Interview with Jennifer Gallo Gaites, First Place Winner in the Q4 2023 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Sunday, October 29, 2023
Jennifer Gallo Gaites is a writer from Fair Haven, NJ where she lives with her husband and three children. She writes mostly about family life and is working on a memoir in essays about the ever-shifting identity of motherhood. This essay will appear in HeartWood Literary Magazine's Issue 16, and her work has been published in Hippocampus and Literary Mama. She is a writing instructor at Project Write Now in Red Bank, NJ.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Q4 2023 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What inspired you to write your essay, “{ }nesting?” Clever use of the brackets, by the way.

Jennifer: Thank you! I was so excited by the news. I really liked this essay when I wrote it, but as time went on (and I received a number of rejections) I started to have doubts about it. I was thrilled it eventually found a home at HeartWood Literary Magazine. After the contest winners were announced, when the WOW! editors shared their feedback, I was so happy to hear that the essay resonated with other women.

I’ve become interested in the lyric essay, because I think it allows for an exploration of a few ideas at once. And it’s how I find my mind works lately…in kind of a meandering, uncertain way. This essay started as a funny look at my hair falling out—at what seems like an alarming rate–as I get older. Everyone I talked to said, “Oh, it’s normal.” But then I started thinking, “Well, what’s normal? Because none of this feels normal!” In some ways, I think I’ve felt that way through every stage of life. I’m lucky to have a lot of really cool, strong women around me, and I love talking to them about the different phases of life and how things change. And the idea of what we hold onto, and what we let go (willingly or not) is always on my mind lately. As for the brackets, I had a vague recollection of the empty set in math, but definitely had to look up the definition. I was psyched when it seemed to fit the piece.

WOW: As a busy mom, how do you find time to write? What works best for you?

Jennifer: It took me a long time to establish a writing habit. I used to just kind of have it on my to-do list…and, like everything else on that list, I kept pushing it off. We’ve all heard the advice to schedule our writing the way we would any other appointment. Following that advice has helped me establish a discipline. Now I look at my week and see which days I can write for only a short time, and which days I can sit in the chair for a few hours. I've noticed that if I don’t stick to my schedule, I feel out of sorts.

WOW: A good reminder about scheduling  writing appointments into the week! You mention in your bio that you’re working on a memoir in essays “about the ever-shifting identity of motherhood.” Can you tell us anything about it, and what your essay/memoir writing journey has been like so far?

Jennifer: Yes! Big, sweeping memoirs are fascinating, but I’m also drawn to stories about the smaller moments in life. When the kids were young, I felt like those early years of motherhood would last forever–it’s all-consuming. At some point, of course, we all realize how quickly it goes. Each stage of life feels like a process of re-discovering who we are. In terms of my writing journey, I’ve been fortunate to be part of an online book writing group. That has created accountability for me, and forced me to establish a regular writing practice. We not only set deadlines, check in with each other, and read each other's work, but we share the ups and downs of the creative process and submitting work.

WOW: Is there a particular memoir you think everyone needs to read, or a recent favorite?

Jennifer: There are so many great memoirs out. Since I’m drawn to essay collections, some of my favorites are Abigail Thomas’ Safekeeping, Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, and Beth Ann Fennelly’s Heating & Cooling. I’m not sure if it’s technically a memoir, but I absolutely loved John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed.

WOW: I read Ross Gay's book a few months ago, and he's coming out with The Book of (More) Delights soon. Also John Green fan here; I went with one of my daughters to his Turtles All the Way Down multimedia event tour a few years ago, which was a great time. Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Jennifer. Before you go, can you share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice with our readers?

Jennifer: I’ve started to appreciate that writing begets writing. So, even if I’m short on time and can devote only half an hour in the morning, chances are I’ll continue to think about whatever I’m working on throughout the day…my brain keeps marinating and circling. Suddenly these little scraps of ideas will appear, and I can try to work them into something.



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