A chat with sweetie pie Jen Tucker

If you haven’t already, it’s about time you met my lovely friend and fellow author, Jen Tucker. Jen is one of those friends you only wished lived closer, if not down the road, so you could pop in and share a coffee, and some gluten-free goodies. Yep, she’s also a fellow coeliac, lucky her.

Born with a pen in your hand or writing came as a shock brigade?

I remember making little books for my mom when I was just a small fry, and leaving them on her pillow at night before I went to sleep.  I wonder if she still has them stashed away in her home.  I would write about anything; from haunted houses to how I wanted to be Mrs. Danny Zuko.  While in college, writing felt like a means to an end to secure good grades and was not for pleasure at all.  My writing really took the stage in my life when I was asked to pen thematic units for teachers, and create stories and plays while working at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.  One day, my boss pulled me aside and told me that I should pursue writing professionally.  I thought she was finding a “gentle” way to fire me!  Turns out she just was being a wonderful cheerleader and I kept my job.

What inspires you the most when writing?

I love how inspiration comes from anywhere at any time!  I truly believe that the more you are open to your surroundings; albeit people, conversations, locations, a story will find you.   I was working on a school project with my daughter, Gracie, and got “that look” in my eye.  My husband, Mike, was in the kitchen with us and noticed I was off in la-la land.   Clearing his throat, he said, “Jen, you want me to finish that up with her?  I can hear your wheels turning.”  He knows me too well.

Any writing quirks?

Yes!  I am a smirk of quirks!  If you were to see me on a writing day, it would look a little something like the following.

**Scene: Jen Tucker, in her office and listening to Pandora online.  Today she is tuned in to the Jennie Devoe channel, yesterday it was on The 80’s soft rock station.  She has one box of Bottle Caps candies open, and a 2lb bag of M&M’s as a backup.  Her golden retrievers, Jack and Henry, both lay near her feet.  Henry snores.  Jack has horrible gas issues.  Jen comments every time Jack causes her nostrils to burn.  Although it’s 2:00pm, she might not have brushed her teeth yet due to the fact that the story in her head could not wait, and she was tractor beamed immediately to her computer upon awakening.  She is surrounded by photos of people she loves; her family, her best friends.  A golden and brown frame holds a picture of the time she met and posed with her boyfriend, Grammy Award winning singing Seal.  She always writes barefoot so she can wiggle her toes from time-to-time to keep up circulation.  She would hate to pull a hammy while sitting at her desk: ultimate embarrassment!

Where do you most like to write?

There are two places I enjoy writing.  When I am writing a work in progress, I love to be in my office; door closed.  That is the signal to my family that Momma is working and I will be with you a little later.  Just this spring, I have begun to journal daily.  I put everything in there!  From listing my daily to-do list, to gluing in the fortune that I cracked open in a cookie at lunch time, I have found it to be a wellspring for me.  I love to journal in my bed, lying back on a stack of pillows with no outside noise to distract me.  It is how I begin my day.

How much does real life inspire or shape your writing?

Some people may not know this, but I was first a published children’s author.  Gosh, has it been 12 years already?  My sons were young at the time and they influenced me greatly.  Now my five-year-old, Gracie is a beehive of ideas for children’s books.  I have a few in the hopper that I would love to see in print someday.  My youngest son and his buddies feed me ideas as well.  They want me to write a Halloween murder mystery.  I liked it better when they wanted me to write about Thomas the Tank Engine meets Luke Skywalker.

My memoirs stem straight from real life.  My life.  I think that we can all find the funny in day-to-day mishaps.

What is your biggest ambition?

Gosh, such a great question.  It might surprise you to hear the answer.  One day, I would like to be sitting at my dining room table, holding Mike’s hand, as we listen to the laughter that comes from the mouths of our children, their spouses and my grandchildren.  They are telling stories loudly, with full bellies, and talk over each other for fear they are not being heard individually.  To know that I raised my children to love life, unconditionally love others as themselves, and to see them happily embrace their futures is my greatest ambition.  My children are my heart and soul; my everything.

When did you realise you had made it as a writer?

People tell me that I am there, and I do not really feel that in my heart.  I just feel like Jen, who lives in Indiana, drives her kids to school wearing her pajamas because they missed the bus, again; and she can’t go a week without talking to her best friend or a day without kissing her husband and babies.  Isn’t that funny?  I think that Maurice Sendak and Maya Angelou have made it as writers.  I just am humbled that anyone wants to hear about my crazy life.

Elle, I do have to tell you this story that made me laugh; I was so flattered.  A few years ago, Mike and I were at a wedding reception and after introducing ourselves, we headed up to the buffet to get our eats on.  When I returned, a man seated across from me, jumped up from his seat, eyes on fire, ran over to me grabbed my empty hand, and said, “Oh my gosh!  You’re The Pumpkin Lady!!  My kids love your Little Pumpkin book and we read it all the time!  I love you – I mean, we love you!”   Apparently, I took longer at the buffet than my hubby did, and before I returned, a conversation began about whom we were, occupations, etc.  That made me smile and warmed my heart.  Well, after I recovered from violation of my personal space, and quelled my fear of getting robbed at a wedding.

Plotter or pantser?

I think a little of both!  I have the story idea in my head, maybe a few notes written down.  Other than that I like to let the story draw me in and take me away with it.  I think you have to be flexible, yet firm with your characters.  You know their destination in the end, yet let them take you there in their own way.

Are you a disciplined writer? Do you make yourself sit down every day or do you write in bursts?

I am so not disciplined!  Oh my goodness, it’s so embarrassing…  When I was working, and going to graduate school, I scheduled writing in my day; I had to so that it would have a place and be completed.  Now that I am writing full time I am so easily distracted.  Want to go to lunch?  Sure!  Clive Owen has a new movie out? I’d love to go with you!  Did I bleach the white load of laundry?  Crumb, I better start it all over again.  I will say that I am getting much better at a routine and schedule with writing; truly I am.

The dreaded writer’s block, have you been struck with it or blissfully spared?

I have had writer’s block, but not due to a storyline or lack of direction for my characters and stories.  I know that sounds silly to some.  I can be mentally blocked by time and circumstances; my feelings and mood.  Being an extrovert and silly hearted girl, so many might think I never have a care in the world.  Not often, but sometimes things in my life wash over me and I have no desire to write.  I feel overwhelmed with things happening in my world, and the last thing I want is to be near my desk.  My solution for those times is to know it’s okay for me to walk away for a few days; deal with what is eating at my heart, then return as a stronger writer.

What would you like people to remember most about you?

I always think about the 1980’s movie, Cocktail, when Tom Cruise had to write his obituary for a class he was taking when people ask me about legacy.  He wanted to die at the age of 99, while bedding his 18 year-old, seventh wife, Heidi, by the way.  Mike and I have had a tough year losing people we love, and it’s only May.  We have discussed legacy and remembrance at great length lately.  Here goes…

When I am thought of, I hope that people remember a little girl, who lugged smiley face cupcakes to school for her 7th birthday, during the Chicago Blizzard of 1978, over snowy hill and dale with her best friend, Nancy.  Nancy remains my best friend to this very day.  I married the love of my life 19 years ago, even though he stood me up on our first date.  I am blessed, beyond measure; with three gifts from God named Wil, Ryan and Ella Gracie; my miracles.   I am so thankful for the journeys in my life; the beautiful and difficult, for they all contribute to who I am today.  I love life; the whole nine yards of it!  I feel blessed to live it every day.  The biggest thing to remember would be that I cannot stand traditional barbeque sauces on anything.  Anything!  Ugh, the orange stuff on your face, it gets under your nails.  The smell when my teenagers open a bag of BBQ potato chips makes me cringe.  Gross!  Yuck!

Marketing, a necessary evil?

Embrace marketing!  No one can toot your horn as well as you can!  For aspiring writers, know that publishers only have so much cash to spend on you as a newbie when it comes to promotion.  This means that they are going to print your book, maybe send out a few copies for review, yet will spend their energy on their successful, established writers who are money makers.  Do not be afraid of that.  Take it as a challenge!  Reach out to bloggers, reviewers, and other authors.  Run contests and giveaways for your book.  You will find some of those you contact will become very dear to you and want to see you succeed.  Just be yourself in the process, and not what you think others want you to resemble.  Be genuine!

Your favourite social network and why?

I have to pick just one?  Really?  I love how Facebook has reunited me with old friends, and introduced me to new ones.  Twitter is where I go when I need a good laugh or to learn of celebrity arrests.  Pinterest carries me away to beautiful places, faces and fun.  I so did not pick did I?  Okay, I will cheat and tell you Gracie’s favorite.  Her buddy, Xavier, bought her this little Moshi Monster that lives an online life; like Webkins, where you play with them, feed them, etc.  She thinks that’s the cat’s meow at the present.

I so got away without answering your question 

How much time do you waste, sorry, spend on social networks?

Ha!  Me?  Do I pitter around, for no reason, looking at celebrity hairstyles and takeout menus?  NEVER!  Okay, I do it all the time!  I do put limits on myself.  On the weekend I unplug as much as possible to be with my family and friends.  Now that summer is here, I love to dig in our flower and vegetable gardens.  I want to be outside and nowhere near my phone or computer, with the breeze and sunshine.

Paper or laptop?

Oh laptop.  How I love thee.  Let me count the ways…  I do jot down notes and story ideas on paper, but always misplace them when I want them!  They seem to resurface years later, and that’s not much help is it?

Have you ever considered packing it in?

I actually have done that at a time in my life.  I walked away from writing for 10 years.  I didn’t pick up a pen, write a story, or miss it one bit.  I guess you could say we “broke up.”  My oldest son was diagnosed with Apraxia, a motor plan disorder, at the age of five and I made the choice to get off the road, stop writing, and just be there for him.  People, my publisher for one, told me I was crazy to give up what I had accomplished as an author and speaker.  It was a no-brainer for me.  My heart was at home.  My son needed me.  End of story.  I didn’t miss it for a second, and I do not regret it.

Fast forward twelve years later.  My son Wil is almost 16 (GULP) and has come along so beautifully in life.  His hard work, therapists love and devotion to him, and encouragement from family have made all the difference in his life.  He is a remarkable student, loves playing golf, tortures his siblings, and is a kind and gentle young man.  I give God all the credit.  We now live in a new age for writers as well.  You can go on book tour without leaving your home.  You can interact with readers, writers, and bloggers without getting in your car and driving 10 hours away.  Those factors were a huge catalyst to bring me back to my craft.  For me, the hiatus from writing was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.  I have come back devoted; stronger.  It doesn’t feel like a comeback; more like a rebirth.

What do you like best about writing?

Can you imagine a day job where you talk about how your dogs ate your entire stash of butter and therefore you have no cookies to take to the band concert and are met with burning glares from the moms who did?  That’s my job!  And I love it!  It warms my heart to hear that people connect with me through my stories.  I see it as them connecting with themselves in a way.  Knowing you are not alone in a world where appliances deceive and betray us is so comforting.

Anything you hate about writing?

I wish I could type faster, possessing the arms of an octopus, so I could write everything on my heart and in my mind.  Since that is what we call fantasy land, I will just stick with wishing I could type faster to get words on the page quickly.

I often write amidst chaos. What about you? Absolute peace or hustle and bustle?

My children never make a peep, never raise a fist to each other, and play together harmoniously while I write.  NOT!  In the time I have been writing answers for you, my closed office door has swung open 11 times.  Eleven times!  “Mom, make Ryan vacuum the stairs!”  “Mom, tell Gracie to get her My Little Ponies off my bed!”   “Mom, what’s for dinner?”  “Mom, what time are we leaving for King’s Island?”  “Mom, are you really going to give that raccoon a ‘beat down’ that dug up all of your flowers last night?”  There are times I have infinite patience and love when they pop in.  There are times I go bananas and scream for them to shut the door and respect that it is closed unless someone is bleeding, or someone is at the door with a million dollar check.  Life; you gotta love it!

Best piece of advice ever?

My friend Leah gave me this one.  Gosh, she and I had so much fun in high school, but that is a story for another time.  She said, “When the stuff of life feels overwhelming, just let it roll off your shoulders like water off a duck’s back.”  I love that.  I visualize those droplets cascading off my shoulders sometimes; it truly helps me let go of the distractions. It helps me relax and take inventory of what’s truly important in my life.

First person or third person? 

So funny you ask!  I am struggling with this for a new story right now.

With memoirs it’s my voice sharing the happenings in my life.  So I am used to speaking in that particular genre, in first person.  When I write for children, it is always in third person.  I like being the looking-glass for children into the story.  I am working on a project now that is chick-lit fiction and I am straddling that voice question.  Do I tell it in narration, or give this character the reins and let them have their say?  Did I just admit I have control issues?  YIKES!

My love and thanks to Jen for dropping by. We could chat for hours and I think this is the longest post I’ve ever done. Jen wakes up the chatter box in me. Anyone who knows her could quite understand why :)

You can find Jen on Facebook

http://facebook.com/jltuck

or why not check out her website.

http://www.princesswithapen.com/

Watch out for her new memoir, coming near you, this Autumn.

2 thoughts on “A chat with sweetie pie Jen Tucker

  1. What a fabulous interview, Elle and Jen. I feel like I know you both and I do wish you just lived round the corner. Jen, what an amazing thing to do to put your writing on hold for your son. I am in awe of your dedication and love and caring. You are truly an inspirational person. Sorry, getting all gushy here but can’t help it. As for your current writer’s life, well, I’m with you all the way on the chaos and mayhem. Thank you both, ladies, for this fantastic conversation, I really enjoyed reading it. XX

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