Member Interview: Jennifer Ziegler

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Today we welcome Jennifer Ziegler, a talented writer and just about the sweetest person you ever did meet. She shares with us a little about her past (Alaska!), childhood stories (cat spy!) and current-day life as a successful writer. I won't give it all away, but chocolate, a little song and dance, and a good pair of shoes are involved. Welcome, Jennifer, we're so glad you're here.

Where did you grow up, and did that place (or those places) shape your work? If so, how?

I was born in Temple, Texas, and then my family moved to Alaska soon after. When I was 7, we moved back to Texas, to the Austin area. Other than a one-year stay in Europe during college, I’ve lived here ever since.

LadyBird LakeI think people can’t help but be products of the places they grew up in – or lived for a long time in – and Central Texas has definitely molded me. Texans love stories and are adept at telling them (tall tales or the more accurate variety), so I adore a good anecdote and tend to use these stories-within-stories in my own writing. Texas also breeds interesting characters. Austin is a melting pot of hippie meets cowboy meets rock-n’-roller meets high tech and more, and I pull from that eclectic mix of backgrounds and beliefs for my novels. Also, themes of neighborliness, individuality, and authenticity are predominant here and make their way into my books – along with, perhaps, a little of that Texas swagger.

Did you always want to be a writer, or did that come later?

I can’t remember not wanting to be a writer. I come from a family of natural-born storytellers so I learned narrative form even as I learned to talk. My little sister and I shared a room, and at night I would tell her stories when we were supposed to be going to sleep. There was a regularly requested one about a baby who became a rock star and one about a cat who was a spy. At some point — probably when there was no one around who would listen to me — I picked up pencil and paper and started writing down my stories. All through middle school and high school I filled cheap spiral notebooks with thoughts, stories, doodles, and poems. I didn’t consider a career in storytelling or writing until much later. At first I just thought of it as having fun.

Spoiled ErnieIf someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?

Lots of coffee drinking, typing, pacing around, muttering, fidgeting, and singing out loud (Warning: I don’t let a lack of talent or not knowing the lyrics stop me from singing and dancing – much to the chagrin of our kids). There would also be breaks when I snack on nuts or chocolate or bits of cheese, read a few pages in a book, or do a Sudoku puzzle. Also, this stalker-someone should probably wear good shoes since I take lots of walks, usually with my Jack Russell Terrier mix, Ernie. It’s the best way to clear the fog in my head or work out a problem I’m having – either writing-related or personal.

How does your everyday life feed your work?

In so many ways that I can’t adequately relate here. I think writers have to keep themselves open. Eyes wide, mind receptive to new ideas, heart unshielded. In this state absolutely everything you experience becomes fodder for stories. Real people plant character voices in my head, my emotions affect the tone of my work, and the big-picture issues I face in life end up as themes in my books. (Sometimes I realize this after I’m done with the writing.)

ChrisJennyBut it’s the community of fellow creatives that have the biggest impact. They help keep me going when things get tough – and things get tough on a regular basis. Writing is solitary, but being a writer isn’t. I’m so lucky to be part of a vibrant and loving tribe of authors and artists. I’m also lucky to be married to a brilliant and generous (not to mention adorable) writer. Whenever I need to refocus, seek advice, commiserate, or celebrate, I can look across the breakfast table or call any number of wonderful folks. This is truly the key to continuing as an author – emotional support. Those who don’t have it are probably more likely to give up and those poor stories will never be shared with the world. I know I won’t succeed in every endeavor, but thanks to the encouragement around me, I’ll never stop trying.

Tell us about some of your accomplishments that make you proud (work and/or otherwise).

Of all my creations, I’m proudest of my kids. They are kind-hearted, so interested in life, and hilarious! I learn a lot from them. Seeing the world through their eyes helps me be a better writer — and a better person.

HowNotToBePopularWork-wise, the things that honor and delight me the most are when my books motivate people to make something of their own. I’ve had readers create drawings, paintings and videos based on my novels, or be inspired to make up their own stories. I’ve also been contacted by people wanting to make movies out of my books, which is thrilling. At present there is a super-talented duo adapting HOW NOT TO BE POPULAR into a stage musical. I had the honor of attending one of their early productions and the experience was magical. I felt like I was meeting my characters! And the songs were so moving, so catchy and fun. I was very impressed — and touched.

What surprises you about the creative life?

How exhausting it is. It might not look like hard work (sitting, typing, mumbling), and it seems like you’re creating something out of nothing. But what you are actually doing is mining yourself for the raw materials. Writing means pulling things out of your depths — from your experience, beliefs, and imagination. This can leave you mentally and emotionally drained, but it’s worth it. And the triumphs are more thrilling than I’d imagined. Even simple accomplishments like typing “The End” when you finish a draft or hitting Send when you mail off your manuscript to your editor. You also never stop learning, which I love. Writers will never know all there is to know or master all that can be mastered. Even the most highly acclaimed, accomplished authors would probably say that they feel they have a lot to learn.

Your work is like a gift for your readers. When they open it, what do you hope they find?

A laugh. A gasp. A smile. And perhaps inspiration to create something of their own.

Revenge-of-the-Angels-CoverBio: Jennifer Ziegler is a writer of contemporary, realistic, somewhat goofy YA and MG – with an occasional OMG. Her titles include REVENGE OF THE ANGELS (Scholastic, 2015), REVENGE OF THE FLOWER GIRLS (Scholastic, 2014), SASS & SERENDIPITY (Random House, 2011), and HOW NOT TO BE POPULAR (Random House 2008). Other details about Jennifer: She is approximately 45% Jane Austen and 55% cartoon. She is good at making salsa, daydreaming, and the occasional pun. She is bad at remembering names, numbers, and song lyrics. She requires sunshine, coffee, and the occasional bite of dark chocolate. And her favorite author in the whole world is Chris Barton. Find her at jenniferziegler.net.