Spotlight on Jordan Rosenfeld
Jordan Rosenfeld is receptive to inspiration but knows how to work without it when she has to. She can build out a plot step by step, but she will also listen when a character offers up her own suggestions. She is a novelist who is also a successful journalist, writing coach, and writing guide author, always working her fiction “around the cracks” of her paid work. Her writing life is balanced, expansive, and rewarding. We are so pleased to feature Jordan in this month’s Spotlight.
In addition to fiction, you’ve written several writing guides, some of which you co-wrote with other authors/writing instructors. What is the hardest point to get across to writers just starting out? And have you/would you ever consider co-writing a work of fiction with another writer?
The hardest point is to help writers learn the difference between writing in scenes and writing summary or exposition. It takes practice to recognize when you’ve created that vivifying experience for the reader that allows them to participate in the story, rather than just feel lectured to.
I don’t know if I’d co-write fiction with someone. I guess if someone fantastic invited me to try, I would probably consider it. It might actually be easier in some ways, because writing by oneself is so lonely.
Some of your writing guides deal with the creative experience and finding inspiration. Can you talk about your own relationship with inspiration?
Inspiration is a wily and unpredictable force that I find unreliable. If we writers wait for it to strike, we might wait a long time. That’s why I believe it’s important to have some kind of daily or weekly writing practice—anything from morning pages to using writing prompts to get started. When I get a novel idea, it’s usually a tiny strike of inspiration, but only sitting down to write every day makes it materialize into something significant.
You have written numerous essays and articles for a very impressive array of publications, including The Atlantic, the New York Times, Scientific American, and many more. Your subject matter is also impressive, ranging from salt intake to yoga to how best to sit on a public toilet to shopping for a mortgage to book reviews. Are you able to continue on at this pace even while you are working on new fiction? Or are these smaller projects something you do between novels?
So I will say that my first and primary love is fiction writing. But I’ve had the good fortune to be paid to work as a writer in the past decade or two, and so I’ve been a freelance journalist for a long time, about 20 years. But the work has ebbed and flowed for me. There was a stretch from about 2014–2019 when I was just so busy doing almost exclusively freelance writing, but the industry’s changes plus the pandemic put a dent in that, so I am not doing quite as much of that work as I used to (though between teaching, editing, and writing, I still work full time). It leaves me slightly more time to work on my fiction, but still I’m always squeezing the fiction in around the cracks of my paid work. If I don’t work on my fiction daily, it won’t get done.
Do you keep a journal?
Yes, have since I was 8. I probably have over 300 journals.
What is your newest novel, Forged in Grace, about?
Actually my most recently published novel was Women in Red, back in 2016. But Forged in Grace is probably the book I’m proudest of. I think the best way to describe it is to share the back jacket copy:
Fire almost killed her years before. Will rekindling a dangerous friendship finish the job? At age 15, a horrific fire left Grace Jensen scarred and highly sensitive to the pain of anyone she touches. Thirteen years later, Grace is living with her hoarder mother and half-in-love with her former doctor when her long-absent best friend, Marly Kennet, returns to town and convinces her to make a leap-of-faith trip to Las Vegas. There Grace discovers she not only feels others’ pain, she can heal it. This healing gift soon turns darker when the truth of Marly’s past and the fire that scarred Grace is revealed, pushing the boundaries of loyalty and exposing both women to danger. With the intensity of a thriller and a touch of magic realism, Forged in Grace leads to a dramatic climax in which she must choose between healing and revenge.
How did you “discover” the protagonist?
She literally started speaking to me one day while I was on a writing retreat. I’d had to make my own fires in the fireplace of this rustic sort of cabin, which was new to me, and it inspired this voice to speak to me from a character who had been badly burned. That turned out to be Grace.
Which of your novels would make the best movie and why?
I like to believe Forged in Grace would, because there’s a lot of character drama and great settings, and the character has the power to heal.
What are you working on now?
I’ve finished a very raw draft of a new novel that is loosely exploring issues related to the way that folks have been drawn into Q-Anon—essentially the protagonist’s sister gets drawn into dangerous conspiracy thinking with dangerous people. It’s sort of a novel of suspense. I didn’t set out to draft a novel, because I had just received back my edits on a prior novel I’ve been grappling with for years, that deals with women’s empowerment, loss, and eco-anarchism. I’m hoping to get back to my revisions on that soon, but this story wanted to be drafted, so I rolled with it.
Jordan Rosenfeld is the author of three novels—most recently Women in Red and Forged in Grace, and several highly respected books on the craft of writing, including Make a Scene and Writing the Intimate Character. Her work can be found in national publications such as The Atlantic, Mental Floss, The New York Times, Pacific Standard, The Rumpus, Scientific American, The Washington Post, and many others. Find out more about her and her work at https://jordanrosenfeld.net.