jessica barksdale
Jessica Barksdale
Jessica Barksdale’s fifteenth novel, The Play’s the Thing, and her second poetry collection, Grim Honey, are forthcoming.

She is a Professor of English at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California and teaches novel writing online for UCLA Extension and in the online MFA program for Southern New Hampshire University.

Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, she now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband.



written by Jessica Barksdale

Caught is a story about a woman whose life has mostly occurred around her. She has watched things transpire, rather than acting to make them happen. But one day, something happens that suddenly upends her life and forces her to make changes and decisions.

© 2015 Jessica Barksdale | Recording © 2020 Rivercliff Books & Media. All rights reserved.
Read by Taylor Coan
“Melanie was fifty feet away as the kid spun around the blind corner, his shiny, silver Mercedes drifting on two-wheels, at least for a second. Sun glinted through the sudden spaces under the car. The For Sale sign in front of the Delgado’s house rocked back and forth. Wind blew dried eucalyptus leaves, the edges thin as knives.”
“She worried she was the dark heart of her sons’ faults, personality quirks and moral lapses. Sometimes she ran throug her litany of errors: antibiotics, hot sauna, sex, glass of wine while pregnant, inability to say no, inclination to yell, and general and persistent fatigue during their childhoods.
“Here she was again, smack in the moments that change everything. Robert, before leaving the house for a night out with his drunken, noisy friends. Will, before going to college. Even earlier. Dan, before he got on his shiny new bike and rode all the way to a new wife.”

Q&A with Jessica

Tell us about your story...
This is a story about a Melanie, whose life has mostly occurred around her. She has almost been watching things transpire rather than acting to make things happen. And then, something happens that forces her to make changes and decisions.
What was the inspiration for this story?
I lived in the Oakland Hills for 12 years, and I experienced some of what Melanie did in terms of dog walkers and bicyclists. But there was this one kid who drove his parents’ Mercedes around like a maniac.

I happened to be very inspired by my street—lots went on with the neighbors, with fires, with drivers, even a murder, sadly, which involved a police chase and several fire trucks—and I just started to imagine what might have happened if that that kid and I went head-to-head, so to speak.



What have you recently read that you loved?
I loved Severance by Ling Ma, which is about a pandemic. Maybe it is too on-the-nose for some, too prescient, but her view of modern society and the dissembling of it was illuminating, given our current circumstances. In a way, her main character Candace Chen has let life flow around her, and then, she can no longer let that happen. She needs to act, and does.
Someday I want to...
Do stand-up comedy. For a crowd. I have been teaching for a long time, and I have a lot to say about the learning/not learning process.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I love to garden, walk my dogs, hike with my husband and with my son who lives in Portland. And back when the world was open, I loved to go to movies, book group, classes. I love travelling, and I look forward to doing that again at some point.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I am officially a “super-recognizer,” screened and tested. I can recognize people quickly, even in profile, even when their features aren’t clear. I always know what actor was in which film or show. I think I would be an asset to the CIA or FBI, though they have not come knocking.
On the weekends I like to...
If I’m not working, I’m hanging out with my husband and kids, most likely watching their playful antics and falling asleep in the armchair with a book in hand.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
I love to watch House Hunters International. I am also very fond of TCHO chocolate.
What's the best sound in the world?
Probably dawn, when there isn’t a lot of sound, but there is muffled car noise from the start of commute and birds in the hedges and trees. Chickens are waking up. Squirrels moving around. The sky almost has an opening up sound, but the world is light and open. Dawn is a great sound.
Tomorrow I absolutely refuse to...
Think about the election.
Who / What makes you laugh?
Pretty much everything. My dogs. Commercials. The vagaries of the body. Things my students ask me, especially when the answer is in the syllabus.
What's the best thing that's happened to you recently?
Probably that everyone in my family is healthy and safe, even my mother in an assisted living facility. We have work, places to live, and safety nets. That is the collective best thing that has happened.

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