Today on Savvy Saturday we have the author of You, Jane and An Alien's Guide to World Domination, Elizabeth Fountain. This eclectic author not only writes, but also teaches university courses in psychology and leadership. She uses her experiences as a counselor, instructor, and failed barista to help give her stories life and humor. Let's take a look at what she has to say about her
CBG: When and why did you begin writing?
Fountain: A few years ago, I was going through boxes in my garage, preparing to sell the house I’d lived in for about 10 years. I found one box oh-so-helpfully labeled “stuff.” Thank you, past self, I muttered, and opened the cardboard flaps to determine just what “stuff” it contained. I found some early poems and songs I wrote back in high school; that was in the early 80’s. I know I wrote stories before that, too, but (fortunately?) none seem to have survived.
Fast-forward from high school (prehistory, really) to January, 2008. I found myself complaining to a friend about the usual “celebration” of Martin Luther King Jr Day – sales of big-screen televisions at the local malls and big box stores. He challenged me: “So what will you do to celebrate MLK Jr’s life and message that’s different?” That night I started writing my first published novel; it’s a story of a sister and brother who lose and find each other, amidst a whole collection of eccentric humans and aliens who realize that no matter what planet they are from, they belong to one another. My own zany, interplanetary version of the “I Have a Dream” speech? I guess so, in a way. And it hooked me on writing fiction in a big way. Since then, I’ve had two novels published – that first one, An Alien’s Guide to World Domination, came out in 2013. A year later, You, Jane was released – a tale of the power of storytelling to really mess up a person’s life, until she realizes how to write her own happy ending.
CBG: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Fountain: As I prepared for the release party for my first novel, An Alien’s Guide to World Domination, I thought and thought about this. Because, at a launch party, the author is supposed to stand up and describe her book’s “big themes,” right? And this was a story about a main character who didn’t really want to save humanity, and her dog who helped her anyway. Big themes? I pondered. What are my big themes?
I hunted through the book for a bit to read out loud, and came across this phrase – twice. And the second time, it struck me.
“But, you tried anyway.”
That’s what we do, isn’t it? We try anyway, knowing that most of life is filled with the completely absurd and nearly impossible, we try anyway, like the characters in both my books do. Whatever color we are, even if it’s the color of lime Jell-O ™ gone horribly wrong, like the aliens in An Alien’s Guide; whatever powers we have, even if we can’t really control them, as Jane struggles to control her storytelling power in You, Jane - we just try anyway. We try anyway, we swing for the bleachers in left field, and every once in a while, we hit one out of the park.
CBG: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Fountain: It’s always been a source of joy to me, playing with words. When I can put them together in a particular order that pleases the eye and ear, and also tells a ripping yarn, it’s a high like no other. I must confess the power to create whole worlds, to bring people and things and places into being by writing on a page, is intoxicating, too. So maybe you could say I write because it’s the best form of self-medication I’ve ever found.
But that leaves out the best part – connecting with readers. In November 2012, I participated in National Novel Writing Month for the third time, writing 50,402 words in thirty days. I posted the novel as I wrote it, and toward the end of the month, I shared a chapter in which the faithful dog character is thrown out of a truck on a snowy road. I got a note from a reader who threatened never to read another word I wrote if the dog turned out to be dead. That was a deep thrill – someone was reading, and cared passionately about these characters. (And oh, by the way – of course the dog survived. Dogs always save the day in my stories, much like they do in real life.)
Being human is profoundly about communicating with one another, and writing stories is my way of doing that. I am grateful to have the opportunity and means to do it.
CBG: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Fountain: Work on your craft. Become the best writer you can be. Go to workshops, read great writing of all varieties and genres, and practice, practice, practice. Be open to collaboration with those who will critique and edit your work – we all need that. Writing is a strange art form – so much of it occurs in isolation, only the writer and her page or screen, creating little black squiggles on a blank page. But it can’t become fully realized without input from others. Painters, I imagine, just paint, and they know when the painting is done when it matches the one in their imaginations. But writers need readers before our work can be completed.
Listen carefully to all the “rules” about good writing and then break the ones you feel you need to break to tell the stories your heart wants to tell. Those stories inside you, they deserve to find their audiences. Your curiosity creates energy. Your imagination awaits your bidding. As Bill Kenower says, the writer’s job is only to ask two questions: what do I want to write? And, have I written it?
So don’t give up. A very good friend of mine who is an amazing singer, songwriter, and guitar player likes to say “there are two kinds of musicians: those who are making music, and those who are making excuses.” Then he looks at me and reminds me the same goes for writers. There are those who are writing, and those who are making excuses.
So yes, Dan, I’m writing… something. I promise.