Our newest author to join the Summer Author Interview Series at The Write Teacher, is the multi-talented Jennifer Gooch Hummer. A former screenplay analyst, Jennifer’s first novel, Girl Unmoored, is without a doubt, fantastic. (Look for our review later this month.)
TWT: Where did the inspiration for Girl Unmoored come from?
JGH: When I was ten years old, this character named “Apron” just knocked on my head. I don’t know where her name came from. But I started a story called; “A Girl Named Apron” on a red spiral notebook that I still have today. Apron stayed with me for many years, but I didn’t know what her story was going to be until I met my real-life friend, Mike, and then it appeared. Mike in the book is not the same as my real Mike, of course. But they both had the same struggles and just as Mike Weller teaches Apron what true love is, so too did my friend teach me.
TWT: What was your job like as a script analyst?
JGH: Reading scripts for me was the equivalent of continuing education in writing. After I graduated from Kenyon College, I had critiqued just about every great piece of literature written before the ‘90’s. Kenyon is a very traditional small liberal arts college and they did not offer creative writing classes when I attended. So script reading was the perfect segue into writing. I learned so much about the importance of pace and dialogue, which just cannot be understated. Pace too slow = sudden death of your reader. Dialogue too contrived = subtle insulting of your reader. There isn’t room for a single unnecessary word in a great script and this is the way I try to write my novels as well.
TWT: What’s your favorite time of day to write?
JGH: I swim on a Masters Swim team at 530 am, rush home to get my three daughters to school, deal with my anxiety-ridden dog, and my slightly less anxiety-ridden husband, and then sit down to write. My goal is to get four pages a day down. If it’s a rewrite, it can be longer. But for the first draft, it’s four pages. And it’s brutal. The blank page is my mortal enemy. If I can’t get the pages done in my off-duty time, I will leave my work up on my computer screen all day and whenever I get even the tiniest window, let’s say while the rice is coming to a boil, I grab it. That may mean many over-cooked meals and working well into the night, but that’s just the way it’s gotta’ be. Everyone knows by now that if I’m not writing, I’m not nice. (Yes, I know I’ll be paying for many therapy visits someday.)
TWT: Would you ever consider screenwriting?
JGH: Absolutely. Working as a script reader for places like William Morris Endeavor, I figured out pretty quickly that just about everyone in LA has a script they’re working on. If they are really lucky, they might get read by a few important people. But it’s so rare to break into scriptwriting without connections, particularly if you are a woman. Sorry, but true. So my plan was always to write a novel first. The next novel I am writing is a Middle Grade Fantasy, which, truthfully, I think would be an even better screenplay. But because I know what I know, I’m writing it as a novel first. Then we’ll see.
TWT: Did you write short stories as a teenager?
JGH: Yes. But mostly I wrote in my journal. I was always writing. And always, always reading. Judy Blume saved my life.
TWT: Do you speak Latin?
JGH: No! That’s the one thing I didn’t study as an English Major. But I absolutely love the root meaning of words. I think it’s so fascinating to trace our modern dialect back to Latin. Latin dictionaries are awesome. When I turned Apron’s father into a Latin Professor, I decided they needed a secret language between them. And that’s where the title headings came in. They were so much fun to research and then “Apron-ize.”
TWT: What advice would you give to aspiring writers, screenwriters, playwrights, and journalists?
JGH: Make a promise to your character to finish their story. The truth is that no one really cares if you finish that novel/script ect., unless you are a big author carrying a publishing house or have a producer flashing cash at you. It’s so easy to feel insecure, frustrated and guilty about the time and energy it takes to write. But by promising your character that you will tell his/her/its’ story, you take the “u” out of all three. Because now you have to write that story, sorry Honey/Dog/Tax Man, but you made a promise to someone(thing) and you intend to keep it.
TWT: What advice would you give to working mothers?
JGH: WARNING: This is harsh. (Sorry.)
It’s so so so hard to write – be you a working mother or a stay at home one like me. I’m basically a doormat to three daughters, a dog, and a husband. I run the entire household – and in my case my husband is a sports commentator who travels constantly. Any time that I set aside to write is almost always interrupted by one of these time-suckers. But too bad for me. Because No. One. Has. Time. To. Write. Don’t fall into the “poor me” trap! Be better than that. Showing up at the page to write one sentence a day will get you a completed draft sooner or later. And those days when there’s just no way in H E double hockey sticks that you’ll find the time? Forgetaboutit. There’s always tomorrow.
So my advice to working mothers is the same as it is to all writers:
First: Promise your characters you will tell their story.
Second: Show up at the page. (When you can, but be careful. See above.)
TWT: Who is/was your greatest teacher?
JGH: My greatest teacher was Perry Lentz at Kenyon College. He is a legend. He held his classes first period, at 8 am, which to college students is the equivalent of 4 am. But I never skipped it. No one did. He could analyze any piece of literature, even let’s say, Chaucer, and make it exciting. He has influenced so many great writers. I know that John Greene, who also went to Kenyon, and Laura Hillenbrand, who did as well, both consider him an all-time great. He is.
Be sure to check out GIRL UNMOORED!