Storyglossia Issue 38, February 2010.

An Interview with Jesse Goolsby


Jesse Goolsby's short story, "Thirteen Steps," appears in Storyglossia 38. Here, Jesse takes a few moments to discuss his narrator's psychology, getting into the mind of a thirteen-year-old boy, the body in fiction, and what he's currently at work on.


Anne Valente: Why is thirteen the perfect age for this narrator to experience what he does in this story?


Jesse Goolsby: The main character's age is a reflection of the oddly subjective time when we discover that we basically know nothing about our own bodies, or how to use them. For some, it's much earlier/older, but in this piece, the young man needed to be at a point where he could be treated like a child, and understand why, and also be in awe of a kiss, but know what it meant. Around that age, many young men want to know more than they do about sex and hormones, but they're not quite sure how to ask.


AV: The narrator pays a lot of attention to the body his own growth and changes, Kylie's lifeguard perfection, the muscled man's glamour, his own parents' less impressive (and even sickly) bodies in comparison. What role does the body play—both for him, and for others in the story?


JG: In public, our bodies are our identities. Of the millions of people we happen by, share a concert hall or pubic pool with, very few will actually hear us speak, and even those that do will probably not hear our capacity for intelligence and belief. Most will peer around and compare fashion and bodies - especially at pools; we're basically on show—and in the end it always comes back to the self. But in this story, our narrator has reason to look around and investigate. He has to think about the fallibility of bodies: his mother can't go in the water with her insulin pump, he can't control his own body at night, even a body at full physical potential—the jumper—can easily fail. It's a hauntingly beautiful knowledge that we won't live forever. And yet there exists a draw and possibility in Kylie's body that tempers all of the instability around him.


AV: The narrator is surprised that the "hero" who jumps into the pool has a receding hairline and lumpy belly. In what ways do his own expectations shade his perspective of what happens?


JG: It's very rare that we experience the edge of human capability—both positive and negative. I get the feeling that this is the first time our narrator has encountered death, and possibly even bravery. At least he's old enough now to recognize them, and they join the expectation failure of the accident and the swirling vision that engulfs him. The hero of the piece can't make sense to our narrator, and never will. He's exploding all the television ideals of what a hero should look like, and that's why our narrator focuses on the physical details, on the painfully slow path the man takes to the jumper.


AV: He seems to want people to notice him, but always waits to be asked by the police, by his father in the end, and even in desiring Kylie to hold him as she does the other boy. Is this indicative of a boy on the cusp of adulthood, still testing his own agency, or perhaps something more?


JG: I think very few young men, especially at 13, have the confidence to exhibit vulnerability. Most are too afraid to make a mistake. It's difficult to admit you don't know how to talk to a girl, how to ask why your body acts on its own sometimes. In the end, we all want to be recognized, but once we gain social awareness we learn that asking for recognition is selfish. And so we wait, in this case, a 13-year-old, to be noticed, to be afforded another opportunity to ask his father about desire. The lucky ones get the chance to ask whatever they want to people that love and care for them.


AV: What are you currently working on?


JG: I'm always working on my short fiction, and I also have a novel on the go. It's a great life when you can write, and finish something you're proud to show people. I'm the Fiction Editor of War, Literature & the Arts, a beautiful print journal (, and I'm directing the 2010 War, Literature & the Arts Conference in Colorado Springs in September. I also have a beautiful wife, a rambunctious 2.5-year-old daughter, and a young son teething.


Jesse Goolsby's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Our Stories, Harpur Palate, Breakwater Review, Paradigm, Vestal Review, Stirring, War, Literature & the Arts, Oak Bend Review, and various anthologies. His short fiction piece "Touch" received the 2010 Richard Bausch Short Fiction Prize, and his story "Derrin of the North" won the 2009 John Gardner Memorial Award in Fiction. His various projects can be viewed at