Answers

in the kitchen
© Yiftach Paltrowitz, 2010
(Adapted from: "An Interview with KJ Hannah Greenberg." Indie Firsts! The Magazine for Independent Readers. Kindle Ed. Positive Publishing Perspectives. Nov. 28, 2011.)

* You write some unusual, but fabulous fiction that reveals such an imaginative and creative person behind the words. Was writing always organic for you? Who or what inspires you?

I'm somewhat eclectic. I've been: an oboe player, a chemistry and calculus teacher, a weekend weight lifter, a National Endowment for the Humanities scholar (in the field of classics), a cooking instructor, a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a public relations intern, a community-based agriculture activist, a proponent of the Sudbury School model of education, an adherent to a very ancient religion, a flower arranger, a rhetoric professor, a companion to multiple cats, an herbalist, a teacher of feminist sociology, a cyclist, a swimmer, and a fan of berry-flavored yoghurt drinks. Despite my eagerness to try out many things, I've never been one to: throw pottery on a wheel, knead breads, voluntarily teach trigonometry, learn about machines' guts, be impressed by titles, degrees, awards, or wealth, forget the power of laughter, or fail to enjoy my children's Uromastyx lizard. Likewise, I refuse to inflated students' grades and I never developed an affection for chocolate-chip ice cream.

As a kid, I read Asimov, Heinlein, and Vonnegut. I also read Camus, Hesse, and Sarte. Additionally, I read about dog breeds, the history of costumes, cutting edge surgical procedures, and ecology. In third grade, most specifically, I fell in love with word play. By the time I was fifteen, two newspapers paid me to contribute my views, weekly, to their pages. As an eighteen year-old college sophomore, I merited to have a musical, for which I wrote the book and lyrics, produced. During college, I moved from majoring in linguistics, to majoring in biochemistry, to majoring in science writing. Shortly thereafter, I ran away to the scholarly world, where I invested my time in academic forums. I was a regular contributor to national venues and even spoke at international meetings. I taught Communication Theory, Semantics, Social Value and Popular Culture, The Rhetoric of Identity and close to three dozen other topics. I jumped among levels of meaning  and mixed up all natures of examples and of explanations. Sadly, that which enraptured me also frightened my college students.

Fortunately, years later, parenting returned me to the enormity and value of human commonplaces. Since my children, who were neither completely feral nor entirely broken of spirit, needed the boost that fiction could lend to them, I wrote it. My academic writing had already long since morphed from treaties on Isocrates and on comparative cultural hierarchies of values to contemporary media's presentation of the communication of pregnancy loss. To leave behind footnotes and research libraries and to strike, instead, into provinces where heroes and villains ranked supreme was a natural next step. So, my texts became concerned with furry and scaly protagonists. Bedtime, lunchtime, any time, really, became an occasion for my unbound tales. My sons and daughters demanded action, believability, and moral sensibility in their entertainments. The ballads, which I wrote for them, featured little sex, but contained much mauling and death; fairy tales are frequently violent.

To wit, pink ponies, anthropomorphized mushrooms, berry bushes, jays, mice, and leopards populated my early fabrications. Such works suited my audience during those periods of their childhoods when they faced down issues of body image, of bullies, and of gatekeepers lacking compassion (elementary school teachers can be horrific in their insistence on prescribed behaviors). For my offspring, I intertwined sentient slugs, reverberating piranhas, and sloths that glowed in florescent light, with troll princesses, magical toddlers, and nobles suffering from absentmindedness. At that juncture, when in the classroom, I likewise granted permission to my students, whether they were enrolled in grade school or in graduate school, to seek out madcap combinations. During that period, my communication looked like play, and tasted like fun, but was fueled by mindfulness.

* You didn't try to publish anything for a long time. What kept you from submitting your work, and what made you finally decide to publish it?

I never stopped writing. I temporarily got distracted from rewriting, and, hence, had nothing worthy of sending to publishers. During the decades I devoted to raising my children, I'd jot down a first draft of a novel, sketch out a limited quantity of three act plays, make notes about characters I'd like to see in short fiction, or poke at a collection of poetry, but become so otherwise occupied with transforming a suburban lawn into a series of wildflower gardens, studying belly dancing, learning basket weaving, and trying, but failing, to bake cakes, that for a span, I did not fnish those projects. I did, however, author another newspaper column and teach writing, public speaking, sociology, and communication.

More specifically, I've long held that one ought never to submit junk. The times when I elect to produce low fiber, nonnutritious brain food, I do so intentionally and package it with nice warnings. Most often, I strive for value. As a result, for twenty years, I wrote a lot, but offered up little.

Time passed. My family and I moved from North America to a land where scholars lacking proficiency in the local tongue are in small demand. I morphed again, returning to creating assemblages of words. Toward that end, I told stories at women's gatherings, wrote a blog for an international venue, taught creative writing to ex-patriots, and began to accept more invitations to judge and critique creative work. Eventually, I pulled together snippets of my incomplete creations and sent those puppies out to new homes. The subsequent positive response I received buoyed me, a midlife mom, to attempt to conjure new pieces as well as to try to rewrite my backlog.

* Your collection of work is extensive. It always seems that you have something, or, more often, multiple new things to share. What is your writing process like?

My mother claims that as a toddler, I insisted on regularly being lowered into my playpen to converse with my make-believe friend. I suppose it could be said that whereas I have gotten older, I have not aged. To date, I remain this side of crazy and that side of incorrigible. Much to my logical positivist husband's chagrin, I usually have anywhere from five to twenty windows concurrently opened on my desktop. I also paint multiple canvases simultaneously, develop three or four samples of hand built ceramics at a time, and use my family's entire stovetop worth of burners when cooking. Synergy's the core of my creativity. I might appear staid, even frumpy, but those verities are external only. I delight in moving ideas that "suit" poetry into essays and in recycling personages "appropriate" for novels into short stories.

* You've written a lot about your children. Does parenthood affect what you find yourself writing?

Used wisely, parenting is more than an opportunity to torture, I mean to nurture a new generation or to heal the rough spots of one's own earlier life. Parenting can equally free one's self from the encumberments of society.

My kids liked linking together clover crowns, painting pictures directly onto our walls, and taking nighttime slug walks. Yet, I was the family member, who went crazy over computer-assisted physics games, who wanted all of the visitors to our home to reinterpret eggplant as desert, and who had to be pulled back from stroking every cute kitten, every domesticated alpaca, or every chinchilla coat that wandered by. Whereas my sons and daughters grew up in an environment that both intentionally and inadvertently encouraged them to engage in critical and creative thinking, it was Yours Truly who was most profoundly impacted by our family's practice of non-judgment. Consequently, today, there's nothing surreptitious about my fictions concerning: face-eating spiny mammals, purple and green refrigerator colonists, or orphaned chimeras angered by humanity's overall lack of dry wit.

At the same time as those teens and twenties, who were born to our manor, tried to figure out how to hide me when their friends visited, I reveled in the succulent goodness of raising them. Shamelessly, I hung hand-dried flowers over the tops of all of our livingroom cabinets, and flapped my arms when sitting in the passenger seat of our car.

* You have done just about everything: write, edit, teach, critique, blog, and the list goes on. Is there anything that you like (either guiltily or without apology) above the others?

The best is in the here and now, always was and always will be. It may seem trite to talk about the "present" that is our lives' great "gift," but excellence is the current moment. Beyond such gratitude, and with no hesitation, I'd shout, aloud, that being a wife and a mom are the greatest things to happen to me.  Although the varmints I birthed had the audacity to grow up and to seek lives of their own, they left behind irrestible play things such as an invisible Komodo dragon and such as their father. It's no wonder that I still celebrate by writing about my family.

* Do you have any advice for aspiring writers or people who are trying to get their work noticed?

There are four ingredients to writing: read, read, read, write, write, write, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, and risk soliciting feedback from people whose efforts you esteem. Reading increases vocabulary, creates new synaptic connections, i.e. expands mental capacity, and teaches many otherwise innate qualities of discourse. Like playing basketball or making soufflés, word work is improved with practice. Beyond that, feedback uncovers blind spots. Rewriting, despite all, is the essence of writing. I contend that revision is so invaluable that even after a manuscript has been published, it remains incomplete. Consider the history of any narrative that has gotten reprinted as a freestanding piece, or that has gotten repurposed as part of an anthology; probably, it's been reworked.

What can we expect from you in the future?

More books! In 2015-2016, Friends and Rabid Hedgehogs (Bards & Sages Publishing), Mothers Ought to Utter Only Niceties (Unbound CONTENT), and Word Citizen (Tailwinds Press).

What's more, in the future, I hope to sign off on A Grand Sociology Lesson, a full-length book of poetry, and on The Nexus of Sun, Moon, and Mother a set of gathered essays. Hopefully, as well, my upmarket novel Ten Kilo and One Million, and my contemporary historical fiction, Upon the Lion and the Serpent, will go to press. Meanwhile, I'm working on the novel, The Ill-Advised Adventures of Jim-Jam O'Neily.

More Author Interviews:

2012. Oct. 1. "KJ Hannah Greenberg: Cross-Genred." Certain Circuits.

2012.  Jul. 30. "Bewildering Stories Interviews Channie Greenberg a.k.a. KJ Hannah Greenberg." Bewildering Stories.

2012. May 30. "Beyond the Limits." Chedva on mindful intent (in writing).

2012. May 27. "A Teaspoon at a Time." Chedva on mindful living.

2012. Apr. 5. "KJ Hannah Greenberg." vox poetica's Fifteen Minutes of Poetry on A Bank Robber's Bad Luck with His Ex-Girlfriend and on Don't Pet the Sweaty Things.

2012. Mar. 16. "The Hedgehog's (or Maybe the Ant's) Dilemma: An Interview with KJ Hannah Greenberg." J. A. Beard's Unnecessary Musings on Don't Pet the Sweaty Things.

2012. Jan. 6. "Author Insides- KJ Hannah Greenberg." Vagabondage Press Blog on A Bank Robber's Bad Luck with His Ex-Girlfriend.

2011. Dec. 26. "Dr. Hannah Yoninah Greenberg." Weekly Artist on A Bank Robber's Bad Luck with His Ex-Girlfriend.

2010. Jul. 29. "Oblivious to the Obvious: Wishfully Mindful Parenting." The Authors Show on Oblivious to the Obvious: Wishfully Mindful Parenting.

2010. Jun. 24. "KJ Hannah Greenberg." vox poetica's Fifteen Minutes of Poetry on Oblivious to the Obvious: Wishfully Mindful Parenting.