[Interview] Jennifer McBride

Jennifer McBride has written and published books that include Touching the Trees (2011); Cape of Leaves (2012); Basement Daisies (2012) and Child Less Parent (2012).

In this interview, she talks about her concerns as a writer:

When did you start writing?

I began writing a few years after I began to read. My first "produced" work was in 2nd grade. I was around seven or eight years old and I wrote a play that my teacher allowed me to make into a classroom production. At around the same time, I wrote a story that my uncle read aloud to a large family reunion. I was hooked after that.

What made you decide you wanted to be a published writer?

I resisted the urge to be published because I thought it was too difficult to achieve but once self-publishing became an option, I explored this avenue and found that I really enjoyed being involved in every aspect of the publishing process.

I majored in writing in college, but didn't do much with that for almost 15 years. Then I began taking writing classes at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and knew I wanted to work at being a published author. More interesting, though, is that about six years ago I made a conscious decision to not write. I was trying to find a way to stay in a relationship and I knew writing was going to lead me to find myself... and lead me away from the sad comfort of that situation. So, I sat in a bar in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and announced "I will not be a writer."

In that funny way life has of changing one's mind, though, it wasn't three months later that the urge and desire and calling to write became overwhelming and I began taking classes again. I haven't stopped writing since.

Needless to say, I'm not in that relationship anymore.

How would you describe your writing?

It's funny you ask that. I'm kind of a Kelly Clarkson writer. I dabble in many genres... nonfiction, essay, blogging, poetry, and fiction... just like she's able to sing in many different ways: country, pop, soul, rock, etc. I am, however, primarily a non-fiction writer right now.

Who is your target audience?

My target audience has been slightly different for each book I've written.

Overall, my audience is women and men who have had to make significant changes in their lives, whether it's because of relationships, job transitions, illness, etc. I became motivated to write for this audience when I became divorced and in search of an identity other than "wife" and "carpooler."

In the writing you are doing, which authors influenced you most?

Mary Oliver and Billy Collins have influenced my poetry. I try to write accessible poems that express deep emotions. Mary Oliver's poetry sung to me and I heard Billy Collins speak in Minneapolis many years ago and I thought, "Wow. I really like his poetry. I should try writing some."

For my non-fiction, I'm inflenced by Elizabeth Gilbert and Anna Quindlen. Both women are frank, unashamed, and witty. I long to write like them!

For fiction, my "mentors" are Janet Evanovich and Jonathon Kellerman. I'm trying to find a balance between murder mystery, humor, and societal issues.

Have your own personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?

That's all they do! I write nonfiction "self-help" because I needed help and finally feel I can share what I've learned with others.

When I was getting divorced, I thought there had to be a better way to "do" the incredible changes that come from such a traumatic life experience. I didn't want my divorce to be in vain... I wanted to be a better, stronger, more alive person because of it.

One of my books is in reaction to finding out more about Parental Alienation Disorder and how un-noticed and un-handled it is in the family court system. One book was written as a series of affirmations for my father-in-law, who is/was going through cancer treatment. The book I'm working on now is all the things I wish I could tell my teenagers (if only they could hear me!).

In addition, I may be the most unknown writer to have a stalker, but because of that, I've had to make very conscious decisions to ignore the fear and threats and keep writing. Many times it would have been easier to power down the laptop (and I have shut down five different blogs because of this), but I can't let that person or uncertainty stop me. Not now. I do try to be a little more careful with what I write and have chosen an entirely different name for my fiction writing, but those are the only two concessions I'll make.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My biggest concern is being able to make a living being a writer. I deal with this concern by producing quality work at a brisk pace. I network, seek out new venues, and make connections. Mostly, I believe that I'll reach my goal of self-sufficiency through writing and then I don't have to worry about it!

The biggest challenges I face are finding the right audience and convincing that audience that they want to read my work. I deal with this challenge by learning all I can about marketing, audience desires, and trends. I work on positioning my work, both in timing and content, to have the biggest impact on the market.

Do you write everyday?

I write about five days a week. Each session starts with poking around on the internet, checking email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Once that's all done (or I'm irritated with myself for procrastinating), I pull up the piece I'm working on and re-read just a little before where I'm picking it up.

I learned during NANOWRIMO 2008 (National Novel Writing Month) that the best way to move forward in a piece is to keep going back to re-do what's already been written. And it's true. When I get busy editing the first part, I don't always get around to writing the next part.

My writing sessions end when I have to be somewhere, the kids come home, I'm exhausted, or I've reached a good stopping point. I've been known to write for five or six straight hours with almost no breaks. I always wonder where those days have gone!

How many books have you written so far?

I've written six books so far:
  • Child Less Parent: "Snapshots" of Parental Alienation: a primer, with photos, of what Parental Alienation is, how to prevent it, how to correct it, and (if all else fails) how to have hope that life will go on. Written with input from members of the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization. Published in April, 2012 by my company, CCS Communications.
  • Basement Daisies: a book of thirteen affirmations and accompanying photos for people who need hope. Originally published with the blessing of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, Basement Daisies was a fundraiser to honor my father-in-law. Now it's available to all. Published in October, 2011 by CCS Communications.
  • Cape of Leaves: a compilations of poems about relationships and identity. I feel they are similar in style to Mary Oliver's work. Published in February, 2011 by CCS Communications.
  • Touching the Trees: a motivational memoir about finding identity through crisis. This book is a series of metaphors/stories that highlight all the changes one has to go through to find an authentic voice and life. Publishing in December 2010 by CCS Communications.
  • The Parents' Guide to Boys' Lacrosse: written under the name Jenni Lorsung, this book is a parent guide to understanding the sport of youth lacrosse. Published in January 2009 by CCS Communications.
  • The Parents' Guide to Girls' Lacrosse: written under the name Jenni Lorsung. This book is the companion guide to girls' youth lacrosse. Published in January 2009 by CCS Communications.
How would you describe the books you are working on at the moment?

My latest book is non-fiction and focuses on the ways I think "being" and "not being" are vital to a healthy life. For instance, in this case I'm "being" forthright in sharing my story with you!

I'm also concurrently working on a novel about a reporter who has great struggles in his relationship with his ex-wife and daughter while also chasing down a serial killer. I'm working on "not being" anxious about getting it done soon!

I'm still working on these two books.

Generally, how long does it take you to finish writing a book?

Child Less Parent and Basement Daisies each took about 4-6 months to write. My other books took over a year each.

For my longer non-fiction books, I allot about a year to do research, write, edit, and produce.

I self-publish all of my titles. I don't do this because I'm a control freak. Instead, I chose self-publishing so I could have tangible work product and potential income as soon as possible. I use CreateSpace as my production company because of their link to Amazon and (especially now that I've used them so much) their ease of developing a book. I also use Kindle as my exclusive e-book distributor. The disadvantage is that I have to do all the marketing myself, which is not my strength.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work that went into the books you have published so far?

In Touching the Trees, I found it extremely difficult to be honest and vulnerable. I'd come from many years of silenced feelings and it felt very frightening to put all those feelings out in the world for anyone and everyone to see.

As I suspected, my family (current and ex) wasn't all crazy about some of what I wrote, but I believe that I have a right and an obligation to tell the story truthfully. Based on reactions to the book, it was the right decision to stare that fear down and write it anyway.

Which aspects of the work do you enjoy most?

I enjoy the beginning and the end of the book-writing process.

I love having the brainstorms and squirting out thousands of words a day getting a book started. At the end, once the editing is complete, I really like designing the interior and the cover and planning a marketing strategy.

The middle part... editing... is hard for me.

What sets Touching the Trees apart from other things you've written?

I try to bring a sense of hope and trust to all of my work. I don't want my audience put-off by proclamations, so I write to be disarming and compassionate.

Touching the Trees is the most autobiographical book I've written. The others, with the exception of Cape of Leaves, are more objective non-fiction. Touching the Trees gets to my core.

What are your plans for the future?

My next really big project will be about a place in Northern Minnesota that hosts very old inns and has great histories of dynamic, eccentric innkeepers. I see so much potential in this book and have begun interviewing people and visiting the inns.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

My most significant achievement as a writer is that I've been able to touch lives in ways I didn't know I could.

It's not the awards or the accolades that mean the most to me. It's the honestly... or hesitantly... written emails and comments that show me that my words have found a way to lodge themselves in someone else's soul and have made a positive difference. I always knew words had that effect on me... I just never realized I had the power to use my own to have an effect on others.

It's a privilege to be read.

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