Christine Venzon began her career writing and editing family and consumer science textbooks. From there she developed a love of all things food—from cooking and recipe development, to nutrition and food science, to history and and folkways and food supplies and environmental issues. She considers herself a better-than-average home chef.
Professionally her achievements include award-winning fiction published in Highlights for Children and the Saturday Evening Post, where she was runner-up in the Great American Fiction Contest in 2014 and 2017, along with short stories appearing in St, Anthony Messenger, and an article in the food encyclopedia, Entertaining From Ancient Rome to the Super Bowl. She is a life-long cat owner and currently shares her home with two felines. She is shamelessly Catholic and enjoys enthusiastic discussions on matters of morals and faith. A native and current resident of Peoria, IL, she lived for six years in Southwest Louisiana. While proud to be the daughter of Italian immigrant parents, she calls the Cajun prairie her true homeland.
If you haven't done so already, check out Christine's award-winning story "Vegetarian Scrapple: It's a Guy Thing" and then return here for a chat with the author.
WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Q4 2019 Creative Nonfiction Contest! How did you begin writing this piece and how did it and your writing evolve as you wrote?
Christine: This piece evolved from several other essays, each with its own “origin story.” I was working on a piece on bizarre foods, another on my experience volunteering with a food-recovery organization, and a third about Cajun food traditions. They were interesting, but didn’t have much to say beyond themselves. With my interest in food and culture, I started to notice common themes in all of them, namely attitudes toward food and how food represents and reflects the roles of the people who eat and prepare it.
WOW: What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay?
Christine: I learned that some creative breakthroughs really do come when and where you least expect them, the “aha!” moment. You can wrack your brains looking for a solution a problem like finding a link between two ideas that you know are related but can’t quite see how, or a cause-and-effect relationship. Then you read a story on a true-life crime involving a seemingly stellar, trustworthy employee who plotted to steal millions company funds. Something about the methods and motives and sheer cunning triggers the “how” and “why” processing centers in your brain, and you see at least the germ of the solution.
WOW: Yes, I like this description of finding an “aha!” moment. You never know when it will strike, which is great motivation to keep reading and learning and experiencing new things. Please tell us more about the role of food and cooking in your life. How has it inspired your writing?
Christine: My family is Italian, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. My earliest memories are of cooking – and especially baking – with her. (She’s 90 years old and until her stroke a few years back was still making her own egg noodles and ravioli and sending off six different kinds of cookies in Christmas packages to my far-flung siblings and their kids.) I started working on home economics textbooks and was blown away by the science behind cooking and nutrition. The way it all holds together, the whole chain of the chemical actions and reactions, is like a microcosm of the universe. It deepens my faith in an all-wise God with a terrific sense of the ironic.
WOW: The stories, and cultures, and science of food fascinate me, too, and you have an interesting amalgam of experiences with each. Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have most influenced you, and in what ways?
Christine: I grew up reading my older brother’s Sports Illustrated magazines. Writers like Bill Nack drew me in by telling the personal stories behind the sporting event. I came to love sports largely through their writing. That’s the heart of good writing: finding the personal connection between the subject and reader.
WOW: Excellent observation on the heart of good writing! If you could tell your younger-writing-self anything, what would it be?
Christine: Lots of things! For starters:
- Never forget the joy of just putting words on the page. It’s too much work without enough reward to do only as a job.
- Everyone has a story they want to tell; let them, you’ll be amazed at what they know.
- Join a supportive writing community. You'll learn a lot about craft and how to give and take criticism. You'll also meet some really cool people.
- Writing is power and a privilege. Your words may not change your readers lives, but they can change their hearts and minds.
WOW: Thanks so much for that advice and for your thoughtful responses. And thank you for sharing your writing with us!
Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen.