Interview with Jessica Ann Berry: 2022 Q2 Creative Nonfiction Contest Runner Up

Sunday, May 29, 2022
Jessica’s Bio:
Jessica Ann Berry is 42 years old, originally from New Jersey. She is a lawyer, aspiring to be a former lawyer. Jessica volunteers at her local no-kill animal shelter, where she walks and feeds dogs, trains volunteers, performs reference checks, and happily reads to dogs who need more personal attention. An avid hiker, she is proud to have hiked Zion National Park’s Angels Landing twice. She is also a certified scuba diver, and has dived in Hawaii, Roatan, Cozumel and St. Thomas. Jessica is partial to essayists such as David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs. After years of working on her own books she never finished, Jessica switched her writing focus to essays and flash pieces, and she’s really enjoyed the process of creating shorter, compelling content. Jessica is a proud member of the bookstagram community and her account handle is @Berried_In_A_Book

If you haven't done so already, check out Jessica's award-winning story "This Is Trauma" and then return here for a chat with the author. 

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Q2 2022 Creative Nonfiction Contest! How did you begin writing your essay and how did it and your writing process evolve as you wrote? 

Jessica: I remember the day I started this essay. My mom was still in the hospital, and we had little to no information about her condition. I was frustrated and scared and depressed, so I just grabbed a legal pad and wrote out what I remembered of getting the call from my brother and making the journey to the hospital. I was on my lunch break at work, sitting in my "office" that was really a supply closet in a law office, and I couldn't have felt any lower. I threw the pad into a box when I moved offices and only found it a year ago while cleaning out my garage. Immediately upon finding the legal pad, I read what I'd written, cried my eyes out, and finished the essay on a proper computer. It was nice to revisit this traumatic moment with a decade's separation. I think that's what allowed me to inject dark humor throughout the essay. 

WOW: Thank you for sharing your process with us. I’m so glad that you were able and willing to revisit that moment and that piece of writing and make meaning from it. What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay? 

Jessica: I've always been an over-sharer, brutally honest about myself, even when speaking to strangers. I just say it all and I don't carry a lot of embarrassment or secrets. This essay, and especially placing as runner-up, taught me that those traits can be harnessed to create something as entertaining as it is tragic. 

WOW: You wrote in your bio that you spent years writing books you never finished, but you’ve found more enjoyment and success writing shorter, compelling content. Can you tell us more about your shift in focus to essays and flash writing? 

Jessica: As an example, I've started a fiction book called Better When I'm Deader about a lawyer, surprise, who fakes her death to hide from student loans and the mob. Unfortunately, years and years of being a lawyer have dulled my creative instincts. I never finished it and it's been 4 years. I don't know HOW to craft a fiction piece. I have no experience with the three acts, creating a character, weaving in conflict and resolution, etc. What I AM good at is writing short, to-the-point, legal briefs; although I dislike my profession, it's been wonderful for my transition into flash and essay pieces. I do want to make it a full novel one day, but I've turned Better When I'm Deader into a flash piece that I am excited to submit for the fiction contest. 

WOW: I love that you were able to create a flash piece from your unfinished novel (not an easy feat), and we’re honored that you’ll share it with us in our fiction contest! Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you? 

Jessica: David Sedaris is someone I can read all day. His work is my desert island stuff. He punctuates the mundane and even tragic aspects of real life with humor and I love everything he writes. I'm a very sarcastic person, with no filter, and a sick, self-deprecating humor, so his style is exactly the mood I go for when I write. 

WOW: If you could tell your younger self anything about writing, what would it be? 

Jessica: This one's painful for me because I live steeped in regret about this topic: Don't go to law school, keep writing and just get a job to pay the bills after college while you write. 

WOW: Thank you for sharing your advice. I commend you for making the time to write now, even if you wished you’d taken steps towards it sooner. Anything else you’d like to add? 

Jessica: I am incredibly appreciative that the contest judges read my essay and really understood my purpose in reliving this tragic day. It wasn't just about one day or one trauma. "This Is Trauma" is about how we perceive things in the moment, how we react, and how we can look back with the benefit of hindsight and distance and darkly laugh at our worst days. 

WOW: Thank you for that insight into your writing and for your other thoughtful responses! 

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, founder and editor-in-chief of Sport Stories Press, which publishes sports books by, for, and about sportswomen and amateur athletes and offers developmental editing and ghostwriting services to partially fund the press. Personal Tweets @dr_greenawalt.


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