Indie-Visible co-creator Jordan E. Rosenfeld’s novel Forged in Grace is finally here! She’s an author, writing teacher, freelance journalist, and editor. For the past fifteen years Jordan has been editing and coaching other writers. Her writing guide Make a Scene (Writer’s Digest Books) has sold over 20,000 copies, and she teaches a series of popular online writing courses called Fiction’s Magic Ingredient. The crew of indie-visible interviews her about her writing and her life.
SN: What is the biggest leap of faith you’ve ever taken and how did it turn out?
JR: I was going to say quitting my job to work for myself as a freelance writer over ten years ago, which worked out fabulously, but as I sit here thinking about it, the greater leap of faith was having my son. I was 33 when I got pregnant, and my husband and I had been together already for 12 years–that’s a long time to get extremely settled in a lifestyle. My son’s birth rocked everything, changed me, and did that strange thing where your heart busts out of your chest and lives on your forehead forever after, where it is no longer safe from sappy commercials, stories about kidnappings, or light jazz. Now, he’s four and a half and I sort of feel like I’m getting used to this motherhood gig.
SN: Grace can heal others but not herself – something I think a lot of people can relate to in a metaphorical sense. Why do we have such a hard time letting go of our own struggles and hurts even as we encourage others to do so?
JR: Yes, you’ve tapped into one of the major themes of this novel. One of the things Grace and I share in common is what I’ve come to call “extreme empathy”–sometimes I identify so strongly with the pain of others that I can’t figure out where my own begins/ends. I think it’s difficult to let go of our own struggles because they’re adaptive, they were our coping mechanisms as children and as adults we still get something out of them. Until we learn new strategies, we’re screwed.
SN: If you could steal another author’s muse, whose would you take?
JR: Joyce Carol Oates’! That woman is prolific and takes on all manner of dark, complex and interesting subjects that appeal to me. When she retires, she can fed-ex her muse to me.
VA: How much of your personality traits do you put in your characters when you write? Do you put yourself in them at all?
There is no conscious effort to imbue my characters with me, but like any child, they carry facets of me, or they hold opinions/feelings of mine, though I try really hard to make sure they are behaving in ways that are true to THEIR characters, not mine. Others who know me will always read into my characters more than is probably ever intended.
VA: Tapping into what SN said about letting go of struggles and and hurts, how important do you think healing is for a persons emotional growth and interaction with the world? Can a person offer emotional help/support if they are not healed themselves?
Well, to sound somewhat pompously metaphysical, I think that’s sort of the point–to start out unfinished, “broken” even, messy, unformed and journey toward wholeness and healing. We heal in many different ways, and I have had some pretty inexplicable and life-altering healing experiences, as well as some normal, mundane ones. I think anything that helps us really be alive with all of our senses and appreciate that life, is a form of healing. I think that yes you don’t have to be some bastion of perfect health to be available to others; some very wounded people have insight and wisdom to share. But, I’d prefer to be as “healed” or “whole” as is possible, yes. I like to feel good, to feel happy.
TW: You are an original founder of indie-visible. How did the idea to form a writing collective of indie authors occur and grow to where it is now?
It was born out of a literary loneliness coupled with dissatisfaction with mainstream publishing, which seems to be growing ever narrower. Since moving to a new town nearly seven years ago I lost my huge in-person literary community. I felt amputated, and I’ve learned that I’m someone who needs to be part of something creative and collaborative to feel happy. I had met Chelsea Starling through a student of mine, we quickly became friends, and when I was discussing these things with her, it became clear we had two similar visions that needed marrying. Where it is now is a result of the passion of some highly creative, amazing people. And frankly where i.v. is now is just the beginning of an exciting new stage yet to come!
TW: When someone asks to hear about what you’re writing, what do you say?
JR: I think I am guilty of the heavy sigh or groan. I only like talking about my writing when I know I’m not boring someone, which is hard to know.
BL: An early title of this novel was Little Alien, referring to Grace’s sense of being different and possibly even invoking her shame about her appearance. What led you to change the title?
I think in earlier drafts, as I was getting to know Grace I was exploring her through the lens of her alienation, her isolation because I couldn’t yet understand what being a burn survivor was like (indeed, I called her a burn “victim” then). But after talking with some burn survivors, and eventually casting off some superfluous and unnecessary fanciful plot twists, in the last big revision I came to see that there was far more material to probe in her coming back to the world, in the dark landscape of her friendship with her wild friend, and in actively connecting with people; so Little Alien no longer felt right. This is a book about Grace coming into her right to be alive, her power.
BL: Did anyone in your life in particular inspire your characterization of Grace’s mother?
I think Grace’s hoarding Ma is a personification of my own cluttered mind! But really, I’m fascinated by hoarding because a part of me understands it and has minor tendencies of my own toward holding on for emotional reasons, and not “seeing” what others would call a disaster around me. And as I’m married to a psychologist I get to have lots of interesting conversations with a professional. Most important, for the story I wanted Grace to experience, on every level possible, an emergence from the small, the cramped, and the dark–her mother being a hoarder made so much sense for the story as I revised it.
BL: You’ve written several novels. What moved this one to the top of your queue for publication?
In many ways this book felt like it was the closest to “done”–which turned out to be quite a joke played by my ego, as I wound up putting more work into this novel than any of the other 8 I’ve written. And of those 8 novels, all but two will likely remain shelved. They are my “miles of canvas” as an artist once told me about her process to getting a good painting done.
TW: You’re very physically active – do you think there is a link between a fit body and a fit mind?
JR: Well for me there’s a link between MOOD and body. I’m a MUCH nicer person when I exercise–and I definitely notice my mind gets clearer and burdens slough away when I go exercise, especially if I’m stressed. What is “fit” for one person is different for another. I take classes with marathon runners, and 80 year old women! I began exercising as a harried, exhausted, unfit mother when my son was 2. I had not slept a full night or exercised much in two years! I did it to start feeling better mentally. I can’t ever set the goal of “become fit” or “lose weight” because those goals have implicit self-judgment in them; instead, when exercise was making my mind and heart feel noticeably better, and I had fun in these dance classes, iit was the beginning of an addiction.
JPT: Your main character, Grace, moves through the world afraid of being touched, trying to avoid contact, and fearful of people’s eyes. Intimacy causes her physical pain as well as mental anguish. Her looks set her apart as well as her status as a phoenix, so to speak. How does your theme of isolation in Forged in Grace resonate for you personally?
I’ve never met a person who didn’t suffer some sort of isolation/alienation if only internally. I have beautiful friends who make themselves invisible and think they don’t deserve as much. I think Grace is a metaphor for the ways all of us feel ugly, unseen and unworthy.
JPT: What are you working on next?
I’m writing a novel about a former ingenue ballet dancer forced to give up her career when she became pregnant at 19. She gets drawn back into a strange and exciting dance company in her thirties with an alluring and maddening cast of characters. The too-good-to-be-true job soon proves to also be dangerous, and revealing about her own origins.