Thursday, March 8, 2012

Thursday TAG! - Jayne Denker

It's time for my next TAG! victim participant. :)

Up today is Jayne Denker, a fabulous woman and a friend of mine that I met on...Agent Query Connect. She writes (wonderfully) about real women and real things that happen in life. She blogs here, you can find her under the name jdenker on AQC, and she's on Facebook

1. When did you start writing?
It seems I've always been a writer! I remember really loving writing assignments back in elementary school, and because I was a huge reader, I felt like I wanted to create stories as good as the ones I loved reading. So I started writing for fun.

2. What made you want to write?
It's a compulsion, isn't it? Writers can't NOT write. Characters, plots, scenes, etc. always popped into my head, and I found myself fleshing them out during my daydreams (I was always in trouble in school for daydreaming!) Then I needed to write them down so I I didn't forget them.

3. When did you decide you wanted to write to be published? (As opposed to writing just to write)
I've always had the desire to be published--even when I was a child I wanted to see my name on the cover of a book. I tried to make a living doing other things, like high school English teacher, proofreader, catalog editor, Web content manager, etc. But it was the full-time jobs and the freelance gigs where I had a byline that excited me. Once I decided to quit my full-time job to stay home with my son, I started thinking seriously about finally writing a novel for publication.

4. What genre(s) do you write?
It used to be called chick lit, but now, since that term is verboten, let's call it romantic comedy!

5. Why that(those) genre(s)?
I love to make people laugh, so the idea of writing something that would put a smile on people's faces, something that would brighten their day, makes me happy. Serious fiction is not my strength, and I know enough not to fool myself into thinking it is. Besides, there's so much serious stuff out there already. But a successful comedic novel...that's my Holy Grail. That's a challenge--something to strive for.
6. Do you have any particular ritual when you write? (A specific way things are done during the process)
No spinning in circles and spitting over my shoulder (Shakespeare in Love reference there), no voodoo rituals. I just need quiet so I can focus (and coffee). What's weird, though, is if I have complete silence when I'm home, I'm easily distracted by stuff around me--dishes need to be washed, floors need to be cleaned, internet needs to be checked (!) (that's right--"needs" to be checked ;) ), but if I take myself out of my usual environment and go to a coffeehouse, even if I'm surrounded by people, I can work better because there isn't anything else demanding my attention.
The nut of it is I need enough time to slip into a creative mindset. There are four types of brain waves: beta, alpha, delta, and theta. When we're doing everyday things, our brains are in beta. When we get creative, or even when we co-create by watching a movie or reading a book (when we're really into it), our brains are in alpha. I need to get into alpha to produce some decent fiction.

7. Do you use an outline, or do you just start writing?
I maintain a rough outline--or, rather, a list of stuff I need to remember. It's usually only a page or two, a giant single-spaced blob of text that I keep adding to as I think of things: character details, key scenes, a list of plot points I need to hit, bits of conversation, funny lines. Everything, however, is subject to change at a moment's notice. I don't stick to the outline if my characters say otherwise.

8. Is there something you MUST have when you're writing? (Aside from the typical writer tools-computer, pen, paper, etc)
Time to focus, as I said before. And snacks. Not all the time, of course, or I'd be 600 pounds. But, you know, munchies. And one of my cats has decided she's my supervisor. If she hears me typing on my laptop, she shows up out of nowhere and plops on my chest (if I'm lying down) or my wrists (if I'm sitting up) and makes things much more difficult. But I appreciate her presence.

9. Do you write out your story on paper and then transfer to a computer, or straight to the computer?
I used to write longhand when I was a teenager, back in the Dark Ages before personal computers (eep showing my age, there). But nowadays my laptop is my extra appendage. Because I can type as fast as I think, it's easiest just to type everything straight into the computer. I guess I have to thank my mom for forcing me to take typing in school.

10. How many books/short stories have you written? (Published or not, even those you wrote and then thought-what the hell?)
I have no idea, to be honest, since I've been writing for decades. I wrote about a dozen novella-length stories when I was a teenager. Because I was an English/creative writing major, I wrote a bunch of short stories (and several very bad poems) in high school, college, and grad school. One of my short stories was published. I have one completed novel-length MS that I've been trying to get published lately. I have a half-finished MS that's on hold and a new one I'm working on...and ideas for about five more.

11. Is there, or has there been, anyone in your life (real or online) who thought you being a writer is/was just another hobby? Or that you are/were wasting your time as a writer?
Oh lordy, yes! There are always detractors. I have one particular relative who always gives me grief--every time I mention a writing gig, even if I talk about a blog entry I wrote, she immediately asks, "Oh yeah? You getting paid for that?" But what I've learned is that the naysayers doing their thing isn't so much a commentary on my talent (or lack thereof), but instead reveals their own fears. They can't imagine being a writer because that's not one of their own talents, or they think nobody except Stephen King can be a successful writer. Or they're just afraid to do something out of the ordinary, and that fear compels them to try to stop someone else doing something out of the ordinary, being creative. As for that relative of mine, she doesn't understand that writers create for the joy of it, and I find that sad.

12. Do you do Social Media sites? If so, which ones? If not, why don't you?
I have a blog ( and a Web site I built for my freelance writer/editor work ( I'm on Facebook, but only to communicate with friends and family, not to promote my writing. I was on Twitter but I had about 12 followers and maybe about half of them were real people. I was boring even myself, so I quit. Honestly, I think Twitter is a ridiculous medium, and I look forward to the day something better replaces it.

13. Any advice for writers that makes you cringe every time you hear it? (I know there is some cringe-worthy advice still worth following, so only advice you don't follow.)
Ooh ooh yes! Absolutely! It's a twofer, even. The first bit of advice I hate is that you have to get up at the crack of dawn to carve out some time to write. I'm a night owl; IF I could drag myself out of bed before dawn, the only thing I'd get on the page would be s&^oidhW@~yd!890*973b^%&^#. I say write whenever your imagination takes you by the earlobe and twists, demanding that you get more of your story written. If that's 5 a.m., great, but don't do it because somebody else's body clock says so. Carve out time whenever your schedule allows it--that could be your lunch hour, just before dinner, or 2 a.m.

The second bit of advice is very popular, so I'm probably going to piss somebody off criticizing this one: that you have to sit down and write for X number of hours every single day no matter what, because even if you're writing crap, at least you're writing. I say hogwash. Sometimes you simply can't write every single day--life gets in the way. And then, if that happens, you could start to beat yourself up over not sticking to your schedule, which might make you more likely to give up on writing altogether. Don't fall into that trap. The same goes for writing crap. When I write a lot of crap day after day, I'm more inclined NOT to sit down and try again. I say give yourself time to be inspired instead--and when a little bit of mental meandering sparks an idea, mow down whatever is in your path to get to your paper or computer to get it on the page.

14. How do you find a balance between your writer life and your non writer life?
LOL I'm not so sure I do! :) A lot of times my writing ends up being last on my list unless I consciously make it a priority. So many times I'll say "Okay, today I'm not doing anything but writing!"...and then I get distracted by a thousand and one different things. Conversely, if I'm on a roll writing, my household duties suffer, but then I feel guilty. Do you have ANY IDEA how big dust bunnies can get when your back is turned?!
If I have an article due or some other deadline with my writing, I'll isolate myself--I'll go to a local coffeehouse right after I drop my son off at school and stay there till it's time to pick him up. The place gets a lot of my money, what with my needing breakfast, lunch, coffee, and Italian vanilla sodas! Often I'll get inspired late at night, because of that night owl thing I've got going on, and then I'll stay up writing till 1 or 2 a.m. Not the best practice, but I won't shut off the creative flow if I can help it.

15. How do you manage to write (fabulously) and still find time to be an awesome and involved mom?
My son, who's 8, always comes first--there's no negotiating on that. So I write when he's in school or after he's gone to bed. If for some reason I have to write when he's home, I am able to say "I have some work to do" and he'll amuse himself for a little while. But I try not to do that unless it's absolutely necessary.

16. How long does it take you to write a complete novel (all the way to the end, edits and all)?
You know, I'm not sure, since I've only completed one MS so far. That one took me about a year and a half (with months-long gaps of inactivity), but subsequent novels might take more or less time--not sure yet. I started my completed novel during National Novel Writing Month in 2009--I wrote the required 50,000 words during the month of November. After that I was so burnt out I left it for ages, although I wrote a chunk during the summer. When NaNoWriMo 2010 came around, I wrote 50,000 more words to finish the story. By that point I had a ridiculously high word count--something like 130,000 words! The first half of 2011 was dedicated to hacking it down to a manageable size, editing, and polishing. I finally was happy with it by July 2011, so I started querying agents at the end of that month.

17. Where do you get the inspiration for your characters?
Absolutely everywhere. People I know (I want that t-shirt that says "Careful or you'll end up in my novel!"), people I don't know--I mean people I observe in public and start speculating about what they're like. Even imaginary characters--ones I meet in books or in movies or on TV shows. Of course I don't steal them or recreate them in their entirety, but instead something about the character or person in front of me sparks my imagination, and suddenly an entirely original character starts forming in my mind. As for the romantic heroes, well (!), they're entirely imaginary, although I often cobble together physical attributes and/or personality traits of men that make my knees wibble (entirely different from wobble, that is ;) ).

18. What genre(s) do you like reading outside of the genre you write it?
I'll read anything that comes highly recommended or sounds intriguing. Right now I'm in the middle of Stephen King's 11/22/63, Joseph Monninger's The World as We Know It, the inspirational book Heaven Is for Real, and a second go-round with The Help, and I've just ordered the Hunger Games trilogy. Reading them takes forever, though, because whenever I have some down time I try to write instead of read. Another balancing act, I guess.

19. What do you do when you aren't writing?
I'm thinking about writing! :) Really! Part of my mind is always on my WIP--what's coming up next, how to untangle a knotty bit of plot, etc. But when I'm not being Superwriter, I'm a mild-mannered housewife and mother doing domestic goddess-y things, working on renovating our old house (that never ends), and catching up on my favorite TV shows--all serialized fiction, of course (not reality shows). They're like dipping back into a favorite novel every week. My favorites lately are Smash, Hart of Dixie, and Cougar Town.

20. Any words of wisdom for anyone who is thinking of becoming a writer, or just something you think all writers should know?
Read. Read a LOT. Read the stuff in your chosen genre, but also make sure you read Literature with a capital L, the classics, so you know what really good writing is--the stuff that stands the test of time. An added benefit is when you read some new stuff that is sheer garbage, you feel better about your own writing, because day-um, it's better than THAT, and THAT got published--! :)


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I agree with you on the advice that makes you cringe! My brain doesn't even come on until noon or so...

Jean Oram said...

I hear you on putting your kids first. I still find it hard when I'm knee-deep in something writing-related and suddenly it's kid time. ;) The nice thing is that I can usually pick it right up again if I don't wait more than a day or two.