Fem: Tell us about your first novel.
Jan Saenz: It’s called The Domestics. It’s like Unfaithful meets a “remember when” love story. It follows Veronica, a 33-year-old stay-at-home-mom, who is on the brink of a meltdown. She’s desperate to cover up a brief love affair with a 22-year-old neighbor, as well as the abortion that followed, yet she’s determined to resurrect the love her husband and her once had. It’s a darker provocative alternative to the modern domestic novel—a raw honest look at love, marriage, the courage to forgive, and the journey to preserve the dream of happily-ever-after as it applies to one’s self. It’s my first born and I’m really excited to be working with an agent on it.
F: What was the hardest part about completing your novel?
JS: For me, it was saying goodbye to certain characters, knowing that my exploration of them would probably always feel unfinished so long as the novel existed. There’s so much you want to give your characters, you feel like they all deserve to continue. To age and evolve. I would image that’s why series books are so popular in this day and age. Not only do the readers get to hang on to those characters a bit longer, but the authors do too. I don’t write series books so I wouldn’t know, but it’s definitely something to consider for that reason.
F: Who or what inspires your writing?
JS: Everyone and everything! Seriously, the spectrum is broad, as it should be for artists. You’ve got to know what fascinates you if you want to create something special. The majority of my writing is entirely fictional, yet heartbreakingly personal. I draw inspiration from experience. My southern upbringing. My attitude toward human sexuality, religion, family, drugs, nostalgia . . . every piece of writing is a personal exploration. But of course inspiration comes externally as well. Music is big for me—everything I write has a soundtrack. I love the poems of Charles Bukowski. The photographs of Diane Arbus. The essays of Susan Sontag. The films of Adrian Lyne. The screenplays of Diablo Cody. The stand-up of George Carlin. Essentially, inspiration is triggered by the lean of one’s personal taste, and I tend to lean toward the dark. My favorite thing about inspiration is that moment when an idea first sparks. When you think, “Holy shit, I’ve got it!” The novel I’m working on now came to me during a trip I took to a place called Jacob’s Well—it’s this quant little swimming hole in Central Texas. I knew what subject matter I wanted to tackle, but I didn’t know how to frame it. And for some reason, that swimming hole spoke to me. I could see the entire plot of my novel in a matter of minutes. I love that moment—that first realization—when you see the potential of your next project.
F: How do you feel your writing and feminism intersect?
JS: My hope is that the feminist elements in my writing are sub-textual in a way that feels comfortable for women who normally don’t reach for feminist work. Not that I’m trying to be sneaky but . . . no, I’m trying to be sneaky. Haha! Having said that, my writing never starts with an agenda, it starts with a voice. And feminism is all about voice. How you use it. What words or actions you choose to express it. For example, my novel, The Domestics, follows a woman who is relatively submissive but I chose to put her in situations where she was forced to make decisions. I didn’t write her as a feminist, but rather an every-woman who had to face choices: abortion, infidelity, religion, maternal guilt, self-judgment. My hope is when I write about these things—regardless of my reasons—it opens up a dialogue for people who may or may not typically talk about such things. I could argue that all my female characters—in novels and short stories—struggle with some type of internal repression that’s been brought on by men. Don’t get me wrong; I love men. But as a writer, it’s interesting to see what the subconscious will dredge up. You learn a lot about yourself when you’re a writer.
F: Tell us about BadGirlBookmarks. What was the motivation behind it?
JS: Like most writers, I’ve got mad love for actual books. Physical ones you can hold in your hand. A couple years ago, Patti Smith won a National Book Award for Just Kids, and in her acceptance speech she made a beautiful plea to publishers—no matter how much technology advanced—to not abandon the book. That speech really struck a chord with me. This was also around the time that e-books on Amazon were outselling paperbacks for the first time, and there was a lot of uncertainty in the publishing world as to what would become of books. So fast forward to me in a bookstore one day and I’m trying to pick out a bookmark, and they were all so bogus. So cheesy. Cats and tassels. Metal clips and built-in lights. Fuckin’ paisley patterns. Even searching online was a depressing feat. Was no one making cool simple classic bookmarks?! So I decided to combine my passion for keeping books alive with my passion for crude tongue-in-cheek humor. It’s a product-line I hope to expand over time. Sometimes I think, “what the hell am I doing fiddling with bookmarks?” But it’s a fun venture and bookmarks are practical and old-school, my two favorite qualities in a product.
F: How does your background in theatre inform your writing?
JS: I adore this question. I was a theatre brat for the majority of my academic life—from middle school to my bachelor’s degree. My literary beginnings went from R.L. Stine and V.C. Andrews to Samuel French scripts practically overnight. To this day, I can give up books but never scripts. Dialogue is where it’s at, in my opinion. I consider it the strongest aspect of my writing because of my background in theatre. Also, spending so many years as an actress, my transition into a writer felt very natural. As a performer, you’ve got so much more in your head than what’s provided by the playwright, and the script restricts you from showing the audience how deep your character goes—how much you’ve explored them beyond their dialogue. With novels, you don’t have that restriction. As an ex-thespian, that freedom to take a character and just splatter their thoughts and motivations all over the page—it kicks ass. I was able to take my theatre education and utilize it in a non-theatre way. I’m a lucky gal.
Jan Saenz is a writer living in North Houston. Her website features everything from rants to writing tips, playlists to photographs. In addition to writing, she runsbadgirlbookmarks.com—a fun product line for bookworms and potty mouths. Find her at www.jansaenz.com or follow her on Twitter @jan_saenz.