New Release: Gloria Takes a Stand by Jess Rinker ’14
This is Jess Rinker’s beautifully written debut publication and she’s got more to come! Read on to discover how she became the author of a biography about an American Icon! Jess has been touring the country, visiting schools and appearing on radio talk shows. She’s taking a stand herself. Remind you of anyone?
What was the initial spark for writing this inspirational biography?
This book began a little bit differently than pretty much everything else I’ve ever written because I wasn’t planning on writing it! Back in 2015, I picked up Gloria Steinem’s memoir My Life on the Road and I was so taken by her story that I began reading everything about her. This was only for my own edification initially. I was struggling with a lot of circumstances/emotions at the time and Gloria’s writing gave me strength. One day my agent put out some ideas for her clients on our private Facebook page and one of those ideas was a Gloria Steinem picture book. She did not know I was already up to my eyeballs in Gloria’s work! So, I claimed the idea and the rest is history! Jess was already halfway there!
What sources did you consult? What did research look like for you? Did you reach out to your subject?
The unique thing about this biography—and I’m learning this as I go because my next biography has been an entirely different process—is that since Gloria is a prolific writer, I really only needed to consult her own words. I did pick up a couple biographies of her, but nothing rang as true as her own voice. I also watched every documentary and interview I could find, found countless photos online, read many of her articles…the internet was quite helpful. The fact Gloria is still alive and still speaking and writing also helps. I did try to secure an interview with her but I was not granted one. Fortunately, because she’s such an icon, there was a ton of material for me to pull from. She’s kind of a dream subject!
What hurdles or obstacles did you have to overcome to accomplish this book? And what super power did you discover about yourself?
The entire experience was a challenge. Maybe not an obstacle, but definitely a major learning curve. I had zero experience with picture books and zero experience with non-fiction. But I do believe writers can figure out pretty much anything they want to do. At least this writer can. Maybe that’s my super-power—I am determined to figure things out. No one can tell me I can’t do something, not even myself. In fact, usually when I make a public announcement that I’m frustrated and shelving a project, I pick it back up in a couple days and figure it out. Haha!
What things (objects, music, silence, walks…) inspire your writing experience? Did you listen to music from the 60s and 70s?
I don’t listen to music when I’m writing but I did create an awesome feminist playlist afterwards. It’s called Gloria Takes a Stand and anyone can listen and add rockin’ songs.
I don’t know that I had anything specific to this book, but with every project, walks are huge for me; short naps, actually, are really helpful, and a big one is allowing myself time away from the story. I take a lot of breaks from projects. I find that taking a step back allows me to make connections that I’m missing. Usually in that time I’ll just jump to another project. I work on several things at a time.
Did you work on this manuscript while at VCFA? How was your time at VCFA valuable to this project?
I did not work on this during VCFA. In fact, I never even attempted a picture book while I was there! What VCFA did for me was boost my confidence and further instill the value of finishing. Not to mention improving my craft. If I could go back, I’d take the picture book semester, but I feel the MFA is a benefit to anything I write from here on out simply because it taught me how to be an opportunist and made me believe in myself in a big way. I won several scholarships during my time there and proved to myself that I can pretty much write anything as long as I’m true to the work, and trust myself and the process. I wrote almost exclusively YA while at VCFA, but since graduating I’ve sold picture books, middle grade, and chapter books. So…go figure!
Can you share your publication journey? The illustrations are lovely and vibrant and include many other familiar female faces. What was your reaction to seeing first images?
The art is so unique and beautiful. Daria is incredible. The journey was long—three years. After it sold, it was quite a while before I saw any of the sketches, but it was really fun to see all the stages as it came together. From the beginning I loved Daria’s style. She had another book already coming called This Is It and it was beautiful, so I had confidence she’d do a great job. Normally the author and artist don’t interact much, but Daria and I connected online in the last six months or so and we met face-to-face and presented together at the LA Times Book Fest. We’re doing another as well as a school visit together at the Salisbury Children’s Fest in Maryland. It’s a rather unusual arrangement but I think I can speak for both of us that we feel it’s a privilege and are grateful for Bloomsbury’s incredible support of us and the book.
What year did you graduate from VCFA? What is your class name? Who were your advisors? What one lesson stays with you the most? What are your favorite memories from VCFA?
I graduated in July 2014, The Allies in Wonderland. I think our class name speaks to my greatest lesson—community. VCFA taught me how important other people are, especially in the writing community. Prior to I was very much a lone wolf, but now I treasure my relationships in a new way. So much so, I married one of my classmates! One of the lectures that illustrates this connection perfectly for me was when Alan Cumyn had us all sing “Halleluiah.” I will never forget that. As for my advisors, in order, I had An Na, who taught me how to reign myself in; Bonnie Christensen, who taught me how to play; Louise Hawes, who held my hand; and April Lurie, who set me free. These women were the perfect mentors I needed at the time I had them, in writing and for what was going on in my life at the time. Poor VCFA faculty—I wonder if anyone warns them they’re going to end up being therapists as well as writing coaches? This isn’t the experience for every student, but I knew the first time I stepped on campus at an Open House in March 2012, that my life would never look the same again. And I was 100% right. I wouldn’t change a single thing.