Hi Jennifer, congratulations on your new classes at Long Story Short School of Writing! We'd all like to learn more about you, so would you tell us a little about yourself?
A: I’m a stay-at-home mom of three (Preteen Goddess, Speed Demon, and The Destroyer) little terrors without whom I’d have nothing to write about, as well as wife and mother to a bouncing baby 44 year old man who is the love of my chaotic life.
I’m a small town Missourian through and through and can’t imagine living in a place so big that the buildings can’t be described in terms of what they used to be and have people understand exactly what you’re talking about (“Oh, the tile place? Yep, that’s in that building that used to be the Mexican restaurant. You know, next to the Junior High that used to be the old High School.”).
Oh yeah, and I’m a writer – a title I earned by the time I was seven, but only officially added to my name about five years ago when it became painfully obvious that I was never meant to work in an office where I can’t plaster the walls with cartoons of vegetable-toting John Lennon’s mother begging him to “give peas a chance.”
Q. How long have you been a writer? What made you put that first story/poem down on paper?
A: Like I said, I’ve been doing it for most of my life, even though I didn’t really realize that until just recently.
My first “real story” was a romance complete with a couple of star-crossed lovers whose last names sounded like ingredients you’d find in a bottle of shampoo. I must have been about seven and I gave it to my grandma. She loved it so much she called my aunt to brag. I’ll never forget the thrill I got as she tried unsuccessfully (and with much giggling) to say the characters’ names. I was hooked from that moment on.
I’ve written intermittently ever since, but made it my “official job” almost five years ago. I had a great story idea and after Hubby badgered me for thirty seven hours straight, I finally agreed to write it down. In retrospect, the story stank. But the decision was a good one.
Q. What types of stories/poems do you write?
A: I’ll write anything that will get me a credible byline or a check. I’m not picky or proud. But I do have my favorites.
I love to make people laugh. There’s something about being in the business of focusing on the silver lining that is a huge draw for me. So, I most often write humor essays. I have a column in my local paper and another in Mom Writers Literary Magazine. It’s the most fulfilling of all the writing that I do.
Even in my fiction or my poetry, my work almost always has something positive, funny, or light to say. I’m not a big fan of dark and dreary and when I try to write it I fail miserably. I’d guess I’d rather my face be streaked with tears of laughter than tears of sadness.
Q. What do your family/friends think about your writing? Are they supportive?
A: Gosh, if I tried to quit they’d probably kick me out of the family. Especially Hubby, who got to suffer through all my failed “establishment” jobs with me. He’s terrific about supporting my every writing whim (and we all know what a pain some of those whims can be) and silently suffering through my every writer tantrum (and we know about those too, don’t we?) and telling me that everything I write is gold, even when it’s not.
There’s a long tradition of creativity in my family, so being a writer impresses my family more than anything else I could do. Nuclear Physicist? Why would I want to do that? Write limericks on the bathroom wall? Now there’s an aspiration with promise!
Q. For you, what is most frustrating about writing? Most rewarding?
A: Lack of time frustrates me to no end, even though I realize that it’s that constant suffocating barrage of mommy-duties that inspire my best work. Still, I find that when I’m feeling particularly creative, I turn into a fat blob because I have to swap out personal time for writing time. On the other hand, when I’m spending my time on the treadmill instead of in front of the computer I start to get a little strange. Usually it’s when the grocery list is written entirely in iambic pentameter that I recognize that it’s time to get back to the keyboard.
The reward lies in the finished product, no doubt. I love to sit back and look over what I’ve written and think, “Wow, I’m good! I don’t even remember writing that, but darn if it isn’t really good!” There’s just something about starting with absolutely nothing and turning it into something that can make people laugh or cry or feel good or feel touched that is such a charge.
Q. Do you read much? What kinds of books inspire you to write- if any? Favorite authors?
A: I’m a constant reader. Always have been. I literally can’t remember a time in my life of not being able to read and not loving it. I’m a book reviewer for four reviewing companies, so I always have a stack on the corner of my desk of six or seven books to be read. And I have another stack next to it of books that I’ve checked out at the library. Any less than a dozen books in my “waiting” pile and I start whining that “I have nothing to re-e-e-e-e-ad.”
I’m a closet Stephen King fan, and I absolutely adore Marian Keyes. I admire Audrey Niffenegger’s ability to weave an incredible and intricate story and I am so down with Johanna Edward’s voice. During the summer I get into the classics and I will always clamber for the freshness of a debut book. But the author I reach for when I want to get lost is Kent Haruf. His books feel so…comfy…to me. I want to read them in front of the fire, even in August.
Whenever I need the inspiration to write, I get out Stephen King’s “On Writing.” That book really gets me thinking and it inspires me to be good at what I do. If I really need a push in the right direction, I dig out a Julia Cameron book. Any of them will do, but particularly “The Artist’s Way.” You can never go wrong with that one. And the one I use most often for a reference book is Evan Marshall’s “The Marshall Plan for Getting Your Novel Published.”
Q. Do you take most of your ideas from life? Or your imagination? A mix? (Do you hate when people ask this?)
A: I do hate it when people ask me this because most of the time I have no idea where the ideas come from. Most of them come to me when I’m silent and thinking of nothing at all. Many come to me in my sleep. And most of them come to me fully formed, with only a little tweaking necessary when transcribing them to paper.
When it comes to my humor essays, I do let real life inspire me, but it’s sort of backwards. I tend to come up with the essay idea and then pluck examples of what I’m talking about out of real life experiences. It’s very rare for me to see or hear something and be struck with inspiration based solely on that real-life incident. It does happen occasionally, but not very often. Writing is a very natural process for me, meaning it tends to come from within. I just let it come.
Q. Do you have days when the words won’t flow? What do you do?
A: Sheesh, sometimes I wish. I can’t sleep half the time for the words flowing. I’ve never had a moment of writer’s block. I have, however, had long stretches where everything I write is absolutely horrible. When that happens, I just keep writing. I don’t remember where I heard it, but somewhere I heard that you should give yourself permission to write poorly. I think that’s good advice. So when it’s rot, I let it be rot and move on with my day.
Q. Do you have a ‘golden rule’ of writing that almost always works for you?
A: Write every single day. Doesn’t matter what or for how long, but write every day without missing a beat. Even Christmas Day, even Easter. Every day.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given as a writer? What’s the worst?
A: Actually, my mom gave me the best advice. She told me I had to get over my fear of letting other people read my work. Like always, she was right. Once I got over the notion that what I’ve written might be bad and people might not like it and that would be horrible, things started happening for me.
I honestly can’t think of any bad advice I’ve ever gotten about writing. It’s all a learning experience and since failure is such a norm in this business, it doesn’t hurt so much to fail from taking a wrong path. Bad advice is just a lesson in disguise.
Q. You’ll be teaching three classes for the first semester of the LSS school: “Are You Laughing At Me?” “Essays Made Easy: Essay Writing for Beginners,” and “Be Prompt About It.” Can you describe what they’re about?
A: Are You Laughing at Me is a humor essay-writing class geared toward beginners who think they might have something funny to say but want to test the waters. It’s really a neat class because we’re going to take “ordinary” essays and sort of “funny them up” as the weeks go on. We’ll be trying out different techniques, adding things here and deleting them there until our “blah” essays are hysterical. In the meantime we’ll also work up a couple of new funny essays and end the class with a little contest with actual money and publication on the line!
Essays Made Easy: Essay Writing for Beginners is a comprehensive essay-writing course for beginning writers who need to learn the basics of what makes an essay an essay. It’s amazing to me that many writers don’t know the difference between essay and fiction, but this class will leave them with no doubt. We’ll be working together for seven weeks, writing humor essays, emotionally poignant essays, and informative or opinion essays. We’ll also do some brainstorming together, some editing together, and just a little talk about markets for essays.
Be Prompt About It is a collection of writing prompts – one every other day for two months. The prompts that I’ll be using are truly unique and challenging and promise to turn out some pretty interesting writing projects for my students. This won’t be so much an “instruction” class as it will be a place to seriously write and critique one another’s work. The best thing about this class is that it will be a different class every session for a full year. So students could potentially take it for a full twelve months and never repeat a writing prompt.
Q. What do you find rewarding about teaching? Have you ever taught in a forum situation before?
A: I’ve taught online classes before but in more of a one-on-one mentoring-style situation. What I enjoy most about teaching is the continual networking with other writers. Even if they’re brand new to the business, there’s still much to be gained from developing a connection with them. I also enjoy critiquing quite a bit and find the appreciation that I receive from writers who’ve received my critiques to be quite rewarding.
I have, however, been a student in many forum-style writing classes and am quite familiar with how they work. I met my four best writing buddies nearly two years ago in an online forum class and we’re still writing together and encouraging each other to this day. Because of that type of experience (which is the rule rather than the exception), I find forum classes to be extremely beneficial in terms of meeting people and learning tons. In fact, I plan to enroll in more than a few of Long Story Short School of Writing classes myself.
Q. How long have you been teaching? What’s most rewarding for you about being a teacher?
A: I’ve been formally teaching for about two months now.
Q. Did we forget anything? What would you like to add? Any upcoming publications or links for our readers? Current projects we should watch for?
A: I would suggest that anyone who’s interested in taking my humor-writing class should take a look at some of my humor work, which they can find linked to my website at www.freewebs.com/jennifer_brown. You will find a link to my winning Erma Bombeck essay as well as to my current columns in the Liberty Sun and in Mom Writers Literary Magazine. This will help prospective students see my style of humor writing and decide if it’s a style that will work well for them.