Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Jamie Cat Callan

Jamie Cat Callan is both a writer and writing teacher.. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Modern Love column, to The Missouri Review, to UCLA Magazine. Awards include the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, the Goldwyn Award in Screenwriting, two First Prizes in the Writers Digest Fiction Competition, a Bread Loaf Writing Conference Fellowship, and several residencies.

Her newest book, French Women Don't Sleep Alone: Pleasurable Secrets to Finding Love is her second book on love and romance. She’s also the author of three YA novels, including Just Too Cool, and is currently writing a new novel based on adventures she had as a script girl for Meg Ryan.

Her unique right brained approach to writing, which she’s taught at Yale University, Wesleyan University, NYU, UCLA, and closer to home, Boston's Grub Street, is explained in The Writers Toolbox: Creative Games and Exercises for the "Write" Side of Your Brain. We’re hoping she can give us a few hints here..

Jan: Tell us about your technique writing from the right side of your brain, and why it works.

Jamie:The Writers Toolbox evolved out of 25+ years of teaching writing. It's a box that contains sticks and cards and spiny dials--all geared to make writing fun. I began teaching writing in the late 70's in psychiatric hospitals to adolescents, so I learned early on that the best kind of writing happens when people feel relaxed and playful.

Writing from the right side of the brain means writing from that part of your brain that is intuitive and nonlinear and can make unexpected leaps and connections that move the narrative into interesting, even "dangerous" places. Writers tend to be sensitive people and often self-critical. The right brain games in The Writers Toolbox are all geared to make the process of writing a little less serious and a lot more fun. It's also very tactile and I think that inspires people to think in new ways.

Jan: Do you have any special tips to deal with procrastination or writers block (not that I have a problem with that or anything….ummm.) Do you have any advice on writing schedules, what works what fails?

Jamie: First of all, get out of the house. Shake up your routine. I often write in cafes. I keep a pad of paper and pen by my bedside and I'll even write down dialogue while on the phone or in line at the CVS. Make an appointment with yourself to write and keep it. Better yet, make an appointment with friends and write in a group. There's something special and inspirational about writing with friends. If all else fails, tell yourself you're just going to "fool around" when you sit down at the computer. Tell yourself you're just going to write 50 words. Generally, it's hard to stop at 50 words.

I'm also a believer in procrastination. I think that sometimes it simply means your subconscious mind is doing some important pre-writing. I would honor that.

Jan; If I’m making the correct assumptions, you’ve lived an adventurous, geographically- diverse life, moving from Connecticut to LA to New York to the Cape. Tell me how your life and experiences inspire your writing and your choice of writing projects.

Jamie: And I've lived in London and France and four different homes in Connecticut! Oh, and six different homes in New York--including a vegetarian commune and a single room occupancy hotel for women!

All these different homes have been challenging, but I love being shaken out of complacency. Every time I've moved, I've seen it as an opportunity to see the world in a brand new way and to see the world through a new character's eyes. One of my most successful stories, "Star Baby" (which appeared in Story Magazine back in the early 90's) was based on a conversation I had working temp in a real estate office in Orange County, California. This woman told me she was psychic and that was the beginning.

Of course, all my Hollywood stories and the new novel come from my experiences working for the actress Meg Ryan. Some of this writing has already been published in Buzz Magazine ("Hollywood Slave Girl Tells All") and The Missouri Review ("I Do Believe in Ghosts. I do. I do.") Truthfully, I continue to mine my adventures for stories. Right now, I'm living on Cape Cod. My husband is a climate change scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic and I love listening in on all the science talk. It's really so foreign to me, it's delicious.

I think writers are never truly "at home" anywhere. We are always slightly outside. We are the observers. So for me, moving has been very stimulating.

Jan: Being a Francophile myself, I'm especially interested in you new book Frenchwomen Don’t Sleep Alone. I know your grandmother was French, but was she the sole inspiration for this?

Jamie:You know, I never really appreciated my French grandmother when she was alive. In fact, I always told people I was Irish-American, because the French part seemed so mysterious to me. And now, I realize--that's the point! They're mysterious. I now look back at my life with my grandmother and how she taught me to stand up straight and how to wear a scarf and how to make an apple pie and I realize I have been very, very lucky. When I returned to France to research the book and interviewed all these French women, I realized that in a way they were giving back my very own DNA. I have always been French, but just didn't realize it. Nowadays, I embrace the French way of life--cooking, taking care of my skin, using the good china every day and of course, wearing a scarf.

Jan: Can you give us an inkling of what French women know that we don’t about love. What we can learn from them.

Jamie: Well, first of all--they don't date! They have dinner parties instead. Every Friday and Saturday night, they're entertaining one another. Married and singles mix. It's a great way to get to know a potential lover in the context of lively conversation and delicious food. And even after a man and a woman decide to get together privately--they still don't "date." Rather, they'll take a walk and again, this is a terrific way for a woman to be seen. This is the secret to their confidence.

Jan: And tell us about your novel-in-progress, and how you apply your writing philosophy to this.

Jamie:My new book is a Hollywood romp called "Whatever Happened to America's Sweetheart?" I don't write everyday, but I do write at least three times a week and yes, I often tell myself, "Oh, I'm just going to write 50 words." It really works. Also, lately, I've been writing at Starbucks. There's something about the crowd and the noise that helps distract the critical side of my brain. I also collect images of Hollywood movie stars and tabloid headlines and paste them on the wall of my office. That inspires me because I'm a very visual person.

For more information on Jamie, check out

And now the Jungle Red Writers Quiz:

Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot?

Hercule Poirot, of course, because he's French!

Sex or violence?

Always sex.

Pizza or chocolate?

Chocolate. Dark. But just a little (that's very French.

Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan? (We won't even include Sean Connery because we know the answer. Don't we?)

Ooooh, but I love Sean Connery. Okay, Pierce Brosnan. Daniel Craig is just too craggy.

Katherine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn?

Katherine Hepburn, because she's a fellow Yank and a feminist.

Myspace or Facebook?

Facebook, because I'm on it.

Your favorite non-mystery book?

Pride and Prejudice. Brilliant plot. Great dialogue. Funny and sexy.

Making dinner or making reservations?

Making dinner. And dinner parties!

And now, tell us four things about you that no one knows. Only three can be true. We'll guess.

1.My pet Siamese cat that won first prize at the Madison Square Garden Cat Show.

2.The name on my birth certificate is actually "June-Marie".

3.My father worked for the CIA.

4.I once dated a fire-eater.


  1. Welcome to Jungle Red, Jamie! And boy, you sure can lie. I'm guessing you didn't actually date a fire eater...

    French women wear scarves and throw dinner parties? I must be part French.

  2. Hey Jamie!

    YOur toolbox method is so terrific--I was a bit of a non-believer, I must admit, until I attended one of your seminars. Life-changing.

    Generally, I dont like to do "writing activities." But you changed my mind. Or say--enriched it.

    As for the French thing: what is is about scarves? How do they make them look so artless but perfect? Someone (oh, was it you?) told me French women (forgive the generalization) find one perfect white shirt and one perfect pair of jeans and one perfect pair of boots. And then wear that.

    While we deal in quantity. A failing proposition.


  3. Welcome to Jungle Red, Jamie. I agree totally with your thoughts on getting out and doing things to let creativity flow. I find driving around in the car is great when I'm trying to sort out a scene in my book. of course I sometimes wind up miles from where I intened to go....
    And I too had a French great grandmother. She looked fabulous in her photos even after 14 children. So I hope I've inherited a tiny portion of the je ne said quoi!

  4. What is it about dads with unusual jobs? ATF? CIA? Yikes.

  5. Hi Jamie, we're so pleased to have you here today! I'm really disappointed that I missed your seminar last fall given for the New England SinC chapter. Maybe you 'll come again...

    I don't really get the scarf thing, but I'm all for the dinner parties. Love the descriptions of non-dating. Let's take a JRW trip to Paris!

  6. Oh, great idea Roberta!SIgh. I don't have any chic French relatives. Or even any unchic ones.

    SO Jamie, give us a right brain exercise! S'il vous plait!

  7. Hank, you're right, when I lived in Aix-en-Provence, I noticed that women had only two or three really nice outfits that they wore all the time. Clothes were pretty expensive. But they made what they had look terrific. I'm all for the scarf thing, especially as I get older!
    Jamie, I'm going to have to catch your next seminar!


    Hey Jungle Red Writers--
    Thanks for all your great comments and the big warm welcome!
    What a great site you've got here. Oh, and Hallie, you are correct. I never dated a fire eater.
    I did meet a fire eater once at the Starbucks in Mashpee, Massachusetts. I was there, procrastinating, and finally--after talking to the fire eater and learning all about her life--writing! You can see, I'm also a big believer in distraction. I think sometimes the muse is quite whimsical and even a bit of a tease and will throw you off course, just so you can find yourself on a new, more interesting path. That's very right brain. Oh, and I also find driving helpful to get the juices flowing. Dorothea Brandt talks about repititive action as a way to tap into the subconsious mind. I love her book, "Becoming a Writer." It was written in the 1920's, but is still very fresh and when comes to the artists mind.
    Oh, and about the scarf and French women. I've done a lot of thinking about this--a lot of deconstructing too--and of course tying and re-tying my own scarves. But, I don't think it's the various knots and twists that make the French scarf so powerful. Rather, I think it's a fabulous accessory because it gives you permission to slowly "undress" in public. If you have an intricate knot, it takes time to unwind remove. You must pause. And it's kind of mesmerizing because you're actually "undressing"--just a little in public. I think mystery writers must love scarves for this reason. They're a little dangerous and very sexy!