It is my pleasure to welcome Jeni McFarland to the Debutante Ball today! Jeni and I have met virtually through our fellowships at Kimbilio, a national residency for fiction writers of the African diaspora. The House of Deep Water has been described as a stunning and perceptive debut perfect for fans of The Mothers and Olive Kitteridge. It made Bustle’s 23 Debut Books That Are Too Good To Ignore, Salon‘s Recommended Reading Picks for April, PopSugar’s 25 Best New Books Coming Out in April 2020, and
BookRiot’s 10 Books to Read If You Like Little Fires Everywhere. Read on!
Jeni McFarland holds an M.F.A. in Fiction from the University of Houston, where she serve as a fiction editor for Gulf Coast magazine. She is a 2016 Kimbilio Fellow, with an essay appearing in The Beiging of America (2Leaf Press), and fiction in Crack the Spine, Forge, and Spry. Her latest story, “Damage,” is in Lunch Ticket’s A La Carte series. She lives in rural Michigan with her husband, two cats, and a persnickety young sourdough starter.
Talk about one book that made an impact on you.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. It’s about an apocalypse, and a group of people who set out for Canada to try and make a better life. I read it after November 2016, and I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time, which is an area they travel past, and it just all felt so immediate. It definitely made me reconsider what shoes I wear on the daily; like, if shit hits the fan today and I have to start walking to Canada, will my shoes get me there?
What time of day do you love best?
I love sunset, when the sky is pink and sound is somehow distorted or heightened. I feel like it’s the most energizing time of day.
Tell us about your next big project.
I’m getting started right now on a book that’s kind of an adaptation of The Phantom of The Opera, except it’s a romance between an Executive Chef and a Pastry Chef. Think gothic food porn. I was completely obsessed with Phantom when I was a kid, and as much as I love the story, there’s a lot of stuff that’s really jacked up, the “romance” shown in the story. So I’m really interested in interrogating that.
Do you have a regular first reader? If so, who is it and why?
I have a couple, depending on what I’m looking for. There’s Laura Jok, because she can troubleshoot a story like no one else, there’s Dino Piacentini, who often knows what I’m trying to do before I even know it, and there’s Talia Kolluri, who’s my biggest cheerleader.
If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?
Stick with it. Don’t listen to people who will tell you you won’t be able to make a living, because while that may be true, if you love it enough you’ll figure a side hustle. Also, money is less important to me than passion.
THE HOUSE OF DEEP WATER is about a woman, Beth, who’s half Black, moving back to the Midwest farm village where she grew up. When she gets there, she finds her father has a live-in girlfriend, Linda, who’s a girl Beth babysat in high school. Her neighbor has also been recently arrested for horrendous crimes, of which she was a victim as a child. THE HOUSE OF DEEP WATER is about homecomings and facing past trauma, and about what it means to be part of a community or part of a family.
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