Monday, March 22, 2010

Welcome Jenny Gardiner!

Pet lovers, this one is for you! My friend Jenny Gardiner the author of the novel Sleeping With Ward Cleaver, is here to talk about her latest, a memoir, Winging It. I admire anyone who can write interestingly about their relationship with their animals. I love my cat to death and he certainly is a character, but a memoir about us would be boring as hell! Simon & Schuster describes Winging It as:

"A hilarious and poignant cautionary tale about two very different types of creatures, thrown together by fate, who learn to make the best of a challenging situation -- feather by feather.

Like many new bird owners, Jenny and Scott Gardiner hoped for a smart, talkative, friendly companion. Instead, as they took on the unexpected task of raising a curmudgeonly wild African gray parrot and a newborn, they learned an important lesson: parrothood is way harder than parenthood."

Jenny and I met 2 years ago at the VA Festival of the Book, from which I just returned. This year, I got to spend some time with Jenny and Girlfriend Sheila Curran (in the middle)!

Read our Girlfriends Q&A below and hear Jenny talk about Winging It here. Here's video of Gracie talking up a storm.

Q: What's been your biggest surprised about getting published?

A: I guess how easy it is to overlook the celebration of the achievement by dint of having to slog through the necessities of it all--the legwork of marketing and publicity, for instance. Part of that comes from the fact that you work SO hard to get to this publication date, but the publication date isn't like, say, Christmas morning, with huge amounts of immediate fanfare. The publication date is sort of like the bullseye around which many rings of activity have surrounded it. So there's not this "pop the champagne corks!" kind of moment that happens in and of itself. That said, I am sure there are those moments, and I hope to be able to enjoy them at some point--I mean the "I made the New York Times list!" moments. Or "My book was reviewed in People Magazine!" I guess those are more like "Holy shit!" moments, though LOL. Does that make sense?

And also I guess I'm surprised still whenever people see me as something more than I am simply because I've published books. I know it's well-intended, but I'm just me, the same person I've always been. So for someone I've know for years to view me as something differently simply because I've published a book sometimes throws me off a little.

Q: Is writing your main job? If not, what do you do for your real source of income and how does it impact your writing?

A: I've been so very fortunate to have been a stay-at-home mom, and by extension a stay-at-home writer. Although last fall I helped open and run a retail operation for about six months, working full-time. Mostly until now I've been able to rely upon my husband's income to help me establish myself as a writer. Alas, with our second child bound for college in a few months, I have to figure out how I can earn a large salary, so the brainstorming is underway. I've thought perhaps selling a kidney could be a useful source of income, but that is really something you donate anyhow. Then I thought, "Hmmm, maybe I can be a surrogate for someone!" But at my age, that's looking less and less likely LOL. It's a bit of a curse having been out of the working world for so long, though--there aren't a lot of decent-paying jobs out there as it is, let alone for a SAHM who's trying to get back into the working world. A lament for all parents who have given up careers to raise kids at home, something that is a real privilege in this day and age. I'd sure love to get two more published books under my belt and then I think I could manage to justify staying home as a full-time writer.
When I was working full-time, though, it affected my writing a lot. I don't know how people can have day jobs, kids and writing careers without imploding. It's a lot on one's plate!

Q: If you could ask any author (living or dead) any question what would it be?

A: I actually asked it, of Pat Conroy, who is a literary hero of mine and in whose company I was able to spend a lovely weekend during the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends Weekend in January.
When you consider the brutality under which he and his siblings were raised (refer to his famous memoir,
The Great Santini), it was remarkable to hear him speak about the family taking such care of his father in his latter years, ensuring that he died well. I was terribly curious to know how they could have even wanted to bother to reconcile themselves with a man who treated them so brutally. 

He told me that after
The Great Santini was published, his father spent the rest of his life trying to prove he wasn't that sort of man, and so became more the man he ought to have been. I found that very fascinating.

Q: What's the main thing you hope people take away from your book?

A: I think my book speaks to the importance of commitment and of not quitting. It's something I feel strongly about and I guess I think peripherally you can also take away the importance of not getting yourself into something that might be just too much to deal with, of not impulsively committing yourself to something you're not prepared to undertake. In our case that was with a parrot, who could live to be 90. But that could apply to marriage, parenthood, career choices, all sorts of things.

Q: Art or entertainment? Is one more valid or important than the other?

A: Certainly not. What is art for one is entertainment for another, and vice versa. I guess this goes to the whole 'literary" versus "commercial" debate in fiction, with one side occasionally debasing the other or whatever. I think just writing something that others will enjoy is the point of it--whether it is high art or
Captain Underpants, well, I mean someone out there will appreciate it. And if it motivates someone who otherwise might not to then pick up a book, then right on.

Q: What comes most naturally for you to write, dialogue? plot? character? And what's hardest?

A: I really love to write dialogue, especially when easy, snappy dialogue comes to me. I'd say the plotting sort of can bog me down at times. Probably because I am a seat-of-the-pants writer, and prefer for things to just sort of flow as I go. I like to develop quirky characters, and have a lot of fun throwing them into situations that might exasperate them.


Jenny Gardiner said...

thanks so much for hosting me Carleen and loved seeing you at the Va Book festival last weekend!

Debra Key Newhouse said...

Jenny, I loved Sleeping With Ward Cleaver because I have been telling people I married Wally Cleaver for years! Your sense of humor shines through in your dialog and plotting had me rolling with laughter. What are you working on now?

Jenny Gardiner said...

thanks so much Debra! I have a terrific novel that my agent's been shopping...have gotten great feedback on it but still hoping for a sale. A few other novels in the works too ;-)