Welcome to the latest installment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.
Today I’m happy to have the chance to interview a writer, traveler, and canoe enthusiast who I’m very pleased to be sharing a Table of Contents with – author Jerri Jerreat.
As she notes on her website, Jerri writes both fiction and non-fiction. Her fiction has appeared in The New Quarterly, The Antigonish Review, The Dalhousie Review, Room, Canadian Storyteller and Fireweed. Her story “Camping with City Boy”, set in a greener future, is now available on Amazon in the anthology Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers from World Weaver Press (June 2018)! Jerri is an Ontario paddler who has lived in St. Catharines, Vancouver, Ottawa, Victoria, and in Tübingen, Germany. She now lives on an ancient limestone seabed with her family near Kingston, Ontario.
Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers
Solarpunk is a type of optimistic science fiction that imagines a future founded on renewable energies. The seventeen stories in this volume are not dull utopias—they grapple with real issues such as the future and ethics of our food sources, the connection between technology and nature, and the interpersonal conflicts that arise no matter how peaceful the world is. In these pages you’ll find a guerilla art installation in Milan, a murder mystery set in a weather manipulation facility, and a world where you are judged by the glow of your solar nanite implants. From an opal mine in Australia to the seed vault at Svalbard, from a wheat farm in Kansas to a crocodile ranch in Malaysia, these are stories of adaptation, ingenuity, and optimism for the future of our world and others. For readers who are tired of dystopias and apocalypses, these visions of a brighter future will be a breath of fresh air.
Jerri seems to have a knack for optimistic speculative fiction, because she’s also a fellow contributor to Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One). Which means, of course, that once again I’m Not Entirely Unbiased here.
[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Jerri! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?
(JJ) I felt, absolutely, that I had become a professional writer when I was nine years old, reading my rhyming couplets to each family member. They clapped and praised me, but I didn’t need outside validation; I knew my writing was brilliant.
To tell the truth, I haven’t felt that again. However, I love writing, and I work hard on my craft. As well, I have a soft rule that every time a story is rejected I read it over once, edit if needed, then I send it out within 48 hours. Having a lot of stories out there, searching for a market, makes me feel that I am, indeed, part of that doubtful shady business of writing.
What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a straight path toward your writing becoming frequently published? Hah. I began by studying journalism at Carleton University and envisioned a ladder tilted at 60 degrees toward a Nobel Prize. However, that first year only convinced me that journalism, for me, was killing the fun in writing. I switched to English and History. I read copiously, worked a variety of jobs, travelled across Canada, did volunteer work in West Bengal, canoed every summer. I absorbed. I lived.
One year I decided to Grow Up. I would become either a Writer or a Medical Doctor. When McMaster refused me, (a good story there), I packed up and went to Vancouver. Plunged full-time into Creative Writing courses. I learned a lot, and not just how to squeeze a fresh avocado onto a customer’s sandwich with sprouts, (hey, that was just crazy stuff, coming from Ontario). I improved my grammar, tried different styles and genres. I listened to criticism.
Later on, small children at home, I tried writing pieces about parenting. The first that sold fixed our chimney. The second bought me a wooden cabinet for all the children’s art and building equipment.
I began to teach writing, also slunk out for an hour here and there to write in a library. I grew wise: set aside my novels and focused on short stories. They’re hard! It is merely the peak of a mountain, with, instead of twenty chapters to lead up to it, only a few paragraphs.
Thus, zigzagging through life, writing whenever possible, was my only strategy.
And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?
I should have read short stories. Explored them. Written them. I would still take several writing courses with a variety of instructors at a college or university, and study a serious grammar book. Writing short stories is polishing my writing today. I am still working on a novel or two at any given time, but stories are where I learn everything. I’ve also noticed that some of the finest writers were poets first, so there’s something to mull over. They think in metaphors.
Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?
I love writing. Period. I steal time for it, which is far easier now that the wonderful kids have grown up. I have more modest expectations that I did at nine or twenty. Each story acceptance is delightful, but I realize now I’m in it for me, for the joy of writing, and for hoping to touch someone, to make them think, or feel.
I hadn’t expected the business side of researching markets, reading a wide variety of journals and magazines, etc. would take up as much time as it does. It’s fine though. I no longer bite my nails and worry about each darling story. I begin another story.
What are you working on now?
I heard a story while living in Tübingen of a zoo which burned down during the war. Farmers claimed to have seen a tiger or bear twenty years later. This has inspired a novel with copious research, and deep tendrils into my dream mind. I’ve broken it up and am rearranging the pieces in a more interesting way, learning more as I play with it. I also have a sci-fi novel mapped out across my wall and half written. These are fun projects to keep returning to.
Stories, though? I find a good place, a café or my back yard, and I write for an hour from a random image or word. It’s playing. Imagining. I do this a couple of times a week or more, and from that nebula, a new story sometimes emerges.
How can people keep up with you online?
My website is www.jerrijerreat.com . Email me through the site! I hope readers enjoy the stories!
Thank you to Jerri for the interview! I know that for my part, I always appreciate being reminded that I should refrain from biting my nails and worrying. “I begin another story.” That’s good advice.
Coming up next on the blog: A Breaking In interview with Nevertheless contributor Buzz Lanthier-Rogers!