“Bad decisions make good stories,” says Jennifer Pashley.
Her new book, The Conjurer (Standing Stone Books; 136 pages; $16/ paperback), is made up of short stories that follow how the choices of the characters telling their tales lead to heartbreak and loss.
Pashley’s stories have appeared widely in journals such as Mississippi Review, Salt Hill, Stone Canoe and New World Writing. She has won the Red Hen Prize for fiction, the Mississippi Review Prize for fiction and the Carve Magazine Esoteric Award for LGBT fiction.
She was born and raised in Syracuse.
A graduate of Le Moyne College and SUNY Binghamton, Pashley has taught writing at Syracuse University and teaches at the Syracuse YMCA’s Downtown Writer’s Center. She lives with her family in Clinton.
The Conjurer is her second book. She describes it as her first adult book. It follows States, which, according to her, catered to a young-adult audience.
Some of her stories are set in Syracuse. “The city is small, and it struggles economically. It’s diverse, but it’s not.
And that’s what makes it so interesting to write about,” she says. “I know what I know from here. When I write about other places, I’m aware it’s out of my periphery.”
Even though she doesn’t name any towns in her book, she says, “they feel like Syracuse.”
All 12 stories have been published in journals and magazines, but she says it was still a challenge to thread the stories together. The themes for the stories are different. What they have in common is that each is filled with vivid characters. In each, she allows the reader to imagine how the characters’ lives used to be and how they may turn out. There is beauty in the incompleteness of Pashley’s writing.
Her stories unfold around the consequences of bad decisions and poor choices. To illustrate, “How to have an affair in 1962” follows the life of Doris Hecht, an independent working girl who fails at love more than once because of her poor choices. First, she falls in love with a married man and chooses not to end the affair; next, she falls in love with a character who seems shifty from the beginning and is later revealed to be a criminal. What makes this story compelling is that even though Hecht makes a similar mistake twice, she has recovered by the end.
Another example is “Something Good.” In this story, the protagonist, Frank, debates paying bail for his son after he gets arrested for a crime that was reported by his mother. On his drive to go rescue his son, he makes the bad choice of waiting for a high school cheerleader in a parking lot, a rendezvous that eventually leaves the girl facedown on a lawn. Despite it all, Frank continues his journey to rescue his son.
All Pashley’s stories follow the worst aspects of a character’s life and are packed with intense emotion, perhaps too much for some readers.