Seeking Home: One Writer’s Journey

“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” – C. S. Lewis

Jessica Evans Writing

Jessica Evans Writing

Cincinnati native, Jessica Evans and I share a few things in common that stretch beyond a love of words. Yes, we both have MFAs in writing from Spalding University, and we both write poetry, as well as fiction. Yet early on, it seems, Jessica began to examine the ways in which “life is impacted by socioeconomic status.” She was standing at a particular place of experience, and she chose to look, to notice, to see things others may have overlooked . . . to consider and try to perceive life for those standing in a different place of experience.

This aspect of her character, this reflection of the sort of person she is, and as a result the sort of writer she is, resonated with me as I am compelled to explore other views, to write about those who are different, misfits, those who live on the periphery, those who have lived lives I can only try to imagine, yet with whom I have much in common. I love exploring what life might be like for these people. Another deep connection I have with Jessica.

That is why I asked her to be a guest blogger on Write Side Up. The post, which is in interview form, appears below. I hope you’ll spend a little time with Jessica here and then explore her website and her work. Her latest book, the novel Hippie Mafia, is set in her hometown of Cincinnati and “examines humanity through an unconventional lens.”

In my humble opinion, those lenses often offer the clearest vision.
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Hope, The Stuff of Dreams

“Hope is the thing with feathers –
that perches in the soul –
and sings the tunes without the words –
and never stops at all.” – Emily Dickinson

Those lines form one of my favorite stanzas by Dickinson or anyone really, not for the meter, the rhythm or the rhyme, not for the way the thought is said at all, but for the thought itself, the meaning behind the words.

I’ve been a positive person as long as I can remember. Spending most days with a smile that comes from an appreciation that’s difficult to describe. I’m a genuinely happy guy.

I joke sometimes and say I’ve had an octogenarian’s outlook on each new day ever since I was thirteen and nearly died. But it’s not really a joke. I spent each day over the next four years (my entire time in high school) absolutely terrified that my time had run out, and every night when I went to bed I was palpably afraid that would be the end, which is also why I greeted each new day profoundly thankful for another chance.

I’ve been praised for my outlook, and thanked by those around me who have drawn on my positive energy, and ridiculed by some of the latter as well.

“People who smile all the time,” I’ve been told, “are just putting on a face for others, hiding the pain and the frustrations of life.” Well, I suppose if one pretends there is no pain and that there are no frustrations, then that might be true. Except, I’ve found that choosing to acknowledge the pain and frustration to myself, assessing what things I can change and what things just are the way they are, and then approaching the moment with an attitude of hope, that is the reason I tend to smile.

And, most days, most of the time, no one else needs to be made aware of my pain or my frustrations.

Anyone who truly knows me also understands, that’s part of the reason I write. I see the darkness. I feel it emphatically. I am a very empathetic person, too much so, perhaps. And I’m also a very sensitive person when it comes to the struggles of others.

Read one thing I’ve written and you’ll get it. I focus on the shadows, the storms, the unpleasantness of the human condition in nearly every poem, in every single piece of prose. But, I do so from the perspective of hope.

I’m that way in my relationships, that way with my work, and also with my dreams though I did put those on hold for a long time. I believe that hope is an essential ingredient when it comes to making dreams a reality.
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Family, Friends, and Our Stories: Continued

famsmallIn the beginning, FAMILY is pretty much all we know.

While we’re infants, they’re perceived as an extension of us (in regards, mostly, to how they meet or neglect our basic, inherent needs).

Most of the early truths and discoveries we make are learned through our experiences with family. Our values, our beliefs and attitudes, are influenced by them (as we grow to accept or to resist theirs).

As we age, as we approach and then navigate the muddy waters of adolescence, our FRIENDS assume a much larger role in shaping us (or at least in influencing how we shape ourselves) into the people we’ll become.

All of this may be true. All of it may, and does, and will influence our stories.

But, as Willa Cather stated: “most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.” I can say that most of my personal stories, most of the memories I draw upon when I write, are from that time in my life. They’re related to experiences I had with my family, and adventures I had with my friends back then.

A few of them, in particular, have in some way influenced the novels I’ve been working on recently, but not in the ways you might think. Not for the events themselves, in most cases, but for something more.

Here are a few specific events I recall from when I was between six and nine years old:

The Great Carpet Incident
Broken Bones & Concussed Noggins
Shattered: Or Wrong Place, Wrong Time, Wrong Body
The Land of Up & So Much Falling
Climbing the Walls
Rooftops & Hurricanes

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Family, Friends, and Our Stories

Lafayette Wattles & His Little Sister“Other things may change, but we start and end with family.”

What is family? For some, it is the heart, the marrow, the soul. For others, the dragon, the demon, the darkness. If we’re lucky, family is a light that guides us toward our own light, the one inside us.

I’m one of the lucky.

I don’t feel guilty for that, but I AM hyper-aware that not all families are created equal, and that when it comes to family I struck the mother-lode (and father-lode and sister-lode, so to speak).

I don’t come from money. My parents didn’t go to college. They got jobs after high school (before and after the Army for my dad, before and after my sister and I were both school age for my mom) and they spent their entire adult lives working extremely hard.

I was lucky because my grandparents never felt entitled. My parents never felt entitled. My sister and I never had a reason to feel entitled.

We did, however, feel happy! And loved!
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What is Stuart Gibbs Writing For?

Stuart Gibbs“It is never too late to be who you might have been.” George Eliot

I admit it. I’m flat out and unabashedly envious of those writers who’ve always known this was their calling. Those people who’ve had a lifelong love affair not just with books and with words, but with storytelling.

Back in May, I first encountered the fun middle-grade novel Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs which follows twelve-year-old protagonist Teddy Fitzroy as he sets out to uncover who’s behind the mysterious death of FunJungle theme park mascot Henry the Hippo. Since then, I’ve added another novel by Gibbs, Spy School, to my queue of must read books for this summer.

When I consider that what I most enjoyed about Belly Up was the playfulness of Gibbs’ storytelling (a delightful lighthearted combination of adventure and humor), I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that he was one of those childhood scribes I mentioned above, the sort who’ve been concocting stories most of their lives. 



Gibbs is the first of several writers I admire whom I’ve asked to write a brief guest post for Write Side Up based on the question, What Are You Writing For?

A Guest Post by Stuart Gibbs

What am I writing for?

I am writing because I love it. I have loved writing for as long as I can remember. That’s not hyperboleThat’s what I did in my spare time when I was a child. I wrote. I still have folders full of stories I wrote back then. (That comment prompted the question: what did you write?)

I wrote all sorts of things, though I guess the common theme was that they tended to be about animals, rather than people. Among the things in my ‘archives,’ I have a story about dinosaurs coming back to life and showing up in a small town, and a whole book about a dog and a cat who were friends. (I actually tried to get the book published when I was in first grade. My first grade teacher helped me send it in to a publisher. I actually recall getting my first rejection letter quite clearly.)

I’m not sure exactly when I did the writing, but I probably did a lot of it in school. I seem to recall having a lot of teachers who were very supportive of me writing stories. (After all, it’s a very quiet activity.)

Possibly the best experience was that one school put one of my stories — the one about the dinosaurs — in the school library, which meant other kids could check it out and read it. It was a really wonderful, supportive thing of my school to do and it was very encouraging to a young writer.

It’s little wonder, I suppose, that Gibbs adds:

I always wanted to be an author.

I used to go into the bookstore or the library and find the spot on the bookshelves where my books would be, if they existed. So now, the thrill of seeing my books in a bookstore or library is indescribable. And it never gets old.

However, there is now another reason I write, something I could never have imagined back when I was a child. I have children of my own. I didn’t really set out to write middle grade fiction; that’s just how things worked out. But now, the fact that I am writing books that my children can read — or that I can read with them — is truly wonderful.

As rewarding as it is to write because that’s what’s in you, because that IS YOU being “the person you might have been,” I imagine experiencing your stories through the eyes of the people who matter most in your life must be incomparable.

I’m glad that Stuart Gibbs is getting such a chance. For selfish reasons, I’m also glad he didn’t let that early rejection stop him from doing the thing he’s always wanted to do. After all, I for one enjoy a good story and look forward to what Gibbs does next.