What books are on your nightstand?
Perfect Fools by John Saward, Black Bottom Saints by Alice Randall, Up North in Michigan by Jerry Dennis, and A Fine Canopy by Alison Swan.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Clinging to unnecessary words and lines. As Stephen King says, “Kill your darlings.”
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Laundry, cooking, cleaning, and driving my kid to and from basketball practice. I can’t wait until he gets his driver’s license. And then maybe I can figure out how to swing a maid.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
During the first months of the pandemic I couldn’t concentrate enough to read.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Sure, but I doubt their work would be interesting and worth reading. Readers want to feel something when they read a book. A lack of emotional energy will be conveyed in the narrative, the characters, and the writing will be flat.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I belong to a group of women poets and writers whose work I greatly admire. Taking in their comments, questions, and insights over the years has not only kept me humble, it’s sharpened my skills and helped me think even more critically about my writing. There is something powerful in being part of a community of writers where you are not only receiving, but giving feedback, and helping to shape, in some small way, other’s work as well.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I want each book—just like I want each poem or essay in one of my books—to stand on its own. However, that doesn’t keep readers from seeing connections between them.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
I don’t think it so much changed my writing process as much as it has made me recognize the collaborative aspect of the writing business. Working with publishers and editors is most definitely a partnership and with each of my published books, I’ve appreciated that back-and-forth experience.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
A few years back, I spent (my husband says, “wasted”) twenty-five dollars on a mannequin I named Gladys. She moved from a neighbor’s garage to our living room. As I started decoupaging her, she became quite the muse. Gladys, along with some of the poems she inspired, recently took a trip to the Lowell Art Gallery to be part of their WordView exhibit.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
This will probably sound cold, but I don’t like it when people or books waste my time. If I don’t engage with a book early on, I set it down and move on. While there might have been one or two authors in the bunch who could have grown on me, none have because I’ve abandoned them before our potential relationship could even bloom.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
When I was about seven, I painted some rocks and then walked down Creston Street to Mrs. McHugh’s house. She was always giving us kids in the Westnedge Hill neighborhood candy and I wanted to give her something. “Rocks for sale,” I told her when she appeared. I mistakenly thought that “for sale” meant “free.” She gave me a quarter and after that I knocked on a lot of doors. I made a slew of money that day, maybe three or four dollars, and realized that words matter.
When I returned home, I also learned that it is bad business to take money for rocks. My mother was quite upset and sent me back outside to return all the money. At that moment, Missy Martin came flying around the corner on her bike. As I couldn’t remember who gave me what, I just gave it all to Missy Martin. She took it, no questions asked.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
You not only have to have a thick shell, but you have to be steadfast and persevere to be a writer. So I would choose a turtle. I have always loved them. In fact, one of the first things I remember writing about involved turtles.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
“This family is a gold mine of stories,” my mother has told me throughout the years. I’m glad I finally listened to her and wrote Kissing the World Goodbye. So to my family members whom I unapologetically mined for this book, I owe them a copy of Kissing the World Goodbye.
Al Haley is the nonfiction editor of Concho River Review. When he accepted the essay which also is the title of the book, he said of my sister, “She may be one of the best things that could happen to a writer and you get to be sisters to boot!” He’s right, and my sister probably deserves two copies.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I have one unpublished 25,000-word manuscript that is geared to middle school readers who enjoy edgy fiction. While I have no half-finished books, I’m working on a poetry book about saints that is almost finished. I’ve also been chiseling away at another book but haven’t reached the half-way point with that one.
What does literary success look like to you?
Being able to write. Period. Krishna said something like, “You have a right to your labor, but not to the fruits of your labor.”
Okay, now that’s weird. Krishna ended up surprising me and slipping into my book (the “Butter Love” essay) and now he’s making an appearance in this interview! What is going on?
What’s the best way to market your books?
I’ll let you know once this book becomes a best-seller.
What did you edit out of this book?
Some swear words. My sister has quite a mouth on her.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
I’d be a hairstylist, funeral director, or a brick pointer.
Books by Jennifer Clark
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