Interview with Jenny Lewis, Runner Up in Q1 2023 Creative Nonfiction essay contest

Sunday, March 05, 2023
Jenny Lewis is an emerging writer with a B.A. in English & Literature from The University of Tampa and is currently querying an Upmarket Suspense manuscript. She taught high school English for 15 years before deciding to focus her efforts back on her craft and family. She is a happily married, stay-at-home mom to two fledgling adolescents and the best Labradoggo ever. When not writing or absorbed in existential crises, you can find her daydreaming of Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia, reading stories that keep her from sleeping, and sweating in the Florida humidity. Her work has appeared in Erato Magazine and Karma Comes Before the Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @WriteJennyWrite.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Q1 2023 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What inspired you to write your essay, “[We] Grew a Mountain in the Desert?”

Jenny: This piece was inspired by some good ol’ female rage after an ill-advised “doomscrolling” session. I actively try to avoid this, as I struggle with anxiety and depression, but my brain told me this was a good idea—that I needed to know. I read tragic stories of how overturning Roe v. Wade almost, or did, cost women their lives, more exposés of men in power exploiting and abusing women, Op-eds of schools expelling women who report sexual assault—the list goes on ad nauseum. I sat down at my desk and furiously began to dump my brain onto the page; whether it was a way to also share bits and pieces of my story or to commiserate with the women I’d been reading about, I don’t know. Probably both. It came out with an organic ease I was not expecting. I guess the truth has a way of doing that.

WOW: How did your essay develop, both in your initial thinking about it and in the revision process?

Jenny: Initially, the essay began as an image of what I imagined it was like when I was born, and then as a memory. I thought of my own children; my son came into this world quiet and observant, but my daughter was early, and she came fast and loud, but oh-so-tiny. Though I remember being filled with awe, I also felt an immediate sense of fear for her. Fears beyond the first-time parent apprehensions. I saw images and moments of my own life, and began to associate or perhaps project those fears onto my daughter. What would she be faced with as she grew older? Would I be able to prepare her for the struggles she would face, simply because she is female? Would I be able to protect her from the evils of the world that would naturally see her as prey?

To be honest, I had no clue where it was going when I started it, but slowly that image turned into something else. It evolved into a letter to my childhood self. I just unloaded—rapid fire, releasing so much pent-up female rage. It wasn’t until half way through the essay that I realized even though I was telling my story, I was telling so many other women’s stories, in one way or another. That’s when I decided to change the point of view from 1st to second person.

I didn’t want to just share a sad story of my passage from girlhood to womanhood; I wanted to show that despite these events in my life, in our lives, healing can be sought—that there is light at the end of the tunnel, which is why I added the last section in revisions. Hope can be found when there seems to be none. A mountain, filled with life, truly can grow in a desert.

WOW: It's a powerful essay, and I do appreciate the last section since we all need that part too. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Jenny: I’m currently reading Isabel Cańas’s The Hacienda. I’ve always loved Gothic literature—Frankenstein is one of my favorites and has inspired my newest WIP. Since October, I’ve been on a spooky trend, starting with Cassandra Khaw’s Nothing But Blackened Teeth, and then Kingfisher’s What Moves the Dead. Cańas’s language is rich and beautiful, and her imagery is transporting. I can smell the earth and sweat from the Tlachiqueros who work the Maguey fields beyond San Isidro. I can see the copal as it wafts from the haunted rooms, and I can feel the dark embrace of the angry entity as it wraps itself around Dora Beatríz. As a reader, strong imagery solidifies my participation in a story.

WOW: Are you working on any writing projects right now? What’s next for you?

Jenny: I’m querying an Upmarket Suspense MS at the moment. It’s about a woman who suffers from past trauma and seeks freedom from her pain by exposing truths that ultimately, shake the foundations of her family and threaten her sense of reality. But, at its core, it’s a story about identity and belonging. Which, I think, is a relatable theme, especially for women. So much is expected of us —perfection even— regardless of the role we play: be the perfect daughter, the perfect friend, the perfect partner, the perfect mother. They’re impossible standards. When you add trauma to those expectations, the results are devastating. But by accepting we can’t be everything to everyone, recognizing our grief and accepting our trauma, we can find a path forward towards healing. This is no less true for the protagonist of this story.

While that is floating around in the query trenches, I’m also working on a new MS—an adult gothic, speculative fiction, likely inspired by all the reading I’ve been doing. I’m in the exciting phase where every new idea is golden and all I want to do is write.

As far as what’s next for me, I just plan to keep writing. Keep sharing my work and continuing to submit flash/short stories in between the drafting of my latest MS. An agent would be great <crosses fingers>.

WOW: Good luck with everything! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Jenny. Before you go, can you share a favorite tip or piece of advice related to creative nonfiction writing?

Jenny: To be honest, this is the first CNF piece I’ve submitted. I don’t know if I have any words of wisdom, but I can say there’s something not only liberating in writing CNF, but also cathartic. It’s difficult for any writer to put their words out into the world, especially when it’s a whole truth. You’re lifting a veil, removing the slab, uncovering the truths and revealing secrets that are often easier to weave into fiction. I say, “Be brave. Submit it all”


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


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