Monday, June 21, 2010

INquiry XI: Rita Williams-Garcia

Today we welcome prolific author, Rita Williams-Garcia

Rita is the author of seven award-winning novels including Jumped, Like Sisters on the Homefront and Every Time a Rainbow Dies. She continues to break new ground in young people's literature with her latest work, One Crazy Summer. Known for their realistic portrayal of teens of color, Williams-Garcia's works have been recognized by the Coretta Scott King Award Committee, PEN/Norma Klein Award, American Library Association, and Parents' Choice, among others. She recently served on the National Book Award Committee for Young People's Literature, and she sponsors a short story contest for young writers. Read more about Rita and her work at

EEM: Did you always want to be a writer?

RWG: Pretty much from the crib. As a girl I loved making up stories. I’d quit a game of kickball to go off and daydream. This didn’t exactly endear me to my sister and brother or friends but once a scene or idea popped into my head, I’d want to see it through. When I was twelve I found The Writer’s Market and The Writer’s Handbook and a lot of rejection. I felt like a writer. It was great.

EEM: When you began writing, was it instant success and riches or did you find you had to work other jobs in order to continue your dream of being a writer?

RWG: A cabin in the woods with a typewriter. A Pulitzer Prize. One million dollars. Bookshelves filled with works by Rita Williams. Then I’d open that rejection letter. Thank goodness I knew rejection early on. I sold a story to Highlights Magazine at 14 and a short story to Essence Magazine (never published) while in college. But the novel that I’d written in college would languish eight years before it got whipped into total submission. In the meanwhile, I studied dance in the heart of New York City at Phil Black’s dance studio and at Alvin Ailey’s while I auditioned for shows. “Just let me be good enough to make the next cut,” was my mantra. I never thought I’d land a job. My boobs were too big for my then smallish frame, and I couldn‘t sing. I just wanted to be good enough to audition.

EEM: What jobs have you held, current or in the past, to help sustain your writing career?

RWG: I was tempted to audition for a semi-nude dance gig on a cruise line, but changed my mind. Shortly after, I answered an ad in the NY Times for an office assistant at a company that created software for advertisers and media. In exchange for low pay, I asked for time off to audition and to use the company typewriters before and after office hours to rewrite my novel. Even though it was office work I wore pants to avoid slips and nylon stockings. Dancers didn’t wear slips, girdles, and pantyhose--only church ladies and office workers. I refused to buy a coffee mug because my stint as “office worker” was temporary. Hah! I met a man, got married, had children, a series of promotions, got my MA in Creative Writing, and even managed to write and publish five novels while under the employment of the same company. So much for temporary.

EEM: What was the most challenging thing about this job?

RWG: My company had a strange way of promoting. It wasn’t so much a promotion but a piling on. “Since you’ve handled that responsibility, we’ll give you more in addition to what you‘re doing now.” In spite of being a software systems company, there was little development for in-house technologies, so I created my own systems to perform my job. During data releases to our international clients, I worked until the wee hours of the morning and had to be on site early morning to deal with issues. Although I was writing my novels, I didn’t have time to be an author. Besides write, and rewrite, I had not a clue what authors did. I couldn’t have named ten current authors in the YA or children’s book world. Jackie Woodson. Walter Dean Myers. Bruce Brooks. Virginia Hamilton. It all got murky after that.

EEM: What was your favorite thing about this job?

RWG: I enjoyed teaching myself database management systems. Problem solving, tracking “cause,” and ruling out were fun to me. This can only happen if that happened first. These are symptoms of those types of problems. Back then, working the logic centers of my brain released endorphins. Now I struggle to remember which book I meant to grab from the bookshelf.

EEM: Least Favorite?

RWG: My least favorite part of my job was sitting in meetings and listening to projections. Not that it was boring, but that the plans and projections were always scrapped or set aside to deal with “real world” issues. Why not start with those to begin with? Only when I write do I enjoy sitting still.

EEM: Did your day job allow you to write regularly? Or did you have to get creative to get those word counts in? What other effects did it have on your writing?

RWG: I was allowed to come in an hour later, which gave me a relatively smooth train ride to get some work done. I used my vacation and personal days for any author appearances. In some ways my job was actually supportive of my writing career--especially co-workers who had watched me from those early typewriter days. However, the stress of my job was tremendous. I spent a good deal of my energy thinking about work related problems and of course, doing the actual work. When I slept, my dreams were related to work. After 25 years with the company I had to pack up my coffee mug and resign.

EEM: Have you ever based a loved protagonist or an evil villain on one of your co-workers? Wished you had?

RWG: Nah. I kept my writing self separate from my day job self. A funny thing happened about ten years ago. I was in Bryant Park writing during my lunch hour. I get into a rhythm when I write and once I’m “in” I don’t notice the world around me. When I came back to the office, two co-workers approached me. They told me they saw me in the park writing but were afraid to say hi because they weren’t sure it was me. Apparently my face changes when I write.

EEM: What are you working on now and is the process any easier than when you started out?? If so, in what capacity (people noticing it, the writing itself, the confidence?)

RWG: I’m writing a gaming novel. It’s the same as my other work in that it gives my mind something fun to do. It has many challenges built in as I imagine deeply and work through each one. But I’m afraid what will be noticed is that it’s a different work, a different genre, when in actuality all of my work is different from each one. Still, I’m a long way from the slew of rejections. I still get them, but I also have published work. It also helps that I work part time for the VCFA Writing for Children and Young People MFA. Working with other writers forces me to articulate what I know. The biggest perk is having more time to be a writer. Think about writing. Daydream about my characters.

EEM: Would you change anything if you could begin your writing journey over again?

RWG: I’d program myself to be more natural about the state-of-being verb. Seriously.

I used to say I should have studied Communications and Creative Writing as an undergrad instead of Economics (which then morphed into a Liberal Arts degree). The jobs I tried to get after college were copywriting for advertising agencies and editorial for magazines. Today I’d be a creative director on Madison Avenue or an editor for The Utne Reader or Knitter’s World. Or, I should have gone to Hollywood to write sitcoms (I used to study the breaks and beats as a kid) or crime serials. Truth is, if I had a paying creative job when I got out of school I wouldn’t have clung to my serially rejected novel. I think I’m working the job I’m meant to have.

EEM: Brilliant! Thank you so much, Rita!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Inquiry X: M. Macclesfield Read

This week we are joined by pre-published writer M. Macclesfield Read (Don't you just love the sound of that?)

Read is a writer for kids (and all those youthful) represented by Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. She lives on a farm in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada, with her husband, two daughters and plenty of animals!

Michelle says: "Growing up in the Read family, I could not escape the Read effect; we had so many books in our house that they randomly fell from shelves, stopped doors from closing, slipped into the toilet and even cluttered up the fridge. It was hard for my brother and I to get anything out of our parents, like a word or a pat on the head, or dinner, because they were always absorbed in their books."

Michelle writes adventure stories, whether set in the present day or the days of myths and legends, historical or fantastical. Her heroes are always armed with heart and humor and her greatest wish is that the reader will be not only entertained, but also inspired. You can read more about M. Macclesfield Read at her website:

EEM: Did you always want to be a writer? If no, what was your initial dream and what led you to writing later?

MMR: I have always wanted to be a novelist. As a kid, I read and wrote constantly. I never left home without a book to read and a notebook to write in. However, I also had a drive to be in the medical profession, so I went into physical therapy and wrote as a hobby.

EEM: As a pre-published writer, what are some of the jobs that you do to help sustain your writing passion?

MMR: I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in Physical Therapy in 1991. I worked mostly in private practice for twelve years, treating outpatients—people who are basically leading normal lives but need help with a physical problem or two. I really enjoyed the social aspect of this job, getting to chat with folks from all kinds of backgrounds with all kinds of stories to tell.

EEM: Which job was the most challenging or strange to you?

MMR: As a university student, I had a summer job at a rehabilitation center for birds of prey. The job was challenging, the boss was strange, the birds were amazing.

EEM: What was your favorite thing about this job?

MMR: I had many spectacular moments in this job. Getting to watch the secretive pair of snowy owls was very special. The snowy owl enclosure was out in the woods, and it was hoped that the pair would breed, so we had to try not to disturb them. When I did get to see them, it seemed as magical as it would be to catch sight of a pair of unicorns.

I also had the chance to try falconry with a trained red tailed hawk. The hawk had claws that could have taken my nose off, and wings that would wrap right around my head if I made the wrong move, so it was quite a rush to hold out the gloved hand and have him land on me.

But my most favorite part of the job was eating lunch every day with the barn owl who lived in the lunch room. Owls don’t have a lot of facial expression, so I always found it a little crazy, in a good way, to sit beside this flat faced fellow every lunch hour and get stared at.

EEM: Least Favorite? That would have to be feeding live chicks to the injured immature bald eagle who was terrifyingly large and aggressive.

EEM: Do/did your day job(s) allow you to write regularly? Or did you have to get creative to get those word counts in?

MMR: When I worked full time as a physical therapist, I only wrote when I was really moved or inspired. Later, when I realized that I was never going to lose the drive to write a novel, I started by writing ten minutes before bed every night. Gradually, I have eased out of physical therapy and am now at home full time, thanks to my husband who works plenty hard enough for the two of us. So I now write every morning for two or three hours, five days a week.

EEM: Any fun stories from the job(s) that inspires your stories?

MMR: I could more than fill a book with anecdotes from my time as a physical therapist. When you get to chat with fifteen to twenty people a day, you gather a lot of material. But patient confidentiality is an important issue, so I can’t share many of these stories...yet.

My favorite work anecdote is from when I was pregnant with twins. I was wearing a light colored cotton dress and I was six months pregnant, but I was the size you’d be at nine months with one baby. So this dress described a rather large footprint. My patient looked at me as I was stretching his elbow and said, “Hey, what are you going to do with that dress after you have the babies?” I shrugged, “Why do you ask?” And he said, “I’d like to have it for a snowmobile cover!” I never wore that dress again.

Although I rarely use stories from work, I have had my eyes opened many times in dealing with patients and hearing their stories, and so have gained a broad perspective which has helped me to create more engaging characters and situations in my writing.

EEM: Have you ever based a loved protagonist or an evil villain on one of your co-workers? Wished you had?

MMR: I have had several bosses that would make good villains, but my characters all seem to come out of my head. I can’t say I’ve ever based a character on a real person. I’ve taken eccentricities from people I’ve observed and fused them into a character I’ve been creating, but never taken a whole person and used them. On the other hand, it would be fun to take my most villainous boss and make a caricature out of her!

EEM: Walking toward this goal to be a writer, what is some of the hardest things you have faced?

MMR: Trying to find time to write was the hardest thing for me once I decided I really wanted to have a go at a novel. I didn’t feel I could take time away from my family. Becoming a novelist was just a dream of my own that I thought might never happen, so it was hard to justify spending hours hammering away at the computer. But now that I have an agent, it seems easier to allocate time to write.

EEM: Is it easy to keep the inspiration going?

MMR: I seem to have inspiration coming out of my ears, but at times I have trouble sitting myself down to write. I have four die-hard fans who read my work as I write it, and their enthusiastic feedback goes a long way toward helping me keep my momentum.

EEM: We’ll check back with you in one year and see how different your answers are! I am interested in this evolution!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Inquiry IX: Eric Pinder

Today we are joined by nature writer and fellow resident of the Granite State, Eric Pinder.

Eric’s lifelong interests in science and the outdoors led to jobs at the Appalachian Mountain Club and Mount Washington Observatory. For seven years he lived and worked as a weather observer atop the snowy, windswept, 6288-foot summit of Mount Washington, the “Home of the World’s Worst Weather.” His experiences there inspired several books, including his first book for children, Cat in the Clouds (published by The History Press). He is also an avid nature photographer.

His articles and stories have appeared in Weatherwise, Appalachian Trailway News, Newsday, Bostonia, and other publications. He teaches at Chester College of New England. His books include Tying Down the Wind, Life at the Top and North to Katahdin, which is about the appeal of mountains and wilderness. (Read a review.) His second book for children, If All of the Animals Came Inside, is forthcoming from Little Brown in Spring 2012, illustrated by Arthur creator Marc Brown. Eric is also working on a novel and several more children’s books. He is completing his MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts and is represented by the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

EEM: Did you always want to be a writer? If no, what was your initial dream and what led you to writing later?

EP: I still want to be an astronaut when I grow up. But yes, I’ve always wanted to write books, too. Growing up in a house full of books made me want to see my own on the shelf someday. The first story I can remember writing was a science fiction adventure set on the moon.

EEM: When you began writing, was it instant success and riches or did you find you had to work other jobs in order to continue your dream of being a writer?

EP: Right after I graduated from college, an outdoor magazine bought one of my essays for $80, which sure felt like success and riches at the time. Naively, I thought writing for money was going to be easy. I soon learned that rejection slips always outnumber paychecks. That $80 check ended up being my total writing income for the year.

Later, there actually were two amazing years when I probably could have lived off my writing income alone. Not that I was rich, and I still kept my day job, but it was great to finally get promoted from “starving writer” to “moderately well fed writer who can occasionally splurge on Indian food.” The independence of being a writer and being your own boss is wonderful, but the downside is how unsteady and unpredictable the paychecks are. So I’ve almost always had to supplement writing with other jobs.

EEM: What jobs have you held, current or in the past, to help sustain your writing career?

EP: To help pay the bills, I’ve led guided hikes in the White Mountains, prepared teacher certification tests, worked at a mountaintop weather observatory, taught college courses, and even delivered pizzas part time. I think every job offers something a writer can use (besides money). For example, I now have a great idea for a murder mystery novel set in a restaurant, after seeing what goes on behind the scenes.

Barnes & Noble once asked me to design on online Meteorology 101 course for them, and I ended up teaching the class online for several years. Speaking at schools and libraries is another nice way to supplement writing income. One thing I’ve noticed, whether I’m teaching a weekend workshop for the Appalachian Mountain Club or a college writing class, is that teaching is a great way to learn new things. You have to learn, just to keep ahead of all the surprising and interesting questions you’ll get asked.

EEM: Which job was the most challenging or strange to you?

EP: For seven years, I lived and worked on top of Mount Washington, at a weather observatory famous for having “the world’s worst weather.” My very first day on the job, crewmates introduced me to the sport of deck sledding: You kneel on a plastic sled, hold out your arms like sails, and then the hurricane-force gusts whoosh you across the icy observation deck like a hockey puck. Very fun.

My workday started at 4 o’clock each morning, taking weather observations and reading the forecast over the radio. In the winter—by “winter” I mean September through May—the first thing I’d often have to do was climb to the top of the tower with a plastic sledgehammer to deice the instruments in 100 mph winds. In theory, my day ended at 4 pm, but the mountain always threw surprises at us. Rescuing a lost hiker with a broken leg sometimes had me working till after midnight, then catching a few hours sleep and starting the routine all over again. It was exhilarating but exhausting work. And it gave me a lot to write about.

EEM: Strange, indeed! How did you come across this job? Actively seeking or by chance?

EP: By chance, and it ended up changing my life. A few years out of college, I was working in a windowless office in Massachusetts while trying to be a nature writer like Thoreau or Barry Lopez. It’s hard to write about moose and mountains when all you can see is concrete and fluorescent lights.

A friend called me up and mentioned a summer job on Mount Washington. The deadline for applying was the very next day. Despite being really tired from my mind-numbing day job, I rushed in an application. I figured it would be nice to go there for a few months, experience some crazy weather, and maybe write an essay about it. I wasn’t planning to stay long. But while I was there, a fulltime job opened up, and I guess I liked it, because I stayed for seven more years. My experiences there inspired several books, including my first book for children, Cat in the Clouds. I often wonder how different my life and my writing career might have been if not for that serendipitous phone call. Who knows what I would have been writing about instead?

EEM: What was your favorite thing about this job?

EP: One quiet morning, a raven swooped up over the edge of the railing and almost landed on my shoulder. We were just inches apart, staring at each other for a long moment. Then the raven cawed and swerved away. Witnessing crazy weather and having close encounters with wildlife made this the ideal setting for someone like me, interested in writing about science and nature. I also got to know some great people and form lifelong friendships. When you’re stuck at a remote mountaintop outpost with just a few other people, sharing hardships and constantly witnessing natural wonders like the northern lights, your co-workers become family.

EEM: Least Favorite?

EP: My least favorite part of any non-writing job is the office politics. It gets in the way of what’s important.

EEM: Did your day job(s) allow you to write regularly? Or did you have to get creative to get those word counts in?

EP: On the mountain, usually I was too busy to write during the day and too exhausted to write once my shift ended. I’d jot down notes, ideas and memory prompts for later, but had to wait for a day off before mulling over those thoughts and getting any serious writing done. One thing my day job did do was make me eager to write when I finally got the chance, because there were so many great stories to tell.

Teaching writing at Chester College has been challenging and inspirational in different ways. I’ve been privileged to work with some amazingly talented students during the past five years, and they’ve motivated me to step up my game and get more writing done, just to try to keep up with them. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve read student work and thought, “Wow! I wish I’d written that.”

EEM: What other effects did it have on your writing?

EP: I think we all tend to write the most about what we know the best. Living above the clouds and talking about weather all day pretty much guaranteed a lot of blizzards and ice storms in my writing. If Jacqueline Briggs Martin hadn’t already done such a great job with Snowflake Bentley, I’m sure that’s a topic I would’ve explored. It’s a common but frustrating experience to browse the bookstore shelves, discover a title and think, “Hey, wait a minute. I was going to write that book.”

EEM: Any fun stories from the job(s) that inspired your stories?

EP: One cold March day, a student showed up for my Nature Writing class in a scuba-diving wetsuit. We were going for a field trip that day, so we looked for a cold pond for him to jump into. “Get ready,” I told the class. “You’re going to hear some great quotes as soon as he hits the water.” In New England in March, believe me, ponds are ice cold. As he slowly submerged himself, yelping and hollering, it turned into a great classroom writing exercise. We had fun translating the noises into onomatopoeic words.

Teaching, especially teaching Nature Writing, has definitely inspired some stories. On field trips, we’ve stumbled across snapping turtles, snakes and wild turkeys, and once found a mysteriously flattened owl at the edge of a waterfall. Some great quotes and anecdotes have come out of those experiences. I bring a notebook along on each field trip, and someday a book will emerge from all of those experiences.

EEM: Have you ever based a loved protagonist or an evil villain on one of your co-workers? Wished you had?

EP: I’ve never directly based a character on a real person, though one time I did create a villain who was kind of a patchwork assembly of behavioral quirks and eccentricities from several different people in real life. It was kind of like putting together Frankenstein’s monster out of spare parts.

EEM: What are you working on now and is the process any easier than your first work?? If so, in what capacity (people noticing it, the writing itself, the confidence?)

EP: Writing is never easy for me. I’m a slow writer, and getting started on a new project and trying to find the right words is always painful. That’s why I have so much sympathy for Flaubert. He spent five years writing Madame Bovary, and was in agony the whole time. I know how that feels. The only thing that’s changed over the years is my confidence. I know now that if I keep working through the pain and don’t give up, eventually something decent will emerge. Last week I spent hours revising a picture book about dragons, and boy did those dragons put up a fight. I’m still covered in burns and bite marks. But the result was worth it.

I’m hard at work right now on several more picture books and my first young adult novel. Those are at the top of my to-do list. I’m also planning another creative nonfiction book with a nature theme, thanks to all of those field trips at Chester College.

EEM: Would you change anything if you could begin your writing journey over again?

EP: I’d travel more, sooner. Several former co-workers from Mount Washington went on to work in Antarctica, and now I really regret not going too. An amazing book could have come out of that experience. I suppose I could still go, but committing to a 13-month stint at South Pole would have been a lot easier ten years ago.

EEM: Eric, you are a joy to listen to! Best of luck and thanks so much for your insights.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Inquiry VIII: Jessica Dainty Johns

Today I am very excited to introduce my cousin and fellow writer, Jessica Dainty Johns.

Jessica holds an MFA in Creative Writing in the genre of fiction from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She has worked with such acclaimed authors as Hester Kaplan, Rachel Kadish, and AJ Verdelle. She was a 2005 winner of the Margaret Woodruff Award for creative writing and has had fiction published online at Fiction Weekly. Jessica has taught at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education and is currently teaching an interdisciplinary course entitled Adaptation from Between the Lines for Lesley University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. She is co-founder of the Kinship Writers Association. She lives, works, and writes in the greater Boston area.

EEM: Did you always want to be a writer? If no, what was your initial dream and what led you to writing later?

JDJ: I went through the standard teacher veterinarian astronaut spoutings, but I’ve always written stories. I recently went through my saved papers from grade school and reread the stories I wrote in first grade, second grade, etc. I could recognize my love for words even then, though most of them were misspelled and sloppy. I can remember getting in trouble in fourth grade for making an in-class assignment to write a story about a pumpkin too long. So although I may not have realized it, or maybe my practical side was fighting it even then, but I’d say, yes, I’ve always wanted to be a writer.

EEM: As a pre-published writer, what are some of the jobs that you do to help sustain your writing passion?

JDJ: I’ve worked in bookstores, classrooms, at swimming pools. Now, I’m lucky enough to have a supportive job that also allows me windows of time to focus on my own work. I nanny full-time, and I have been with the family for almost 3 years now. They do everything they can to work with my schedule, to allow me time to write, and to pursue teaching and writing jobs outside of their employment. I am really very lucky. I’ve also designed some courses, one on adaptation which I teach through Lesley University’s MFA for creative writing’s interdisciplinary courses. Another, on imagery, I’ve lectured at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education and am currently shopping around in a modified version to other writing programs in the Boston area.
The greatest thing I’ve done is start The Kinship Writers Association with my cousin [you]. Running workshops, being in contact with agents and editors, and reading other writers’ works really helps to keep me motivated and inspired, as well as gives me no choice but to network and build my professional side of being a writer.

EEM: Which job was the most challenging or strange to you?

JDJ: The most challenging job I’ve had was working in a K-4 Behavioral and Developmental classroom. I was meant to be an assistant but because of disorganization and under staffing, I wound up being the primary kindergarten and first grade teacher, making lesson plans, designing and enforcing disciplinary structure. I found myself disagreeing with the policies the classroom often practiced when dealing with the children, but had to follow them as part of my job. It has been one of the only times in my life where I went home not liking myself on a continual basis. The children were wonderful, though, and had so many levels to them. Watching them, and the parents, and the teachers – it was like a goldmine of characters to feed the imagination, and though I haven’t used any of them yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if they show up in suggestion at some point down the road.

EEM: How did you come across this job? Actively seeking or by chance?

JDJ: I had moved home to save money after getting engaged and my mother, who has worked as a teacher for over three decades, helped me get the job. I’m not sure I could have quit anyway, as I would not have wanted to leave the classroom and children even more unprepared, but it was definitely not an option when my mother endorsed me for the position. So I was actively seeking, but not for that particular job.

EEM: What was your favorite thing about this job?

JDJ: The children and the moments when you could see them as just kids. We had children who were severely emotional disturbed, children with OCD, children who had been molested, but they were still kids. And it was great to be a part of the days where I could let them feel that way, when the policies and discipline regulations of the classroom didn’t interfere.

EEM: Least Favorite?

JDJ: The way issues were handled. They used professional crisis management (PCM), which I didn’t agree with, where the children were often physically constrained until they calmed down. The teachers were always yelling. There seemed to be no consistent positive reinforcement or reward-based discipline. It was very difficult to watch let alone be a part of.

EEM: Do your day job(s) allow you to write regularly? Or did you have to get creative to get those word counts in?

JDJ: The time is there now, at least during the school year when the kids are gone for part of the day. My use of it has gotten better and better, but as with inspiration, it comes and goes. I have large breaks on Mondays and Wednesdays when both the children are at school, and, after working out (another big part of my day), I head to the bookstore with my computer and stay there for at least two hours, though I often stay much longer. Sometimes I get ten pages, sometimes I get none. I am working on not letting myself get distracted and to only open Word on my computer (you know how that pesky internet can be) unless I need to research information for a story.

EEM: What other effects does it have on your writing?

JDJ: As I said, I am incredibly lucky to have the freedom my job affords me, but I get more and more career-ancy as the years go by. As much as I want to be published and own the title “author,” I also want to teach. I have been researching schools to pursue a Ph.D. and, in such cases, my job is a positive inspiration to motivate me forward with those separate but writing/English-related dreams.

EEM: Any fun stories from the job(s) that inspires your stories?

I have taught swim lessons for years and have been a swimmer since I was little. I am working on a novel right now that loosely involves swimming but relies on a recurring dream of breathing underwater that I have had since I was a kid. This novel also focuses on a protagonist with OCD and while I suffered severely from this during my childhood and teenage years, I will probably also draw on some instances from my work in the behavior classroom.

EEM: Have you ever based a loved protagonist or an evil villain on one of your co-workers? Wished you had?

JDJ: I haven’t but there are aspects of personality of some people that I would love to build a character around. I’ve worked with people twenty/thirty years older than I in a job I viewed as a part-time/transition job. And they were pompous and condescending and it makes me wonder why they are still there, what else they wish they could be doing. I find most of my characters are often searching for something outside of their present condition, whether it be consciously or unconsciously. I often take an abstract and try to shape it in to something concrete in a story, and that abstract may be just a suggestion or assumption on my end that my mind runs with. I am sure bits and pieces of past co-workers are all over my stories, even if I didn’t mean for them to be!

EEM: Walking toward this goal to be a writer, what is some of the hardest things you have faced?

JDJ: Keeping yourself motivated can be challenging, especially as a fiction writer who primarily writes short stories. I remember going to my first publishing panel while a student in my MFA program and having one of the panelists say something along the lines of “Memoir writers? Good for you, you’re writing at the right time. Fiction writers? Get used to it now, you probably won’t ever get published.” The waiting game is difficult. Submitting to literary magazines and journals, even when you send twenty or thirty stories out at a time, you wait 3-6 months to hear back, and if they’re all rejections, you have to start all over again. First time novelists have a better shot I think, as unpublished writers. But if I want to publish a collection, I feel there is an expectation to prove your worth beforehand. I have a story published online, and while there are many reputable online journals, I still feel the hierarchy of print v. virtual is very much present in the literary world. So though I have a collection sitting on my computer, I’m waiting until I can write in my query, “My works have appeared in X, Y, and Z.”

EEM: Is it easy to keep the inspiration going?

JDJ: Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Inspiration for a story often comes to me in a single image or in a sentence or phrase. When starting a new story, I can sometimes write straight through and knock out a story in one sitting. In between those lightning bolt moments, though, when I’m just knit-picking at stories in need of revision, I can get a bit more down-hearted. However, I am now comfortable with wanting this bad enough to deal with all the waiting, all the bad drafts, all the rejections. Some days are harder than others, but I will always be a writer.

EEM: Would you change anything if you could begin your writing journey over again?

JDJ: I’m not sure I would. I started college thinking I’d go the practical route. Become a dentist so I could make enough money to write because writing is what I really wanted to do. And even though I spent my first 3 semesters of college borderline depressed before I sucked it up and admitted to myself I wouldn’t be happy unless I just did English, I still can’t regret it. Even for the simple reason that I got all my sciences and maths out of the way in my freshman year and for the next 2 years of college, I took only what I wanted to take. But I also think it showed me how important this is to me. That I couldn’t commit my life to something I didn’t love. Even now, when my job is not what I want to be doing for my life’s work, I am happy because it allows me the freedom to work toward my ultimate goal, and it does not directly conflict with what I love to do. Oh and maybe I would have told my 4th grade teacher to shut it, “I’m a writer.”
We’ll check back with you in one year and see how different your answers are! I am interested in this evolution!