So it’s been an embarrassing long time since my last installment of 5-9, but I’m happy to tell you, 5-9 is back! So look forward to more interviews from more writers in 2014!
Today’s guest: Julia Green. I met Julia at a library to discuss the nuances of English according to the College Ready Standards. We were both working at an academic company writing and editing curriculum. Since then Julia has moved away from the great city of Chicago to a warmer climate, but we still occasionally trade emails to debate SSF versus COU. For the record, WC 24-27.3 is my favorite to write. Before becoming a curriculum guru, an ACT & SAT tutor, and freelance writer, Julia was at Iowa Writer’s Workshop for fiction. She recently finished a novel that I’m looking forward to reading someday.
I asked Julia to participate in my survey of working writers and this is what she said:
I find that desperation is the greatest source of inspiration. If I haven’t written in a while, or if I find myself in a job or a place that bores me, I disappear into my work. Or if I’m short on time, I rush to work during what little free time I do have. Every night I look at my calendar and see when I can write the next day and then I do. Because if I don’t write enough, I turn into a monster. Writing is like breathing; when I don’t do it, it can be fatal (or homicidal, if you take into account my husband, who is at the whims of my days at the desk).
Tell us a little about your day job.
Day job? More like day jobs. “Freelance writer” is a phrase that some people consider with envy and optimism; five years out of grad school, I have cobbled together enough projects that most months I end up OK. The uncertainty of contract employment is both invigorating and terrifying. There are days when I think I should chuck it and get a full-time, salaried position, but I tend to wither under those circumstances. I’m at my most productive when I’m doing a million things. There’s a whole novel in all the random jobs I’ve had in the last ten years, which means for now I’ll keep that menagerie to myself. What I can say is learning when to say yes and when to say no is invaluable. I almost always say yes, and having made good friends and contacts along the way has been an incredible asset, but every once in a while something comes along that smells off, and you know to graciously decline. And yet even the crappiest jobs I’ve had have produced something valuable—a friendship, a character, a detail, etc. As an artist, it’s hard to win the moneymaking game—whatever you do will not pay enough nor give you enough time for your work, and yet you’ll nearly always say yes and hope for a different outcome.
Do you have a link to your work you’d like to share with our eager readers?
Unfortunately, I am next to nowhere on the internet; I recently completed a novel (presently seeking representation), which I would not have been able to do had I been immersed in social media and the like. I am the most boring person at the party to talk to because whatever thing you are discussing that you saw or read on the Internet, I can guarantee you I have never heard of, but this habit allows me to get a lot of work done. When I do look at the internet, I find it very dull. With the exception of cats. If I am having a particularly bad writing day, mere minutes of cat videos will soothe my soul and re-center me. It’s not as glamorous as having a drinking problem, but it’s a lot cheaper and safer. Now that I’ve established myself as a sanctimonious Luddite, I can say that if and when my book is preparing to go out into the world, I am committed to transforming myself into a hilarious, winning, responsive, admired Internet Voice. Just as soon as I find the book at the library that tells me how to do that.
So I just googled your name to see what I could find on you: turns out there are quite a few of you, some artists and writers, and even an elementary school with your name. The only You I could find was your tutor profile. It says you tutor math as well as English…how’d that come about?
There can be a tremendous beauty and satisfaction to tutoring math: there is always an answer. And I still feel the thrill I did as a 12 year old when I do a math problem correctly: “Huzzah! I know the answer!” We all need and love the shot of dopamine that accompanies ‘I got it right.’ There’s an elegance to math, to a clever problem and the process of unraveling it. Teaching math has made me a better person–it forces me to clearly analyze and ascertain all moving parts. You cannot fudge math the way you can fudge a scene ending or even a word choice. The numbers don’t lie, don’t allow you to lie to yourself and neither does the 16 year old kid across from you who needs a clear explanation. Part of writing is fighting to get to the truth. Math can be a relief that way–it’s easier to get to the truth with math. (And when it’s not, there’s usually a smarter person around who’ll explain it to you.)
While seeking representation, do you send out sections of your novel to literary magazines?
I don’t. When I was in grad school, I sent short stories to magazines, so I’m not averse to it, but it didn’t feel right for my novel. I learned a tremendous amount in graduate school, but I also came out a bit raw. To write this book, I wanted and needed to go to a very quiet and very private place — a place where there weren’t the voices and comments I received in grad school. So I kept it away from the world, which was truly the right decision for me. Now that my book is done, I doubt I will adapt it for submission in shorter parts to magazines. Now that I’ve written a novel, I look back and see I never was and never will be a short story writer–every story I conceive of is gaping and hardly containable. (My novel contains elements of just about every story I wrote in grad school.) I suppose I approach novels as I do human beings: none of them deserve to be reduced to or identified by their disparate parts. They are complex entities best swallowed whole.
Thanks Julia for sharing a snippet from your work and writing life. As with all past interviews, I feel rather inspired to get down to work. Good luck placing your novel!