Instructor Q&A with Jennifer Ziegler

1.  What are you reading right now?

I gave in to the fervor and am now reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I’m also reading a book that supposedly reveals how one can raise a teenager without ending up on the 10 o’clock news.

2.  When you’re not reading or writing, what do you like to do with your time?

I love to cook (and eat), do yoga (especially when I don’t fall down), listen to music (and dance around my house), go on walks (and get lost sometimes), and hang out with friends.

3.  What’s your favorite opening line of a book?

This is cliché, but I do adore the opening of Pride and Prejudice.  “It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”  It sets the perfect ironic tone for a witty, wise and timeless novel.

4.  What life lesson did your last book or project teach you?

My latest book, Sass & Serendipity, is told from the alternating points of view of two sisters. Balancing two protagonists was tricky. The sister’s dual perspectives often became dueling perspectives – especially with regard to their thoughts about each other. And the result was often a prolonged sense of dramatic irony.  Because readers are in the heads of both sisters, we can tell when one is being too hard on the other or making erroneous assumptions.

Writing this novel not only taught me about craft, but about life, too.  My protagonists reminded me that our viewpoints are exactly that – one view, from one window onto the world.  It is only through effective communication and sharing of ourselves that we can get a wider and clearer panorama.

5.  What word do you love? What word do you detest?

I love words like “bumfuzzle” and “hornswaggle.”  I detest words that don’t sound like their meaning.  “Nonplussed” confused me for years.

6.  What is a little known fact about yourself?

I am double jointed.

7.  How do you deal with the ups and downs of the publishing business?

I try to keep in mind that I write because I love it, not because I want to become a millionaire or scoop up awards.  If that doesn’t work, I drink some red wine.

8.  How do you balance writing with work and family?

Not well.  I’ve been writing full-time for fifteen years now, and I don’t think I’ve gotten better with the balancing act.  Routines work for a while and then get fudged.  Boundaries get flimsy.  Time and energy are always precious.  Every night when I go to bed I feel guilty about something.  Either I feel I should have had more quality one-on-one time with the kids or have been more productive writing-wise.  Just once I’d like to drift off feeling that I’d spent my day perfectly.

While the juggling hasn’t gotten easier, I do think I’ve come around to a level of acceptance.  Neither family nor writing will ever be easy – nor should they be.  The things that are inherently difficult and risky are also the most rewarding in life.  All we can do is our best.

9.  What is your writing routine and where do you write?

I write all over the place.  I do have a home office and that is where I work most of the time.  However, I also write in coffeehouses, libraries, friends’ houses, outside under a shady tree, or even my car as I wait outside my kids’ schools.

10.  Do you outline or just start writing?

I outline!  I’m always surprised at how many people skip this step because I find it incredibly helpful.  However, before I outline I usually write a scene or two in order to find the tone of the story, play with the characters, and figure out the pacing and point of view.

11.  Do you have trusted readers you turn to as you write, and if so, who and what stage?

Yes, I have a fantastic critique group.  I often share at the outline/concept stage – especially if I sense that there is something amiss with my vision but I’m not sure what it is.  I later share when I have a completed draft.

12.  When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing.  I come from a family of natural-born storytellers so I learned narrative form even as I learned to talk.  I was always making up adventure tales and telling them to my younger sister at night when we were supposed to be sleeping.  At some point (probably when there was no one around who would listen to me) I picked up pencil and paper and started writing down my stories.  It felt natural.  It felt right.

Cyndi’s Fast Five


1. What are three things in your office/writing space that would surprise someone who popped in?

A Jane Austen action figure, a stash of chocolate-covered almonds, and a framed thank-you letter from J.J. Abrams.

2. What book first influenced you as a child?

The Beezus and Ramona books first made me realize that stories could be about things that happen to me and my family every day.  I adored Beverly Cleary’s characters and felt as if they were part of my own neighborhood.  Thus began a lifelong love of contemporary realistic fiction.


3. What time of day do you write?

Whenever my children are asleep or out of the house.


4. If you could have a beer or coffee with a writer living or dead, who would it be and why?

Judy Blume.  Her books meant so much to me while I was growing up.  It would be nice to tell her that in person and get to know her a little — and maybe steal her mojo when she isn’t looking.

5. Beer or coffee?

Coffee turned a light beige by half and half with a quarter-teaspoon of sugar stirred in. Multiplied by three.

Jennifer Ziegler is an Austin-based author who has written over twenty novels for such publishers as Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin Putnam. Her YA novel How Not to Be Popular was a pick for the 2009 Lone Star Reading List and made the 2010 International Reading Association’s Young Adults’ Choice List. Her newest book, Sass & Serendipity, will be featured at the upcoming Texas Book Festival.

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