Interview with Jenn Powers

photo of Jenn Powers
Jenn Powers, Writer and Visual Artist

I’m very pleased to continue my series of Running Wild Anthology of Stories author interviews with Jenn Powers. Her story, “A Friend’s Text,” captured my senses with its vivid imagery and my emotions with the plight of the main character.

Welcome, Jenn!

Gemma: Please give us a taste of what your story is about.
Jenn: My short story, “A Friend’s Text,” is about a woman who has an epiphany that helps lead her out of an unhealthy love affair with a married millionaire.

Gemma: Do you remember what the seed for this story was?
Jenn: Yes, I do. I fictionalized a similar relationship I had fallen into myself. During that relationship, I always felt like I was betraying my true self—the core of who I am. Once I decided to do the right thing and end the relationship, it was completely life-altering and empowering, even though the pain was immense. I think this scenario is, unfortunately, too common. I hope my story will inspire others to find it within themselves to do the right thing if they’re in an unhealthy relationship, which comes in many forms.

Gemma: That is truly a powerful mission, and I can see your story being a positive catalyst. Can you tell us a little about your writing history?
Jenn: I started journaling when I was 15 years old. It was a way for me to soothe my emotions since I was quite lonely and I didn’t have many people I could trust or open up to. Journaling turned into a survival mechanism. Being able to spill out my troubles onto the blank page became (and still is) very therapeutic.

Gemma: Writing can be such a healing process, and to be able to share that is a gift.  I found out from your website that you’re an artist as well as a writer. Does art have a therapeutic effect for you like writing does?

Jenn: Absolutely. Whenever I’m being creative or out in nature, I lose myself. It’s very in-the-moment mindfulness. I’ve always struggled with anxiety, even as a child, and so, early on I found ways to tend to that. I figured out how to self-soothe with art and nature. I journaled throughout my teens and the writing sort of bloomed in different directions from there. I can say the same thing regarding art. Painting, drawing, photography. One feeds the other. And both feed me. It’s symbiotic.

Eventually, I played around with creative writing, such as flash fiction and short stories. By my 30s, I started to pursue it seriously and I got my first short story publication in 2012.

Gemma: I’d like to hear more about that.
Jenn: My first publication was in The MacGuffin in 2012, a short story about domestic violence. It’s titled “Some of Us.” I’m proud of this piece because it’s important to keep violence against women (and men) at the forefront.

Gemma: That’s truly something to be proud of, and a vital message. Can you tell a little more about your writing history?

Jenn: I kept at the craft, sporadically, while living life and working a multitude of jobs. Around 30 to 33 years old, I took writing more seriously. I wrote several days per week, and now, about eight years later, I have around 70 publications in literary journals. (Half art, half writing.)

Stonecoast Review Winter 2017 - Cover by Jenn Powers
Stonecoast Review Winter 2017 -Cover by Jenn Powers

Jenn: I earned an MFA in 2014 and I plan on applying to PhD programs this year.

Gemma: That’s impressive and exciting! What are some of your recent publications?

Jenn: My most recently published short stories are available online. “Pinned Butterflies” was published in Lunch Ticket, Winter/Spring 2020.

“1975” Charcoal, pencil, and pen by Famous Unobuarie

Image Courtesy of Lunch Ticket Literary & Art Journal Issue 16

“December, 1993” was published in Witness Magazine, Dark Holidays Zine 2019. And, in March/April 2020, my story “Window Light” will be published in Gemini.

Witness cover photo by Rob Allen
Witness Dark Holidays photo by Rob Allen

Gemma: Very cool to have so many stories published in so short a period! How has your writing changed over time?

Jenn: I’m continuously growing as a writer. It’s a constant learning process, and, for me, there’s no end point. I improve every year. And, like anything, the more you work at something, the better you get at it.

Gemma: What do you like best to write?

Jenn: Drama, thriller, mystery.

Gemma: What’s the biggest challenge for you to write?

Jenn: I tried writing in other genres, like romance. But it doesn’t work for me. I write about the dark stuff. I’ve experienced some crazy situations. I’ve been a victim many times over, but I’d rather call myself a survivor. As a survivor, I empower myself through writing, and I believe my past experiences have molded my style and preferences.

Gemma: And good stories, like “A Friend’s Text,” can empower readers in turn. When you get an idea for a story, what comes to mind first, the plot or the characters? Or does it vary from story to story?

Jenn: It varies from story to story. It might even be a feeling, a song, a landscape or place that makes me feel something. When I sense that dip of inspiration, I stop to explore where it’s coming from. Does it remind me of something or someone? Does it reconnect me with a lost emotion? My ideas come from the strangest places and my inspiration is super-fickle. I’ll sit there frustrated for hours, take a break and go for a walk or run, and an idea will hit me. Boom! Just like that. Easy-peasy. Taking the pressure off can stimulate creativity. And creativity needs to be organic, natural, flowing.

Gemma: I often get some of my best ideas walking, too. If nothing else, it can open up the channel and let the creativity flow, as you say. I read on your website that you have a fondness for botany and geology as well as music. I have a love of biology and botany that’s stuck with me since junior high, so that resonates with me! Do you have stories that particularly reflect botany, geology, or music?

Jenn: A driving force in my life is exploring nature, whether that comes in the form of hiking up Mt. Washington, driving solo cross country, or studying a birch tree throughout the seasons. Inevitably, this passion and interest has infused my life and work as a writer and visual artist.

Jenn climbing Mt Washington
Jenn Climbing Mt Washington

Jenn: Growing up as an only child without too many close friends, I always found solace in nature. Early on, I’d collect pinecones and chips of Mica and bluets. I’d explore the forests and swamps near my neighborhood. I’d be outdoors as much as possible. I’d also draw, paint, and write since I was alone a lot. In school, ecology and biology classes felt very natural to study. It came easy, even though I majored in English and creative writing in college.

About seven years ago, I started studying botany. I love exploring the woods with a field guide to identify the plants, flowers, and trees. Mostly the New England area, and specifically, Connecticut. I like to observe how nature changes throughout the seasons. It’s like getting to know a friend. I focus on the anatomy, ecology, and taxonomy. It’s fun to nail down genus and species. It’s this entire plant kingdom that’s keeping us alive, and vice versa. A true symbiotic relationship. It amazes me how every little thing is connected. I just started getting into geology too—rocks and minerals of a particular location and the geological history of that location. For example, the plethora of rock walls crisscrossing New England.

So, as you see, this passion I have for the outdoors has formed a large part of who I am today as an adult, and, inevitably, it shows up in my work. I’ve used nature (or setting) as a character itself in many of my short stories. It’s a tool used to set the tone or mood. It can be used symbolically, metaphorically. It can literally be an extension of the protagonist or antagonist, or even a minor character. Mix that up with being a fan of nature writers, like Emerson, Thoreau, Muir, Dillard, Ackerman, and certain literary periods and movements, like the Romantics, Gothic, the Transcendentalists, the Beat Poets, and contemporary mysteries and thrillers, and that’s my writer-artist brain on fire. It’s nostalgia, melancholy, and the darker side of nature rolled into one.

Since I started writing a mystery-thriller in 2016, I’ve infused my novel with a lot of botany, and I believe it adds something truly special. I believe people want to feel that connection to earth, which is so easily lost in today’s fast-paced, superficial, materialistic society. They want real. They want to feel something that’s good for their soul. I also believe the more you know about a specific region, the better. You may not use all of that collected information but knowledge is never a waste.

Gemma: I totally agree – knowledge has worth for its own sake, and you never know what connections that will spark in your brain. You mentioned several authors before – what authors did you love most growing up? And what other authors have influenced your writing?

Jenn: Ironically, I didn’t read a lot as a kid. I loved being read to in school. I remember falling in love with the work by Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss. I liked the Sweet Valley High series too. I liked The Catcher in the Rye, The Outsiders, and Poe and Bram Stoker. But it wasn’t until college that my obsession with books began. As an adult, I’ve been most influenced by legends like Joyce Carol Oates, Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote, John Cheever, Joan Didion, and Mark Twain. As for more recent authors, I read Gillian Flynn, Shari Lapena, Jennifer McMahon, Delia Owens, Janet Fitch, Karin Slaughter, A.J. Finn. I could go on and on.

Gemma: It’s a wonderful thing to have so many authors to love, and it makes it hard to name just a few! What are you reading right now?
Jenn: I’m reading several books right now. For fiction, I’m reading Burntown by Jennifer McMahon and Paint It Black by Janet Fitch. For nonfiction, I’m reading Kaufman’s Field Guide to Nature of New England, and, National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers (Eastern).

Gemma: I love reading field guides, too, and I actually use them sometimes even though I write fantasy! They really can help ground you in a place by learning about the other living things around you. Is there a place that you’ve lived that most influences your writing?

Jenn: Old New England. The snowy, gray winters. The green hills and rock walls. The homesteads and chimney smoke.

Gemma: Where I live in Pennsylvania has a lot in common, and the green hills, rock walls and centuries-old buildings are inspiring to me, too. Tell us a bit about what you are working on now.

Jenn: I’m writing a mystery thriller around 80-90K words. I’m in the rewriting phase. I should be done by spring and will be searching for agent representation. I’m also working on a collection of paintings/drawings based on the hometown in my novel. Here’s an example of where my passions overlap each other. Science meets art. Left brain meets right. I’m in love with nature, but I’m also in love with art. The fictional hometown in my novel is named Rockwall Springs, which is loosely based off Tolland, Connecticut, my own hometown.

Gemma: That is so cool! Will your artwork about the town be viewable by your readers?

Jenn: Yes, these photos and paintings will be available for anyone interested. I’ve had several photos of Rockwall Springs published in various literary journals. For example, three photographs were published in The Sandy River Review (September 2018) and one photo was published in Blue Mesa Review (Issue 39, 2019).

Gemma: What do you plan to work in next?

Jenn: As soon as I begin the querying process for this book, I will begin another mystery thriller. I would like to write them in succession. I’m also working on short prose, poetry, and art.
Gemma: It’s very impressive that you work on multiple projects at once. Will the next mystery-thriller be a sequel to the one you’re working on now, or are they stand-alones?
Jenn: That’s a good question. I’m open to either option. As of right now, it’s a stand-alone novel. But, I could definitely create more novels using the same characters and settings. If not, I’d like to write a mystery-thriller every two years or so. Once I find an agent and get a book deal, that’s my goal. I want to stay productive.

Gemma: How did you find out about this anthology?

Jenn: Honestly, I don’t remember. I am a subscriber to several outlets offering opportunities for creative writers. It might’ve been via Submittable. I am thrilled to have found this west coast press.

Cover of Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 3
Our New Anthology

Gemma: How can readers connect with you and find out more about your work?

Jenn: I have a professional website at www.jennpowers.com . You can use the contact form to reach me. You can also follow me on Facebook @CTwriter and Twitter @livinglife1107.

Gemma: Thanks so much for joining me on my blog, Jenn! Readers, I hope you will follow the links and check out her online stories.

Check back in a couple of weeks for a special guest blog.

Interview with Dawn DeAnna Wilson

Dawn DeAnna Wilson, Author

It’s my pleasure to continue my series of Running Wild Anthology of Stories interviews with Dawn DeAnna Wilson. Her story, “Los Sueños,” was very vivid and poignant.

Welcome, Dawn!

Gemma: Can you give a taste of what your story is about?
Dawn: The story is about a medical student who can sleep, but she can’t dream. One night, during her pathology rotation, she discovers that she can hear the dreams of the dead.

Gemma: What a striking story premise. Do you remember what the seed for it was?
Dawn: I have serious insomnia, and the whole science of sleep has always fascinated me. There was a sleep center at the hospital I used to work for, and the director knew about all these unusual and bizarre sleep disorders. Essentially, the REM phase in dream sleep is what is responsible for keeping us healthy. Dreams are necessary.

From there, it kind of meandered. I remember thinking of the dead as being “asleep” and wondering what it would be like to never, never be able to dream.

Gemma: That is quite a disturbing concept – and disturbing concepts can turn into great stories. Yours is proof of that.

Cover of Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 3
Our New Anthology

Gemma: How did you find out about this anthology?
Dawn: Through the Submittable website.

Gemma: I need to explore more about Submittable’s calls for submissions and other resources for writers. Do you remember when and why you started writing?
Dawn: I wrote my first story when I was in kindergarten. I loved creating the characters and delving into different worlds. I can never remember a time when I did not want to be an author.

Gemma: That’s impressive – I’m not sure I was writing full sentences when I was in kindergarten! What’s the first piece you wrote that you’re still proud of/happy with?

Dawn: My first novel, “Saint Jude,” is about a young adult with bipolar disorder. The novel is far from perfect, but it has touched the lives of others, which of course, is the whole point of writing.

 

Gemma: That is truly something to be proud of – and the best kind of legacy for a story. Can you tell me a little more about your writing history?

Dawn: My first poem was published when I was in eighth grade and my first short story was published when I was 16.

My work has appeared in such publications as Byline, Writer’s Digest, Evangel, and The Lutheran Journal. I won second-place in the N.C. Poetry Society’s annual contest for my love poem, “Learning English in Four-Letter Words.” My play, “Jesu of Fondue,” has been produced by the Nash County Arts Council and presented as a staged reading at the Storefront Theatre in Waxhaw, NC.

I’m the author of three novels, two traditionally published and one indie published. They are Saint Jude (Tudor Publishers, 2000), Leaving the Comfort Café (The Wild Rose Press, 2007), and the indie published Ten Thousand New Year’s Eves (Carraway Bay Press, 2011). I have also compiled a short story collection that I indie published, Welcome to Shangri-La, North Carolina (Carraway Bay Press, 2011).

Gemma: You have a wonderful array of published work. How has your writing changed over time?
Dawn: I think I’m delving much more into quirky characters, exploring the difficult facets of what makes them who they are. I’m also going more outside my comfort zone, as I’m preparing to tackle a murder mystery novel that is in a genre I’ve never written before.

Gemma: Good for you for going outside your comfort zone! What’s the biggest challenge for you to write?
Dawn: I wouldn’t dare undertake some historical fiction. I would just get so easily overwhelmed by all the research.

Gemma: I have dabbled in historical fiction, and I can totally understand – I got lost in the research for a couple of years, I think! (It was a really good excuse to not get down to the nitty-gritty of writing.) What do you like best to write?

Dawn: It’s hard to say, because every story and every project has its own joys and its own personality. I think that my favorite part of the writing process is the exploration that goes on during that first draft, when you’re getting to know the characters and unearthing the story. It’s like going on a treasure hunt.

Gemma: Oh, that’s a cool analogy. When you get an idea for a story, what comes to mind first, the plot or the character(s)? Or does it vary from story to story?

Dawn: Honestly, sometimes it’s a line or two. Sometimes, it’s a scene that stands out very crisp in my mind. Then I explore—WHY did they say that? Who is in this scene and why is it important?

Gemma: I remember C.S. Lewis saying something about how the Chronicles of Narnia (one of my childhood favorites) started with the image of a faun with an umbrella in a snowstorm. So you are in good company! What authors did you love most growing up? What authors have influenced your writing most?

Dawn: Ray Bradbury, Lloyd Alexander, Ursula K. LeGuin and Rod Searling. And maybe a bit of Donald Barthelme.

Gemma: Ray Bradbury and Lloyd Alexander are two of my favorites to this day! For a long time I’ve been meaning to read Ursula K. LeGuin, and now I want to learn more about Donald Barthelme. On another topic, is there a place that you’ve lived (or visited) that most influences your writing?

Dawn: Living on the coast of North Carolina is a fantastic, inspirational place to write. There’s the gorgeous beaches, the marshy inlets and the full spectrum of Southern characters.

 

Gemma: What are you working on now?

Dawn: I’m polishing up a few short stories to try to get them ready to send out. Not trying to give anything away, but one does have a lizard man in it.

Gemma: A lizard man sounds intriguing! What do you plan to work on next?

Dawn: I’m going to tackle my first murder mystery/thriller that’s kind of in the same vein as the Stephanie Plum series.

Gemma: Going outside your comfort zones like you said! How can readers keep up with you and your writing?

Dawn: I’m around here and there. You can connect with me by contacting me through my website or on my author Facebook page. Although I encourage readers to email me through my website (I’m not on Facebook as much these days. I find that the more I’m on Facebook, the less I write)
Gemma: Oh, yes, social media and the internet in general can be such time-stealers! I find I have to keep offline to get writing done, too.

Thanks for taking time to join me on my blog, Dawn. And Happy Valentine’s Day to you and our readers!

Interview with Author Amelia Kibbie

Amelia Kibbie, Author of Fantasy, LBGT & Historical fiction

To close this chapter of interviews with my Running Wild Anthology colleagues, I’m very pleased to feature Amelia Kibbie. Her story, “Idylls of the King,” moved and enchanted me.

Welcome, Amelia!

Is there a part of the Anthology’s cover collage that reminds you of your story?
The image that I think reflects my story the best is on the far left. It looks like a person with dark pants standing with their hand open but facing back, perhaps to take someone else’s hand. The figure is wearing a black glove. It reminds me of “Idylls of the King” because the picture does look historical, and my piece is a LGBT WWII romance, and it could also represent James reaching back to take Arthur’s hand so they can stand together.

 

Would you add anything to the cover to hint at your story?
A sword. In the story, Arthur is given a sword that represents the mythical Excalibur, and it inspires him to reach his full potential and be true to himself in declaring his love for James.

What do you like best to write?
That’s funny, because honestly I would have to say horror and fantasy, which is a pretty far cry from “Idylls.” But to be real, I love to write pretty much everything if I’m invested in the plot and characters.

What’s the biggest stretch for you to write?
I don’t typically write things I don’t like to write, but if someone paid me to write a traditional hetero romance where the proper girl falls for the bad boy, or a Twilight style scenario where the guy’s actually a stalker with no boundaries and the girl defines her existence based on her relationship, I would have a really hard time writing that. But, if you’re offering me money, I’d make it work.

Where do your stories fall on the plot-driven vs. character-driven spectrum?
I’d like to think they’re equal. Typically I come up with the plot idea, and then develop the characters after that. When it’s brewing in my mind they tend to develop relatively simultaneously.

What authors did you love most as a kid? Now? What authors have influenced your writing most?
As a younger kid, I was way into Patricia C. Wrede, Betty Wren Wright, and Brian Jacques. My teen years focused on Stephen King and Anne Rice. In college, I got into Chuck Palahniuk and Brett Easton Ellis. Now I read anything and everything I can get my hands on and I’m not all that particular. I learn something from everything I read. I’d have to say my current favorite author is Hillary Mantel.

Is there a place that you’ve lived (or visited) that most influences your writing?
I’m from Iowa, so there are a lot of Midwestern culture and themes in my work. However, I’ve done a lot of traveling, and visited France and New Orleans several times. I’ve been to England, and did quite a few historical tours of WWII sites, which helped in the writing of “Idylls of the King” and the follow up novel, Legendary.

What’s the first piece you wrote that you’re still proud of/happy with?
The first place I was really published was on the website BigWorldNetwork.com. They publish stories in installments as serial fiction. I have a fantasy novel there called Harvest of Ash. The first two seasons are available on the site. I have the third season written, but the new managers of the site don’t want to see anything until the series has concluded. I still have to write Season 4. When I turned 30, I decided that it was now or never to accomplish my dream of being a writer. When I was 31 I had my daughter, and I used her nap time during my maternity leave to write Harvest of Ash. I love that book and I hope to finish it someday. It’s a gritty retelling of Cinderella with echoes of Game of Thrones.

What have you been up to since the Anthology came out? Any other news?
I have written a follow-up novel to “Idylls of the King” called Legendary. It takes place about ten years after the short story, though the short story is included in the narrative as a flashback. The plot revolves around James and Arthur as they journey to find someone given up for lost many years ago. On the way they grapple with society’s judgmental treatment of gay people, and some rocky aspects of their own relationship.

What do you plan to work on next?
Man, I have a to-do list! I need to finish Harvest of Ash, as well as a story I have on Wattpad that some of the students I work with are reading. I tell them if they get their homework done and pass their classes, I will write another chapter. I owe them a chapter right now! I’m also working with a filmmaker on a screen play about the Holocaust.

How can readers connect with you?
I have an author page on Facebook — Amelia Kibbie — Author and Freelance Writer. I tweet @AmeliaKibbie and Instagram as @hollycat83. I’d love it if you would visit my website ameliakibbie.com. You can find EVERYTHING there, including my blog “I Know What I Know.”

Exciting news! I just found out that Amelia’s story “Idylls of the King” is one of RWP Readers’ Choice Best for 2018*

Congratulations, Amelia, and congratulations on your upcoming novel! Thank you for joining me on my blog.

 

*Check back for more results soon!

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