Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wednesday's giveaway: Jennifer Stewart Griffith and BIG IN JAPAN

I'm so excited to do today's giveaway, but before I dive in, I wanted to just say one little thing about how important it is to find the kind of people we want to be...and then be friends with them. Jennifer is my inspiration! She has an amazing ability to be, well, amazing, awe inspiring, hilarious, and a million other wonderful things I'd love to add. She makes my dreams seem possible.

Her new book, BIG IN JAPAN, is due to come out July 21, 2012, so she is graciously offering TWO gifts: a selection of Japanese candy now, and a signed copy of BIG IN JAPAN after its release! Two for the price of one entry! Awesome luckiness! (And I know of what I speak: I've eaten said treats before (so yummy!) and I've read the book: so funny, exciting, and romantic, it'll have you crying and laughing at the same time!)
Tell us about yourself: your name, what you write, what your home life is like, your Social security number...okay, maybe not that last one.
          I used to go by Jenny as a kid, then Jen. When I got married and picked up a Welsh last name the whole thing had a plethora of fffs and ths and picked up the full Jennifer Griffith ffth-sound. Now I’m thinking Jenny is nice again. Is this an identity crisis?
            At home, I’m The Mom. My husband works as a judge in our small town, and we have five kids from ages 14 down to 4. Day to day, it’s pretty noisy here. And kind of messy most of the time, I’ll be the first to admit. One time the Boy Scouts called me “The Maker of the Treats.” I need a t-shirt of that. It’s perfect.
            When I just can’t take the chaos, I retreat into my writer mode and think about sumo wrestlers and candy and paintings and beauty pageants and mythology--and write about them. I write for my sanity, and because it’s the one place where I’m only myself, my thoughts, my ideas, my creativity.
            When I first started writing, a friend’s mom (a lovely writer) asked, whether I wouldn’t like to try to write something of deep significance, something that mattered, something that would last. I double blinked. What? Why? No. I wanted to write something that would divert, something that entertained, helped a person escape the daily grind. Something that melted away sweetly, like cotton candy. My little motto about my writing is “Cotton Candy For The Soul.” Light, sweet, gone.
            I’m not out to write the Great American Novel. I’m not taking myself that seriously. However, I have a cousin who lives in Egypt, and during all that turmoil last February, she emailed me and said she’d been reading one of my novels (the chocolate one.) It was just what she needed to help her get through the time of being barricaded into her house while gunshots fired at the end of her street. Deep significance? Maybe not, but it is something, something we all need from time to time.

 How long have you had the "writing bug"?
            I started writing in third grade, keeping a journal every day. It’s not exciting reading because “Today was a good day,” appears on every single page of the entire year 1980—except one day in May. That day I wrote, “Today I fell off the stage, hit my head, and wet my pants and had to walk home alone.” Kid tragedy! But I learned young that writing can be cathartic. I’m one of those who writes because I must.
            After my first baby, I was home all day, and my husband was working full time and in school. He told me I should start that novel. And I did. And it ended up being published. Of course, I worked on it for six years. I’ve been writing ever since.

 How did the idea for "Big In Japan" strike? How did all the elements come together?
            My husband is my muse. One day we were sitting around, and I was telling him some of the quirky things that happened on my mission to Japan. I’d heard of an American who had come to Japan and was “getting huge” in order to join a sumo training stable. Gary said, “That would be a cool novel, an American guy who goes to Japan and becomes a sumo wrestler and falls in love.” That nugget started the story.
            It was fun to dig into my personal experiences in Japan (none of them sumo-related) and impose them on my characters. I wanted to take the reader of the manuscript on a little trip to the streets of Japan, to experience (if only a taste) of what it feels like to be there. It’s an amazing country, and the people and their culture are truly unique.
            You’d be surprised how little ready-information there is about sumo out there. I combed the internet for weeks and weeks trying to understand the sport, its traditions, its rules. There aren’t really even any books about it an English-speaker can read. Amassing the info was tricky, but as I dug, my eyes were really opened. I found it to be much more than we Westerners assume. It’s not just two big fat guys slapping flesh. It’s sheer strength! And the grace is astounding. Youtube videos of bouts were especially instructional.
            There’s also a darker side to sumo. At first I thought the book would be a simple, straightforward, humorous sports novel. The more I learned about sumo, the more I realized the other facets of the sport needed to be delved into, and I tried to do that while keeping the tone buoyant and throwing in some funny stuff.
How did you slip inside the psyche of Buck Cooper, a tall, overweight, blond loser of a guy, when you are a petite, brown-haired superwoman?
            Hahaha. That’s funny. At five-foot-one, I won’t be attempting sumo wrestling any time soon, that’s for sure.
            A while back I read a book by Dwight Swain, a master writing teacher. It was called Story People, and he gave some great advice about imbuing our characters with emotion. He said writers should mine their memories, and come up with touchstone experiences—guilt, shame, fear, jealousy, hatred, elation, and so on—from our own lives. Do our best to remember every nuance of those emotions. Write them out in very detail of the crushing feelings. (This is where a personal journal becomes solid gold.)
            His point was, we don’t have to have had the identical experience a story person has had, but we’ve all had experiences that produce similar emotions. We apply the feeling of our own emotion into the situation we’ve put our character into.
What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received? Why was it so important to you?

            Words on the page. Words on the page. You can always go back and edit, improve, as long as there are words on the page. Stop writing back and forth. Move it forward to the end and then go back and edit. If I didn’t hear this, I think I’d get mired in editing, perfecting paragraphs and sentences rather than getting the plot on the page.
 What types of books do you like to read?

            Classics-wise, I love Jane Austen (who doesn’t?) and several of those dramatic Brontës. My favorite author is Anthony Trollope, who is like Dickens but without the social commentary—a zillion details, five major subplots. I also read contemporary lit, cozy mysteries, legal thrillers, YA of all kinds, anything with crisp prose. Ooh! I love reading art history, too. And about gardens. And travel books. And celebrity biographies. My secret obsession is AutoWeek magazine. Tons more. Never-ending book love.

Here are her important places to follow:
Jennifer's blog: Cotton Candy 4 the Soul
Facebook: Jennifer Stewart Griffith
Twitter: @GriffithJen

 Let us know you've followed her in these places, and it will add another ticket with your name on it into the pot!

Thanks, Jennifer, for all your generous participation. I'm so jealous of the winner!


  1. I enjoyed learning more about Jennifer. You have a lot of great tips and I feel inspired to keep going on my own novel, even if it does take me six years, too. Thanks!

  2. I listen to the editor on my shoulder too much - during the creative process.

  3. @JoLyn--Keep writing! Six years for the first novel, but less for subsequent novels. You're priming the pump!

    @Janet--Amen to that: turn off that editor. It's tough, but we have to shut her/him up and get the words on the page. THEN turn that editor on full blast when it's time to edit. (Which is when I find I want to bask in the beauty of my words and NOT edit. So backwards! Boo!)

  4. I loved reading more about you Jennifer. I loved the advice about mining our emotions and getting our words on the page. I do struggle with the back and forth instead of moving forward.

  5. Thanks, Amber. That Dwight Swain book was really good. I've read it on several different occasions. He had lots of other great info, as well. Great teacher!

  6. I am so excited about your new book and can't wait to get it!!

  7. I've heard so much about this book and I'd love a copy to go with my collection of Jennifer's books. I wouldn't turn down a taste of sumo chocolate either. Put me down.
    Tina Scott

  8. Thanks, Naomi. I hope you let me know if I got the parts about Fukuoka right!

    Tina, you're the best. My kids were reading your coyote book today!

  9. I'm now following Jennifer on her blog. I can't wait to read the book. I love the tip about not being able to edit what you haven't written, it is what kept me going through NaNoWriMo back in November. Now on to editig...

  10. It's always fun to read your words, Jennifer. Can't wait for Big in Japan.

    Do I get bonus points for being a long time follower of your blog? ; )

  11. So excited for your novel Big In Japan! Way to go, Jennifer!

  12. My kids LOVE Pocky!
    I'm now follwing Jen on Twitter as @alocalwander.

  13. ahh! this is so great! i follow Jennifer on all these things! We're total best buds. ;) and suddenly i think i should read a little.. delicious conversations? yes yes. Super stoked for new book!



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