For the third entry in my Writers and Bloggers interview series, I interviewed Michelle Jayne, who runs the fascinating and thought-provoking blog The Green Study. From the e-mail conversations Michelle and I had over the past few weeks, I got the lasting and distinct impression that Michelle is someone who still seeks to improve herself and her station in life, in big ways and small ways. I was struck by her thoughtful, detailed answers to my questions; clearly, Michelle is someone very much in tune with herself and her surroundings, but that’s not enough. Some people would be content with their place in life, but not Michelle. She’s all about giving herself challenges, and seeing those challenges met and accomplished.
I’ll let Michelle’s About page describe more about her:
I’m Michelle, a midwestern, middle-aged, middle manager of average height and IQ. I’m ex-Army, ex-Republican, ex-Seventh Day Adventist, ex-smoker and an ex-girlfriend several times over, with an obsolete college degree.
I’m happily a wife and a parent now and I’m surrounded by wonderful, inspiring people that make me feel better than average.
I started a blog to force myself out into the open, to make a commitment, to learn how to take criticism and most of all, to stop being comfortable. Mission accomplished.
I chose The Green Study as my blog name because the very complicated or suggestive or vulgar names were all taken. I work in a study that is painted green. It is the hub of my home. It’s where broken toys go to die….I mean, get fixed. It’s where I snuggle with my child, discuss politics with my husband and wrestle my cats to the ground to trim their front claws. It’s where bills are promptly lost and art projects lay in disarray. It is my world, which I am now exposing to the general public. I might need to dust a bit.
And now, the interview:
I was struck by this quote in your About Me section: “I’m Michelle, a midwestern, middle-aged, middle manager of average height and IQ. I’m ex-Army, ex-Republican, ex-Seventh Day Adventist, ex-smoker and an ex-girlfriend several times over, with an obsolete college degree.” Sounds like you’ve had an interesting background. How has your life experiences formed your writing?
My experiences have fed my curiosity about everything in the world, but mostly about people. If I, this bland, suburban mom from all outward appearances, have this quirky and varied background, I can’t look at someone else and draw easy conclusions. People continually surprise me and that informs the characters I write – it keeps me away from stereotypes and keeps me from viewing everything in black and white terms.
I’m still curious, though, about the whole “ex-Republican, ex-Seventh Day Adventist” declaration? How did this come about? What changes took place in your life to lead you to no longer be neither a Republican nor a Seventh Day Adventist?
I grew up in a Republican family – everything was black and white, wrong or right, which also fit in well with being raised in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. It’s easy, when you’re young, to be full of righteous indignation. You haven’t had time to really mess up. You haven’t had time to meet other people with different perspectives and issues. I lost my religious and political leanings in college when education intersected with my life experience. Once you begin to see the complexity of life, the gray areas, it’s hard to be a staunch supporter of any one side.
I began to see religion differently after one specific class on Far Eastern History. The government and rulers of territories would often change the names and roles of their gods, depending on political needs and social expediency. I realized that religion was designed to serve a specific role in society and was entirely a manmade construct. I’d never been comfortable with the patriarchal aspect of most religions, so pieces fell into place for me. Whatever I believed in, it would have little to do with a religious institution.
Your blog seems to cover a lot of bases, unlike most blogs which tend to focus on one particular area. What do you hope your blog will achieve, both for yourself, and for your blog’s readers?
One of my favorite things is to take disparate, unrelated subjects or ideas and tie them together. I see connections and ideas that parallel or mirror each other, so I have given myself the freedom to write what strikes me in the moment. The result is that I “meet” readers from all walks of life and it makes the conversation so much more interesting. I started a blog to get over the fear of having people read what I write and it has turned into this lovely community. That being said, the pitfall is that I can get a little too comfortable and smug in my own writing when so much feedback is positive. Fiction writing challenges me more.
When you started writing your blog, was it your intention to take disparate subjects and weave them together? Or was this something that came about organically?
My blog is definitely an organic process and that’s really been the joy of writing it with no criteria – being able to see what emerges. It has served the very important purpose of helping me find my voice.
You ran a blog series called The Revolution of One, in which you talked about pursuing volunteering work. How did this revolution come to mind for you? What are some of the steps you’ve taken to get this revolution off the ground? What’s been the most successful part of this for you? Least successful?
I often write on subjects that I’m trying to work out for myself. I’d love to say that I’m altruistic by nature, but, like most humans, I tend to take care of and gravitate toward my own needs. I don’t want my world to be small and I want my daughter to understand that it is our responsibility to help the community at large. That being said, I am a firm believer that you have to take care of your own backyard first, so I’m not going to be crazy selfless to the detriment of my family and my other commitments.
I decided to take one subject that I care about each month and focus on what small steps I could integrate into my life to help make a difference. This month my focus was on children. I do volunteer work on a weekly basis at my daughter’s school, but I also wanted to understand the facts about critical issues facing children in our society today, writing to my state and federal congressional representatives regarding my concerns. That was an overwhelming task which I have to do in bite sizes – there’s so many legislative issues affecting children right now. I planned to cook most meals at home to save money and use that money to donate to the local food shelf, where 50% of the visitors are children. So far, I’ve managed to accomplish that. The last part was to sponsor a child abroad with my daughter, so that it could also be an invaluable teaching experience for her. The Revolution of One is figuring out what I could do, with the resources I have on hand. The hard part was thinking through a plan – once I figured out manageable, concrete actions, it was fairly easy to implement.
You wrote your novel, Phoenix Rock, during NaNoWriMo. Was this your first attempt to write a novel during NaNoWriMo? What was the most rewarding thing for you about NaNoWriMo? The least rewarding, or intimidating?
This was my second attempt at a novel. The first required so much historical research that I gave myself plenty of excuses to not finish it. NaNo helped me push beyond excuses and the editor in my head was effectively silenced, as I worked to meet the word count. This is a good thing in terms of producing work, but not so great in terms of quality. But the biggest reward was that I have material to work with now. I’ll be doing it again this year for the same reasons.
How’s the novel coming along so far?
Mostly it sits forlornly on my desk. I’ve tried returning to it numerous times, but I know the tremendous amount of work it will require. I had to put myself on a strict schedule for the next couple of months, getting through re-writes of 2-3 chapters a week. I’ve heard that many a NaNo novel is put away, never to see the light of day again. I’m starting my writing career pretty late (at 45) and don’t really have time to ignore random novels sitting about, so I’d like to get through full editing process on this one.
What was the writing process for Phoenix Rock like for you during NaNoWriMo? Did you plot or outline like 95% of all NaNers seemed to do (myself included), or did you just wing it?
I tried to make myself write an outline, but couldn’t manage it, so I did wing it. I’m okay with that – my story mutated and became something better than what I could have outlined. It made it a much more enjoyable process. I’m always amazed at people who have the whole thing mapped out and pictured in their heads. Is it as exciting for them? Is it like reading a long synopsis of a movie before seeing it? Or is it like seeing a Shakespeare play – you know the story, but the acting and the stage scenery make it good or bad?
PS – did you know March is National Novel Editing Month? Does knowing that give you the incentive or motivation to edit and finish your work-in-progress?
I didn’t know that – I’ll have to check it out. I’m starting now, since my goal was to be done with the initial re-writes by the end of March. My novel needs a lot of work!
Regarding you winging it, I think sometimes you gotta wing it when you’re writing. When you decided to write your novel, did you have an idea in mind of what you wanted the novel to be about? What did you discover about the plot or your characters that you didn’t know before you started writing?
I wanted to write a story that showed the ripple effect of alcoholism and family dysfunction. Visually, I saw it as the ripples that continued to emanate from a single point of origin. I also wanted to focus on a character who was essentially saved by moments – moments of kindness from others, moments of silence, moments of solitude, moments of anger. The idea of a rescue or epiphany is too easy for a complicated story. While I created a layered story, I hit a critical point where I had to make something drastic happen and that event worked like a kaleidoscope, to completely shift the perspective of the story. It really turned into a tragic story and I don’t know if it will be the redemptive story I’d hoped for once the re-writes are done. It was a little unsettling that it turned into such a dark tale.
You mentioned coming into writing late into life. A lot of writers have gotten their writing careers off the ground in the later years of their lives. Where do you see your writing career heading to? More novel writing? Focusing on your blog? Any other projects or collaborations?
I have some big ideas, but am trying to keep myself grounded in reality. I want to finish this novel, continue writing for the blog and I am hoping to start up a serialized fiction blog by April. I’d like to try interactive fiction to really get my skills honed and just for the fun of it. I got the idea from an interview I heard with Margaret Atwood, who is starting to publish paid serialized fiction. I’m not in her league by a long shot, but I find the Dickensian idea of writing fictional serials, where readers have input into the storyline and characters, very intriguing. I hope that it will be akin to creating my own writer’s workshop.
I have a financial goal of getting paid for one piece of writing this year and a personal goal of collecting a huge file of rejection letters (to indicate that I’m doing SOMETHING). The other benefit to blogging is that I’m meeting all kinds of writers and there is potential for joint projects. I’m ignoring all the doom and gloom I’ve heard about publishing, the demise of print and the fiction versus nonfiction argument. Sometimes you just have to put the blinders on and barrel through. I’m pretty optimistic about writing in general – I’m just so damned happy to finally be doing it.
Last question. When you and I first began talking, you mentioned you liked to curse up a blue streak. To borrow from James Lipton, what’s your favorite curse word?
The key word here is “streak”, meaning multiple words. I can’t make claim to a favorite, but I like the “D” words while driving – dipshit, dumbass, and douchebag. For a woman, I am weirdly drawn towards dick-centric cussing – wanker, jerkwad, jerkoff, peckerhead. I use fuck only in the company of friends and I avoid bitch and cunt, since I am a feminist. Also, I don’t use motherfucker – that’s too Shakespearean. I do religious swearing (goddamnit and Jesus H. Christ), which my Lutheran husband frowns upon, since it means that I will be going to hell multiple times.