An Indies Introduce Q&A with Jessie Ren Marshall

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Jessie Ren Marshall is the author of Women! In! Peril!, a Winter/Spring 2024 Indies Introduce adult selection, and April 2024 Indie Next List pick. 

Marshall (she/her) is an Asian-American writer living off-grid with her dogs on Hawaiʻi Island. She's also a playwright who graduated with Honors in Theater from Oberlin College (BA) and Distinction in Modern Literature and Culture from the University of York (MA). After getting an MFA in Fiction from NYU, she spent eight years teaching English and creative writing, mostly at private high schools in Hawaiʻi. Her work has appeared in The New England Review, Electric Literature, Joyland, Chicago Quarterly Review, TriQuarterly, ZYZZYVA, Gulf Coast, The Common, Barrelhouse, The Gettysburg Review, the Modern Love column of The New York Times, and elsewhere.

Paula Farmer of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California, served on the panel that selected Women! In! Peril! for Indies Introduce.

“As the title would suggest, Women! In! Peril! is a fun and funny take on feminist and societal situations and issues," said Farmer. "With distinct wit and charm, Jessie Ren Marshall’s impressive debut will have you laughing out loud, re-reading passages and shaking your head with disbelief. (Yes, she went there!) This distinctive collection is a literary experience not to be missed.”

Here, Marshall and Farmer discuss Women! In! Peril!.

Paula Farmer: You had me at the title. Where did that come from and did you always know you wanted a female/feminist-focused collection?

Jessie Ren Marshall: Thanks, Paula! I also love the title. I love all those exclamation marks. I love the drama! The title signals the humor of the collection and the cheeky self-awareness that many of its characters have. It also harkens back to pulp fiction, and that felt right because some of the stories play with genre.

The title magically popped into my head when I was getting ready to shop the book to agents. And yes, I always knew the book would be female-focused. I’m really interested in what it means to be treated as a woman by society, and how that conditioning affects one’s behavior. Also, the stories are diverse — jumping between genres, settings, and points of view — and the theme of womanhood links the stories. I admit one story was told from a man’s perspective when I wrote the first few drafts, but it improved after I switched genders. I won’t reveal which story that was. My writing group knows, though!

PF: This collection is bursting with wildly unique stories and situations, and interesting, fun, and funny characters. What came first, the stories ideas or the characters?

JRM: For high-concept stories, they tend to bloom in my head instead of on the page. Once the idea takes shape, the story is almost like a play that I need to cast. I think: what type of person do we want to see in this situation? But in the more character-driven stories, the character comes first, and the protagonist is often a distorted mirror of someone I know or a part of myself that I find problematic and want to explore.

PF: You are weaving in a lot of humor throughout the collection, along with social commentary. Does writing with humor come naturally to you?

JRM: No. Next question.

Ha! Just kidding, Paula. Humor is my natural response to being uncomfortable. Or angry! Or sad! There are days when I’m extremely downtrodden about the state of the world and how much humanity has mucked it up. It feels like we’re in global peril and my individual ability to create change is pathetically small. But one of the ways we can combat systemic oppression, ecological despair, and personal loss is through humor. The best humor reveals uncomfortable truths, I think. And if a problem is easier to see, it’s easier to solve.

PF: How long have you been working on this — from start to publishing deal? Do you want to stay in the short stories lane for a while or do you see this as a stepping stone to a novel?

JRM: Oh, a loooooong time! The oldest story in the book was part of my application to graduate writing programs. It’s been revised since then, but wow, that was a lifetime ago. The title story is the most recent. I wrote it after I started working with my wonderful agents, Nat and Michelle at Trellis Literary, but before we’d found my stellar editor, Grace McNamee at Bloomsbury. I thought Women! In! Peril! was such a fun title, I’d better use it twice.

I adore the short story form and will always come back to it. However, I’m writing a novel now, and it’s a great new challenge. More often than not, I think short stories need to be incredibly precise to be satisfying. While novels can certainly hinge on precision, they can also be sprawling or messy or a million different things at once. Creatively, I love that openness.

PF: Who are the authors and/or books that inspire you in general and this writing project specifically?

JRM: So many! For this book, I’m especially beholden to short story writers who blew my mind when I was learning the short story form. To name a few: Lorrie Moore, Amy Hempel, Jennifer Egan, Aimee Bender, Kelly Link, George Saunders. And lately I’ve been drawn to authors who write bingeable page-turners that are also deeply moving and socially resonant, like Gwen E. Kirby, Megan Kamalei Kakimoto, C Pam Zhang, Erin Swan, Deesha Philyaw, T.N. Eyer, Kazuo Ishiguro, Clare Beams, and so many others.

PF: What does it mean to you personally and professionally for your debut to be selected for Indies Introduce?

JRM: I’d hoped that publishing a book would help me build relationships in publishing. What I didn’t anticipate is the way it would connect me to booksellers! These are my people! It’s been such a joy to share my work with them. A long time ago I worked at a bookstore — Shakespeare & Co. on the Upper East Side of Manhattan — because I wanted to spend my days with people who loved books. I remember when authors would come in to sign copies. I thought their lives were so glamorous, and I dreamed of being able to do that someday.

Honestly, being an Indies Introduce and an Indie Next author means the world to me. Indie bookstores are vital community centers, and if indie booksellers are passionate about this book, that’s more success than I hoped for. I’ve teared up after hearing from booksellers who were early readers of Women! In! Peril!, and I’m so happy to think they’re spreading the word and putting this book in the hands of readers who might like it.

Women! In! Peril! by Jessie Ren Marshall (Bloomsbury US, 9781639732272, Paperback Short Stories, $17.99) On Sale: 4/2/2024

Find out more about the author at

ABA member stores are invited to use this interview or any others in our series of Q&As with Indies Introduce debut authors in newsletters and social media and in online and in-store promotions. Please let us know if you do.