Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Jacqueline Vogtman Interview - Girl Country

Photo Content from Jacqueline Vogtman

Jacqueline Vogtman won the 2021 Dzanc Books Short Story Collection Prize for her book Girl Country. Her fiction has appeared in Hunger Mountain, Per-mafrost, The Literary Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Third Coast, and other journals. A graduate of the MFA program at Bowling Green State University, she is currently Associate Professor of English at Mercer County Community College. She has lived in New Jersey most of her life and resides in a small town surrrounded by nature, which she explores with her husband, daughter, and dog. Girl Country is her first book.


When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
I’ve always loved writing, ever since I began writing little murder mystery stories in elementary school. But I would say it was in middle school when I fell deeply in love with poetry, that I realized writing was truly my calling. My preferred genre to write in has shifted from poetry to prose since then, but I do still love a good poem.

Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
This is such a hard question, it’s almost impossible to answer! So I’ll give my top few: James Joyce’s Ulysses and Virginia Woolf’s The Waves for their deep immersion in human consciousness, and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye for its deep empathy, symbolism, and poetic language. Outside of fiction, my two favorite poetry books would be Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and Li Young Lee’s early books.

If you could have written one book in history, what book would that be?
Again, so hard! It’s tempting to choose something classic from the canon like the Odyssey or Shakespeare, but I’m going to pick something much more recent: I’d love to have written Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. It’s such an epic book, and his work has always inspired me.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Work! I’m a full-time professor at a community college, along with being a mother, and those things always take priority over writing. It’s hard to make writing or art a priority, because there’s a sense that it’s not valued, but I’m very slowly learning to make it a priority.

Can you tell us when you started Girl Country, how that came about?
The earliest stories in this collection were written very long ago, during my MFA program from 2008-2010. Only about three stories from that time survived and made it into the collection, and the rest were written more recently.

Your Favorite Quotes/Scenes from Girl Country
          The first obelisk appeared in a cornfield outside our town of Bowling Green, Ohio, just a few years after we’d survived the latest pandemic, right when we thought things were returning to normal. It probably wasn’t the right word for the structure, obelisk, but that’s how the first article referred to it, and the name stuck. It was thirty feet tall, and pretty wide, a sideways trapezoid stuck into the earth by one of its sharp corners. The surface was smooth black like obsidian, though the scientists who tested it said that’s not what it was. They ultimately admitted, rather sheepishly, they couldn’t tell what it was.

          It started out as a local wonder. News stations referred to it as an Object of Mysterious Origin, or OMO; alien enthusiasts from neighboring counties came by the dozen and made comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey; parents took their children to gaze and wonder and try to climb the thing with no luck. Our own son was seventeen at the time, teetering on the edge of adulthood, but even we took him once. He stood there, disinterested, staring instead at his phone, and you and I, we simply regarded our reflections in the glassy black of the trapezoid’s surface, wondering what would happen to us when he eventually left the nest. What would we have to hold us together?

          Greta doesn’t sleep, can’t sleep until she knows her daughter is sleeping under the same roof. She lies under sandy sheets next to Ray, whose snoring mimics the in and out of the tide, and she wonders what Juniper is doing. She remembers when Juniper was a baby and how she would let her sleep on her chest, swaddled and compact, a warm stone. She wouldn’t allow herself to fall asleep, afraid she might roll over and crush her daughter in the middle of the night. That was the year she began looking older than her real age, the year of crow’s feet and purple circles and her first grays, but she didn’t bother covering them, because she wasn’t ashamed. Love meant fear, fear meant growing old fast.

  • 1. The title story “Girl Country” was inspired by a dream I had!
  • 2. “Once Bound for Earth” is based in part on my hometown in Northwest New Jersey.
  • 3. The seed for “Children and Other Artifacts” was a conversation I had with my then-boyfriend (now husband) about the prospect of having children.
  • 4. “A Love Letter From Very Far Away” was inspired by Ted Chiang’s “The Story of Your Life” as well as shower-thoughts about Covid, masking, politics, and all the fraught social issues happening in the 2020s/2021s.
  • 5. “When the Tree Grows this High” is loosely based on Bob Dylan’s cover of the old folk song “Young But Daily Growin’.”
  • 6. The story “BI6FOOT” was inspired by a real license plate that said BI6FOOT on a truck I saw driving near my town once.
  • 7. “The Hall of Human Origins” was also inspired by a dream, and its last line is a loose reference to a Sappho poem.
  • 8. “Wilder Family” was inspired partly by the two deer I’ve hit with my car, the first one right around the time when I got pregnant, the other more recently as I was struggling with my daughter growing up.
  • 9. “Jubilee Year” was once a 100-page section of a novel I was writing. The novel has since been put away, but I salvaged this part, whittled it down, and made a short story out of it. It also required a lot of research about medieval nuns.
  • 10. In “The Preservation of Objects Lost at Sea,” Kaimu is obsessed with finding amber, and his mother has memories of finding it on the beaches in Japan when she was young. This detail was partly inspired by my own grandmother, my Oma, who would find amber near the Baltic sea when she was a child growing up in Germany.
As a short story collection, there is no one “main” character, and there are too many to list, so I’ll list just a few:

NOAH, from “Girl Country.” He’s a farmer, I imagine wiry and thin because he is sick, weather-worn from working in the sun, wearing the same old clothes he’s worn for years.

JANET, from “Once Bound for Earth”: Has a worn face wrinkled beyond her years, from smoking and tragedy. Gray hair, but sharp eyes and a sharp tongue. She has a sadness about her, but won’t tell you about it. She hates certain right-wing reality show politicians, but also doesn’t see the point of voting.

MAISSIE, from “When the Tree Grown this High”: Grew up without a mother in a small village in early 1900s Scotland. Close to her dad, and left school early to help him in their tailor shop. She only recently realized that she wants to marry, but there are hardly any marriageable men in her village because of the war. She considered becoming a nurse in the war, but circumstances didn’t allow her to.

Your Journey to Publication
I’ve always been a writer, but the path to publishing this book didn’t start properly until I was in grad school to get my MFA in 2008-2010 at Bowling Green State University. I began publishing short stories here and there, and continued after I left, but fell into a little bit of a slump. When I got a full-time teaching job, and then had a child, I had less time to write, but eventually got back to it and had a few really productive years—it felt great to get back to my creative pursuits again, and even greater to see the stories published. The stories fell into place and felt like a cohesive book, which I then submitted to many presses and contests, hoping but not believing I’d ever win, because I never win anything. Then I got the call from Michelle Dotter at Dzanc saying that I’d won their contest. It was a surreal, gratifying moment, and I’m so grateful for it. It’s been a lot of work balancing all the writing and editing and other things along with my other responsibilities at work and home, but it’s worth it. I’ve had so much support from family and friends, and it honestly makes me tear up sometimes thinking about how random old acquaintances from high school are so supportive of my journey and happy for me, as well as old professors saying they’re proud of me or old workshop mates who’ve had a lot of success blurbing my book—so much to be grateful for.

Writing Behind the Scenes
I tend to write best in mornings! I like to have tea or maybe a seltzer if it’s hot out, and sometimes I do like to write outside. I don’t drink coffee, and don’t really work well around noise or in places like a coffee shop. I do a lot of research that makes its way into my work, but sadly I don’t retain a lot of it! I’m the literal worst at titles and names. While I am happy with the titles and names you see in my book, it took so many bad titles and names and was a torturous process to get there.

What is the first job you have had?
Taco Bell! I lasted a week.

Best date you've ever had?
A college boyfriend once took me to an art museum and paid for a cab. It felt very cosmopolitan to young me, and I think any date with art is a good one.

If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
Smoking! I used to smoke cigarettes in my late teens/early 20s and I totally regret it now.

First Love?
My husband, who I fell in love with at 16, and later married after a few years apart.

Most horrifying dream you have ever had?
The premise of “The Hall of Human Origins” is based on a terrifying dream I had. Classism, patriarchy, the commodification of female bodies, etc. So, not necessarily a dream.

What is your most memorable travel experience?
Long road trips: my family, which included 5 of us children and my two parents, drove all the way from New Jersey to New Orleans. We also drove from New Jersey to Oklahoma (with an added passenger, my Gran). Other than that, I had a memorable trip to San Francisco with my then-boyfriend (now husband) in my mid-20s. He was on business, so I was mostly alone, and felt very independent exploring the city alone. The coffee was amazing and the cherry cokes were too. It was the spring of 2008, and I was at that time waiting for acceptances from MFA programs, so it was a time of anticipation and new beginnings.

Winner of the Dzanc Short Story Collection Prize

A near-future farmer battling environmental crises takes in a mysterious girl he finds on the roadside. A bus driver navigates through treacherous weather and memories of her tragic past as she races to save children from the end of the world. A woman keeps giving birth to children from different time periods. And a woman struggles with her young daughter mysteriously transforming into something wild and unruly, confronting themes of motherhood and family.

In Girl Country , stories range from medieval Belgium to the near-future of the American Midwest, populated by mothers and monsters, mermaids and milkmaids, nuns and bus drivers—women in every walk of life, but particularly working-class women, navigating the intersection of the mundane and the magical. Perfect for fans of Orange World and Animal Wife , these are stories about women with teeth—wild and alive.

You can purchase Girl Country at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you JACQUELINE VOGTMAN for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Girl Country: and Other Stories by Jacqueline Vogtman.


  1. Last night for dinner . I had a cheese burger, 2 hot dogs and a half tray of pizza

  2. I had an excellent day. Grateful to be here.

  3. Praying this chemo works and completely gets rid of my cancers this time.