Author Q&A with Jason Arias
by Christine Nessler
November 2, 2023
Jason Arias lives in the Pacific Northwest and is the author of the short story collection Momentary Illumination of Objects In Motion (Black Bomb Books, 2018). Arias’ writing has appeared in multiple magazines and anthologies. His debut poetry collection nostraDAMus 2032 is forthcoming from Broadstone Books in the summer of 2024.
Arias’ fiction piece, Clam!, is featured in Issue #13 of The Good Life Review.
Tell me about yourself.
Well, let’s see. I’m in my mid-forties, have two grown sons, and I live on the Oregon coast with my wife of 25 years. I love all kinds of music and prefer listening to it on vinyl. I’ll stop here before people start falling asleep.
What inspired your short story, Clam!?
I guess a couple things. Most obviously was our recent move to the coast. I’d never really dug for razor clams, at least not successfully, until then. Part of the process of learning how to catch anything is learning how to read the signs they leave behind. Until moving here, I’d never been so consistently close to clams, wild deer, elk, heron, otters, etc. I’m not a hunter or angler. I realized how many subtle signs of other life that I was, and still am, missing all around me. That got me thinking about what kind of lifeforms could be sharing this planet with us that we haven’t discovered.
Around this same time, I was also trying to resolve a lot of grief around my grandfather’s passing.
Clam! was probably the byproduct of the two.
Clam! was filled with vivid interiority and backstory. How did you get to know your character before writing this story? Do you outline or use character bios as a part of your writing process?
I’ve never really used outlining or character bios. Though, they’re probably the best paths to a more consistent voice and tighter storyline. I’m just too lazy. And I prefer the process of being led by, instead of leading, the voices on the page. I’d rather let the characters flesh themselves out as the story evolves. A lot of the time there are aspects of the characters that end up being personifications of something my conscious or subconscious has already been tumbling around. And I’m a pretty selfish writer. I like bringing these things to light. I like the process of discovery. If I already knew everything about my characters, I’m not sure there’d be a point in writing the story.
I loved the foreshadowing of Harrison’s father’s viewpoint of the world. “A hungry orb ruled by ghosts and happenstance and creatures waiting for you in the deep.” Was it ghosts, happenstance and creatures that drew Harrison to the deep that day, or was it his strong sense of guilt and grief that caused him to risk his life and his son’s on that fateful March clam dig? How do you hope your readers interpret this passage?
I think that Harrison is afraid of inheriting his father’s paranoia and superstitions. That he feels this kind of thinking made his father oblivious to some of the more practical aspects of life. So, like most people trying to avoid becoming something, Harrison overcorrects. He wants to view the world as concrete, to believe in only what he can see or tactilely sense, in order to protect himself from his fears of the unknown. In this way he can sometimes fool himself into thinking he has control. But by doing this, he also strips away all the magic of the unknown.
In the story there are two months known for having sneaker waves. A sneaker wave took Harrison’s wife’s life. We do have these sneaker waves on the coast. Sometimes they do claim lives. In the story, Harrison still takes his son down to clam on one of the months known for the waves, just not the month that his wife died in. I think this is his way of thumbing his nose at death, but not wanting to push his luck too far. As much as he doesn’t like it there are parts of him that are, like his father, still superstitious.
“There’s something about getting sand on your hands, under your nails, sometimes all the way up to your armpits. A feeling. A finesse and an understanding of your place in all of this. The clams place in all of this. The vague sense that there is more, somewhere you can’t see, that you are earning.” To me this passage from Clam! felt symbolic of earning your place in the world or your place in the afterlife. Was that your intention? Are there other pieces of symbolism you incorporated or that developed organically in your story? If so, what?
I think that Harrison views self-efficiency as a kind of talisman that protects you from death. I’m not sure he’s sold on the idea of an afterlife. The catharsis of clamming, for Harrison (whether he knows it or not) comes from the idea that anything unknown or unseen (say, a clam under feet of sand) can be acquired and fully explained if you just understand the steps needed to uncover it.
What do you hope your readers take from Clam!?
Like all my work, I secretly hope the reader will get a similar thing from the story that I get from writing it: a little more clarification or new perspective for whatever’s tumbling around in their heads.
I think, like a lot of stories I’ve been writing lately, Clam! has this undercurrent asking us to not mistake our perceived omnipotence on this planet for omniscience. To remain humble as humans. That despite all the knowledge we’ve acquired (and our species-centric nature) there’s still so much we don’t understand about ourselves, let alone the rest of the life on this planet, let alone most of the space outside of our planet. I know that’s asking a lot from a story about a giant clam, but it would be cool if readers had that takeaway.
According to your website you’ve had various careers throughout your life. How have those experiences enriched your writing?
I’d say I’ve had a number of jobs and very few careers. A lot of them make their ways into my writing in small ways. It’s helpful to have specific knowledge about the seemingly uncool minutia of uncool jobs. I learned about driving a forklift, tying a trucker’s knot, and lovingly talking all kinds of shit to coworkers as a form of connection-building from working in a windows factory in my early twenties. If I ever write about a windows distribution center in the late 90s, I’ll nail the authenticity factor.
For the last twenty years, my main gig has been paramedicine, the last sixteen years of that time I’ve been working for the fire service. Probably because of this career choice themes around the absurdity of life and death tend to make their way into my writing a lot. A couple months ago I helped to deliver a baby in the back of an ambulance for the first time. (To be fair, I didn’t do much. That was all on the mother who, despite the pain, did amazing.) The other day we went on a call where a small plane fell 5,000 feet from the sky and crashed through the roof of a suburban home. A horrible thing. But somehow one of the three passengers of that plane survived. Experiences like this have opened me up to the idea that pain and beauty often occupy the same space. I’m also constantly reminded of the fragility and unbelievable resilience of human beings. There’s no way some of that doesn’t leak into my writing.
What is your favorite published piece to date?
That’s a hard one. It’s like asking which child is your favorite. I mean, we all internally know, but nobody’s going to say. No, I’m just joking. Some people say.
Honestly, my favorite published piece is an ever-changing thing. Sometimes it’s my newest piece, but not always. I’d say right now, I’m still really proud of an essay that is still up on The Corvalis Advocate website called Majestic, and Unimpressed with Us about current cohabitation issues surrounding the local Roosevelt elk herds.
What are your writing routines? What keeps you motivated to keep writing in your daily life?
I try to write for an hour or two in the afternoon on most days I’m not working. My motivation has always been to stay sane.
How does writing help you make sense of the world?
My wife thinks in pictures. She creates whole homes in her head and remembers the specifics of each. At night she’ll revisit some of those homes or make changes to them as a way to relax and transition from waking life to sleep. I tend to think in words. So, my internal homes look more like stories.
What do you think of when you hear, “The Good Life?”
Sitting back, watching the waves while talking with the people I love, interspersed with road trips to places I’ve never been.
Jason’s story “Clam!” is available in Issue #13 ~ Autumn 2023.
For more about Jason, links to online stories, and upcoming events please visit JasonAriasAuthor.com.
Thank you, Jason. We’re grateful to you for your willingness to spend extra time with us on this Q&A and for trusting us with your story. We wish you the best!