Welcome to Bookjoy Creativity Salon, Jen! I’m excited about your new book, A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin. Congratulations on the wonderful reviews! I’m a fan of Pippin’s art.
To begin, Jen, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Thanks, Pat. It’s such an honor to “be” here on your blog—as you already know, I’m a huge fan of your work, too!
About me . . . hmmm. . . . I grew up in Flemington, NJ, a small town with a very extended family. Spent most of my free time on the back of a horse, riding my bicycle around town, or reading anything and everything at the public library, which was a block away. These days I still spend a lot of time reading and cycling at my home in Chester County, Pennsylvania, where I live with my family. I write biographies, historical fiction and poetry for all ages and cannot think of anything I’d rather do!
1. Since I love poetry, both reading it and writing it, like many, I’m interested in your verse novels. On your site, you’ve carefully answered questions about choosing this approach. How do you set new creative changes for yourself as you move from book to book?
I’m always wishing I were more strategic than I really am! I work very organically—and each book teaches me something that I can then bring along with me to the next one. However, each new topic requires its own format and each presents an entirely new set of decisions.
For example, The Trial and Pieces of Georgia seemed to need the intimacy of single narrator, and yet these books each have a different format. The Trial unfolds through a series of titled free verse poems, and Pieces of Georgia is written as a series of numbered journal entries, which move closer to prose in some sections. Ringside 1925, my Scopes trial novel, was a bit more complicated plot-wise, so I experimented with a single narrator and then many narrators, finally settling on nine separate voices to deliver the story.
2. Have you always thought of yourself as creative?
No, not really. Very curious, yes. And highly distractible, absolutely! I’ve also always been very eclectic in my reading, art, film and musical tastes. Paradoxically, I suppose, I prefer my daily life to be routine and predictable, so maybe that frees up energy to be more experimental in my writing life. I don’t know . . . interesting to think about though.
3. How do you nurture your creativity?
Well, once again, I wish I could say I’m more deliberate about this. I tend to let myself follow whatever seems to be pulling on my attention at the time (and I’m pretty sure that doesn’t qualify as a strategy!) I do make a habit of reading widely—anything from Emily Dickinson’s poetry to the current issue of Sports Illustrated (very well written and full of fascinating human interest articles) to biographies and historical fiction (currently reading The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester, which was a gift from Melissa Sweet.) Melissa illustrated my latest biography A Splash of Red: the Art and Life of Horace Pippin, and she’s working on my next biography, too.
4. As a writer, what’s your reaction to the emphasis on social media in the world of books for young people? How do you feel about book trailers, for example?
I’ve seen some great trailers made by authors to promote their books—and also some by students who’ve chosen to do one as a school project after reading a book. (I recall one, in particular, made by a Jr. High student after he read The Trial. It made me wish I’d done it myself—very suspenseful!)
I try to look at all of the Social Media outlets as tools—and like all tools, their overall effectiveness really depends on how you use them. My one observation is that depth is often sacrificed for the sake of expediency—not so much in books, perhaps, but in journalism. Now you really have to seek out in-depth reporting as so much of it is fractured and superficial.
5. What do you look forward to in 2013?
Melissa Sweet & I are enjoying the promotion of our Horace Pippin biography A Splash of Red, and once she finished the art for the next book, we’ll begin to share more about that one, too!
Visit Jen Bryant’s website.