Hey y’all. I recently had the opportunity to interview Jane V Blunschi, author of the novella, Mon Dieu, Love.
I was really excited about this book because I feel like you don’t come across standalone novellas super often and I was definitely curious about the form. Plus, it has an interesting path to publication. And then as I started reading, oh, my goodness! The characters! They felt so real.
In this interview, I got the chance to ask Jane about her writing process, how she creates such strong and vivid characters, submitting your work to contests, and so much more.
I hope you enjoy it and I hope you learn as much as I did.
About Jane V Blunschi
Jane V Blunschi holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Arkansas. She was a 2014 Lambda Literary Emerging Voices fellow, and her collection of stories, Understand Me, Sugar, was published in 2017 by Yellow Flag Press. Jane’s stories and essays have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and appeared in Bayou Magazine, Cream City Review, Paper Darts, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Foglifter, among others. Originally from Louisiana, Jane lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
You can follow her on Instagram.
About Mon Dieu, Love: A Novella
Set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Mon Dieu, Love is the story of Elise and Carrie Briggs, a pair of sisters stuck in a non-stop loop of relationship mistakes, attempts at sobriety from drugs, alcohol, and general lesbian drama, and accidental, unwelcome emotional growth. As Carrie works to make sense of her life post-divorce, Elise begins an affair with an older ex-nun amid a surge of confusing religious fervor and supernatural experience. Relief from the predictability of her already established long-term relationship is short-lived for Elise, who learns more than she’d like to know about fidelity, romance, love, and family.
Interview with Jane V Blunschi
Lori Walker: First of all, I’d love to hear more about your journey to becoming a writer. How did you get your start? What was that moment you knew?
Jane V Blunschi: My mother had a lot to do with this discovery. I remember being about 8 years old and already a bookworm with a huge imagination and I told my mom I wanted to be a writer. Her response was something like, “You should do it.”
She has always encouraged me to move closer to my creative aspirations, which is surprising, because she also let me know, all the time, that she really wanted me to have a financially stable life with good health insurance. I know she’s worked to balance her concern for me with her unwavering support of my creative life.
LW: What does a typical day of writing look like for you?
JB: I don’t write every day—I am more of a binge-writer, I suppose. When I’m at work on a project, I usually work in the afternoon into the evening, from about 3 or 4 pm until I am done for the day (until I feel done, at least!), maybe 9 or 10 pm. I am a morning person, but I’ve never been one to get up early to write or even make a daily commitment to writing. I focus on one project at a time, and abandon myself to the process.
LW: At what point did you know that Mon Dieu, Love was a novella as opposed to a short story or a novel? What were some of the clues that helped you figure it out?
JB: When I first began taking myself seriously as a writer, another writer encouraged me to focus on writing interconnected short stories and organize the stories into a longer work, rather than try to climb the mountain of a novel. This worked well for me because I have been writing about the lives of a handful of characters for quite a while now, and I have so enjoyed getting to know them by writing about them at different stages of their lives.
This was the approach I took in writing Mon Dieu, Love. I wrote the first chapter, “Anger Prayer” in 2019, thinking it was a stand-alone story I wanted to tell. Pretty soon, I realized there was more to explore, so I wrote the other chapters in April and August of 2021 and January of 2022. Revising meant connecting the more subtle threads holding it all together.
LW: Sticking with this topic, what are some of the key differences between writing a novella and short stories? Does it affect your pacing or plot arc in any way?
JB: I don’t think about pacing or plot until I am in revision. When I’m drafting the stories, I surrender to the story and know that I’ll have a chance to make it all make sense later. I do like figuring out a way to make a stand-alone story out of a longer piece, though—that’s really fun.
LW: I looked at some blurbs and reviews of your other writing and you are known for writing strong vivid characters. What are some of your techniques for creating such well-rounded, deep characters?
JB: Mostly just living with them! Characters are people made of words, and getting curious about their lives is one of my favorite parts of writing.
Most of the characters in Non Dieu, Love have been part of my life for a long, long time—Carrie, Elise, and Jody are among the first characters I ever created and I love them. Their choices are so dumb, but they make me laugh and they are my people. Of course, I run some of my own interests and preoccupations through the prism of their personalities, and I let them do things I would not do.
Mostly, I let myself be open to their nudges—signals in my imagination that it is time to pay attention, because they have a new story to co-create with me. Does that sound too woo? I don’t know, it’s just the way my imagination works.
LW: One of the things that really struck me is the scope of Mon Dieu, Love. You explore a pretty deep range of relationships in a short amount of space, so I’m curious about how you pulled it off.
JB: Me, too! Even when I was writing it, I was like, NO MORE PEOPLE! No more new people at all! There was even another sister who had to step out of the story (I am hoping to write her into my next manuscript).
The biggest surprise was Oliver. I’m not sure where he came from, but I wanted him to be in the story after I wrote the scene with Jody and him in the bar when he’s picking on her about her uptight therapy worksheets. He’s unlike any character I have ever written and he is definitely invited back for future stories. I’m not done writing about him, I believe.
LW: Mon Dieu, Love is the winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize (congratulations!), which included a cash prize plus publication. Can you talk a bit about submitting your work for prizes like this? Like tips for finding ones to submit to, things to look for when submitting, how to know you’re ready, and any other advice for people who might be looking into this path.
JB: Hey, thank you! Finding places to submit work has taken a long time and there have been lots of little missteps along the way.
I have submitted manuscripts two or three years in a row to presses or contests that like my work well enough—maybe the manuscript or story is a finalist or the editors send a kind and encouraging note—and I realize now that it’s probably best for me to step back after every season of submission and do a little work around acceptance and expectations. I can LOVE the work a press is putting out and envision myself on their author page, but sometimes, I have to accept that my work isn’t that great of a fit and I need to keep it moving.
When I first started submitting, I felt like I would never figure it out and crack the code of placing my work. Gradually, I began to get the hang of it. Following journals on social media and paying attention to where other writers whose work I admire is showing up has been a huge help.
As for the Reynolds prize, I read one of the winning novellas a few years ago, Blindsided by Chelsea Catherine, and started learning more about Texas Review Press. When I saw that the incredible Renee Gladman was judging last year’s contest, I decided to double down on polishing Mon Dieu, Love, because even thinking there was a chance that she would read my manuscript was totally thrilling to me. I admire her work so much, and it has been a great honor to have her choose my work for the prize.
Texas Review Press has treated my work and me very, very well and my association with them is dear to me. I had a feeling this would be the case, because I could see the way they approached the work of authors they’d already published. They are really dedicated, sharp, caring people. They’re awesome.
LW: A lot of authors are creating playlists to accompany their books, but this being a reading column, I’d like to know what your “reading playlist” is. What books would you recommend to people after reading Mon Dieu, Love?
JB: This is a fantastic question! These, for sure:
Women by Chloe Caldwell (probably my favorite novella)
Big Swiss by Jen Beagin
All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews
Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco by K. Iver
Boyish by Brody Parrish Craig
Valencia by Michelle Tea
Lori Walker is the Operations Maven at DIY MFA. She is also the producer and co-host of DIY MFA Radio and editor-in-chief of DIYMFA.com, among other roles. Lori is a copyeditor for Amanda Filippelli and collaborating fellow for The Poetry Lab. She writes personal essays and memoir in Tulsa, where she lives with her husband and cat, Joan Didion. You can follow her on Instagram at @LoriTheWriter.