Author Spotlight

 

I recently had the opportunity to chat with a very talented author.  So, without further delay let‘s hear from the talented

Jenny Gardiner

It sounds like you always knew you would be a writer. Although, your writing genres have definitely changed.  Was it a difficult transition from non-fiction to fiction?
Actually once I attempted it I was surprised at how liberating it was! I just didn't imagine I could write fiction, and I was so tied to writing "the truth." But once I sat down and started writing I realized it was awesome. I could lie. Make up anything I wanted to! How cool is that!

You have had some very interesting jobs…TV news reporter, publicist on Capital Hill, and a Washington photographer. Do you still have a “day” job or are you able to write full-time?  Do you miss any of your past careers?
My main day job is staying at home with the kids. Of course they're teens now so my days are fairly free and my mom-duties kick in after school. But in addition to my fiction writing I also freelance, I have a column in the paper, I do radio essays on the largest NPR affiliate in Virginia, I write "pre-obituaries" profiles which is actually a really fun job b/c I meet all sorts of interesting people, and I am always sending out pieces to various publications on spec.

The other jobs I do not miss at all. All of them very fun and interesting in their own ways, but at this point in my life I wouldn't enjoy them nearly as much anyhow. Plus, this sounds crazy, but you get used to this piecemealing type of work and the idea of being tied down in an office environment is really not appealing. My husband has his own business and also has a lot of freedom with it so it would be hard for me to transition back to that. I love working at home in slovenly clothes and having the ability to work or put it off till later without having someone breathing down my neck to get it done. And on a day like today, in which it is absolutely gorgeous out, I will go out on my porch swing to write. On a cold winter day, I'll make a fire in the fireplace and write there. It's pretty sweet ;)

Tell us what makes Jenny…well Jenny.
That's a complicated question! I guess I'm the sum of all of my parts. My many crazy jobs definitely contributed to whom I am. As have my kids and the joys and tribulations of raising them. I am a product of an extremely broken marriage and I think that made me a really keen observer of marriages, which certainly led me down the path to writing this book.

How do you balance your writing with raising your family?  Do you have a writing schedule that you follow?
It's a completely schizophrenic existence. There are times when I'm carting my laptop with me to write at soccer practice (though invariably friends come up to chat and then I get nothing done--I have to go over to a far corner of the parking lot to avoid other people because I am a serial chit-chatter otherwise.

I think parenthood made me a bit ADD, so I'm really good at picking up and dropping things instantly--having kids sort of forces you to do this anyhow. I can also juggle a LOT of things at one time (albeit not necessarily terribly successfully!).

My schedule is unscheduled. I was the girl pulling all-nighters in college cramming for exams and writing term papers at 3 a.m. and I'm still that girl with writing deadlines. I work best under pressure. So with my fiction, I might not work on it for a while and then I get an idea of what I wanted to do and I'll sit down and write for hours. Conversely, I do write every day--for my freelance jobs and for blogging/guest blogging, and also writing on spec. So I am constantly writing, I do so during the day while my kids are at school, but it's not in a particularly organized fashion. And I'm constantly interrupted (I allow myself to be!) with emails--my husband is constantly telling me to turn off my internet!!!!

Tell us some of your favorites…foods, movies, music, books, authors, colors, and any others you would like to share with us.
One of my favorite meals ever was in a farmhouse in Tuscany at which our family stayed a few years ago. The hostess prepared homemade ravioli sauteed in a sage butter and veal piccata from a baby cow (I know, that's the hard part) from her brother's farm down the road. Olive oil pressed from their olive groves, wine from their vineyard, grappa as well. That to me is the perfect meal, especially because it is all local and so very fresh.

I am a sucker for romantic comedies. Also really funny movies--I sometimes have a very puerile high school boy sense of humor. I can't watch slasher films or anything scary or I won't sleep.

Everyone who knows me abuses me for my color: hot pink. I wear it a LOT ;-) . Also bright blue. And then black of course (it's slimming!).

I am up most days by 5:30 and to the gym for a 6 a.m. class. I love getting it out of the way. I had been doing yoga every day also but when my book came out I just got too busy but I need to get back because I LOVE yoga and it's just so good for your mind and body.

I love to travel. We've been to some fun places, my favorite was Zaire (now the Republic of the Congo).

I read that Suzanne Macpherson has been very helpful to you…how did you two connect? 
I read one of her books and really enjoyed her voice, so I'd emailed her to tell her I liked it. We exchanged a few emails and that was that. But then when I was sending out queries to agents one agent told me she wanted an exclusive on it and I had no idea how to respond as I was very new to this game. I emailed Suz to ask what she thought. She was curious so asked me to send her the query. Then she asked for a partial. She then sent me an email in the middle of the night "Where's the rest of the book? I'm dying to know what happens next!" We became fast friends from there and she was just such a huge supporter of me and when the process became most frustrating, she kept reminding me that I am a good writer and just tough it out. In this business you need people to help you keep it in perspective because there are often frustrations along the way--it's a very subjective business so that alone makes it hard, and it's a very fickle business as well.

What was the best piece of advice you received when you started?
Well, what Suz kept reminding me was "The last writer standing gets the publishing contract!" And I do think that's true--you have to dig in and press on and damn the rejections along the way. It's really easy to get discouraged and quit.

Any advice for aspiring writers?
Two things: read, read, read. This is how you discover what you like, what you don't like, and why. You learn your voice this way. You understand intuitively what works (and doesn't work) and why. It helps you to become a better writer.

The other thing: NO ONE but you wants this more than you. Ultimately you are going to be your #1 advocate, so believe in yourself. Even if people tell you awful things about your writing. It's a really subjective business. JK Rowling was rejected a LOT and look where she got. Had she quit, no one would have had the joy of reading her wonderful stories.

You can take the criticism, learn from the constructive criticism, and discard the mean-spirited stuff. Try hard not to take it personally.

I read you are part of several writing groups…what do you are the benefits of joining a writing group?  Do you recommend this to new authors?
Writers are each others' best support network. We're all going through this menopausal process together--all the hot/cold/moodiness of it all. The networking is fabulous, eventually you start to see people succeed and you are coming up through the ranks as well and know you're on the verge as well. I totally recommend writing groups. RWA is phenomenal, even if you're not a romance writer. I wasn't even a romance reader--I had picked up Suzanne's book but that was the extent of it. She recommended I join RWA and honestly I have learned the ropes from the organization. Even if there aren't nearby chapters, there are online chapters for various genres and just a general one that are really worth joining. There are lots of writing loops on Yahoo, there's Backspace, which is fabulous and the writers there come to the table from all sorts of genres and ability levels and you can learn SO MUCH from them.

I read you love to travel especially international travel.  Where is your favorite place to visit?
I dream of returning to Africa one day with our entire family (though when I went I was young and cloaked in ignorance and not aware of the many hazards that were right there in front of us and I naively overlooked).  

Where would you like to travel to that you have not visited before?
I'd love to go to Australia/New Zealand. Also China. I was in Hong Kong when I was 12, but you could only go to the border and look over as it was completely closed off then.

What do you consider your greatest strength to be?
I'm determined. And even though those rejections make me think "well, maybe my writing sucks!" I remind myself that I am a good writer and just try to shut off the noise from the bad stuff. You HAVE to believe in yourself or no one else will. 

Any weaknesses?
Ha! loads of them. Number one, as I look about my desktop that is piled high with garbage, I am not exactly the world's most organized person. But I am sort of organized in a disorganized way, if that counts!

Do you enjoy hearing from your readers and what is the best way to contact you?
I am THRILLED to hear from readers and that has to be the most gratifying thing about having my book published, especially after all of the earlier rejections. Because the book has found a home in so many people's hearts, and it's touched people and it's reassured them that they're not alone in what they're going through. While Claire's experiences in the book are certainly uniquely hers, the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood are very much universal, and I can't tell you how many readers have contacted me to let me know how appreciative they are for the book. For some it's because they completely see themselves in it. For others it's been a reminder to appreciate their spouse. One woman said something to the effect of "Okay, can you please remove the probe from my brain and the hidden cameras from my house because obviously you know everything that is happening in my life!"

I can be reached at jenny@jennygardiner.net

How would you spend a perfect day if you could do anything you wanted?
First, sleeping in. Second, not having to do anything. With three teens we spend much of our lives running around and having to be at X, Y and Z. I'd love to have us all home, relaxing (no tv on!), reading on my porch swing for a while. Go to dinner at this fun little spanish tapas place I love, have a nice bottle of wine. Maybe dessert at a little french bistro with chocolate souffle and a flute of champagne. I'm an easy date!

How do your story ideas come to you…a character, a location, a bit of dialogue, or in some other way?
All sorts of ways. Sometimes it's something I hear in a news report, or something someone has told me. I'll hear of just some strange little snippet and think "I'd like my character to do that!"

the dialogue comes to me as I write it. Every now and then I come up with dialogue for no particular book and put it in a document and refer back to it to see if I have any use for it.

Is your family supportive of your writing career?  Do they read your work?
They've been great--especially since much of my creative non-fiction and my humorous essays draw from experiences with them. I've had various things published that I've written about my kids over the years so I guess they've gotten used to being my guinea pig. I did have to draw the line a couple of years ago when one came home with head lice. I wrote a really funny piece about the trauma of that experience, but she'd have been mortified if I had published it. But it was a really funny piece. Maybe I can use it in a blog sometime--she'll never know!

Generally they don't read my work. It's not exactly targeted at them. Because I was in the American Title contest, I did however get all of their friends voting for me each month, so some of my older kids' friends have read Sleeping with Ward Cleaver. Oops!

When writing, do you plan your stories out before starting or do they develop as you write?
They totally develop as I write. I come up with a very vague idea and a vague ending and then just let it happen. I'm not particularly structured in any area of my life so this works for me I guess!

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?  Current or upcoming releases?
My agent is currently shopping my novel, MARY KATE GOES OVER THE FALLS, about a woman trapped in an abusive marriage who goes out to pick up her husband's dry cleaning and instead picks up a hitchhiker, the lure of whom reminds her of the lip of Niagara Falls, said to tempt those who look at it to want to jump in.

I hope we'll hear something soon about that, so keep checking back to my website (www.jennygardiner.net ).

Also I am on a group blog with 5 other debut authors, it's called The Debutante Ball (www.thedebutanteball.com) and we love to have new readers stop by. I post every Tuesday. Do check out the other authors as there are some fabulous books and really interesting group of writers there. I have had a wonderful experience with this and we will be passing the reins onto 2009 debut authors in September. We'll probably all remain together and start up another blog then. I'm also starting up a blog with some other writers. We're all moms of teens and we're aiming to make this humorous slice-of-life essays, a la Erma Bombeck. That site starts next week and the website is: http://channeling-erma.blogspot.com/

Thanks so much for inviting me on as your guest today! I do hope your readers enjoy my book--and if so please let me know and spread the word!
 

 

     

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