Friday, March 19, 2010
Tell us about your latest release and the inspiration behind it.
My book is a memoir, titled WINGING IT: A MEMOIR OF CARING FOR A VENGEFUL PARROT WHO'S DETERMINED TO KILL ME (Gallery Books). Think of it as David Sedaris meets Marley & Me, with a deadly beak. It's about an African gray parrot with an attitude who arrived as a surprise Christmas gift the year we had our new baby. Life has never been the same.
The idea grew over many years. We got this parrot as a gift--my brother-in-law came back from Africa one Christmas with parrots for the family, and we ended up with the ornery one. And over the years, stories about her have become so legendary, she is such an entertaining thing (when she's not being vicious). I have written about her for my newspaper column before and people were so interested in her. At dinner parties, she becomes the focus of everyone's interest--we've had her now for almost 2 decades and people are always so entertained by her and stories about her, so I thought it would be fun to do a book. My sort of funny backstory is YEARS ago, I was sitting in a bat mitzvah, and I get really antsy when I'm a captive audience, especially when everything isn't in a language I can remotely understand. So when I was sitting there for like 3-1/2 arduous hours (it was a high holiday so they had a huge service with it), I pulled out a notebook and pen and HANDWROTE four chapters of what would eventually become this book...
What has brought you the greatest joy since you were published, and what has caused you the greatest angst?
I think just hearing from readers who have really enjoyed reading what I've written. I love to be able to entertain/divert/amuse people with my writing, to give them time to escape the everyday and just go somewhere fun or interesting for a while.
The angst just comes with the vagaries of the industry right now. What would have been published with ease two short years ago is being shunned with regularity now. It's very frustrating because so many authors know that they're writing wonderful books, but these books may never see publication because of so much uncertainty and financial instability, and of course the drastic paradigm shifts happening in the industry.But it's nothing any of us writers have a bit of control over, so I try to ignore it!
Tell us about your writing process. Do you outline or are you more organic?
I love that you call that organic. It sounds so much more deliberate and literary that way ;-). Yes I am very much an organic--i.e. seat-of-the-pants--writer. I have ideas, I sort of "noodle" them in my head for a while sometimes before I commit them to the page, but I do like to just sit down and type.
What is a typical writing day like for you?
There really is no typical day for me. I've got 3 kids, so I'm at the mercy of their schedules first. Ideally I am up before dawn and at the gym and home before 7, then get the kids off to school, then come home to write. In reality there are often so many things going on that it's not that simple. Long ago I adapted to that writing lifestyle and take my laptop with me whenever I know I'll have even an idle 10 minutes.
Do you have a vice that you’ve given up, but long to continue?
Currently I've given up Mint M&Ms for Lent. And while I know I can go back to them (while the limited supply lasts!) in a few weeks, I'm disinclined to because it was a habit I needed to break. I did that last year with Peanut M&Ms and it seemed to stick. Though I think I just end up trading one bad habit for another.
How do you promote your books? Are you going on tour for this book? Any upcoming signings?
With my first novel, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, I actually won a publishing contract in the American Title III contest (sort of an American Idol for books). And I won that by surviving a 6-month period of online voting. What was wonderful about that was it really gave me a leg-up on marketing--particularly online marketing--a product that at the time wasn't even a tangible book one could buy. But I guess you'd call me an "early adapter" LOL to capitalizing on the internet as a marketing tool. So I do try to maximize my online presence as much as possible, especially because with a family it's hard to technically "tour" when book comes out. I do do plenty of appearances and signings, try to do as many book festivals as I can afford, and do whatever media appearances as possible.
I'm appearing on a panel and signing at the Virginia Festival of the Book, in fact, March 21. I've got a signing at Fountain Books in Richmond, VA, on April 8, and at the Barnes & Noble, Tyson's Corner, VA, on April 16. I'm also at the PennWriters Conference in Lancaster, PA in mid-May. We're setting up other events still.
What is the most difficult part of being an author?
The time it takes to market and publicize oneself. I don't mind marketing and publicizing, but I'd way rather be just focusing on writing books, and rue the day that this became so much more the onus of the author. I understand why it is that way, but wasn't it a beautiful thing in this country when those with an area of expertise were able to take care of that end of things, rather than nowadays when it seems that everyone is expected to do everything themselves? There was a time when people didn't pump their own gas--remember that? And you hired someone to come fix things, rather than trying to patch it together yourself. Ah, but I digress...
What do you love about being an author?
I love to write. I love to be able to make up a story that ends up being something with which others find entertainment/comfort/diversion. I love that as a writer I have the ability to touch other people, maybe bolster their sagging spirits even.
What's one piece of writing advice you've found valuable on your journey to publication?
Believe in yourself. This business can be demoralizing--it's all so subjective, so you have to trust in your gut that you're a good writer with a good product, one that just hasn't found the right editor yet. If you allow yourself to be dragged down by rejection, you'll only end up marinating in a gray fug of gloom half the time.
Jenny is an author from central Virginia. Please visit her at http://www.jennygardiner.net/