writers” question. It tends to vary based on who I’m currently reading. Right now, though, I’d have to say Jim Butcher and Tessa Gratton. I greatly enjoy their stories and they each have something (character, world building, general language) that I’d like to learn from.

What’s your proudest moment as an author?

Usually, my answer to this is “the first time I was published.” It makes sense and is more or less the easy answer to pull off the top of my head. But when I take a moment to think, I come up with a couple different moments.

One was in my Intro to Fiction class. The professor commended me on my critiques. While that’s more me as an editor than a writer, it came right after I had switched from a business major to English, with my goal to work in publishing, so this compliment made my little college-freshman day.

Another was in one of my fiction workshop classes. In her critique, the professor there told me she could tell I had a mastery of prose. I really hope I didn’t break into a huge, goofy smile in the middle of class, but I may have. I probably did.

How has your writing developed over time?

Well the obvious answer is that it’s gotten better. Practice and feedback over years tends to do that. But I’ve also noticed changes in my choices of verb tense and POV. My first “novel” in 5th grade was first person, present tense. And then I worked on a couple stories through middle school that were third person, past tense. High school I worked on third person, present tense. Now, I’ll more fluid on POV based on my characters and the particular story, but I always do present tense. I can’t even explain why or how this change happened. I just guess I like writing present tense better.

Are you currently working on anything?

I recently finished up my portfolio for grad school, which has taken up a lot of my writing time. Last semester I started writing my first serious attempt at a novel manuscript and am about a quarter of the way to my final word count goal. I hope to return to working on that soon.

What’s your writing process?

A lot of avoiding the actual process of writing. Out of habit from my younger years, I pretty much wait until I’ve got inspiration to write. Which is fine, when I’m inspired, but writing is also work and dedication, so I need to start making myself write if I want to really get writing done. I’m working on it.

What are you currently reading?

Right now, I’m in between books. The last one I read was The Strange Maid by Tessa Gratton. Next I’m debating between The Protectors by Trey Dowell or The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare.

Are you a past Jenny contributor or an editor at a literary magazine and interested in an interview? Send us an email.


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