I grew up in a small town in central Texas. Seguin rests at the bottom of a green valley, and there’s a river running right through the middle of it. I live in Austin now, about an hour away, where I teach high school English and play in a queer, middle-aged, bluegrass band called Brand New Key.
I got a degree in English from UT Austin in 1998, and then moved to Decatur, Georgia, to make my fortune as a songwriter and bookseller. I played a lot of shows, hiked a lot of trails, and smoked a lot of cigarettes with my lovely friends. Year five, I found myself working IT for BellSouth, looking forward to the daily Greek lunch specials on the ground floor of a skyscaper in downtown Atlanta, and figured I needed to make some changes. I also figured out I wasn’t exactly a girl anymore, if ever.
I moved back to Texas and pursued an MFA in Creative Writing at Texas State in San Marcos. I studied with terrific writers like Debra Monroe, Tim O’Brien, and Dagoberto Gilb, and met some of the best writers and friends of my life.
Over the past decade, I’ve slowly transitioned into a queer, nonbinary writer and teacher: someone I never thought could even exist. My partner Bianca and I share our Austin home with two sons, almost grown, and a very good dog named James.
Interview with Nicole Beckley of American Short Fiction (July, 2018)
In Jack Kaulfus’s debut story collection, Tomorrow or Forever, the Austin-based author examines life, the afterlife, and the identities we may take on in those spaces and beyond. These nine stories move through a variety of settings, from the cramped inside of a plane to a mystical small town sculpture garden, painting backdrops that are alternately recognizable and otherworldly. In these eclectic stories, tension lies between what’s known and unknown—about the worlds we exist in and about our very selves. That tension gives the pieces a sense of lingering darkness, not for lack of hope, but because of imperfect humanity. Here, Kaulfus talks about writing toward what feels magical, making characters face their fears, and the sense of freedom that writing fiction provides a writer
NB: There’s this moment in the title story where the main character says, “Look, this is what I was trying to tell you earlier,” I say. “I think I’m not who you think I am.” And Mike, another character, responds, “Nobody is who you think.” That seemed to me to be such an interesting statement about identity, and so many of these characters are considering their own identities. Do you think of storytelling as a way to talk about identity or the complexity of our identities?
JK: A lot of the stories are about trans characters, and I myself have a tendency to perseverate on my own experience, my own isolation, my own fear. And when I went back and looked through some of these stories, I wanted to focus on trans experience in some ways, but in other ways I wanted it to be less specific. I wanted to create an inroad to each character that you could figure out that they were also working on some other aspects of identity, too.
NB: Some writers talk about writing as a discovery process, writing to figure out how you feel about something or discover something new. Is there something you discovered while you were writing these stories?
JK: That’s a hard one, because the first story was written around 2008, and ever since then I’ve been piecing them together. In putting the book together though, it forced me to really consider whose story can I tell. When I first started writing, I had no problem writing from the perspective of a trans woman. I was like, sure, I’m trans, no big deal. Now, I am more reluctant, not that I have to write every character from my particular perspective, but I do wonder about that. A few trans women have read “The End of Objects” and have really liked it, but one of my friends was like, “this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to read. Why did you do this?” It really made me think, and so we had a real conversation about it, about the things that were disturbing to her. Maybe that particular perspective is not necessarily mine to explore. I think that part of the discovery process has been important for me, and I’m interested in seeing where that takes me.
NB: Some of the stories use sci-fi-type elements. Is there an advantage to writing in the sci-fi space while thinking about identity?
JK: Yes, I definitely think so. I think it frees up so much exploratory territory. I already feel like I’m walking around in this fictional universe where I don’t really know what’s true, and I don’t really understand how to figure out what’s true – because we’re humans and we lie and we do our best to just survive. We’re changing the whole time. I definitely feel like allowing a little breathing room between reality and non-reality. That feels more true to me than just writing straight fiction.
NB: The book is being published by Transgress Press. How did you get connected to them?
JK: Paige Schilt, who wrote Queer Rock Love, introduced me to Trystan Cotten [the Managing Editor] at the Outsider Fest, where my band was playing. I sent [my writing] and within six weeks he was emailed and told me he was going to send me a preliminary contract. Just for giving me a chance, they’ve opened up so much. I just want to go out there and introduce [the press to] as many people as possible.