Sunday, March 25, 2018
Interview with Jackie Pick: Creative Nonfiction Contest Runner Up (Q1 2017)
Jackie Pick is a former teacher who only recently embraced her true calling as a word monkey. She is a contributing author to both Multiples Illuminated anthologies, as well as Here in the Middle and So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood. Her essays have been in the literary magazines The Sun and Selfish, as well as various online sites including Mamalode, The Herstories Project, and Scary Mommy. She is also co-writer and executive producer of the upcoming short film Fixed Up and a proud member of the 2017 Chicago cast of Listen To Your Mother. A graduate of the University of Chicago and Northwestern, Jackie lives in the Chicago area with her husband and her three children. You can follow Jackie on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, where she mostly just apologizes for not updating her blog.
If you haven’t done so already, check out Jackie's award-winning story “The Involuntary Starts” and then return here for a chat with the author.
WOW: Congratulations on placing in the WOW! Creative Nonfiction Contest! You write about several gun-related moments within this essay, but was there a particular moment that prompted you to write this piece, or what inspired you to write it?
Jackie: It began with my distress over the noise from local skeet shooting. I knew that my upset, even when viewed through a lens of other experiences with guns, wasn’t quite enough for a good essay. It took a while, but other layers eventually appeared: an article about a veteran distressed by loud noises like fireworks, a mass shooting, a conversation with someone who had a concern about something in their community but was hesitant to express it for fear of some form of blowback.
When expressed in their various formats and platforms, all of these concerns were surprisingly often met with either “That’s a shame, but that’s how it is” or “What’s the big deal?”
Those responses were my springboards: What do we shut out, what do we confront, what can we live with? Who gets to be heard and what matters on macro and micro levels?
WOW: The layering is quite effective at addressing these questions. What was your writing process like for this essay? (How did you start? How did you revise? How did you know you were finished? Etc.)
Jackie: I rewrote the entire piece eight times.
Like most of my work, it began as a dreadful first draft where I kitchen-sinked every feeling, response, and tangential experience. After that purge, I looked for connections, taking out parts that were unrelated or self-serving rather than serving the piece. I tried to figure out what questions I’m really trying to address.
After the fourth draft, I re-outlined it, boiled it down, saw where it needed history or detail, as well as where it needed a good exorcism.
I knew it was time to submit when I was just fiddling around with the same two words – deleting and retyping ad nauseam. I’m of the camp that believes that writing is never finished, it is only surrendered.
WOW: I am of that camp, too. It is amazing to me how much work can go into just a few words, but how necessary that work usually is. What did you learn about yourself or your writing through this essay?
Jackie: I learned what I’m scared of, both in terms of the essay topic and in terms of response.
I re-learned our very language is violent.
I learned I write about power imbalances where I feel acted upon by grander forces. This lends itself more to humor, but not always.
I learned to be patient with a piece. This one unfolded over 18 months.
WOW: I'm glad we got to benefit from your persistance and patience! Does your work as a performer inform your writing, or vice versa?
Jackie: Years ago, I enrolled in improv classes to become a comedy writer (don’t ask me why I didn’t take the comedy writing classes they offered – no one has ever accused me of doing things the easy way).
Despite my being a truly terrible improviser, some of the class work informs my writing, particularly in characterization and yes, and-ing my first drafts and seeing where it takes me.
I perform my pieces aloud to identify areas that are weak, mawkish, or lacking in rhythm. When performing, I relish words and phrases that I can sink my teeth into, and I write with that in mind. If it's fun to say aloud, it's fun to read (and vice versa). When it sounds right and complete, as well as is satisfying to read aloud, I generally submit or publish.
WOW: Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you?
Jackie: Sarah Manguso and Beth Ann Fennelly, both of whom I’ve only recently discovered, inspire me to play, stretch, and go a little wild.
Maya Angelou, Gore Vidal, Nora Ephron, Michael Ian Black, Steve Martin, and Jon Stewart for the sheer joy I get from reading their work, the way they play with language and observation, and how their pieces build and weave and layer upon themselves. Each is piercing, witty, intelligent, and often arch.
Anne Lamott and Liz Gilbert are my mothers of encouragement. They can be unabashedly poetic in their work, and their self-analysis and love of the process, wicked though it may be, is unbounded.
Erma Bombeck because her essays are written gingerbread.
WOW: Those are lovely descriptions of those writers. Thanks for the recommendations! Anything else you’d like to add?
Jackie: Thank you for this opportunity – it’s been a pleasure being part of this process and working with WOW!
WOW: It has been our pleasure. Thank you for your thoughtful responses. Happy writing!
Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen.