Author Interview: Jana Jenkins

Sometimes as readers we forget that there’s a soul behind the page. From what I’ve seen and heard of Jenkins, I can tell she’s got a good one. She’s earnest and thoughtful, and does more for kids in her day job than most of us could hope to do in our whole lives. That she finds time to write in her busy schedule speaks to her passion for it.

I’ll let her tell you more in her own words, but I will say I was honored to interview her, and I truly am excited to see what things this kind-hearted (but sharp as a tack) author has in store for us.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hello! I’m Jana Jenkins, and I live in the middle of nowhere, Indiana, haha! My days are spent as a social worker, teaching child abuse prevention programs to kids age 5-12 across five Indiana counties. My spare time is spent writing, beekeeping, and raising my two boys.

Do you feel your experience as a social worker has influenced your writing in any way, either in subject or themes?

Yes, social work has definitely influenced my writing. I spent about ten years working as a case manager in the foster care system. I’ve written several flash fiction pieces about foster care and adoption; those causes are still very near and dear to my heart.

What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write?

I have kicked this question around for over a week, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t have a favorite novel! There are so many books that I love, across a variety of genres, that I simply can’t choose a favorite.

When I think about a book that has inspired me to write though, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn comes to mind. Anyone who has read my flash fiction knows that I love a good twist, and she pulled off some masterful twists in that book!

Tell us about your flash fiction anthology, Tiny Tales.

It’s still crazy to me that I even have a flash fiction anthology, honestly!

I’d never even heard of flash fiction until stumbling upon the Twitter writing community and #vss365 last February!

For anyone who might not be familiar with #vss365, it is a daily writing prompt on Twitter; it stands for very short story, 365 days a year. A daily prompt word is tweeted and then anyone who chooses can use that prompt to write a tweet-length story (280 characters).

I saw people writing these tiny stories and was intrigued. When I finally got brave enough to try one, I was hooked.

After a while, people started encouraging me to put my tweet stories into a collection, and Tiny Tales was born.

Tiny Tales contains about a year’s worth of tweet-length stories, and these stories cover pretty much every genre and contain a good amount of twists and surprises.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your books?

I’m currently working on my first novel, so Tiny Tales is the only book I’ve published so far, but my goal for both (and any future works) is the same. I want people to pick up my books and forget about anything else that may be going on in their lives; I want my books to be the kind that you start reading and can’t put down, the kind that helps you escape and entertain you. I just think, especially with everything going on in our world right now, it’s so important for people to be able to leave stress behind and do something they enjoy. I hope someday my books can be a part of that.

You say that you’d like readers to escape into your stories. With the stress of a job like social work, do you find yourself using reading as a similar escape, and has that influenced your writing in any way?

Yes, reading has always been an escape for me, and that definitely proves true when my job or life is really stressful. When writing, I think back to the books I’ve gotten lost in and study on how they did it and what it was I loved about them.

What is different about your books?

In most anything I write, I try to incorporate a twist or something unexpected. I love inviting people on a journey, teasing them with a destination, and then making a hard right turn at the very last second.

What are your plans for future books?

I am working on a novel, but it has been a pretty slow process thus far. My goal is to have the first draft finished this summer, so fingers crossed. After that, hopefully publishing it and then many more!

Your VSS anthology certainly does pack a punch with a lot of twists and turns in such short word counts. Do you find you enjoy writing short fiction over long? How is your experience been going from microfiction to writing a novel?

Short fiction definitely comes more naturally to me than writing longer pieces! I have a short attention span and get distracted easily, so staying focused on a novel has been a challenge. I’m just trying to take it a chapter at a time so it feels more like short fiction and doesn’t seem so overwhelming!

Do you think you’ll continue to self-publish or will you try querying for your full-length novel? Why or why not?

I think I’ll at least give querying a try, though just thinking about it stresses me out! Haha! I love the creative part of writing, but I don’t really like the business/marketing side of it, so it would be nice to have someone handle all of that for me. If querying leads nowhere though, I’d definitely self-publish again or check out some of the great small and independent publishers.

What inspires you to write?

Most of what I write is inspired by everyday life. I’ve worked in a variety of social work positions over the years, and they have given me a front-row view to the best and worst of humanity. Often, real-life really is stranger than fiction!

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?

I’ve only published once so far, so the entire process was a huge learning experience for me. I chose to self-publish my tweet collection, and the biggest struggle for me was actually the formatting. I lost count of how many times I had to reformat the ebook and paperback versions before I finally got them right.

I actually really enjoyed doing the cover, though. I used free graphic design software and went through several versions before settling on the final cover. Finally seeing my name on a cover when it was finished was such an amazing feeling, and it made all the stress feel worth it!

What has been your greatest struggle in the writing process, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?

My greatest struggle is absolutely, without a doubt, making myself sit down and actually write. I have a million ideas and I love daydreaming about them and coming up with stories, but putting those stories onto paper is where I always lose steam. My time seems so limited and writing often gets pushed to the back of the line.
I wish I could give other writers help to overcome this, but I’m still trying to figure this one out myself!

How can we purchase your books?

My book, Tiny Tales, is available on Amazon as ebook and paperback.

Book Review: Tiny Tales

Tiny tales that cover everything from love, to heartbreak, to murder, and are sure to satisfy even the shortest of attention spans.

I first came across Tiny Tales by Jana Jenkins when I was starting to initiate a new reading habit. It had been nearly a decade since I was an active reader, and while I was making progress, I was struggling to find books that would hold my attention. Tiny Tales is a series of bite-sized stories that range in genre, but all of which leave you with an aftertaste that lingers.

Tiny Tales is a collection of microfiction—stories that are three-hundred words or less. In Jana Jenkins case, these stories are the size of a tweet, and were originally posted on her twitter under the #vss365 tag (very short stories 365.) They are at most 280 characters long to fit into the size of a tweet.

It’s broken into five sections: The Wicked Ones, The Wholesome Ones, The Creepy Ones, The Bittersweet Ones, and The Cheeky Ones. Each section has a different tone—you can guess which is which from the section titles. Though each story shares a mood, the characters, settings, genres, and plot are different in each individual microstory.

The Good:

Many of the stories in Tiny Tales employ a literary technique that always, always gets me excited, because it’s one of my favorites that I often use in my own fiction. Most of the stories have a plot twist at the climax or at the end of the action. That is to say, many of the stories lead the viewer into thinking it’s going in one direction, but pull the rug under us surprising us with a creepy, amusing, or heartwarming twist. This technique is a great tool in microfiction which often relies on extreme plot changes for intrigue, and Jenkins wields it well.

The advantage of having the stories fit into categories is that you can pick a story based on the mood you’re in or the mood you aspire to. Feeling down? Read some of The Cheeky Ones. Need a good cry? Read some of The Wholesome ones. The brevity means you’re not committed to spending large chunks of time on any one story, so you can be flexible on where you’re reading.

There are some stories that broke my heart, some that gave me chills, and some that literally made me laugh out loud. It was a rollercoaster that was well worth the minute cost I paid for such a wide variety of moments.

Should You Read It?

The beauty of Tiny Tales is that the stories are so compact. You can read through the stories in one big go through like any other book, but if you have the Kindle app on your phone, you can also read it story by story between waiting in doctor’s offices, between meetings, or on your break at work. The stories themselves can be read in a minute or less, making them easy to swallow quickly in short spurts. This made them such a good break for my mind, taking me a bit out of my life and into another world for just a little while. A small escape.

And that may be the biggest strength of Tiny Tales: it teaches non-readers the fine art of how to escape into a book. When I saw the premise for Tiny Tales, it was like it was written for people like myself. We’re trained by our technology, advertising, and media to not give anything any more than a few seconds of our attention at a time to begin with. It’s no wonder many of us struggle with such an attention-intensive activity as reading a book. While by no means should the novel go by the wayside, there’s something to be said about books like Tiny Tales being used as a bridge between the inattentive reader and the one who can read a full novel. It’s a teaching tool as much as an enjoyable experience.

Spark Level:

I rated Tiny Tales by Jana Jenkins a Spark Level of Book of Matches. Each tale made a small spark that gave me an inkling of an emotion, a tiny moment of time in a life not my own.

Trigger Warnings: None