Q&A With Jennifer Wright
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Q&A With Jennifer Wright
Today I have the honor of doing a Q&A with author, journalist and political editor at Harpers Bazaar Jennifer Wright. Jennifer’s novels are It Ended Badly: Thirteen of The Worst Breakups in History, Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them, Killer Fashions Poisonous Petticoats, Strangulating Scarves & Other Deadly Garments Throughout History, We Came First Relationship Advice From Women Who Have Been There, & coming out soon Madam Restsell. Her works have appeared in famous publications such as The New York Times, The New York Post, The Washington Post, The Observer & Salon. Jennifer has also appeared on tv Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen and Mysteries At the Museum.
Q: Jennifer, when in your life did you realize your calling was to become an author and a journalist?
A: I always loved books. Fairly early in school, by about 5th grade, teachers started praising me for being a talented writer. As a result, I wrote a lot more. I think that’s just because having any kind of identity at that age is really appealing. I was able to say, “Okay, I can’t play sports very well, but winning this English prize is something I can do.” If I actually became a talented writer, it’s because I was writing constantly in the hopes of cementing that identity. So, I often wonder what would have happened if, at ten, teachers had started telling me I was a brilliant artist, or actress.
Q: How do you juggle being both an author and a journalist?
A: Badly, these days! I used to love having a break from the big book project I was working on to focus on another shorter term project. Writing something about, say, Pete Davidson’s appeal, can be a really welcome break when you’re reading a lot of primary documents about 19th century medical school. However, that was before I had a toddler. Now when I am not writing a book, I am trying to pick up the noodles she has thrown on the floor. (Friends have asked whether I miss the break, but she is the break. I do hope she reaches a place where she does not drop so many noodles, though).
Q: What’s your advice to someone who wants to pursue a career in journalism? How does someone go about submitting a piece to famous publications such as The New York Times, The New York Post, The Washington Post, The Observer & Salon?
A: Just start submitting ideas. Pretty much any newspaper will have submission information on the website. Send an idea for an article appropriate for the publication – with two or three paragraphs describing what it’s about – to the website. Tell them you will write it. When I was an editor, I was always looking for interesting pitches, this is debatable, but, in my opinion, always asks for payment if they accept. Even if it’s very little and a tiny magazine or website, editors will take you more seriously if they’re paying you, and you will take yourself and your work more seriously if you know money is riding on it. Build up a portfolio of articles you’ve written, and share them on social media or a website. I started out writing for my local newspaper and small websites, and eventually started writing for bigger places once I made some more connections. It did take years before editors from larger publications started reaching out to me, and that was, believe me, a fantastic day.
Q: If you had to choose, out of all the books you wrote so far, which one is your favorite and why?
A: Madame Restell. I am passionately pro-choice, and getting to tell the story of one of America’s most famous – and now largely forgotten – abortionists was a huge privilege. It’s also filled with a lot of fun juicy gossip from 19th century New York, a city and a time period I love.
Q: What’s your advice to anyone wanting to become a great author? If you deal with writer’s block, what advice do you give to aspiring authors on how to deal with it?
A: I find that writer’s block disappears very quickly when faced with “having to pay the rent.” But personally, I also have a word count I try to hit every day. It used to be 1,000 words, now, post marriage and child, it’s 500. Some days writing is brutal and it takes me the whole day to finish it. Sometimes it whips by in an hour or two. Either way, once I hit it, I give myself permission to stop for the day (though hopefully, if it’s only been an hour, it’s going so well I want to write more).
Q: You’ve been on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen and on Mysteries At The Museum. What is it like being on television? Is Andy Cohen a gentleman like he seems to be on tv?
A: Andy Cohen is lovely! Everyone I’ve talked with has been very nice. It’s also their job to make people they’re speaking with comfortable and relaxed enough to talk on TV, which is an impressive skill. I actually enjoy TV appearances – it’s a really good way to promote books, and they often have tasty snacks for you when you wait.
Q: If you’re writing a new novel now, can you reveal any details?
A: I’m working on a new biography about the Gilded Age “fun-maker” Mamie Fish. She was known for some truly extravagant parties, and, I think, just as Madame Restell can help guide people through mores relating to abortion in the mid-19th century, Mamie can help serve as a focal point for an examination of Gilded Age glamor.
Q: What’s your advice to new authors on how to deal with negative critiques such as reviews, online trolls and family & friends who are unsupportive of their writing goals?
A: I mean, I still cry when I get particularly nasty 1 star reviews. I think all authors do. One of my favorite quotes regards Philip Roth meeting a young author at a dinner party. The young author asked him if it will be eventually easier to deal with criticism, saying, “my skin will get thicker, right?” Roth replied, “your skin will get thinner and thinner until they can hold you up and see the light right through you.” If anything criticism, for me, has gotten harder as I go along because I wonder not only whether I’m good enough but if I’m as good as I once was. I would say that in light of that, it’s a very good idea to find a group that can support your goals. Writers groups work well when they’re composed of friends who admire each other’s work and can rejoice in one another’s accomplishments. It is a good idea to make sure this is the case – if people are seething with jealousy every time a member of the group gets published, it’s not going to work very well.
Q: Does Hollywood have the rights to any of your work?
A: My agent is currently in the process of trying to adapt Madame Restell. I can’t say much about it yet, but I’m very hopeful!