||Jan Marquart is a psychotherapist and author who has written in every imaginable genre from fiction to memoir to poetry to self-help. She won the Writer's Digest Self-Published award in 2000 for The Breath of Dawn and the Achievement in Poetry Award by the International Library of Poetry in 2005 and has published poetry, stories, and essays in Victim Poetry, ladyinkmagazine.com, Solecisms, and Random Access Poetics. Her many books are available on Amazon and through her website. She is founder and CEO of About the Author Network, an organization dedicated to helping authors write, publish and sell their books. Jan has taught on-line writing classes for the Story Circle Network and will be leading a Story Circle Network Writing from Life workshop November 2, 2013 in Austin, TX. Lisa Shirah-Hiers interviewed her via email for the Story Circle Journal.
Read Lisa Shirah-Hiers's review of The Mindful Writer: Still the Mind, Free the Pen for StoryCircleBookReviews.org.
Interviewed by Lisa Shirah-Hiers
Posted on 08/17/2013
How did you become both a writer and a therapist?
I was born in Brooklyn and lived there until I decided to go to college in California. I quit a great job as a legal secretary on Wall Street which disturbed my parents, but I couldn't see myself taking shorthand and typing someone else's ideas forever. I wanted to find out what I thought and desired to write since I was eight but tucked it away when my parents didn't show an interest. When I enrolled in UCSC I met a friend who recommended I keep a journal. I have written every day since June, 1972. I studied philosophy and then got my master in Social Work.
What do you wish people knew about you?
That is a great question. I have felt misunderstood most of my life and I realized that the thinking many people do is so limited and fearful. I suppose that's why I write so much. When the pressure builds inside me I have to say it somehow, through some genre and still keep hope and faith. It takes a lot for me to ask for help, not because I can't ask but because I don't believe my life's problems belong to anyone but me. I'd like people to know that for anyone who is suffering, me or anyone else, to receive an offer of help restores faith in humanity.
Evidence for and trusting one's own intuition seems to be a major theme in much of your writing. Can you speak a little about that?
In the last twenty something years I had quite a few people tell me I couldn't do something while something inside me told me I could. They thought I just wanted to battle with them but I wasn't battling. I wasn't being recalcitrant. I truly knew I could do what they said I couldn't and proceeded from there. Turns out I did everything others told me I couldn't. So when people tell me what they think I am or am not capable of, I listen to the message from my gut. Sometimes my gut agrees and sometimes it doesn't. When I know better and I rationalize a reason not to listen to that voice, I suffer terribly. Listen to everyone but rarely take their comments to heart, especially when it comes to your capability.
Another theme seems to be trusting yourself to know what is right for you. Do you think that is particularly hard for women?
Yes. Women pay huge prices for not listening to and trusting themselves. But the truth is that to change this problem, the whole world has to change. There is only a narrow opening for women to fully take on their own lives. This problem is addressed on the news each day. The irony is women hold up the sky. We are so strong, creative, and resilient. We are told by society in so many subtle ways that we need to be told how to do this or that, even about our own bodies.
Of all the various genres you have tried, which seemed to come most naturally? Which was most challenging?
Once I start writing I don't feel as if I'm struggling with any of them. I think poetry is the most challenging because I don't know any formal poetry styles. I just write according to the power that comes through me.
Do you think fiction is harder than non-fiction?
Not really. In non-fiction you really have to know what you're talking about or you come off as an idiot. So when I write non-fiction I do lots of research and work to get all my ducks in a row before I publish. Fiction, on the other hand, shows me a way to have more fun with writing. I realized half-way into the manuscript of Kate's Way and half-way into The Basket Weaver that I could design any ending I wanted. In non-fiction that is not a luxury. Readers of non-fiction are counting on facts. Kate's Way and The Basket Weaver started out serious in that they started out with something I wanted to address or heal in my life. Then it came time to create an ending and I realized the ending was only going to come about if I molded it the way I wanted. So it was like finger painting and pushing color into new spaces.
Why did you write Echoes from the Womb? What do you hope readers will take away from it?
I began Echoes because I was trying to come to grips with my own mother and because my story was replayed dozens of times in my sessions with daughters who brought in their mothers and mothers who brought in their daughters for counseling. I wanted women to not only read the book but to process how they could overcome the pain in their relationship with their mothers so I added journal exercises at the end. I received note cards from women all over the country explaining how this book helped them. It was heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time.
You just received your most recent book, Cracked Open: A Book of Poems. What can you tell us about it?
I lived in NM for six years with the plan to heal from environmental illness. While I was busy doing that I met several people who brought more trauma to my life. There I was living on five acres of paradise with the most hellish experiences that involved people I thought I could trust and a serious health issue most people don't heal from. I went to NM because of the need for great physical healing but met with many relationship issues that needed healing as well. That's where I sat on the land and wrote many of my books. I knew if I didn't write out what I needed to heal in one genre or another, I would not get well.
When I moved to Austin I wanted to write about some of the traumatic events that occurred in NM but I didn't have the energy. So one day I wrote down a list of words to keep me reminded of what I wanted to write about when I got my second breath. Instead I wound up playing with the words and phrases. They turned into poems, although I do not consider myself a poet. On-line publications printed a few of them and slowly but surely Cracked Open emerged.
Which book did you most enjoy writing?
That's difficult. Each book had a different point of view and in a way I enjoyed writing each of them because with each came healing. I think [my novel] The Basket Weaver might have been more fun. Most of the book is true—and I wrote it to overcome my toxic relationship with my sister so I could free trapped energy for my own healing. Halfway through it I realized I could play with the story and thus wrote "the rest of the story."
Do you use an editor or agent?
I had an agent for Kate's Way. I got her name from Lynn Andrews after asking her for an endorsement for [my how-to book] The Mindful Writer. As far as editors—I hire retired school teachers, friends, strangers, and anyone who would read my manuscripts. I like getting ordinary readers to give me their comments.
All writers need to know that it takes other people to tell them what they like to read. We write in isolation but we must come out into the world with our manuscripts to see if they even make sense. I only make the changes that don't compromise the integrity of what I've written.
In what specific ways have you promoted your books? What has worked well and what hasn't?
The best way I've promoted and sold books is by reading but it is difficult for self-published authors to get accepted to [do a book reading.] With my new site (About the Author Network) I plan on arranging book readings for self-published authors so we can unite and not let the publishing world throw us off the cliff.
What advice would you give to beginning writers?
Don't worry about how to discipline yourself to write. Don't worry about whether you can write or not. If you have something to say simply say it. You can't edit or publish anything unless you have written something first. I hear writers tell me in my workshops how frightened they are that someone they love will be angry at what they write. In my experience too many people don't do what they desire because of the criticism of narrow-minded and fear-based people. This is a dangerous place for writers. Write. Let other people decide how to behave around what you write.
What do you find most rewarding about the different aspects of your career?
Years ago I wrote for my own benefit. When I was at work I'd counsel families and teach in corporations. As the years advanced I realized that my writing was therapeutic and my clients advanced in their healing faster when they looked inward and wrote. Now the process has become so synchronized I can barely tell them apart.
What are some dreams you have for the future?
I dream of developing a writing retreat for authors. My new site (About the Author Network) is a way to start paving a way to that dream. I also dream of being with a man who supports my writing. So far men have been threatened by any of my dreams. I'd love to own my own home again, build my finances to a place where I can help contractors build safe homes for the environmentally ill. Being homeless when you are sick is a nightmare I can't even find words for.
I'd like to develop my Write to Heal program so I can teach it in hospitals and clinics around the world. I'd like to write a memoir about the last 13 years but that book will require much to be written: finances, privacy, solitude, lots of Kleenex. When it is ready to be re-birthed it will present its labor pains.
What are some accomplishments you are most proud of?
No matter what anyone said about me I always worked to believe in myself. I healed two illnesses doctors said I couldn't. I have owned three homes in the last 30 years and never missed a mortgage payment, even when the financial challenges were great and everyone around me said I couldn't do it without a husband. I have made a conscious effort to remain kind and caring towards others because I learned that no matter what it seems, there is always a backdrop to every life.
To learn more about Jan's workshops and events or to order her books visit her website. If you are interested in becoming an author or have a book to write, publish or sell visit the About the Author Network website.