Interview with KJ Hannah Greenberg

KJ Hannah Greenberg gets high on adverbs, mixes more metaphors than a platypus has pockets, plus giggles so much as to not actually be indomitable. What’s more, she runs with a prickle of sometimes rabid (imaginary) hedgehogs, and attempts to matchmake words like “balderdash” and “xylophone.” Hannah's newest books are The Immediacy of Emotional Kerfuffles, 2nd ed. (Bards and Sages Publishing, 2015), and Dancing with Hedgehogs, (Fowlpox Press, 2014).

SCP: To begin with, can you tell us about your history as a writer? When did you start writing? Why did you start writing?


KJ: According to my mother, as a toddler, I had an imaginary friend with whom I frolicked in my playpen. Our exchanges were probably my first regular instance of creating narratives.


Later, in preschool, I had many stuffed animal pals with whom I shared “adventures.” To date, I still talk to plush toys. Additionally, my husband and I have anthropomorphized our family car. However, since our auto is a Škoda, it not related to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, albeit it fancies itself similarly racing in the European Grand Prix.


As per why I write, I never knew that I ought not. As a very small child, I ate, used the bathroom, and played with semantics because those behaviors came naturally. It wasn’t until I grew up a bit, i.e. entered elementary school, that I grasped that not all folks enjoy an equivalent urgency to roll around in words. 


SCP: Second, can you tell us a bit your writing/editing process?


KJ: I hound dog it. Thank G-d, I am constantly popping with ideas. Sometimes, I literally dream revisions to documents and, almost always, I wake up with notions that must be jotted down before they fade with the morning.


That said, I’m both a recycling center and a big box store. The neighborhood of my head, which has slowly taken over the localities of my PC and of my paper files, is overflowing with: completed projects, nearly completed projects, partially finished projects, barely begun projects, and scraps of ideas. I organize my pieces, especially those resting in rudimentary stages of development, by genre and by theme. 


When I have time to ripen a fragment, I prewrite about it and then I puff out a first draft. Thereafter, I rewrite like a starfish seeking shelter. For instance, a recent batch of short, five hundred word essays took me roughly two dozen rounds before I was ready to send them to the gatekeeper to whom they were promised. As I tell my students, rewriting is the heart of writing.


These days, happily, I have enough manuscripts due to publishers (books) and to editors (shorter copy) to have to prioritize them by their deadlines. I do, however, poke, intermittently, at additional, less time-pressed, texts so as to maintain synergy; all by my lonesome, I’m a complex system. Yet, even supposing those convolutions, I’ve had to stop writing my sponsored blogs and magazine columns and to put the brakes on certain large projects so I could meet particular calendar-sensitive needs.


SCP: I remember seeing somewhere a list of some of your former occupations.
Can you tell us a little about these occupations, and about the dynamic/relationship between your various careers and your life as a writer?


KJ: When I was fifteen, I began salaried work as a teen columnist for two of my hometown’s (Pittsburgh’s) newspapers. I continued writing for one of those weeklies throughout college. I also crafted a musical that got produced before I received my B.S.in Science Writing. From those early writing experiences, I realized that: I didn’t want to be a journalist, it would be difficult to live off of a playwright’s earnings, and science writing was both interesting and lucrative.


However, I likewise didn’t want to earn an M.S. in Science Writing as I saw limited value in gaining supplementary skills in a highly specialized field. Instead, I pursued, and eventually was granted, a Ph.D. in Rhetoric. Ironically, first as a graduate student, and then as a young professor, when I wasn’t teaching public speaking or expository writing, I was teaching science writing to engineering students and budding scientists (in the 1970s, only three universities offered programs in science writing. Industry and academia, alike, were quick to snatch up all persons who had those competencies).


In due course, I left behind most of those science writing classes to teach communication courses including, but not limited to: Interpersonal Communication, Media and Society, Rhetorical Theory, Rhetorical Criticism, Communication Ethics, The History of Communication (The History of Western Thinking), and so forth. I did my scholarly do and was consequently granted, by my peers, regular space on national and regional academic programs. To my surprise, one summer, I even served as a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar at Princeton University.


Shortly thereafter, I was blessed with children. My impulse to shape stories got repurposed; it became the servant of naptimes, of bedtimes, and of other vital intervals. Whereas, to this day, I’m not sure that my sons and daughters recognize that most moms don’t engage their wee ones in constant songs and stories, their obliviousness is of no matter; those years were fun for me.


When my children got a little older and my family relocated to Jerusalem, my parenting got sidelined (taking Mommy with you to junior or senior high school is an embarrassment) and my academic skills became redundant (there were already many locally available, well-established human resources here; among other things, Israel is full of well-educated professionals). The international community, however, continued to have space for further verbal sunshine, so I used the Internet to sell my writing and to teach.


All of the aforementioned occupations brought joy to me. I love people. I love words.  I love using words to portray people, and I love teaching people how to represent their thoughts and feelings with words. Our lives are stories. I’m happiest when giving over my accounts and when helping other writers share theirs.


SCP: Your writing is full of magical realism, as well as the straight-up magical. What is that leads you to this mode of writing? Do you see it as simply a literary device? Do you believe in any forms of real life magic?


KJ: All of life is “magical.” More precisely, as a religious Jew, I believe that all of life is blessed. I think anyone who can draw attention to life’s wonders ought to do so.


As per various, specific subgenres, I’m not convinced that the tone or style of any of my work derives from conscious planning, (except when I’m invited to participate in projects and thus to mindfully shape the nature of my writing). I think what falls out, onto my pages, is organic, is a reflection of my delight in being alive, specifically, and of my awe of life, in general.


SCP: On another note, we live in a time of amazing technological advances in the literary/publishing world. How do you feel about the proliferation of online journals, of small/micro presses and print-on-demand publishing options?


KJ: I am fond of telling my students that just because something gets published doesn’t mean it has merit. That said, the proliferation of small presses has enabled countless writers to enter the business. In balance, the increase in minor league distributors has disastrously impacted gate sales at the majors. There are only five big publishing houses left in New York.


SCP: And widening out that last question, what role does a contemporary poet/writer have in this world of super accessibility, of vast and instant information?


KJ: Writers are obliged maintain an allegiance to truth. At the end of the day, our words have a (tiny) bearing on the social construction of reality. We have a duty to produce morally responsible literature. I don’t mean that our books and shorter bits ought to avoid messy topics. In fact, it’s imperative that writers address troubling themes. Historically, writers have helped to police society by drawing attention to difficult goings on.


More so, I mean that writers ought not to condone corrupt behaviors by including them matter- of-factly in their works or by failing to invite at least some of the characters that populate their works to react aversely to dark actions. People tend to remember lessons learned in films and novels long after they have stepped outside of their therapists’ offices or walked past the threshold of their religious meetinghouses. Words create and destroy worlds.


SCP: Last, any big current projects you’re working on? Any books coming up?


KJ: Blessedly, I’ve lots to share on this topic.

In 2015, the following books of mine were released: Word Citizen: Uncommon Thoughts on Writing, Motherhood, & Life in Jerusalem (Tailwinds Press. New York), essays; Jerusalem Sunrise (Imago Press. Tucson), essays; Cryptids, Short Story Collection, Vol. III. (Bards and Sages Publishing: Bridgeton); and The Immediacy of Emotional Kerfuffles,2nd ed., Short Story Collection, Vol. II (Bards and Sages Publishing: Bridgeton). Mothers Ought to Utter Only Niceties, (Unbound CONTENT: Englewood), an assemblage of poetry, is due to launch before the end of the year.


IYH, in 2016, I anticipate the release of: The Nexus of the Sun, the Moon, and Mother (Broken Publications: Eatonville), essays; and Friends and Rabid Hedgehogs, Short Story Collection, Vol. IV. (Bards and Sages Publishing, Bridgeton).


Some of the books, for which I am seeking homes, are: Ten Kilo and One Million, a novel about a pudgy, would-be professor, who struggles to keep the riches she won at a furmeet; Upon the Lion and the Serpent, a novel about an extended Jewish family’s clashes with anti-Semitisim; Tosh: Select Trash and Bosh of Creative Writing, essays; Today, I Put Soap in the Bathroom, parenting essays; A Grand Sociology Lesson, poetry, and Rudiments, poetry.


My books in production include: Tawdrily Souvenirs, a collection of short stories about abuse; The Ill-Advised Adventures of Jim-Jam O'Neily, a novel about a science phenom, The Wife Mom, a poetry collection, and Whistling for Salvation, an essay collection.


SCP: Thank you so much for your time.


KJ: My pleasure.