KJ Hannah Greenberg gave up all manner of academic hoopla to chase imaginary hedgehogs and to raise children. After almost two decades of belly dancing, home birthing, herbal medicine making, and occasional basket weaving, she dusted off her keyboard and began to churn out smoothings, vegetable soup, and more creative work than might be considered proper for a middle-aged woman. To date, dozens of venues have accepted Hannah's poetry, and her short story, "Deferring to Family Custom" appeared in the Autumn 2011 issue of The Battered Suitcase.
You mean I had a choice? When I was small, I majored in sandbox, crayons, and words.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Why do you write?
I can’t help myself. I’ve tried to curb my impulses, but I have better luck stymieing my reach toward chocolate and my passion for tweaking my hair than abating my reflex to craft stories about gelatinous monsters or than forestalling my spontaneous tendency to fashion poetry about the ills of social institutions.
Is being a writer/poet anything like you imagined it would be?
I began working as “a writer” by authoring newspaper columns for a city paper and for a community paper at age fifteen. By age eighteen, I was fortunate to see a musical of mine, Watercolors, produced. The University of Iowa took me on, as a graduate student, before I was twenty-one. Subsequently, I jumped tracks and became an academic.
For more than a decade, I was a serious scholar whose emphasis was rhetoric and whose specialty was the nexus of philosophy and language. I wrote for communications and semiotics journals, visited Princeton University, as a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Scholar, and was, otherwise, sincere about my association with language.
Fortunately, my highbrow life was interrupted by my having babies. Babies are messy. Babies are unruly. Babies can bridge a person from a relatively synthetic career back to reality.
I homebirthed most of my sons and daughters and nursed all of them through toddlerhood. Additionally, I dug up my lawn, and, in the place of that sod, planted wildflowers, herbs and vegetables. What’s more, I learned belly dancing and basket weaving. Whereas I continued to teach communication and sociology courses, I had become somewhat feral in my thinking.
Fourteen years after I’d embrace untamed mentations, my family moved to “a foreign country.” Once here, I realized that my kids were: getting bigger, able to stick glue in each other’s hair without my guidance, able to stick peanuts up their noses without my aid, and able to breed dust bunnies under their beds without my help. Also there are few positions here for professors that lack a fluent command of the local lingo. So, given the means, the motive, and the opportunity, I returned to creative writing.
Oddly, folks liked my words. Being yet ever so impressionable, I internalized their praise and wrote a lot more. That playing around begot: writing awards, including two Pushcart Prize nomination, writing responsibilities at various publications, writing workshops, and even more writing. My actualizing me as a writer/poet took a circuitous, weird and wonderful route.
What do you think makes a good story?
Sticky fingers, be they attached to a lizard, to a small child, or to an alien. Actually, interesting characters rock, but they fail to roll if not housed in a tight plot and expressed with careful regard to word choice. My top advice to other writers is “rewrite!”
What's your favorite genre to read?
Well-written texts, of any sort, taste yummy.
What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
I have liked too many sources to list. As a nerdy kid, I read: the prose of existentialists, medical books, classical speculative fiction, and contemporary novels. As a graduate student, I mostly read texts about sociology, psychology and philosophy. As a mother of wee ones, I read brief works of various types (albeit mostly intercultural short stories, children’s books, and essays about governance, hegemonies, or religion). Given parenting’s pattern of interruptions, I read mostly brief bits or collections thereof.
These days, I still read across genres. If I find an author whose work sings to me, I try to read everything that person has published. I equally enjoy hard core science, literary fiction, poetry, blogs, folklore, and parental musings. I read the work of writers who are friends as readily as I read the work of writers I will never know.
Sometimes, I find new material to read by looking at the publications of writers with whom I share venues. Other times, I find new material to read when I research a topic for a piece of my own writing. I am as apt to read, to enjoy, and to be marked by a nonfiction chronicle of whaling on the Atlantic Ocean as I am by a revenge fantasy, by an rant about morality, or by a tell-all focused on street life.
What does your family think of your writing?
I am Blessed to parent two adolescent sons and two adolescent daughters. Just keeping up with those continuum-raised, critically thinking kids gives me lots of mental business. It’s also the case that because such offspring remain unimpressed by my imaginary hedgehogs, well publicized chimeras, and bizarre descriptions of “important” events on outer worlds, my writing has to flash chartreuse before those kids will laud my efforts. Both as a source for content and as practiced critics, my kids write me.
However, my family thinks my writing is no more a remarkable quality of mine than are my fingernails or eyeballs. When I announce sales to them, they respond with questions about whose turn it is to do the laundry or with complaints that I bought brown, not white, rice again.
What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
Schedule? Midlife mamas are a crazed species. True to nature, I write six days a week, with breaks for family, for exercise, for meals and so forth. I’m too old to slow down and too young not to hurry. At least when I’m writing, I’m not obsessing about chocolate or about mismatched socks.
Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
Absolutely! I usually process multiple texts simultaneously. I might have ten, twenty, or more windows open on my screen at a time. Synergy floats my boat.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Aging. My skills have improved, but not to the extant that I hope they will develop. Meanwhile, I haven’t figured out how to grow younger. I hope to live long enough to write lots and lots.
What are your current projects?
During the next span, I hope to tackle my backlog of collected nonfiction, of collected short stories, and of collected poetry. I’m making modest progress in housetraining those puppies, i.e. in organizing them into books and in sending those books to publishers. Although I have been fortunate, b’ayin tova, in finding homes for some of ones I have already parceled, despite my inclination to work on many projects concurrently, I can only polish one book at a time.
Most immediately, a full-length collection of my poetry, A Bank Robber’s Bad Luck with His Ex-Girlfriend, was launched by Unbound CONTENT, in December. Copies can be ordered at Amazon.com or through UnboundCONTENT.
To quote the publisher;
In this new collection of poetry, KJ Hannah Greenberg takes on the topic of love with full poetic abandon. Tangling with fairy tales, disillusionment, regret, break-ups, hardships, and longevity, Greenberg doesn't shy away from the sticky side of sweet. Her poetry, didactic at times, representational at others, employs devices of style and unconventional usage to delve deeper meaning in narrative. A collection for those who know the course of love is as often fraught with adversity as it is suffused with light.
As well, Bards & Sages Publishing will be producing an assemblage of my short fiction, Don’t Pet the Sweaty Things, in March, and The Camel Saloon’s Books on Block will shout out a chapbook of mine, Supernal Factors in August. As well, I am in talks with another publisher, i.e. am precontract, about an anthology, which I hope to edit, of writings by young adults.
Interestingly, I turned down a contract for a novel and said “no thank-you” to someone who wanted to run with a collection of essays during the last calendar year. I might not (yet) be a big publishing house wunderkind, nonetheless, I have no reason to sign away rights for the amount of breathable oxygen on Jupiter.
What are you planning for future projects?
In February, I hope to be teaching an online science fiction writing course. As well, I plan to continue to make my weekly contribution to an international newspaper and my biweekly contribution to a parenting magazine. Electronic communication is not the wave of the future; electronic communication is the modis operatus of the present.
I’d like, also, to submit more of my novels and of my collected works to publishers, to find a intrepid agent, and to see this year’s books gain a respectable audience share (a girl can dream). Meanwhile, I want to continue to help emerging writers with their craft and to be befriended by wordies who are paces ahead of me.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Rewrite. Also, rewrite. Thereafter, rewrite.
Where else can we find your work?
My brief, my freestanding, i.e. individual, short works can be found in several dozen online and print literary journals.
In addition, I’ve serial blogs or columns for various venues, worldwide, including: Kindred (Australia), Natural Jewish Parenting, Tangent Online, The Jerusalem Post (Israel), The Mother Magazine (The UK), and Type-A Parent.
Check out KJ's poetry collection at UNBOUNDContent and Amazon