Fiction & Essays

Fiction_Essays_JenniferCognard-Black

When I write creatively, I put things together. I synthesize disparate parts of what constitutes the human: a salamander in the bathroom, the bouncy chorus of an overplayed song, loss, love, death, delight, or a broken bone at age three. Like the synthesis of an exquisite, yet simple, dish—that divine combination, say, of April asparagus, crispy fingerling potatoes, rosemary, olive oil, and an over-easy egg—a well-crafted short story or essay should become more than the sum of its parts. Such writing should be absolutely of this world yet also, always, otherworldly: a combination that defies easy explanation and that brings both pleasure and awe.

I am a slow writer. I think and then think again about my characters and what they do or refuse to do, what they say or what they keep to themselves. I savor the rawness of edgy metaphor, the allure of an unexpected image. As Annie Dillard has said of writing, I follow a line of words. It is my epicure’s fork, my sculptor’s chisel, my park ranger’s chainsaw. My line of words clears a path I walk behind.

Sometimes I type a vignette for an essay, then read it over and delete it—a scrap of trash, burned. Often my writing is this way: two steps forward only to erase my tracks. When I take just one step back, I am revising. I move from pure creation to the real work of the writer, which is simply revision. Writing is revision. As a pianist must run her scales and practice her Chopin Ballade one hand, one section at a time, a writer must work and work again on the small stuff—this line of dialogue, that description of a green bowl used only for Halloween candy and movie-night popcorn. And when I can run the scales of my descriptions, dialogue, images, exposition, etc., etc. with ease and grace, then my Ballade (my story, my essay) comes together—fantastic fusion. It brushes beauty. It skims truth.

I do not write one kind of fiction or one genre of essay. As a reader, I enjoy Carver-like clarity as much as Morrison-esque complexity. I am fascinated by Garcia Marquez as much as Shakespeare, moved by Wordsworth as much as Winterson. Perhaps the only common element among my creative pieces is an abiding interest in human heartache and in the landscape and weather of the Midwest. As my narrator says at the end of my piece “A Very Short Story Begins on a Farm”:  “For all that matters in any story is a character in fierce or quiet pain, and this place is perfect for violence and need and anger and loss. This is farmland, after all, the country’s heart—a thin topsoil over stones and raw clay.


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The Hot Thing

Essay in From Curlers to Chainsaws: Women and Their Machines. Eds. Joyce Dyer, Jennifer Cognard-Black, and Elizabeth MacLeod Walls. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State UP, 2016. 78–97.

A Clean Shot

Short story in Valparaiso Fiction Review 4.2 (Summer 2015): 34-39.
Published under the pen name J. Annie MacLeod.

American Gothic

Short story in PoemMemoirStory 14 (2015): 125-137.
Published under the pen name J. Annie MacLeod.

Burn

Short story in Books that Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal. New York, NY: New York University Press, 2014.

Double

Short story in Versal: The Literary and Art Annual 10 (2012): 58–59.
Published under the pen name J. Annie MacLeod.

Blink

Short story in So To Speak Summer-Fall 2009: 71–76.
Finalist for So To Speak Fiction Award. 
Published under the pen name J. Annie MacLeod.

Lip Service

Essay in Mama PhD: Women Write about Motherhood and the Academy. Ed. Elrena Evans and Caroline Grant. Piscataway, NY: Rutgers UP, 2008. 129–135.

A New Love Poem

Short story in Pisgah Review 3.1 (Spring 2008): 103–108.
Published under the pen name J. Annie MacLeod.

Meiosis

Short story in Literary Mama Sept. 2007.
Published under the pen name J. Annie MacLeod.

Gasoline

Short story in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction September 2004: 130–141.
Published under the pen name J. Annie MacLeod.

Fairytale

Short story in Another Chicago Magazine 42 (Spring 2003): 104–117.
Published under the pen name J. Annie MacLeod.

A La Cart

Short story in Roanoke Review 27 (Spring 2002): 71–92. 
Published under the pen name J. Annie MacLeod.

A Cold Climate

Short story in Briar Cliff Review 13 (Spring 2001): 54–59.
Published under the pen name J. Annie MacLeod.

A Very Short Story Begins on a Farm

Short story in South Dakota Review 38.2 (Summer 2000): 29–31. 
Finalist for Glimmer Train Short Fiction Award, 1999. 
Published under the pen name J. Annie MacLeod.

Static

Short story in The Cream City Review 24.1 (Fall 1999): 59–77.
Published under the pen name J. Annie MacLeod.

Allegro con Agitato

Essay in Ohio State Alumni Magazine (July/August 1995): 21–23.  


About my pseudonym, J. Annie MacLeod:

I publish my fiction under a pseudonym, J. Annie MacLeod, which is actually an alternate version of my own name. "J" is for Jennifer, of course; "Annie" is my middle name, Anne; and "MacLeod" is my mother's birth name. While I was able to retain my father's birth name, Cognard, when I got married, I didn't want to lose the other half of my heritage, for I identify strongly as being from both French and Scottish extraction. Thus, my critical work is all published under Jennifer Cognard-Black, whereas my creative stories come from the pen of J. Annie MacLeod. These names also speak to distinct parts of my self and psyche: the more rational Cognard side, and the more emotional and creative MacLeod side. A little too Jekyll-Hyde? Well, perhaps that's why I read and teach so many monster books....