A Seat in the Big Chair: Jordan Harper

In addition to being one of the best short story writers going today, Jordan Harper also pens scripts for television, including one of my new favorites, Gotham.

Today Jordan sits down with us to talk about his new collection, Love and Other Wounds, Batman, Gutter-fav Brian Panowich, as well as the new novel.

A Seat in the Big Chair Jordan Harper

1.)    Many of these stories in Love and Other Wounds are carried over from (the excellent but now out of print) American Death Songs. Kinda like a band making its big label debut from an EP. Did you feel pressure to go back in and tweak any of these pieces? And I ask this while considering ADS one of the best collections I’ve ever read.

One of the benefits of going with traditional publishing is exposing your work to an editor. In my case, it was the great Megan Lynch. While we didn’t change very much at all, there are changes to some of the stories. The most improved stories are probably “Always Thirsty,” which is shorter for the better, and “Ad Hominem Attack,” which is more fully rounded. There were also a couple of trims to other stories, but not much people will notice, I think.

2.)    One of the new pieces, “Prove It All Night,” was included in last year’s Gutter anthology Troublein the Heartland: Crime Stories Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen. Now I might be biased, considering I edited the fucking thing, but “Prove It” was a highlight for me. And part of that is the punch of that final image. Without spoiling it for those who haven’t read it, I’m wondering where that motif originated, in terms of the writing. Was it an image you had before you began writing?

That was one of those things that occurred during the writing of literally the last line. I felt pretty clever when I got there, though. The stories I write that have “twists” to them are rarely planned that way. If you create a story with enough dramatic tension, I think that the endings tend to resolve themselves on their own. Of course, sometimes they don’t.

3.)    You write for Gotham, which is one of my favorite shows. I’m a huge Batman fan, so this is purely selfish, but what kind of latitude do you get with the mythology? Is there a mutually agreed upon direction you can and can’t go? I’m fascinated by the process to a storyline like that. Especially one that is so well known.

Thanks! We’re given a lot of leeway, but of course DC gives input when needed. There are, unsurprisingly, things we cannot do—to give an absurd example, I don’t think we could kill Bruce Wayne (not that we’d want to). But without giving away spoilers, my next episode of Gotham introduces a DC villain who has been thoroughly reimagined. So we’re not just regurgitating stories the audience already knows, which would get boring, I think.

4.)    How’s the novel coming?

Just got notes on the first draft from my agent, the legendary Nat Sobel. I’m just about ready to dive into the second draft. It’s called If All Roads Were Blind, which is a quote from a poem by Bonnie Parker. It’s about an eleven-year-old girl and her armed-robber father, on the run from Aryan gang killers who have marked them for death. There’s also a teddy bear who is a main character. So there’s a lot going on. While there’s still a lot of work to be done, I’m starting to look to the next thing. Maybe another novel, or a TV pilot. I want to write something long-ish about a pro-level armed robbery crew. I want to write something based on a murder that occurred in my teenage years, when a biology teacher at my high school was charged with murdering his whole family. It led to the revelation of teacher wife-swapping and teachers sleeping with students. I also want to write something about the Young Brother’s Massacre, a shootout in my hometown that killed seven cops in 1932. One of them was my great-grand-uncle, so it’s always been a big part of my family lore.

5.)    What are your plans to support Love and Other Wounds?

If you’ve got any tips, let me know. As I’m sure you know, once a book is out in the wild there’s a certain feeling of helplessness. I am doing a reading this weekend down in Orange County with Brian Panowich, whose great first novel Bull Mountain came out the same day as Love and Other Wounds.

Born and raised in the Missouri Ozarks, Jordan Harper has worked as a movie critic, a rock journalist, and a television writer. His pilot Surf City Hardcore, about punk rock and police corruption in Orange County during the crack era, has been optioned by Warner Bros., and his short stories have appeared in Out of the Gutter, Thuglit, and Trouble in the Heartland. With former residences in Colorado and Brooklyn, he currently lives in Los Angeles, and is working on a novel.