Jac Jemc

Developing Stories

Developing Stories, a new series from Work in Progress, invites authors to carry a disposable camera and document whatever compels them—a reading, a walk in the woods, a tour of the writer’s hometown. Jac Jemc, author of the acclaimed horror novel The Grip of It, captured the eerie experience of living in a place that will never feel like home.

This fall I’m living in a university apartment in Central Illinois during the week. It’s difficult not to feel a little creeped out, all alone in a bare-bones place that I’m not even giving a chance to feel like home. I can’t help but feel like this is my just due, to live in an uncomfortable place, after putting my characters through the same in The Grip of It. The appliances are ancient. This tiny three-quarter stove produces the highest burner flames I’ve ever seen. My tea boils in something like two minutes.

Everything is so nondescript. I have not lived with carpet in a long time. I’m keeping my boxes assembled on top of the fridge so I can pack up quickly when the semester is over.

This furnace hides in a closet right in the living room/kitchen and, for some reason, when it turns on I get a little thrill of joy, like it’s setting this whole weird little life on fire.

The week I moved in, they were re-siding the apartment building, so these workmen hovered outside my windows, hammering away like a warning.

This is the view from the couch (which I believe was salvaged from the Student Union) and that’s my table and chair (note the singular), both identical to furniture in the library. You can see my dorm bed in the bedroom on the right, too.

Could anything be more depressing than my little self-filled travel shampoos?

The third bulb went out in an epic flash my first night in the apartment.

That half cabbage. Send help.

Bloomington–Normal, Illinois (Normal seems like just about the perfect name for a horror story to take place, right?) has all of these little cobble-paved streets with very narrow stone gates. At night, it can feel like you’re wandering around a grand manor.

In person, these leaves were bright red and the flowers a sharp white. Film confuses color, it seems.

These golf balls are just wedged into a section of sidewalk on a main road, like paving filler. We should probably throw other trash we don’t want in with our cement.

I found this web on a walk on the Constitution Trail, but I didn’t have the camera with me. I walked home and went back to the same spot the next day hoping it would still be there. Little did I know it would linger on for a couple of months.

I’ve been trying to walk as many branches of the Constitution Trail as I can while I’m in town. Much of the forest backs up on people’s yards, but sometimes deep ravines make the path feel more isolated, like a wolf might show up and make an offer.

I assume a woodworker lives in this house covered in carved bears. Last week I was walking by and a man was smoking on the balcony. He made very intense eye contact with me each time I glanced up. I was grateful he was gone by the time I backtracked home.

I wish it were darker so the green light of this place looked as eerie as it was in person.

I tried to take a picture of a lamp in a window next to a streetlight, but I love that this makes it seem like the lamp is just another streetlight. You can’t even tell there’s a house around the smaller light. Perfect.

The brilliant and hilarious Halle Butler passed through town and I felt incredibly grateful to have a companion for a night.

We went to Schooners and drank Miller Lite, listening to a solo dude performing Jimmy Buffett covers. For some reason there was a giant check on stage behind him. He gave us his card at the end of the night. I tried to take a photo, but this is all that showed up.

At the very least, everything is quite reasonably priced. This covered our whole evening.

Jac Jemc is the author of My Only Wife, a finalist for the 2013 PEN / Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and winner of the Paula Anderson Book Award, and the short story collection A Different Bed Every Time. She has been the recipient of two Illinois Arts Council Professional Development Grants, and in 2014 was named one of 25 Writers to Watch by the Guild Literary Complex and one of Newcity’s Lit 50 in Chicago. She recently completed a stint as the writer in residence at the University of Notre Dame and currently teaches at Northeastern Illinois University and StoryStudio Chicago, as well as online at Writers & Books and the Loft Literary Center, and she is the web nonfiction editor for Hobart. The Grip of It is her latest novel.