Thursday, January 08, 2009


Meet Jennie Nash, author of The Only True Genius in the Family. Her newest novel is "a story about three generations of artists who are grappling with the source of creativity and the limits of love." The book comes out in February of this year. To pre-order Jennie's novel, CLICK HERE.

The questions I use to interview Jennie can be found in Twyla Tharp's book called The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. I pulled a dozen of the 39 questions Twyla asks and answers to form her own creative autobiography.

CT: Describe your first successful creative act.

JN: In 4th grade, we were invited to submit poems for a collection that our class was going to make into a book. I wrote poem after poem – about puppies? Flowers? I have no idea. But I remember very clearly seeing the words I wrote printed on purple mimeograph paper with my byline above them, sandwiched between cardboard covers. I thought it was a thrill.

CT: Was anyone there to witness or appreciate it?

JN: I’m sure my teacher and my parents said, “Nice job,” but their praise wasn’t the point – and I think that’s what made it a successful act. The impulse to write those poems and the pride I felt when I saw them published was wholly about me.

CT: What is the best idea you ever had?

JN: That I should try writing fiction.

CT: What made it great in your mind?

JN: It felt like coming home.

CT: Can you connect the dots that led you to this idea?

JN: It came to me all at once, on a stage in front of a thousand people in Anchorage, Alaska. I was giving a keynote address to a room full of breast cancer survivors. The year before, they’d had a world famous surgeon, a woman who’s actually trying to cure cancer. I was paralyzed with the thought that, compared to her, I had nothing to say that mattered. I got up to the podium, and realized that what I had was this: I am a storyteller. And I realized that it mattered very much.

CT: What is your creative ambition?

JN: To write good books for an appreciative audience that continues to grow.

CT: What are the obstacles to this ambition?

JN: Complacency, fear, doubt and a collapsing book industry.

CT: What are the vital steps to achieving this ambition?

JN: In order to write good books, I think I have to pay attention (to the world, to my own intuition, to my stories) and give myself permission to create. As for connecting with an audience? I guess we all have to pray that booksellers stay in business, editors keep their jobs, and publishing houses keep the faith.

CT: How do you begin your day?

JN: I eat breakfast with my husband and our two teenage daughters, which is to say that we all sit down at the table together and we eat; we hardly ever talk. I read three newspapers – fast. I scan the news, and look for interesting stories, mostly in the Calendar, Arts or Living sections.

CT: Which artists do you admire most?

JN: It usually changes depending on my latest favorite book. Right now, I most admire Abigail Thomas, author of the memoir A Three Dog Life and Elizabeth Strout, author of the story collection Olive Kitteridge.

CT: Why are they your role models?

JN: They take the raw material of everyday life and make something dazzling out of it. Everyday life doesn’t always feel dazzling to me, but these authors remind me that, in fact, it is.

CT: What do you and your role models have in common?

JN: Hope.
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