Interview with Jenny Gardiner

Jen: This week we welcome Jenny Gardiner to Book Talk. Jenny, will you please share a short bio with us?
Jenny: Jenny Gardiner’s work has been found in Ladies Home Journal, the Washington Post and on NPR’s Day to Day. She likes to say she honed her fiction writing skills while working as a publicist for a US Senator. Other jobs have included: an orthodontic assistant (learning quite readily that she was not cut out for a career in polyester), a waitress (probably her highest-paying job), a TV reporter, a pre-obituary writer, and a photographer (claim to fame: being hired to shoot Prince Charles–with a camera, silly!). She lives in Virginia with her husband, three kids, two dogs, one cat and a gregarious parrot. In her free time she studies Italian, dreams of traveling to exotic locales, and feels very guilty for rarely attempting to clean the house.

Jen: Tell us about Sleeping with Ward Cleaver and where it’s available.

Jenny: Sleeping with Ward Cleaver is the funny yet poignant story of a woman at a crossroads in life, who years earlier married a man who swept her off her feet, but now finds that her Mr. Right has evolved into Mr. Always Right, and the only sweeping going on in her life involves a broom and a dustpan. As her dreams collide with reality and the one that got away shows up trying to worm his way back into her heart, she must decide if her once charmed marriage is salvageable, and if so, how she’s going to go about saving it.

It’s readily available online from Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com and can still be ordered at any bookstore if it’s not already on the shelves.

Jen: At what age did you discover writing and when were you first published? Tell us your call story.

Jenny: Well, if we want to dig deep into my past, I was really dreadful with math. By fourth grade I discovered I could write extra credit reports to save my grade, so I suppose then I discovered the power of good writing. Or perhaps that would be the power of fiction. LOL

From then on writing was what I did, certainly by nature but perhaps by default. In college I worked in many capacities at our school paper, which was ranked as the best in the country, I also worked in radio and television (my degree was in broadcast journalism), and eventually ended up being a publicist for a US Senator, which involved lots and lots of writing (see above, power of fiction).

I started actually writing again once my kids got older and less demanding of my time, about 6 years ago. We had a terrible drought in our region, and as the holidays approached and as yet again I had to collect water from my shower to use for flushing the toilets (we were under severe water restrictions) it dawned on me that no one would have Christmas parties because you couldn’t invite 100 people to your house, ply them with drinks and then not let them use the bathroom for fear of water use violations! So I wrote a funny piece about that, sold it 10 minutes later to a local paper, and was just so impressed with how easy it was to get published. Ha! From there I continued to write and had also started reading books again—something I didn’t do much when my kids were little and my brain was sapped of function. As I read book after book I kept thinking “I could write this!” And so started trying my hand at fiction. Coming from a journalism background was hard on one hand because I was so tied to writing the truth that it was weird just making things up. But then I realized it was just so fun and totally liberating. Anyhow, I realize I’m getting wordy in this story, so so much for my next point about journalism teaching me to write tightly LOL. I wrote a couple of novels over a surprisingly short period of time and started submitting to contests in order to get feedback. Then I heard about the American Title contest and so I submitted it in the hopes that it would expedite my partials getting in front of an editor’s eyes. To my great surprise I was chosen as a finalist in the American Title III contest (which is sort of the original American Idol for books) and ultimately won. The prize was a book deal, and so that’s how Sleeping with Ward Cleaver finally found itself to bookstores.

Jen: How do you approach your writing? Do you plot or go with the flow?

Jenny: I totally write by the seat of my pants. I will have a general idea of what I want to happen, but then I let it unfold organically.

Jen: Do you have a writing routine?

Jenny: I prefer to write in the morning but I also will write when things come to me, if time allows. When the weather gets warm, I love to write on my porch swing on the front porch. In cold weather I usually make a fire in the fireplace and write there.

Jen: What’s the most challenging aspect of writing? Easiest?

Jenny: Seriously, I think the most daunting aspect is getting through the gauntlet of obstacles in the path of getting a book published. Sometimes I wonder how any book ever gets published because so many things have to align in your favor: you have to have an agent who believes in your work, you have to find an editor who passionately believes in your work, then that editor has to persuade an entire editorial board to buy into said passion, you need to have the book buyers for the big bookstore chains and the other big box stores to also believe that the book will sell, or else they won’t pick it up.

Sort of along with that the other challenging aspect is the marketing and publicity. I enjoy doing it, actually. I’ve met SO many fabulous people and really learned so very much, but it takes you away from writing, which can get frustrating.

The easiest thing, crazily, is the writing! Perhaps it’s because I am writing what I love to write versus writing what I’m told to write. That can be more challenging.

Jen: What’s the most rewarding aspect?

Jenny: To receive emails from people who tell you that your book somehow changed their life. I have received a number of such emails and in fact just the other day ran into a woman I’d not seen in a long time and she said “I have been hoping I’d run into you because I wanted to let you know that I have actually changed the way I live my life after reading your book. I lost weight, I got my act together, I treasure my marriage more, etc.” Wow! I was just so honored to hear that! I visited a book club and learned that the entire book club took up running after reading Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, and they all trained for and ran a 4-miler race this fall and are now training for a 10-miler.

So this did really teach me the power of words in a very tangible way, and for me it’s just an incredible gift to be able to have had some meager part in helping someone else improve their lives.

Jen: How did you celebrate the release of Sleeping with Ward Cleaver?

Jenny: I’m a big believer in the curative/restorative/celebrative powers of champagne ;-), so we cracked a bottle of that. We also had a really awesome release party that was held at a restored theater in town. It was so much fun and just a cool way to do it up just once.

Jen: Who has inspired you as an author?

Jenny: J.D. Salinger, James Joyce, Jean Shepherd, Meg Cabot

How’s that for a disparate group of writers?

Jen: Who are some of your favorite authors and books? What are you reading now?

Jenny: Wow, I am so all over the map –I read the craziest assortment of books. I just finished and loved Immoveable Feast by John Baxter; also enjoyed The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn; I always adore Meg Cabot’s adult fiction. Loved The Opposite of Love. Loved Danielle Younge-Ullman’s Falling Under. Read an advance copy of my friend Eve Brown-Waite’s First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria memoir, which I LOVED (I think it debuts in April). Huge fan of Anthony Capella’s The Wedding Officer and The Food of Love. Puff: A Novel by Bob Flaherty—hilarious book. Love Jonathan Tropper’s Everything Changes. Also love anything by Jill Shalvis. Kristy Kiernan is a fabulous author, as is Sandra Kring.

I am currently reading Junot Diaz’ The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and am blown away by him: the way that his mind must operate, his ability to shift back and forth in POV with clearly defined shifts in the personae. His storytelling, his veering off-course and then refinding the path after three pages of wild and wacky footnotes, his humor and poignancy. It’s an extremely compelling piece of literature that embraces history, literature, culture, storytelling, and all married together in this vernacular patois of a street-dude from the DR.

Jen: What do you do in your free time?

Jenny: Definitely don’t clean…I usually spend time with my family and love to go out with friends to dinner. We go to the movies, my family loves to travel so that’s always high on the list of there’s money for it. Before I started writing I quilted a lot and keep threatening to get back there as I have loads of half-done projects.

Jen: What’s next for you?

Jenny: I currently have a non-fiction book proposal being shopped so I’m keeping my fingers crossed on that. My agent’s going to shop my next book after the holidays. And I’m a totally weenie and hate to talk details about these things since they’re not out in the world yet, so please stay tuned because I’ll be sure to post news on my website!

Jen: Where can you be found on the web?

Jenny: My website is: http://www.jennygardiner.net and you can link to my blog from there. I had been blogging with several other writers on an Erma Bombeck-esque blog but we needed more time to write so we all took a break. But we have lots of great posts up there at the site still, and we post every blue moon now: http://channeling-erma.blogspot.com/

I also guest once a month at Author Sound Relations blog—a publicist friend of mine’s blog. Here’s the link: http://authorsoundrelations.blogspot.com/

And you can also find a year’s worth of compelling posts at the wonderful Debutante Ball (www.thedebutanteball.com) where I was a Deb last year. It’s a site that is a one-year gig for debut authors. I really miss that group and we keep threatening to join back up to blog, so I suspect very soon we will be so doing and we’ll post a link both at the Deb Ball site and on our websites. In the meantime, the debs we choose to take over for us have wonderful books coming out in 2009 so keep your eyes open for them.

Oh, yeah, I have a column in the Charlottesville Daily Progress so you can link them from my website.

Jen: Is there anything you’d like to ask our readers?

Jenny: This is sort of a strange request but I’d just ask you all to consider for at least one gift you buy this holiday season to make it a book. Many readers might not realize that the publishing industry is having a lot of trouble right now and the only thing that’s going to help nudge things toward normalcy is for the industry to rebound from the paralysis that set in following the market crashes of the fall and the subsequent credit crunch. Of course many industries are in this same boat, but the nice thing about books is that they’re a cheap and wonderful diversion. And for the cost of a $7 paperback you can escape into another world and really get lost for a while—a mini-vacation, right on your living room sofa! So my plea is Save the Books!

Thank you so much for inviting me over to visit, Jen!

Jenny thank you so much for a wonderful look into your writing. Jenny will be stopping by this week to answer your questions, so ask away. She’s also giving away a copy of Sleeping with Ward Cleaver to a random commenter. And if we get 10 commenters or more, I’ll throw in my copy. The contest will run until about 5:00 pm PDT on Thursday, December 18. Please leave your email address in your post if you are not subscribing to the comments.