Interview with Connally Jae: Q4 2019 Creative Nonfiction Contest First Place Winner

Sunday, November 03, 2019
Connally Jae is a five-foot-nothing dreamer with an all encompassing love for stationary supplies and a fascination with ancient mythology and folk lore studies. She’s been writing stories as long as she can remember but has only recently began pursuing her dream of becoming a full-time author.

She resides in the Midwest with her husband and beloved dog, Steve. Besides reading everything under the sun, she spends her free time going on nature hikes with her family, traveling to as many new places as possible, and attempting to learn Korean and American Sign Language.

She is currently editing her debut novel to be released in Summer 2020. Keep up with her writing adventures by following @connallyjae on Instagram.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Q4 2019 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Connally: Thank you so much; this whole experience has been a whirlwind!

So I first saw the contest listed on Reedsy's website and was intrigued when I read the submission details. But I never would have gathered the courage to enter anything if I didn't have two things in my life: an amazingly supportive husband who consistently pushes me to follow my writing dreams and the steadfast encouragement of my all-women's writing group.

I have been reluctant to share my writing over the years as around the time I entered high school, I developed an intense fear of criticism. I felt like any negative feedback on my work was a reflection of my own personal failings. Connecting with a group of writers who gave positive yet helpful constructive feedback was the push I needed to move past those paralyzing fears of my writing never being good enough. They helped me to take a step back, especially from an intensely personal essay, and edit more subjectively so that I could confidently submit my best work possible.

WOW:  Reading your entry, “You Were Just Driving Home,” I felt like I was there with you. What inspired you to write this particular story? It must have been difficult to revisit.

Connally: It was difficult. I wrote this immediately after my visit to the police station while my emotions were still overwhelmingly present. More than just an essay, I felt like this was a piece of myself, the raw wounded part that I didn't know what to do with. So I tore it out, threw it on the page, and hid it away.

I didn't touch this piece for almost two years after the incident, and when I finally did reread it, I cried as much as on the day I had written it. Throughout my life, writing has helped me to process situations where I have felt powerless or alone; writing this particular essay helped me work through a lot of the helplessness and fear that I was feeling at the time.

Reading it again brought all those old emotions back to the surface, but it turned into an amazing opportunity to reexamine them with the gift of time and distance. And it also gave me the chance to share it with others. I was blown away by the stories of amazing women who opened up about having similar situations happen to them or their loved ones. The realization that I was not alone in this experience, as awful a fact as that is, was a wonderfully healing moment.

WOW: Thank you for being brave and sharing your story. You mentioned that you are currently editing your debut novel, which is to be released in Summer 2020. What has your novel writing journey been like, and how are you tackling the project of editing the book?

Connally: I'll never forget when a college roommate of mine told me "You never seem to be as much of yourself as when you are writing." I honestly cannot remember a time before I wanted to be a writer; I loved books and reading more than practically anything else growing up. From elementary school to college and beyond, I was always writing. This has led to having a great many terrible stories to my name but also a few wonderful things – half finished novels or short stories, even a poem or two, that still make me smile when I read them. It wasn't until this year that I mapped out, wrote, and finished a complete novel that I plan to publish. It's the first story I've written that I've been able to truly envision other people reading one day.

As far as the editing process goes, I am currently in the ruthless cutting stage. It has been a lot of hacking away excess scenes to get to the bones of my story so that I can build it back up, hopefully into something much better. I'll admit that it has been frustrating and exhausting at times; I've wanted to burn the whole thing and start over more than once. But over all, it has been a rewarding learning experience.

WOW:  In your bio, you also mention that you’re working on learning Korean and American Sign Language. Are you taking classes or studying on your own? I’m intrigued about learning ASL.

Connally: I am not currently taking classes for either, but I have looked into taking a beginner's course for ASL at a local college. It's been challenging for me to practice ASL on my own because as much as I adore learning things from books, this particular subject doesn't translate as well for me when it comes to the practicing part of it. For spoken languages, there are podcasts and videos and plenty of options when starting out to make sure I am communicating correctly but hand signs have proven to be a different kind of challenge.

WOW:  Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Connally! Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Connally: As cliché as it may sound, just do it. It's not as scary as you may think.

For me, the victory in this contest was in submitting something at all. It was a huge step for me to learn to be brave enough to share my work with the world. Placing is great, winning is awesome, but the mere fact of putting yourself and your writing out there is the most extraordinary part of all. Regardless of the outcome, you will learn something every time you take a chance.

One of the hardest lessons I've learned when it comes to any kind of art is that making something bad isn't the worst thing you can do - the worst thing is to never try making anything at all.


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.


Renee Roberson said...


I'm so glad you found a writing critique group that is encouraging you and helping you to produce your best work. I know how hard it must have been to share this piece first with the group, and then to the contest judges. It is a powerful reminder of how physically and emotionally vulnerable we all are at any given moment, and I hope writing this essay and sharing it with others will help you see yourself as you really are, both as a writer AND a survivor.

Renee Roberson said...
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