It’s been said that moving into a new home is one of life’s most stressful events—even more so in Jac Jemc’s new suspense novel, “The Grip of It,” released in August, in which a couple’s new house comes alive right in front of them. The haunting leads them down an exploratory path they may never recover from.
Jemc, a Park Ridge native and Chicago resident, spoke with Chicagoly about what scares her, how Chicago influences her, the common themes in her books, and more.
Chicagoly: How would you describe your writing style?
Jac Jemc: I think it changes actually. I used to think that I was more experimental, and now, I think that is false to say. But I do really like focusing on the language a lot and letting the language lead the story that I’m writing. I’m not a person who outlines the plot and knows exactly the story—beginning, middle, end. A lot is dictated by the voice that I end up writing in and seeing where that leads me.
Does Chicago impact your writing?
I think it does because I’ve only lived in Chicago, so when I write a city, most of the time I’m writing Chicago. The house the protagonists (in “The Grip of It”), James and Julie, move into is a couple hours outside the city in Wisconsin. When I think of what it means to get away from the city, I have a radius, and that’s it.
What is your writing process like, starting with the seed of an idea?
I kind of get an idea for a larger piece, and it’s pretty clear in my mind that I’m working on a novel. Part of the reason for that is I’m slow, and it takes me a while to go from the very first beginnings of an idea to when the book might be ready for publication. For “The Grip of It,” I started writing it in 2011 and it’s coming out now. So I’m averaging about six years. … That being said, I’ve already been working on a new project for two years now. So, there’s overlap—when I’m passing a manuscript to someone else to take a look, or there are times when production is happening rather than composition or revision; then I can step away and start working on the next project. The process can really change depending on the project I’m working on. For “The Grip of It,” I gave myself a diet of trying to write a certain amount of words a day. And the chapter length is very short, and that pretty much reflects the pace of how much I wrote in a given day. … Now, I’m working on a historical-fiction project, and it’s very different. It’s much, much longer and it’s sort of bloated. At some point, I’ll have to start carving away at it to figure out what is necessary to the story.
Do the ideas ever get jumbled?
No, I don’t think so, because by the time I would begin working on something new, the old project is so close to completion that there’s no getting confused. What I would say is I find myself writing toward similar themes over and over again, and that’s the case for a lot of writers. You figure out that you’re obsessed with this certain menu of topics and they come out in different ways. So there’s overlap in that way.
What is the menu of topics that you keep going back to?
The number one theme is the know-ability of people—no matter how close you are to a person there is always this gap that you can’t bridge—and exploring all the uncertainties and confusion that can live in that gap. No matter how much you know a person, your understanding of that person can be different because of that space between you. I do also think—this is actually a newer theme that is emerging—I apparently have some sort of interest in physical spaces, especially domestic physical spaces and the way those spaces can reflect the psychology of a person or how those structures can reflect the interior mind. [It’s] a way of bringing all that internal turmoil out so you can see a physical representation of it.
Would that theme of physical spaces fit for this new book, in regard to the haunted home?
Yes. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but the boundaries of the haunting stretch outside the house, too, so it brings the natural world, both in the form of the woods and the lake, into the house. Also, the human body, exploring the human body as a site for the haunting [and] the way different communities interpret signals or the way that oral history can change a community’s understanding of what they think happened with their neighbors.
When you are writing a suspense book like this, do you get any personal feelings of terror or fright?
I don’t think I do. It’s coming from my own psyche, so like tickling yourself, it’s really hard to scare yourself. That being said, the things that happen in the book are frightening to me. I’m not really scared by monsters; I’ve never seen a ghost, but things that seem more feasible and exist in the realm of possibility frighten me.
Do you believe in ghosts and the supernatural?
I’d say that I do not believe in ghosts myself, but I absolutely believe people when they say they’ve had some experience when they think they’ve seen a ghost. I’ve had close friends that have had very convincing stories. … I think for me to say that I believe in ghosts I’d have to see something I couldn’t explain in any other way.
How’s the promotion of “The Grip of It” going so far?
It’s a dream come true. If nothing else happened for the book, I’d be totally, totally content. I feel like it’s more than I can ask for. ←