We first came across Jane Devin’s (@janedevin) work as a result of a Twitter post. Jane is a talented writer who walks the fine line of taking you on a ride with a story full of harsh realities, yet capturing your attention so thoroughly that you keep reading to see where the ride ends.
Jane traveled the US extensively, blogging about it at Finding My America. She recently completed a memoir Elephant Girl and is looking for a publisher as well as to get the book in front of more people. The quality of her writing deserves a wider audience.
Jane was kind enough to give us an interview. If you want to read more of Jane’s work visit her website at JaneDevin.com:
EFC: Your writing has a very genuine – and often raw – sense to it. Many writers are afraid to access those emotions that seem to drive your work. How do you get past that fear?
JD: Maybe it’s because I began writing so early in life but I was always much less frightened by my own emotions than I was the fear of discovery: ‘Oh my god, what if someone finds this?’ I wasn’t allowed to be honest about my feelings or to have self-expression as a child, so I became very creative with hiding my stories. Even after I grew up, the feeling that I would be caught and somehow punished for ‘sharing dirty laundry” stayed with me. I was in my late twenties when that anxiety started to ease and into my thirties when I decided that I didn’t fear anybody anymore.
EFC: Was there a specific event or circumstance that got you to the point of being able to be open about your writing?
JD: Have you ever had one of those seemingly instantaneous evolutions of thought that you later realize wasn’t instantaneous at all, but more like an undercurrent that had been running for years? Yeah, it was like that. Most of the years that I spent feeling guarded were also spent in fear, shame, disgust. . .and the awareness that none of those things were fair or healthy. I resented myself on some level for letting it go on and for putting the desire to be acceptable to other people above almost every other consideration, including my own needs. I just woke up one day and realized that the connections I was trying to preserve weren’t strong or genuine, or worth more than myself.
EFC: Is writing cathartic for you? Does it come easily, or do you fit the “tortured artist” mold?
JD: I think the “tortured artist” label is overdone. On some level, we’re probably all a bit tortured by certain unanswered questions and half-spent wishes, no matter what our occupation or station in life is, but most of us don’t stay there as a matter of course. Instead, we try to understand as much as possible and frame our values around those things we find life-affirming instead of toxic or tortured.
Writing has been cathartic for me at times, particularly when I was young and there was no one to answer my questions in ways that made sense, but in a way I’ve also outgrown that stage. It’s less cathartic for me now than it is exploratory. I write to uncover the story that’s underneath the gray area. I also want my writing to make sense to other people and that’s not really the goal of merely cathartic or stream-of-consciousness writing. As for easy, yes and no. Sometimes it’s hard work to remove the stutter from a paragraph and at other times the words seem to land right the first time. I think, for me, the bigger question is whether or not the story is worth telling. If it is meaningful, it’s worth whatever labor it needs to be told.
EFC: I first became aware of your writing after your post about Snooki’s book deal. Do you think that celebrity has irrevocably taken over the publishing industry to the detriment of quality?
JD: I’d like to take the high road here and say that there’s something for everyone out there, or that the proliferation of books by celebrities/non-writers doesn’t diminish publishing opportunities for authors, but that doesn’t feel like the reality. In my time, publishing through traditional means has always been challenging—and several other factors contribute to that— but the Snooki factor is probably one of the most discouraging. The message that it sends is that talent, story and dedication aren’t as valued as even the lowest kind of celebrity. Still, I hold out hope that this trend will change and the publishing industry will experience a renaissance of sorts. To the credit of the reading public, Snooki’s book was a flop. Maybe if enough of these seemingly easy but unprofitable crossover efforts fail, publishers will find it more valuable in the long-term to discover and develop new literary talents.
EFC: You’ve traveled the country more than most people will in their lifetime. Is there any one lesson or theme that stands out?
JD: There were many, some relearned, and almost all of them have to do with some part of human nature and experience, but if I had to choose just one it would be that people aren’t as politically divided as they would appear from the news and online discussion. The polarization that seems so prevalent doesn’t exist in face-to-face life as starkly (and seemingly hopelessly) as it does elsewhere. I met plenty of Republicans who believe abortion should be legal, for instance, and Democrats who believe immigration laws should be upheld. Moderates in America abound and I don’t think their voices are represented at all.
EFC: What do you hope that readers take away from your writing?
JD: Great question! I’ve been surprised sometimes by what readers bring into an interpretation of a story. Often, those emails or comments are the most touching, whether it’s a certain detail that resonated for them or even just a line that reminded them of their own lives or circumstances in some way. Then there are also the people who take a story at face value and believe it to be worthy of the telling—which is especially gratifying. I think I write with the hope that I’m telling the best story I can, but I try not to impose any expectations on what people take away from reading. If I did, I think my writing would be stiffer and I wouldn’t be as delighted by either the surprises or the feeling of worthiness.
EFC: One last q – what’s the one thing you want readers to know about Jane Devin?
JD: The most important thing to me right now is letting people know that I’ve finally finished the book I’ve had in my heart to write for years. Elephant Girl isn’t just a memoir but a very human story that isn’t often told except in bits and pieces. I believe most readers will be able to connect emotionally with certain aspects of the book, if not the whole. Out of all the things I’ve ever written, I’m most proud of Elephant Girl—and that pride doesn’t stem from any sort of arrogance, but rather the humility of baring all of my experiences, flaws,
scars and missteps—of coming to a place in my life where I no longer feel the need to cover up who I’ve been or who I am, or hide my vulnerabilities.
Right now, I don’t know exactly when Elephant Girl will be published but one way or another, it will be soon. I had a need to try the traditional route first—query letters and submissions to literary agents—because that has been my vision since I was 10 years old and decided I wanted to be a writer. If a wrong side of the tracks poet like Rod McKuen could do it, I reasoned, so could I. (Later, I leaned on the badass model of Bukowski). Publishing has changed, though, and I don’t see many non-redeemed wrong-siders making it through
the gates. We’re also in an age of extreme crossover promotion, where almost any celebrity, at any level, can become an author, designer, chef. . . and talent isn’t necessarily a prerequisite to any of that, only platform. The machine does the rest of the work.
So I don’t know if Elephant Girl will find a home in the legacy market. I have hopes but I’m also realistic. If I do self-publish it will be by the fall of this year and I’ll go all out to make it widely accessible and the best product possible.
Visit Jane’s site, give it a read – you won’t regret it.
If you know of someone who’s got a story to tell, whether writer, painter, photographer, musician, community organizer, inventor (you get the picture), let us know! Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get the ball rolling.