Meet the Writer: Jayne Martin

Meet the Writer is a feature for which I interview authors who identify as women. We talk less about a single book or work and more about where they’ve been and how their lives affect their writing. Today, please welcome Jayne Martin. You can learn more about her on Twitter, Facebook, and her website.

Grab the Lapels: What did you want to be when you grew up, and does this choice influence your writing today?

Jayne Martin: I was a devoted reader of the Nancy Drew books, so naturally I thought I’d grow up to be a detective like Nancy. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized it was the relationship between Nancy and her father, solving mysteries together, that really drew me to the books. My parents were divorced and I rarely saw my own father. As I grew into my teens I became obsessed with the glamorous life of “Millie the Model” comics and dreamed of running off to New York. Neither of these things influence my writing today, but I did become a model, which started my rather circuitous road to writing. 

GTL: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? Why did you start writing?

JM: My mother died when I was just 23, and in her belongings I found my report cards from elementary school that she’d kept. I was a terrible student. Hated school. Except for English, for which my teachers’ comments were things like “Jayne has a good understanding of character and story.” But nobody ever said anything to encourage me to do anything about it, and I never gave being a writer a thought. It wasn’t until my modeling took me to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career that I discovered I may have some ability in this writing thing. In acting class, we had to bring in scenes to perform. This was about the time when Sylvester Stallone was making his splash having written Rocky. I thought it must be easier to write scenes rather than spend long, boring hours in a library looking for them, so that’s what I did. To my amazement, the scenes were well-received by my acting peers who were, at that time, future stars like Dee Wallace, Carl Weathers, and Mark Harmon. Long story short, I began a long struggle to establish myself as a screenwriter of movies for television and that became my career for nearly 25 years. 

GTL: How have you developed creatively since then?

JM: My movie writing experience, more than anything, has influenced my writing today in the genre of flash fiction where, as in film scenes, you get into the story after it has begun, move it forward, and get out leaving the audience wanting more. My collection of flash fiction, Tender Cuts, features stories that are mostly between 100 and 200 words, with the shortest just 46, but each packs a powerful emotional experience for the reader. For those who would like to learn more about the craft, I’ve written an essay on the subject on the blog Flash Fiction Retreat.

GTL: What happens when you’re not happy with your writing? 

JM: I’ll go ride my horse, or read a book, work in the garden, or play with my dogs. I remind myself that nobody is forcing me to write, and the world is not ceasing to spin as it awaits my next story. We tend to take ourselves too seriously sometimes. It’s not unusual for me to go weeks without writing a thing until an idea bubbles up that I can’t resist. Those are the ones that are usually a joy to write. If you’re not experiencing joy in your writing, a reader is not going to experience it in the reading. 

GTL: Did you learn anything from writing your book, Tender Cuts?

JM: I learned that putting together a collection is like herding cats. Finding the right order for the stories took months, and it’s possible that it’s still not “right.” I knew I needed a spine on which to anchor the pieces, and that became the four “Julie-Sue” stories, “Tender Cuts,” “Making the Cut,” “Prime Cuts,” and “Final Cut,” which follow the life of a reluctant and exploited child beauty pageant queen from the age of seven until the final story told by her grown daughter after Julie-Sue’s death. Once I had those stories in place the shape of the book began to take form. But at one point, I’d thought of just tossing the pages in the air and putting them in whatever order they fell. Eventually, I settled on what I believed worked best and then hired two stellar flash fiction writers to edit for me. And then, you guessed it, ripped it apart and started all over again. 

GTL: Why do you think your book would be a good choice for a book club pick?

JM: Because each story leaves room for readers to have their own interpretation and experience of the piece, and everyone’s will differ. The opportunity for discussion and the comparison of opinions is endless. Flash fiction is a rising genre in the literary world. As more book clubs take note of its appeal, it’s only going to grow. I’m very excited for its future.

Interested in sharing your journey as a writer? Reach out via email: grabthelapels@gmail.com and get your story out there.

19 comments

    • Hey, Bill. As someone trained in both fiction writing and teaching, I would say that creating habits is really helpful, and that can be sitting at one’s desk each day at an assigned time. I do something similar with reading and blogging by setting page goals each day. I know lots of bloggers have stated that that seems like “work,” but I do believe that writing and reading ARE work. Just because it’s pleasurable doesn’t mean it’s not work, and just because it’s not pleasurable doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. When I read about bloggers who get into a writing or reading (or both) slump, I wonder if they have goals that they meet each day. I’ve been doing Grab the Lapels for six years without a single break of any kind. The longest between posts has been something like 9 days, when I was my very busiest during the academic year. I do know writers who have done some wacky things to continue the writing habit with the approach that they must sit at the writing desk every day. One lady would read a poem and then light a candle. One would get writer’s block but had a goal to write each day, and so she would open a blank document on her computer and write a description of her carpet (and did that for several days because she was so stuck). I firmly believe that a lot of writers are people who experience more anxiety and depression than is average (when I arrived at my MFA program one woman asked directly, “What meds are you on? We’re all on meds.”), so bringing some structure to their writing goals can be helpful.

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      • Thanks Melanie, that was a great answer – and it reminds of a post you did a few years ago about the work you have to put into commenting – on your own and other sites – to create a successful blog. I can generally knock out a post on demand as it were, but doing one where the writing is special seems to occur both infrequently and unpredictably.

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        • I think you’re referring to my “account-a-buddy.” We used to write every Sunday together, first in person and then over video chat when he moved away. But you’re right, maintaining a blog with high activity requires a lot of work, almost like a part-time job. I know some people comment on loads of posts, but unless they are interesting comments, the interaction is stopped abruptly. I don’t need people to reiterate to me what I wrote in my post, for instance.

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    • Hi, Liz. I no longer write movies, but doing so definitely influences my flash fiction. For one thing, my use of imagery is strong because I’m used to thinking in pictures. Also, movies are made up of hundreds of scenes where you enter after the action has started, need to move the story along, and then cut away before a conclusion and leave the viewer having had a strong emotional component. The microfiction in Tender Cuts is very much along that order. I hope you’ll give it a read.

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  1. Hello, Jayne! It’s interesting to read about your varied life experiences and how you became a writer. I agree that we tend to take ourselves too seriously sometimes.

    (Hi, Melanie! This is a great feature).

    Liked by 1 person

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