Interview with Jane Liddell by T.J. Murray

Murder by Jane Liddle

Murder by Jane Liddle

What’s the biggest animal you’ve ever touched? Why?

I know I’ve never touched any of the animals well-known for their bigness, giraffes, elephants, belugas, so I’m going to guess the biggest animal I have ever touched was a horse. The reason would be because I’ve ridden them, but I don’t have to ride them to touch them.

Cool, I think I’m the same.

Your book, Murder, deals with a lot of random acts of violence leading to sometimes intentional and sometimes accidental killings. I don’t want to right out ask if you’ve ever been responsible for a death. So, what’s the longest you’ve ever gone without sleep? Why?

Ha! The longest I’ve gone without sleep would be when I accidentally killed pets as a child (two, a turtle and a hamster, both lost to slammed doors). I felt bad.

Wow, that sounds horrible. But it also sounds so much like what Murder is about. I’d call Murder a collection of flash stories revolving around the guilt that surrounds death. How did it come about? Have you always been writing about death and guilt (ever since the turtle and hamster), or was this a foray into a new direction? And either way, do you think you can identify the reasons behind the fascination? (I know that was, like, three questions. Is that allowed? [Oops, that makes four.])

Murder first came about as more of a writing exercise for myself, to shorten my sentences and get to the heart of a story quick. I’ve also been interested in the justice system, and one of my Netflix categories might as well be “Documentaries about Gross Miscarriages of Justice.” So after the first few Murder stories I had the idea to make it into a series that, when read in its entirety, could serve as a commentary on justice and guilt.  I think I often write about guilt, though not always with such high stakes. As a matter of self-protection I’m not interested in exploring the reasons why.

But I can’t help but be fascinated with what humanity is capable of. For my next act, I may try to explore the better side of humanity, because thinking and reading about murder so much has taken its toll. As Mary Lou Lord said on Salem State College Radio in 1995 (ish) “I gotta get away from these songs.”

Well, then to take this interview in maybe a quick detour toward that “bright side” of humanity, I’m going to ask a really hard question. What’s the nicest thing you’ve ever seen someone do?

My first answer to this question was going to be, “When that goat led the blind horse to his favorite patch of forest every day until the horse died,” but then I remembered that’s not humanity.

So maybe the many times I’ve seen people help parents with their strollers on the subway, or buy homeless people a sandwich, or organize food drives in the aftermath of hurricanes, or scrub ducks after an oil spill.

Animals are so nice. I like that the niceties you point out are done by faceless groups.

Going off that, in Murder, each story is titled after a role the murderer(s) play in society. Sometimes they’re more official labels like “The Police” or “The Priest.” And often they’re casual titles, such as “The Scoundrel” and “The Hoodlum.” How did you feel about exploring roles in this way? Also, what role would you give yourself if you murdered someone (if you had to use one that’s not in the book)?

The way the stories are structured, there’s build-up from the casual characters to the more institutional characters. I had that in mind when labeling, to zoom out from the individual to people’s place in society, then society itself.

I’d be labeled “The Freelancer.”

Thanks for agreeing to this interview. We only have time for one more question. And it’s a doozy. Where can people find Murder if they’re interested in reading about death and guilt?

Murder is available at the Small Press Distribution website, spdbooks.org, or directly from my publisher at 421atlanta.com.

Thanks so much for interviewing me! These were fun questions.

Jane Liddle is a friend to birds and lives in the Hudson Valley, NY. Her short-story collection Murder was published by 421 Atlanta in March 2016. She is currently working on a novel and a book about daydreams. You can find her on Twitter @janeriddle or at liddlejane.tumblr.com.

T.J. Murray is a writer and cartoonist from Hornell, New York. He is pursuing his MFA at the University of South Florida. His work has appeared in Hobart, the Rumpus, theEEEL, and elsewhere. He is an editor for weirderary and cohost of First Draft, a live lit event. twitter: @tjmurray83