Interview with Jessica Pace: Q3 2019 Creative Nonfiction Third Place Winner
Although Jessica was born in Japan, she was raised all over the United States. Adopted into a military family, she saw different places and experienced life in California, Texas, Alaska, and Montana. When she was in grade school, Jessica thought she would become a neurologist, because she was fascinated by the human brain. Many years later, she graduated from Western Washington University with an English degree. At that point, she thought she might become a graduate student and publish a collection of poetry. As life would have it, five years later she began her graduate studies at Hamline University where she earned her MFA with a creative nonfiction emphasis.
When she’s not busy slinging denim and sizing dress shirts at her retain job as a back-of-house merchandising specialist, she tutors students online. She does her best to give feedback and provide personalized writing lessons to a variety of writers. This is the first time her nonfiction writing has been selected for publication.
If you haven’t done so already, check out Jessica’s award-winning essay “Banana Bread” and then return here for a chat with the author.
WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Q3 2019 Creative Nonfiction Contest! How did you begin writing this piece and how did it and your writing evolve as you wrote?
Jessica: I began writing the original piece during a graduate workshop focused on the personal essay. The hermit crab essay sounded exciting, so I thought I might try my own version. I knew I wanted to explore issues such as race and cultural identity through an unusual form, so I settled on a series of “recipes” centered on foods that are either yellow or brown on the outside, but white on the inside. This was the concept that brought the collection together, so each recipe (angel food cake, coconut macaroons, and banana bread) explored a personal experience. The only recipe I knew by heart was the banana bread, so I had to research the others. It was fun, but I also began to crave the foods I was writing about! The final version I submitted to WOW was originally a version submitted to a different contest. It required 750 words or less, so I chopped everything up and decided to go with the concept of the banana, because it was my original inspiration.
WOW: Nicely executed “hermit crab” structure! Thanks for describing your process. What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay?
Jessica: I learned that one small seedling of an idea can sprout into a giant tree with many branches. That must sound corny, but by writing the hermit crab essay, I began to see endless possibilities. I find that idea exciting and daunting at the same time because there are so many potential hermit crab essays out there. I would love to write a few more and encourage everyone to try their own hermit crab essay. You may be surprised where you end up!
WOW: Thanks for the encouragement to try something new! In your bio it says that at one point you wanted to publish a collection of poetry. Do you continue to write poetry? If so, in what ways, if any, does it affect your prose writing?
Jessica: I don’t write as much poetry as I used to, but I still enjoy it to some extent. When I was an undergrad, I had one quarter in which I maxed out at twenty credits. Three of my four courses were poetry classes and two of the poetry classes were back-to-back with the same professor, so I quickly exhausted myself. I’d like to think poetry taught me a sort of economy of words. I often struggled to meet page requirements in school, such as an assignment that required a ten-page essay. I would write a first or second draft and struggle to the very end to make seven pages stretch. However, I suppose this isn’t limited to prose. In high school, I wrote a one-page poem as a creative response and my teacher made me stretch it to three, so perhaps I’ve always been too concise for school assignments.
WOW: I have always found length requirements in academic settings challenging, too, though I suppose it can help to put the piece in a new perspective. Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you?
Jessica: Oh gosh, there are so many, but I’ll discuss two I’m currently reading. The essay “Somebody to Love” by Joni Tevis inspires me to write more essays and to dig even deeper into my past. This essay inspires me not only as a writer, but as a reader. I admire the structure of her essay as well as her writing style, but I can also appreciate and connect to the personal story she is conveying to me as a reader. This connection is something I strive to achieve in my own writing. I’m also reading Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America by Linda Furiya. I find that some of Furiya’s experiences echo my own, especially concerning childhood. Her writing has also made me consider more of my own childhood as potential fodder for my writing.
WOW: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Jessica: If I could say anything, I’d tell my undergraduate self to take more creative nonfiction classes! I remember a professor told my class that creative nonfiction would be the next big thing, but at the time I only decided to take creative nonfiction classes because they satisfied the other portion of my English requirement. At the time, it seemed as though creative nonfiction was picking up pace, but I was too focused on my poetry classes to give it much thought. By the time I graduated, I felt creative nonfiction was fun and offered more chances to say what I needed to say, but by then it was too late to go back. Thank goodness I took a chance later and wrote some creative nonfiction pieces the second time I applied to graduate school!
WOW: Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses. And thank you for sharing your writing with us!
Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen.
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