Jen Violi is the author of Putting Makeup on Dead People, a BCCB Blue Ribbon Book, and founder of Jen Violi: The Business, with world headquarters in Portland, Oregon, USA. As a mentor, editor, and facilitator, Jen helps writers unleash the stories they’re meant to tell. Sign up here for her free monthly newsletter, brimming with writing ideas and resources.
Ahh, I still remember the day that Jen Violi handed me her business card. Jen Violi: The Business, it said. I laughed a big belly laugh, but really, if anyone has enough wisdom, character, and overall know-how to be a business, it’s Jen. So I asked her a few questions about her writing, her business, and her overall awesomeness…
I’m fascinated by the challenge of condensing a novel into a one-sentence summary. What is the one-sentence summary for your YA novel, Putting Makeup on Dead People?
PMODP is the story of how one girl learns to grieve and say goodbye, turn loss into a gift, and let herself be exceptional–at loving, applying lipstick to corpse, and finding life in the wake of death.
You describe what you do as developmental editing instead of copyediting. Can you talk about the difference?
When I started my business five years ago, I said yes to some copyediting requests and quickly realized I didn’t want to check for grammar or consistency of facts and language usage–some of the basics of copyediting. I’m so grateful for good copyeditors (for my own writing and reading pleasure), and I’m so grateful I don’t do that anymore. What lights my fire (and what I also happen to be good at) is considering what makes a story sing through the big picture in terms of themes, character development, pace, voice, and story structure, and then guiding writers accordingly.
I’ve learned that one of my gifts is seeing into the heart of things: what’s there, whether someone is conscious of it or not. I love those moments when I can say to a writer, “I saw THIS at the center of your story,” and they say “Yes, that’s exactly it!” Because the heart leads the way to everything that needs to happen next–deletions, additions, revisions, and polishing to a dazzle.
What are the most common things writers need help with? Where do people seem to get stuck?
Accountability is huge, which is something I also know firsthand. So many of us write to seek connection, so when we have no plan for anyone else to see what we’re writing, it’s hard to stay motivated. And deadlines (which are really lifelines). When you know you have to send something by X date to someone else and that someone else is going to read and respond, you get the gift of not only accountability and a deadline, but also connection and the reassurance that someone cares you’re writing.
How much time do you spend with your own writing versus helping other people with their writing versus frolicking in meadows and smelling the wildflowers? (The latter is something I always imagine you doing.)
I would say 90% frolicking and 10% divided equally between the other two.
Or maybe that’s what I wish was true.
In actuality, it’s been more like 10% frolicking, 50% other people’s writing, 30% my writing, and 10% angst-ing over how to shift this balance. 2014 has already been a big year for me in terms of shifting that balance and realizing how crucial it is to schedule retreat time into my calendar, both in terms of frolicking rejuvenation and making space for my own writing. I’ve been softening my edges, working at a more breathable pace, and shifting my dark undercurrent of “if you’re not suffering you’re doing it wrong” to a lighter streak of “what would it look like to do this with ease and joy?”
You write an inspirational blog, Story Water, and you are always tweeting (@JenVioli) writing prompts and uplifting advice. What do you think is important for a writer to hear on a semi-regular basis?
Most writers I know–including me–never get too much encouragement to play without restriction, affirmation that their voices matter, and reminders that they’re not doing it “wrong.”
Do you plan on writing any more novels — YA or otherwise?
I have actually written three more novels which would be categorized as YA, but they haven’t yet found a home. This spring, I had the big realization that although I love each of these books, for the last five years I’ve mostly been writing more YA novels because that’s what I’m supposed to be doing, what would be good for my career, etc, and finally stopped to ask myself, “What do you really want to write next?” And the answer right now is nonfiction, a book on the body, mine in particular. This is simultaneously terrifying and delightful. Terrifying because I’ve spent most of my life ashamed of, confused by, or ignoring my body, and it is uncharted territory to put that stuff on paper. Delightful because what a tremendous relief to listen to the drumbeat of my soul and write to that rhythm again, like I did with PMODP, a book I simply had to create.
You’re amazing. What’s your secret?
Unicorn Tear Gel Mask with cucumbers over my eyes every morning, regular conclaves with the sasquatch community, and the narwhal that lives in my bathtub and whispers secrets to me at every full moon.
Also, Eva, you are lovely. Thank you for saying that I’m amazing. The feeling is mutual. Although I don’t think it’s a secret, I find that I feel most amazing when I take time to see and name and give thanks for the amazingness around me, as well as when I let my freak flag fly, choose based on what brings me joy, and remember to breathe.