Allison's Book Bag

Interview with Jennifer Fry

Posted on: December 14, 2012

This month I am featuring mostly new authors. Starting off that list is Jennifer Fry, author of A Part to Play. My email to her went straight to spam and so this interview almost never happened. I’m glad we finally established contact, because I think you’ll agree that she’s an interesting person!

JenniferLFry_AuthorPhotoALLISON: You balance a lot of professional commitments: graphic design business, teaching art, writing books. Imagine spending one day taking a break from professional commitments. What would that ideal day look like?

JENNIFER: I would take a day trip somewhere with my husband. We’ve been wanting to get down to Big Sur, maybe hike around in the redwoods, have a picnic lunch. Sometimes we just like to take scenic drives and talk or listen to music–not even have a real destination in mind. Eventually, we’d find a cool, unique spot to eat dinner, soak in the local ambiance, and just enjoy each others company. Any work discussions would be banned for the day. It would be all about being in the moment.

ALLISON: You have two dogs and a cat. What is your funniest pet story?

JENNIFER: It’s hard to choose just one! They make me laugh constantly, which is exactly why I have them in my life. They are pure joy, with a little mischief mixed in. Here’s a few standouts:

  • We came home one night to find both dogs on the front porch. Apparently, they escaped the yard, had doggie adventures that involved them being covered with mud and burrs, and then returned because they were hungry.
  • If I hold my kitty near my shoulder, she will crawl up onto my shoulders and ride around. Sounds really cute until she nearly loses her balance, then it’s nothing but cat claws in the back of my neck.
  • My younger dog, Bowie, is small and a super fast runner. Our older dog, Rory, is sort of bumbling. So sometimes Bowie will run in circles in the yard as fast as he can, and since Rory can’t keep up, she barks at him as he runs past.
  • Most of the time, the kitty doesn’t want much to do with the dogs, but one night Rory was sleeping on the floor on her side and kitty decided to rub all over Rory’s back paws. She rubbed her cheeks for probably five minutes and Rory didn’t even wake up!
  • Rory will sometimes pick up one of her stuffed toys and carry it around in hopes of instigating play with us or with her younger brother. Or maybe it’s just to be cute. Either way, it works!

ALLISON: After your first book was released, you celebrated by going out to a restaurant with your husband. What are some of your other favorite ways to treat yourself?

JENNIFER: Probably my most favorite non-food treat is a deep-tissue massage. I also love to relax by putting on my pajamas and getting cozy in a big warm blanket, then watching a feel good movie I’ve seen a million times or reading a great book.

ALLISON: How has your life changed since having a novel published?

JENNIFER: Not all that dramatically, really. I have less free time now because I devote so much time to book promotion and building my audience. I feel more pressure to keep writing now because there are people that want to read what I’ve written (which is awesome). And the coolest thing is how so many people I talk to think publishing a novel is a real accomplishment–it’s something I worked hard for and can never be taken away from me.

ALLISON: Your bio indicates you are a graphic artist and art teacher. What has been the biggest challenge for you as a graphic artist? How do you draw upon your own experiences as an artist to help art students?

JENNIFER: The biggest challenge as a designer is getting my clients to trust my artistic judgment. I hope they hire me because they like the work that I create, but often times I am told to make a specific change to a logo or website that I don’t think looks great visually. However, the reality is, when someone hires you, they are the boss. Thankfully, my experience as an art teacher is very different. I use my artistic training to help my students improve their own work, and although I make suggestions, I never require them to make a change that they are not ultimately happy with, even if I disagree with their choice. I want my students to own their artistic style.

ALLISON: How did your students react to your book? Has being a published author changed your relationship with your students?

JENNIFER: You know, I haven’t really heard from my students about my book. I was nervous about promoting it to them because it contains content that some parents may find objectionable, so that could potentially be really difficult. Most of my current students don’t even know that I am a published author, so it hasn’t changed my relationship with them. Maybe I should reach out more, but there’s a part of me that feels like the student/teacher relationship is student-centric, and as such, I don’t feel comfortable sharing personal details when I’m in my teacher persona.

ALLISON: In an interview, you stated, “All of my stories tended to have a darker element – my characters experienced the breadth of human tragedy.” What draws you to writing about tragedy? How did you draw upon tragedies in your own life to make Lucy a believable character?

JENNIFER: I’m drawn to tragedy because I write about my big unanswered questions: What if my sibling died? What if my parents couldn’t deal with that sibling’s death and basically left me on my own to deal with my grief? How would I handle losing my own child? I want to understand people better–why they do the things they do, and how do they get better when bad things happen, which they inevitably do?

Thankfully, I never experienced anything as tragic as the events in Lucy’s life, but I did use some personal experience around issues with my parents to help me frame Lucy’s hurt and anger about feeling abandoned. I actually admire Lucy–she has so much inner strength. She confronts people when it’s warranted and learns how to value herself and move forward even when everything she knows has crumbled.

ALLISON: Your main character Lucy Carter is shipped off to Edmond School for Performing Arts. What do you think are the benefits of the arts (literary, visual, or performing) for students?

JENNIFER: This is such a great and important question. In my opinion, art is a foundation of culture. I believe that the arts are a powerful force to foster creative problem-solving, critical thinking, keen observation, innovation, and all forms of communication skills.

ALLISON: Lucy is an actress and a musician, but you have a different background. What experiences or research did you draw upon to make these attributes realistic?

JENNIFER: I spent my junior and senior high school years participating in all aspects of theater, from set building, to light board operation to acting on stage. I may not have had the talent Lucy has for acting, but I certainly had enough experience to draw on for my book. In fact, a drama teacher friend of mine asked me if I had ever participated in theater, because she thought that I portrayed it so authentically. In terms of musical experience, I sang in choir in high school and college, and I played guitar with a beginners rock band. I used what I knew about music and also based some of my story on experiences from my musician friends and teachers.

ALLISON: What’s next?

JENNIFER: I’d like to write another book about Chris’s experiences after this story ends, because there is more to tell about him and his back story didn’t get much exposure in this book. After that, I don’t have anything concrete enough to share, but I am working with several ideas at the moment.

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