Interview with Joanne Lozar Glenn: 3rd Place Winner in Q3 2018 Creative Nonfiction Contest

Sunday, August 19, 2018
Joanne’s Bio:

Joanne Lozar Glenn is a freelance writer and editor, teaches writing in adult education programs, and leads destination writing retreats. Her books include Memoir Your Way: Tell Your Story Through Writing, Recipes, Quilts, Graphic Novels, and More (co-author, Skyhorse Publishing, 2016); No One Path: Perspectives on Leadership from a Decade of Women in Technology Award Winners (editor-in-chief, Women in Technology, 2009); Applying Evidence-Based Laboratory Medicine: A Step-by-Step Guide (coauthor, AACC Press, 2009); 25 + 1: Communication Strategies for Business Education (co-author, NBEA, 2003); and Mentor Me: A Guide to Being Your Own Best Advocate in the Workplace (NBEA, 2003). Her poems and memoir essays have been published in Ayris, Brevity, Beautiful Things (River Teeth), Peregrine, Under the Gum Tree, and other print and online journals. She is currently working on a book-length memoir.

If you haven’t done so already, check out Joanne’s award-winning story “Apologies” and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on winning 3rd place in the Creative Nonfiction Contest! How did you begin writing this piece, and how did it and your writing process evolve as you wrote?

Joanne: "Apologies" is the fusion of two pieces I was working on that I couldn't get to work as individual essays. Each essay had started with a prompt. (I belong to a monthly neighborhood writing-to-prompts group founded by novelist Leslie Pietrzyk.) I've lost track of how many revisions I did on each of the essays. Then, I'm not sure why, I decided to explore combining them. I had read something during that time that led me to experiment with a different cadence, so I tried that and it felt like maybe, just maybe, it could work. At the time I was teaching a class on “writing memoir that matters,” which asked students to take risks in their writing to tell a story that was perhaps uncomfortable and pushed some boundaries but that was important to them. I wrote, too, and shared an early draft of this essay with them. I believe that we shouldn't ask anything of students we wouldn't ask of ourselves, and I wanted them to know that I was willing to take the same risks I was asking them to take. I kept working at the essay after the class ended, saw the notice for the WOW! contest, and took a chance.

WOW: And we—WOW and your readers—are glad you took that chance! What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay?

Joanne: I learned—again—to dig, to look at my own complicity even if it means telling a story I’m afraid to admit. And that it wouldn’t kill me. But I am a little nervous about how those who know me in other "more favorable" circumstances will feel about the "I" in this essay.

WOW: I admire your courage to create and publish a piece that makes you a little uncomfortable. Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you?

Joanne: So many! I love the essays in Brevity, such as Randon Billings Noble's “The Heart as a Torn Muscle"—the variety of forms and topics those essays explore are both an inspiration and a challenge. Writers Abigail Thomas, Rebecca McClanahan, Roxanne Gay, Maribeth Fischer, Terry Tempest Williams, and Dinty Moore inspire and challenge me to speak truth, and to “tell the story only you can tell in the way only you can tell it.” The voice in Dina Honour's "1001 Nights" (Hippocampus Magazine), the narrative persona in Adriana Páramo's "Let's Kill Your Grandfather Together" (WOW! Q2 CNF), and the poetry of Susan Wadd's "Once We Were Sad" (WOW! Q3 CNF) reinforce the importance of that lesson.

But I also take inspiration from fiction writers. The storytelling and craft in Leslie Pietrzyk's novel Silver Girl push me to be more disciplined, more attuned to elements such as setting and conflict, and more of a risk-taker. The lyricism and attention to detail in Susan Muaddi Durraj's short story collection A Curious Land inspire me to pay attention to every sentence, every word in every sentence, and the “intertwingling” of themes and images to create unity. The depth of Octavia Butler’s speculative fiction (Fledgling; Kindred; Bloodchild) is spurring me to explore connections between my memories and the socio-cultural context in which I lived, to see if I can write an “outward-facing” rather than “navel-gazing” memoir. (I’m not sure if I can, but I’m going to try.)

WOW: I love hearing about the number of way you challenge yourself through your writing. It’s very inspiring! Can you tell us more about the book-length memoir you’re writing?

Joanne: The memoir’s about growing up as the oldest daughter of a mother who’s chronically depressed and trying to piece light out of that darkness. Right now it’s a pile of papers and I’m doing my sixth revision (in baby steps). I want to say something smart here about revising, but the truth is that after I thought I was “done” (revision #5) I kept writing more pieces that made the original material feel “not yet good enough.” Now I’m revisiting all that content, waiting for the “click” inside me that says yes, this!

WOW: Good luck, and keep at it! If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Joanne: Get started, girl—you have a lot of lost time to make up for! Trust your instincts. Go in the door that is open. Always have something to look forward to. And if that door's not open yet, open it yourself. You can make a path where none yet exists.

WOW: Great advice from which many of us can benefit! Thank you for your wonderful writing and 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.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Joanne (or should I say J.L.? ;)--

Can you write an outward-facing memoir? Most definitely. Just read this essay. This was so powerful and sneaky--little revelations crept up unexpectedly. There were lines that belonged in poems. (Would you consider pulling some out and getting a two-for-one deal? You could get a poem AND an essay out of one piece.)

Yes, if we ask our students to write with honesty and bravery, we must do the same.

Congratulations on the win. Last school year I read "The Journey is Everything" by Katherine Bomer. It's a spectacular book about teaching essay writing, along with writing essays. In fact, it's made me start writing essays and submitting them, getting me out of my Chicken Soup rut.

(And J.L.--The writing accountability group is still going strong. Thanks again for your very sage advice.)

Joanne said...

Hi Sioux,

Glad to hear the accountability group is going strong! Kudos to you for starting and hanging with it!

And thanks to you for your kind words. I'll think on that "two-for-one" deal. :)


Angela Mackintosh said...

Excellent interview, ladies!

Joanne, I always love hearing about how essays came together, and it's so interesting that "Apologies" was originally two essays! What a brilliant idea, and it made for a POWERFUL essay.

I will definitely check out all those essayists you mentioned! I've read many of them, and I'm also a fan of Adriana and Susan's essays, and yours and all of the essayists we publish! :) I also love Brevity's essays and am amazed by what writers can do in so few words. I agree, reading fiction, specifically description and scenes, inspire my essay writing to think of the reader's journey, rather than my inner journey, so I totally get what you're saying!

Your memoir sounds like one I'd love to read. My mom was also depressed and I suffer from it as well. Did you outline it first or pantser it? I'm in the baby steps of putting together a memoir and currently studying memoirs for structure.

I agree with Sioux! Your prose is so gorgeous in "Apologies" you could totally take some lines and create poetry. :)

Thanks again for the interview, and I'll be following your work! Your book, Memoir Your Way is one of my favorite books on writing.

Joanne said...

Angela, thanks so much for your kind comments. I really appreciate them.

Thanks for sharing that personal information. The sooner we bring stuff like that into the light, the less power it has over us.

I've been working on this memoir much longer than I wanted to...having said that I've gone back and forth between "outlining" and "pantsing" it. It actually started as a straight nonfiction...until a workshop leader said something that floored me. And that's when I decided to write it as a story. I mostly wrote different stories, then started stitching them together according to a vision of structure I had in my head. As you know from the interview, I'm not happy with that any more, and so I think what I'm going to have to do is feel my way into how the new pieces intersect and connect with the old, and honestly, "quilt it" together.

At least that's what I'm thinking now.

Good luck with your memoir. All the best!

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