Jennifer Gilbert – Author Q&A
HA! I’m still not sure it’s for me. The hardest job I’ve ever had in my life was writing this memoir. I started writing my thoughts down years ago when my son’s Alopecia had progressed and I was feeling so angry, vulnerable and out of control. The last time I felt like this was 20 years prior when my attack happened. I started writing in my journal to sort my feelings out because from experience I know people don’t know how to deal with someone else’s sorrow, they tend to ‘at least’ it away. Once I started writing and remembering and understanding what my lessons had been and how my life had been built on those years of heart ache and overcoming them, I thought O.K., I’m ready to share now, in fact, have to share what I have learned …in hopes it inspires others to share their feelings and help others with their grieving.
How would you describe your book?
I think it’s real, and honest and relatable. I believe it’s inspirational. Of course I hope it’s also highly entertaining, as I am an event planner with some wonky stories about my event planning career, but it’s the right combination of funny and thoughtful. Sometimes the light and the dark can go together in a book, and I think this strikes the right balance. It’s fast paced, an easy read and there is something in it for everyone. So, part novel, part self-help, part event planning tips, and a lot of heart bearing truthful life lessons. Can that be a category?
What was the hardest part of the writing process for you?
Editing out my own life. When it’s a novel or a movie I’m very brutal about unnecessary parts that don’t add anything. I think most movies should be 20 minutes shorter in general. But for me to pick parts of my own life that are more or less interesting or more or less crucial for my OWN story was very difficult. I had thousands of really funny stories and anecdotes, but they didn’t make sense for THIS book. Luckily I had a great editor.
What are your favorite genres to read?
I am an equal opportunity reader! I belong to 3 book clubs, one with an English Professor as a moderator, so I read all sorts of genres. But, my favorites are memoirs, (one I read years ago by Dani Shapiro changed my life) I love literature that is a bit dark and edgy, and historical fiction, meaning everything Jane Austen has ever written. But any book that can make me feel, laugh out loud or stay with me for months, I generally re read at some later point. I’m a hard cover book buying reader and they are like my friends, I need to have them around me and visit them.
What do you want readers to take away from your story?
That we have a choice in life. That while we cannot control WHAT happens to us in this life but we can control and decide who we want to be afterwards. This is very simple to say but the hardest paradigm to shift. That letting go, of the anger, the sadness, the resentments or expectations and just deciding to be different is really very simple when I understand that I was standing in my own way. That these are the ‘stories’ we have told ourselves for years, and we repeat every day from habit, but if we step out of that same grove and choose a different path, we can change everything.
What is the one thing that you want readers to know about you as an author?
That I’m terrified right now. That I feel like I am dangling from a fishing wire, naked over Times Square on New Year’s Eve. This is my very personal story that I have withheld from 99% of anybody I have met in 20 years and I never had an intention of sharing it. That I don’t know what to expect, and I really hope it helps people with their own stories. That I want to know if it did, I want to hear my readers stories as we all have our own story. Something has happened to everyone in our own unique way, whether its illness, divorce, losing a loved one, unemployment, or just feeling unworthy in our own bodies, we all carry something around. I set up an email address: email@example.com for that reason. Please- if you’re reading this and want to share your story- I would love to hear from you!
How important do you think social media is for authors these days?
I think it will be the way people communicate in the future, or that for that matter is here already. The access to information and the ability to find support or to find likeminded people is incredible. I can find the ‘sources’ that I trust and that helps me weed through all of the noise. I do it for my company-Save the Date as well as for myself personally. It’s getting a recommendation from a friend instead of going in cold to any subject. On the flip side, I fight it sometimes. I still like a phone call to a client or friend instead of an email or a Facebook message. I think it’s hard to really gage an expression or intention from a brief snapshot, but it is how life is going these days.
I get up at 7 am (I’ve NEVER been a morning person, hence why event planning suits me, I’m a night owl) prepare breakfast for me and my 3 kids. I always drop off someone at school, either my daughter who is in 1st grade, or my sons who are 4 at Pre-School, then head into my office. During my office day there is never a routine, I’m talking to vendors, meeting with clients, planning events, site inspections, managing my staff or writing on websites etc. I try to be home from 5:30 – 7:30, 4 out of 5 week nights to meet my husband then we have dinner with my children, bathe them, read and put them to bed. We try, if possible to make it a phone free,Blackberry free zone. After that 4 out of 5 nights I go back out. Each night is taken up by one of the following: date night dinner with my husband, events (that we plan or ones invited to), benefits or my book clubs etc. Get home by 11, then go back to work on the computer answering emails, troubleshooting, writing, updating social media, until about 1-2 am, then bed. It’s a full day. If I can, I get a work out class in from 8:30 – 9:30 am.
What would be your advice to aspiring writers?
I have so much respect for authors and for books that it was very intimidating to think I could be a writer. But I have a strong voice and something to say, so I thought, well, yes I can. That writing a book takes time, it’s really a full 2 year process. I had to be very focused, and carve out time to write. I locked myself away for at least 4 hours at a time for 2 days a week then sessions over the weekend to be disciplined and just focus. It’s a rough industry right now, and publishing is tough, so keep at it and don’t take things personally if you get feedback that is constructive criticism.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to start their own business? Or any fun/interesting stories that aren’t mentioned in your book?
I do, and in fact I used my very own advice for my book, but nearly too late! My business philosophy is if I need it and you need it and she needs it, there’s a business in it. But every great idea does not make for a great business. So do the prep-work, crunch the numbers, but most of all do your market research. I would never offer a new product or service for my event planning company Save the Date without polling my top 50 clients and making sure they would USE the product or service. If no one wants it, then there’s no business. When I was about to turn in my final draft to Harper Collins, I actually remembered my own business advice, but for this very personal endeavor. I asked the 12 women that have been in my book club for the last 7 years to be my focus group. I gave each of them a manuscript and we held an emergency book club, only this time for my book! They were honest and caring and critical, and they completely changed my book. They made me go deeper. It was the best thing I ever did during this entire process. They loved it too. I mean how many times do readers get to sit down and have their opinions and questions heard before the book is published? The same goes for business. We have gone from an award winning free referral service 20 years ago to a full consulting planning and marketing company with capabilities worldwide because we asked our clients the right questions, and provided the services they needed.
What advice would you give yourself ten years ago? Any words of wisdom?
Oh my goodness. I could fill a whole book with this question. The first thing I would do is go back to my younger self and I would hug her so tightly. I would hug her and look into her eyes and tell her to let it go, to stop spinning, to stop pushing the boulder uphill, to surrender the internal fight within her EVERYDAY. To believe it will all be O.K. and that she would find her power, and her love and her worthiness. That she will have this beautiful full life and that things may go up or down at times but that she already knows how to handle them, and that is her power. I would tell her not to be so scared of marriage and children and love, that her ride was about to start and throw up her hands and scream, to enjoy the ride.
So, what’s next?
Well, I will be the ask the expert on the Bed Bath & Beyond website. They are the largest bridal registry. I’m in a partnership with BBB giving wedding planning advice, fb chats, articles on their website. They are the experts in wedding registry and I have expertise in wedding planning. It’s a good fit. And I will working on a ‘what’s your goodie bag’ conference and day of experts and speakers etc for designed to really help and promote women.