Friday, March 5, 2010

Fresh Voices: Interview with Jen "The Amazing" Stayrook

"we do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit." - E.E. Cummings

Welcome to the third edition of Fresh Voices. We are delighted to share with you the passionate voice of Jen Stayrook.
1. What is your ultimate writing goal?

I'd love to respond with something profound and say that I enjoy the feel of writing, I write because I can and I don't care if I never get published, blah blah something intellectual blah blah world peace...but I can't. That's not me.

Don't get me wrong, I love writing, but when I first started writing I thought if I said I wanted to get published, it made me seem like less of a writer. I thought it meant I wasn't in it for the act of writing and I only wanted to be famous or make money. (Which less face it, that's not true.) But if I'm being honest with myself, I DO want to be published, despite all those negative feelings I harbored for the thought. I shouldn't be ashamed to want to be published. No writer should. I want to see my name in print. I want people to read my work and enjoy it. I want to write everyday for the rest of my life and then write some more, from the grave. (If that doesn't hit the bestseller lists, I don't know what will!)

It's hard to say what my goals may be in the future as they change so often for me. Right now, my goal is finish my novel. Getting published would be the best thing, but I'm sure later on down the line I would want to win awards and sell so many books, etc etc. But for right now, I'll settle on my ultimate writing goal as finishing and publishing 5 books. That's a nice lofty goal.

2. Why do you write?

Writing has been the only constant in my life, but we have a Ross and Rachel kind of relationship. I even cheated on writing several times while we were on a break. But when I shunned my writing, cast it aside because I thought it wasn't good enough, it was still there when I came back 4 years later. Then I got knocked up with my writing love novel. (These Friends references doing anything for you?)

I thought I couldn't have a future with writing, but now I realize that isn't the least bit true.

I write now because if I didn't I think I would go clinically insane. But I suppose writers are part of the insane, aren't we? We hear voices of "characters" in our heads. We listen to them, write them down. Sometimes we give into their whims and other times we fight back with the argument that it is best for the story. We love our characters and our stories like they are our children. I think that has a hint of crazy to it. If I didn't write, the characters in my head would literally drive me to insanity. It's an urge, an instinct for me to write. I have to have some sort of creative outlet for my brain, be it writing, drawing, playing the piano, anything, and if I don't I'm absolutely miserable mentally. If I don't write, it really starts to affect my health. True story.

I write because of the way I feel when I read a really good book. And that's what I want to give someone with my writing. Books have changed my life and if I can write something that really touches a person, that really relates to the core of who they are, then I think I'm pretty damn satisfied with myself.

3. Your writing is what I would describe as "brainy and passionate." Have you worked to achieve that voice or is it just a natural style for you?

I'm not quite sure anyone has used those two words in the context of my writing before, but thank you! I'm an incredibly romantic person, but I can't say that I have really worked to achieve this voice. It's just who I am. Despite the funny exterior, those who know me really well, know that I am much more quiet and gentle than I let on. I try to see the beauty in everything. My writing is just a byproduct of that outlook on life.

I didn't have the best upbringing, so when I was free to do as I pleased, I felt like I needed to make the best of things. Why hold back? That same thought process is used for my writing. Why hide the things we really feel, especially if we know it's how others must be feeling as well? The best writing, I think, is the kind that speaks to a reader's heart.

I know this is all a very roundabout way to answer the question. I haven't tried to perfect the voice. I let it come to me. Oddly enough, I think I find my influence not in writing but in other arts, mostly music. I think that music can create such emotions in a person that you have no choice but to act as it dictates to you. When I want to write a particularly emotional scene, I choose my music accordingly. The same goes for dark scenes, scary scenes, happy scenes, etc.

But more importantly, when it comes to finding a voice, I think it's best to write what you want to read. Don't worry about what is popular, or what other writers are doing. Do what comes natural.

4. Who are your favorite authors and why do you like them?

I don't really like the term "favorite" because I have so many authors that I like to read. "I could no sooner choose a favorite star in the heavens." Instead I think I'll list off a few of the more influential authors and what qualities make me enjoy them as a reader.

Jane Austen is a classic for me and I always have to use her as an influence for my writing. I mean come on, the woman who brought Darcy and Elizabeth to life deserves a big shout out in my book. But if I'm being honest, it was Pearl S. Buck that got me into reading. The Good Earth truly changed my perspective on what a good book could be, what it could do for a person. I admire JK Rowling for the ease of her writing. It's natural and real. The same goes for Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games trilogy. There's a beauty in the darkness of her writing. She's not afraid to show all. Even if it makes you cringe. Susan Kay, author of Phantom, wrote the first book I literally could not put down. It was the first time I finished a 500 page book in under 12 hours. If I had to pick an author to imitate, she would be it. Even Shakespeare has given me a taste for the romantic and dramatic side of things. Gregory Maguire has a fantastic mind. He can shape well-known stories and fairy tales and warp them into something more real. Well, that and he gave the world Wicked the musical.

I think everything that I have read comes into play for me as a writer. For all writers really. Even if it's a book I hated, it has still influenced how I write. It teaches me to recognize certain styles that maybe aren't as effective for what I need to best present my story.

I also like authors who can create memorable minor characters. I think the plot is driven by the characters with the cameos and if an author is great at incorporating them into the story, it makes the book significantly better, more well-rounded.

I love writers who are able to make me believe what I am reading; writers with conviction. Paulo Coehlo is an incredibly simple writer, but it's so beautiful that it's hard not to fall in love with every word. The Alchemist was actually book that changed my outlook on writing. I attribute reading it to my change in heart about writing novels. When I put the book down, an easy two days after I started reading it, I decided at that moment, I wanted to pursue being a writer.

5. What most attracts you to the life of a writer?

Changing people. Helping people. Building characters that you can see with your eyes and worlds that are full of magic and truth. I love it all. Really great books leave impressions on you that last a lifetime. Sometimes they can dictate how you feel about things, how you act, even if you don't know it. The chances of becoming a successful writer are slim. Despite my romantic ideals, I am realistic enough to know how tough the industry can be. But I'm okay with that. I'm okay with struggling to get by as long as I know I'm doing something I love. That's what pulls me in. I'm sure that with my educational background I could have a decent career and not have to worry about money. But of the options available to me, I would prefer to do the thing I love.

A year into my MA program, I sat down and tried to decide what I wanted to do with my life. I tried to imagine what I would be doing in 10 years. None of the jobs I envisioned would have made me happy. Writing is the only thing I can see myself doing for the rest of my life and because of that, it was really the only choice.

Being able to do something you love is a gift, so that is what attracts me to writing. It's not easy. Actually, I don't mind the writing process at all. It's time consuming. It's mentally exhausting. And sure, editing my novel right now isn't the most fun I've ever had with a red pen, but that pales in comparison to the horrified looks I get from people when I tell them I want to be a writer. But I just use that as motivation for writing more, writing better.

By the way, I'm also a psychic, that's how I know these things about the future and magic...

6. If you couldn't be a writer but knew you were guaranteed success at a different career, what would you choose?

This is actually a really tough question for me because as many of my friends can tell you, my interests are extremely varied. Part of me wants to choose music as an option because I adore playing the piano and if I knew I'd be good at it, I'd love to play a piece of music that gives a listener chills. You know, playing one of those fantastic key changes that Hans Zimmer does so well. Actually, despite my earlier bit about varied interests, I think I'm just going to choose playing the piano professionally. I thought about rambling on about art and graphic design but I've changed my mind, playing piano it is. Quick! Someone call James Horner and see if he needs a piano player for his next soundtrack!

7. If you had to describe your writing in one word, what would that word be?

I think you've already chosen the word I would have used: Passionate. I write with my heart. There's really no other way for me.

8. What's the best writing advice you've ever gotten?

While I do agree that "write what you know" is probably the best advice ever given for writing (and "write what you want to read" is up there as well), there's another piece of advice that MADE me write.

"If you wake up in the morning, and you can't think anything but writing, then you should be a writer."

Okay okay, I think the real quote is from Sister Act 2 and it refers to singing, but still! It's a good piece of advice. It's how I knew I wanted to be writer. How I knew I COULD be a writer. I still wake up each morning with two thoughts in my head: "What can I write about today?" and "I need coffee."

Push all those rules aside about writing and just write. If you want to be a writer, then be a damn writer. Don't let anyone's pessimism get in your way.

About Jen:
I'm in my final year of graduate school, getting my MA in Art History at American University. I currently reside in Washington, DC and loathe traveling around the city. I'm a professional daydreamer and lover of all things chocolate. I enjoy violent video games in the wee hours of the night and cuddling on the couch with my husband and dog while watching sappy movies.

You can check out my blog at Feel free to also follow me on Twitter: @JentheAmazing. For a sample of my writing you can read a scene from Spring of Innocents here:
Thank you for reading this edition of Fresh Voices. Feel free to follow the Fresh Voices list on Twitter or nominate yourself or another author as a Fresh Voice.  


  1. Jen's the kind of writer that doesn't quite grasp how great she is, despite her cheeky name Jen the Amazing. Great interview. Love you BFF JS!

  2. Another great interview!
    When I first heard that somewhat cheesey quote from Sister Act 2 long ago, I remember thinking the same thing about writing.

    Wishing you oodles of success with your future five books!

  3. Another great interview. Well done. Keep 'em comin'.

  4. Hi Kristy and Angela, thanks for coming by! Yes, Jen's enthusiastic voice comes right out in this interview. Yet another "Fresh Voice" where we will have the privilege of saying we interviewed first - before they got famous.