11 Oct Episode 180: #CharacterEnneagramRabbitHole
Shortcut to finding our characters’ worst flaws and deepest fears? Yes, thank you.
All Sarina had to do was say “protagonist character analysis” and we were off. Enneagrams, for those who have never heard of them [raises hand high] are descriptions of character types intended for “journeys of self-discovery.” But when it comes to knowing more about your protagonist (and love interest and antagonist and their mother and all the people) they’re pure solid gold, especially if you go romping down the rabbit hole of reading what people in various types (there are 9, with a “wing” in one direction or another) think of themselves and their relationships.
Suddenly, you can think about how your character would play fantasy football, or interview for a job. But the best part is diving deep into how your character behaves at her/his/their very worst, and very best, along with what they most fear and what they believe they want. It’s like real butter on movie popcorn, people.
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LINKS FROM THE PODCAST
The Enneagram Institute (length type descriptions and relationships between the types under the “LEARN” tab).
Enneagram and Coffee on Instagram.
#AmReading (Watching, Listening)
KJ: The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai
Sarina: The Play, Elle Kennedy
This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwritingfor details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s Inside-Outline template.
If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.
The image in our podcast illustration this week is from enneagramandcoffee on Instagram, and I asked permission to use it, although I confess that I’m posting it pre-reply. But I feel good about our odds. Plus, fun follow for everyone!
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Transcript (We use an AI service for transcription, and while we do clean it up a bit, some errors are the price of admission here. We hope it’s still helpful.)
KJ: 00:01 Hey Book people, before today’s episode of #AmWriting, I want to tell you about something new from our sponsor, Author Accelerator. No matter where you are in your own work, you’ve probably found yourself working with other writers on theirs. If that time spent encouraging, editing and helping someone else turned out to be pure joy for you, you might want to consider becoming a book coach yourself. Author Accelerator provides book coaching to authors (like me) but also needs and trains book coaches. If that’s got your ears perked up, head to https://www.authoraccelerator.com and click on “become a book coach.” Is it recording?
Jess: 00:01 Go ahead.
KJ: 00:01 This is the part where I stare blankly at the microphone like I don’t remember what I was supposed to be doing.
Jess: 00:01 All right, let’s start over.
KJ: 00:01 Awkward pause, I’m going to rustle some papers.
Jess: 00:01 Okay.
KJ: 00:01 Now one, two, three. Hey I’m KJ Dell’Antonia and this is #AmWriting. We are the podcast about all things, writing short things, long things, fictional things, non-fictional things, memoirs things. And as I say, every single week in a variety of different ways, this is the podcast about sitting down and getting your work done.
Jess: 01:23 And I’m Jess Lahey. I’m the author of the Gift of Failure and a forthcoming book on preventing substance abuse in kids that is due in seven days. And you can find my writing at various places including the Washington Post and the New York Times.
Sarina: 01:41 I’m Sarina Bowen, the author of more than 30 romance novels and you can find me at sarinabowen.com.
KJ: 01:49 And I am KJ Dell’Antonia author of How To Be a Happier Parent and have a novel that will be coming out next summer. And the former editor of the New York Times’ Motherlode blog. For the most part at the moment you can find me sitting in front of my laptop writing a new novel. And I’m going to just own that Sarina and I are snuggled up in our small town library, gazing out at there are a lot of really pretty trees, but these that we can see are not super spectacular and that, I forgot my microphone. So we might sound a little echoey.
Jess: 02:24 And from my perspective, I’m looking out on the woods behind my house and there are a couple of red leaves out there, but it’s Vermont and it’s just starting to get that orangy glow to it. It’s really pretty. What was crazy is this week I went from Vermont – where I was wearing a sweatshirt – and I traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina where it was oppressively hot, it was like 95 degrees. And then I went New York where it was cold again and then back here. So it’s just been a really interesting week of summer and getting into fall. So, I’m ready for fall. I’m happy about it.
KJ: 03:09 And now this is the podcast about all things weather, and enough of that. I am so excited about our topic today because this is going to be super fun. We’re going to talk Enneagrams, which is a rabbit hole that Sarina went down one day. And then quickly texted to me and I immediately dove right in after her. But let me just say before you all go, ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute’. We’re not talking about our own Enneagrams, although we might. We’re going to talk about doing it for characters, because it’s so cool. But before we do, what is an Enneagram for those of us who don’t know, which was actually mostly all of us until we started this. You can do the defining.
Sarina: 04:07 Oh good. The Enneagram, which seems to have had most of its big talk in the 60s with psychiatrists. Working in psychiatry in the 1960’s and 70’s is a framework for explaining various human psychological profiles, personality typing.
KJ: 04:34 It is not the one where you get I,D, J, H, Q, B, Y. This is the one where you get a number.
Sarina: 04:42 So there’s nine numbers in a shape. And you were referring to the Myers-Briggs system personality typing, which I’m honestly not a huge fan of. Partly because it was forced upon me by my corporate overlords in my previous work life.
Sarina: 05:03 But the Enneagram is, as we’ll discuss, uniquely useful for writers. Because both personality type systems have a lot to do with preferences and how you prefer to handle things and how you see the world. The Enneagram I quickly discovered is also really focused on character flaws. Like your super power is also your greatest weakness, right?
KJ: 05:28 Which is so perfect for creating both main characters and secondary characters. I mean, that’s exactly what you need to know. What does this person fear? And what do they want? And that’s what these nine types are. And also, I mean partly because there are nine and then they sort of spread out. There’s like, the enthusiastic who leans towards the challenger or leans towards the loyalist. You get a lot of different – this is not cookie cutter, it’s got a lot to it.
Sarina: 06:03 Right. And if you get a book about Enneagrams and you take a look, you’ll see some discussion of the wings, which is a theory with the Enneagram that each of the nine types also has a secondary type, which is the adjacent number.
KJ: 06:38 So 27 possibilities, but all of which have a lot of range within them and happily you don’t have to get a book on this, you can just hit our friend uncle Google.
KJ: 06:52 Right. And there’s some nice reliable sources for information.
Sarina: 06:57 And our favorite is the Enneagram Institute. I was pointed there (I’d like to give a shout out to author Nana Malone) who is the first person who ever said the word Enneagram to me. And I had to go look it up and Nana Malone is a romance writer and now I need to go read everything she’s written because she has a wonderfully nuanced understanding of how this all works for character typing. And she really sort of walked me through how she looks at it and I was immediately hooked.
KJ: 07:27 We’re enchanted, in part because one of the things I like about this (besides that it helps you) we all start with a character and we have this sort of mental picture, and I think we often start from something kind of flat. You often start with a stereotype. So you’re often like, ‘Well, my person is a real type A, or my person is a real introvert. Like you kinda just start with one word and then you build from there. And after you’ve spent a little time building, then you can dig into these Enneagrams and you’ll find the one that fits the person that you’re creating. And then you can sort of start reading a little more and go, ‘Oh yeah, totally.’ We’re in the Enneagram Institute right now and we’re looking at the peacemaker. So peacemakers are accepting, and trusting, and stable. And you could see that could be a character, but then you know, you can go like really sort of down into it and they have a universal temptation to ignore the disturbing aspects of life and seek peace and comfort. They numb out. You can see how you can really use this to create someone.
Sarina: 08:51 So everybody’s biggest super power is also their biggest weakness. And even though we like the sound of that as fiction writers, this really shows you how to do it.
KJ: 09:03 I’m just looking at nine here. It even tells you exactly what it is that nine is. We’re not proposing you just grab this and like stick it into a book cold. But if you have a character who’s a nine, their want is for everything to be peaceful and pleasant and can’t we all just get along? But their need, which is right here on the bottom of the list of description of nine, is to remember that the only way out is through and you can’t just brush your troubles under the carpet. And there you go. I mean, that’s practically a plot right there.
Sarina: 09:40 It is. And they all are. Maybe we should just dive in and give a few examples. I’m writing a nine right now. Well, nine is, as you said, that the peacemaker or the peaceful mediator. And most any gram resources will tell you what is that person’s greatest fear? And nine’s fear being shut out. And they fear being overlooked. They fear losing connection with others and all kinds of conflict, tension, and discord. So, what they’re longing for is that their presence really matters. And their desire is for inner stability and peace of mind, because of those basic fears. And so you can see that their weakness then would be to hide from the stuff that isn’t quite hitting their peacemaker senses. So, you could remain in an idealistic place psychologically and not cope with the things going on around you.
KJ: 10:51 So this person needs to sort of break through that desire to keep everything idealistic and feeling like it’s all safe and calm and get to a point where they actually feel secure.
Sarina: 11:07 So let’s contrast the nine with a seven.
KJ: 11:09 That’s perfect because I’m writing a seven.
Sarina: 11:11 Me too.
KJ: 11:12 Oh, excellent.
Sarina: 11:14 Well, my seven is a party boy.
KJ: 11:16 My seven is a failed child actress.
Sarina: 11:21 Well, this number is usually called the enthusiast. And their basic desire is to be happy and satisfied, fulfilled and engaged. So sevens hate boredom and they’re easily bored. And I was listening to a podcast with Ian Cron who has what is probably the most popular Enneagram book out there. And it has a bright yellow cover, The Road Back To You, I think. And he was very clear about how sevens leave a wake of unfinished projects behind them because of their attention span. And there’s always something more interesting to be doing. And I really particularly liked his descriptive appeal about all of these. And there’s one, I don’t think it started like this in the 60’s and 70’s, but a lot of the writings about Enneagrams now are from a faith-based kind of Christian perspective. I don’t read much faith-based stuff, but he had a really light touch that that made me want to seek out his book anyway. Even if even if the Christian angle is not what’s interesting to me about it. So the seven and the nine don’t look at the world the same way, even though they’re in the same world together sometimes and have to have to sort through that. And in each case you’re handed weaknesses. And so if you look at the Enneagram Institute site, it will actually tell you what a romantic pairing.
KJ: 13:05 We can just look that up right now. Relationships types, we’ve got a seven and a nine here and I’ll just go under seven and hit the nine. And we can see what each type brings to the relationship.
Sarina: 13:21 They bring a good mix of similar and opposite qualities. Fundamentally, they’re both positive outlook types who are optimistic, upbeat, and prefer to avoid conflicts.
KJ: 13:33 There’s gotta be a but here.
Sarina: 13:34 Oh, there’s absolutely always a but. That’s why we like Enneagrams. So sevens are more active and self-assertive than nines. They tend to take initiatives and to make the plans and have multiple interests and they bring the fun and sparkle and the party atmosphere. Well nines bring a sense of steadiness and support so you can see how that might build.
KJ: 13:56 And that’s one of the things sevens want is somebody to take care of them. One of the seven’s weaknesses that I’ve found that I’m exploiting in my person is that they want to feel like somebody else. They would like to seed the decision making to someone else. So that they can just sort of party along, having a good time and you know, getting a chance to try everything and do everything and experience everything, but not necessarily have to make any hard choices. So here are the potential trouble spots for that possible relationship between the seven and the nine. Sevens are more equipped to talk about whatever’s bothering them. But they often feel they cannot help themselves and honesty demands they tell the nine how unhappy they are with them.
Sarina: 14:54 That’s a good scene.
KJ: 14:55 One of the sunniest and most carefree couples can become one of the most hopelessly tortured if they become unwilling or unable to really talk with each other. Why do I have a feeling that is going to happen to the poor seven and nine?
Sarina: 15:10 But that’s also like the classic Harry Potter and Dumbledore problem, right? Just knock on his office door, Harry.
KJ: 15:17 That’s every book. I mean, it’s not a good book unless you’re shouting, ‘Just tell them. Just tell people, just tell everyone what’s wrong. Just tell them the truth.’.
Sarina: 15:28 You know what, though? You make a good point because that is in every book, but it’s not always good in every book. So you have to earn it.
KJ: 15:36 And it has to be different and the person has to have a really good reason for not telling the truth. So you have to understand why they’re not going to. And if they don’t, if you’re sitting there reading along going, ‘Oh, come on. Like you know, this character would just tell her boss everything or whatever, then that’s it.’ You’re not going to keep going. So, Enneagrams can help you to find the reasons that your character is not telling the deep dark secret. Not telling the deep, dark secret is not revealing everything about themselves or whatever. And then you can also head out and have a look. So one of the things I think is fun about the Enneagram is that it’s a great way to find some things about your character that would be true to this person that you have created, that are also quirky. And a funny way to do that if you just want to sort of wander through the world of quirks of different things is to (I mean there’s probably a lot of places to do this) but we happened to have found the Instagram account for Enneagrams and Coffee. It’s lovely, it’s really funny. So, for example there’s a post here where she says, ‘I need someone who for each Enneagram type. So sevens need someone who doesn’t stop on my ideas and nine needs someone who asks them really good questions and genuinely listened to the answers. Sometimes these are funny, sometimes they’re not. But the reason I loved it is you can come up with a bizarre quirk that your person always does. So walking down the sidewalk sevens are dance walking. And you could use that. And what you get is sort of quirks that are gonna be consistent with a personality type that maybe you are not, but you know people that are like this, you can feel it. You can sort of get their three-dimensionals. For example, when they play fantasy football they’re the one that’s always trying to trade. Or whatever. That might not occur to you, but it might be perfect for your person. And it’s just fun.
Sarina: 18:04 I liked the fantasy football one, too. I read that one. We should do a few more types because it makes our examples better. So type one is the reformer, the moral perfectionist. And I have to say, that I think I might be this type.
KJ: 18:21 We will put a link to a quiz you can take that is free. And frankly the link was chosen entirely because I Googled free Enneagram test and this one was free and kind of long and seemed good. So we’ll put a link and you can figure out your own because of course that’s fun. Alright, so type one, possibly Sarina.
Sarina: 18:43 You really like rule following. I don’t like to make the rules, but I like to make sure that everyone else is following them. Number two, the helper, the supportive advisor. So the number twos are the people who are making sure that there’s somebody working in the soup kitchen on Christmas Eve and they really, really love helping other people and it really feeds them.
KJ: 19:11 But they also like to be appreciated for their doing of this. I’ll talk about this in a later episode if I’m not quite done with it, but I just read The Logger Queen of Minnesota and loved it. And there’s a total two, like one of the main characters and there is just two, two, two. They’re always doing exactly that, but their inner thought is always, ‘You know, basically maybe when I’m dead everyone will appreciate how much I did.’.
Sarina: 19:39 And number three is the achiever. So that’s the person in the CEO office burning the midnight oil, you know, making sure he’s on top of the heap. And I think, in my earlier life I was more of a three before I found my inner one.
KJ: 19:58 I’ve got a three in my next book. I’ve got a broken down, beaten up, three. In the book I’m writing.
Sarina: 20:07 Okay. So four is the romantic individualist. So the who’s the Harry Potter character?
KJ: 20:13 Luna Lovegood.
Sarina: 20:13 Writing the poetry, gazing at the moon, singing a song, interpretive dance.
KJ: 20:22 I remember some fun stuff I liked about this one. Also empathy, they see themselves as uniquely talented, special, one of a kind, but also uniquely disadvantaged or flawed. So you see this in a lot of characters where they feel like they’re super special and they’re different from everyone else. And one of the things that they often have to discover, which I’m sure I could find if I sort of scroll down here, is that other people also share their needs, or share their interests, or are willing to sort of be part of them. My longings can never be fulfilled because I now realize that I’m attached to the longing itself and not to this best specific result. So that’s what the four needs is to figure out how to be attached to something besides this sort of dream of themselves as special.
Sarina: 21:25 Type five, the investigative thinker. And that’s supposed to be the most analytical personality type. And also tending toward introvert.
KJ: 21:37 So it’s a little obvious, but if you were writing in the mystery genre, you probably at least would want to hit this so you could figure out whether your person had this or didn’t have this. And if your main character doesn’t, there’s probably someone in your plot that does. I could see that.
Sarina: 21:54 So five is like Sherlock Holmes.
KJ: 21:57 Yeah. I’m looking at this – so perceptive and innovative, sure. But also secretive and isolated. I mean, that’s a thousand detective story heroes. But they’re all interesting and deep and it’s not like a two dimensional thing. Alright. Six the loyalist. What do you have on the loyalist?
Sarina: 22:19 You know, I haven’t done enough that I understand this one so well. But, sixes know how to be on a team, but they’re a bit anxious. Like they’re Woody Allen, making all of my anxieties, wearing them on the outside.
KJ: 22:38 The cool thing about the Enneagram Institutes, their key motivations are they want to have security, they want to feel supported by others, to test the attitudes of others towards them, and to fight against their anxieties and securities. I mean, once again, I could write a dozen plots in that. Oh, this one gives George Costanza. Okay, so now we know what a six is. A six is George Costanza. Do you like me? Do you really like me? I don’t think you like me. I’m just going to be really awful until I see whether or not you like me. But I’m also going to be completely loyal to you at all times. That’s a six, I like a six. Then, just to keep sort of going with what we can do character wise here, if you scroll down to the bottom of this extremely useful free site, they talk about how at their best the six is self affirming, and trusting of others, and independent, belief in themselves leads to true courage. Okay, that’s where your six gets to at the end of your book, right? But at the beginning, your six is … let’s don’t go all the way down to hysterical. I guess this is probably where they drop down to.
Sarina: 23:55 Yeah, that’s the darkest moment.
KJ: 23:58 The darkest moment for the level six – they’re self destructive and suicidal. They’re on skid row.
Sarina: 24:05 Okay, well that’s pretty dark. Not in a comedy, maybe.
KJ: 24:09 Yeah, maybe in a comedy you only go to level seven.
Sarina: 24:12 But you do bring up a good point, which is that Enneagram writers like to talk about, what an unhealthy version of each one of these things looks like. And my friend Nana Malone was saying that she looks at these unhealthiest levels, like what’s the worst version of that character’s self? And then she sort of looks at that to be the dark moment of her novel. And tries to make those things pan out each time.
KJ: 24:44 And it’s really cool reading this stuff about the six. You can see them sort of deteriorating. You know, to compensate for their insecurities they become sarcastic and belligerent, blaming others for their problems. And then they just sort of keep sinking lower. But then hopefully they come back around and end up believing in themselves and finding their true courage. I’m not sure that ever happened for poor George Costanza yet.
Sarina: 25:08 The series ended before he got there.
KJ: 25:10 We can hope that he found himself in a prison cell.
Sarina: 25:13 The only one we haven’t mentioned is number eight.
KJ: 25:16 Okay, well conveniently enough, number eight is the one I dropped into.
Sarina: 25:23 Really? So tell me about eight, because I don’t think I understand this one.
KJ: 25:26 Eights are challengers, rebels. Yeah, that would be me. And the quirky thing about eight, the thing that kept popping up everywhere is that eights also wants to try everything. So eights are ordering everything in the restaurant because they don’t want to miss out on everything. So that’s an eight characteristic. Decisive, willful, prefers other people to do what they want. That might be me. Yeah, I was sort of in between. I was like, ‘Am I seven or am I eight?’ But I tested out as an eight.
Sarina: 26:02 So the fear here is of being controlled, like letting someone else make all their decisions.
KJ: 26:08 To be in control of their own life, says the unemployable, freelance writer. So that would be me. Yeah, I didn’t spend a ton of time on it, but apparently I could rebuild a city, run a household, wage war, make peace. I have all kinds of things within my Enneagram. It’s a rabbit hole, we can’t deny it. But man, it’s a useful rabbit hole. When you’re thinking about your character and trying to create someone who is three-dimensional and whole, who isn’t either too perfect or too flawed. You can’t read this and go, ‘Okay, well I’m just going to apply this Willy nilly.’ You have to go, ‘Well, okay, what would somebody in my character’s situation who has these fears, that has these desires, what might they do? You know, what might they have done at some moment in their past? What would be affecting what they do now?’ It’s hugely fun.
Sarina: 27:15 So it’s been really useful for me on the book that I need to finish next, in a couple of months or whatever. But I have to say that I have discovered a big question in my head about how this all fits together because when you use the Enneagram as your character basis, it almost, but not accurately… So here’s a moment where once I learned more about it, I’ll find my answer. But the other way we build characters is to look at their big emotional wound and to understand how this thing that happened earlier in life is shaping all of their decisions and their outlooks now, which is somewhat in conflict with the idea that you’re born seeing the world a certain way. So yeah, I mean if you want to go with that character background that you know, he witnessed a horrible accident or you know, some big thing in his or her past made that person be the way they are right now, there’s a little bit of struggle there. And between that framework for making your character arc and this sort of innate diversion.
KJ: 28:33 I think that when it comes to creating character, I can probably work with either way. You need to have the emotional wound or the moment in their background or the lengthy experience. You know, there are a lot of options there. It doesn’t have to be a single event that gives them whatever misbelief that they’re sort of traveling through life with, right? But I feel like I personally can take the Enneagram and either start it there, it doesn’t bother me, I’m cool. They don’t have to have been born with it. I find that I can’t make a person – like basically the minute I start to make a person and I want to give the person a name, I have to know who their parents are and sometimes even who their parents are. Not like in depth, but I can’t even name you unless I know what your mother and father would have named you.
Sarina: 29:30 Well that’s really healthy as a fiction writer because you will save yourself time, I think. Because I actually kind of take the opposite approach whereas that I usually know some dramatic thing that’s going to happen at the 50% point. And so the beginning part of my characterization sounds like I’m holding a Barbie doll and a Ken doll, one in each hand. And the dialogue that’s coming is just as bad as it sounds like it would be. And I have to sort of bumble through that a while until I figure out what they’re really saying to each other. So, if I knew who their parents and grandparents were, the first draft of chapter one would be a lot better.
KJ: 30:11 Maybe. Sometimes you get lots and lots of pages on who their parents and grandparents are that you really, really don’t need. But yeah, I can’t even give them a name until I know where the name would’ve come from. And then to know that, sometimes I have to know why the parents’ names were what they were. I guess I think names are really important. I could probably find a naming rabbit hole, I’ve found them all.
Sarina: 30:37 I’ve bought baby books when my kids were already teenagers, just for this purpose. Seriously, there’s a lot of baby books in the world.
KJ: 30:45 I just Google, you know, common surnames or common first names for people with X descent and that kind of thing.
Sarina: 30:54 And I’m sure you’ve discovered this social security naming database. So in case our listeners don’t know, this U.S. Social Security database publishes the most popular 100 names for girls or boys for every birth year, going back a good amount.
KJ: 31:14 Right. Which is great because if you need to bring somebody’s grandmother or great aunt into the story, you don’t want to name them Madison. That’d be wrong.
Sarina: 31:24 So you would go back and you would look at the database for the year of 1939 and see that Sally who was the number 17 or whatever.
KJ: 31:37 Character creation is so fun. I felt like I could just create characters all day, but darn it, then they have to go and do something and I have to be mean and make terrible things happen to them. And I have to have them make terrible choices. And that is where the glorious thing about this Enneagram is that man, does it give you the reasons that your characters make really, really, really terrible choices. And contrary to all appearances Jess is still here.
Jess: 32:08 I’m still here. No, I was going to say, recently I’d noticed a Sarina posting things to her Sarina Facebook group that she’s been doing mean things to characters lately and I’ve been wondering about what kind of evil stuffs been going on over in Sarina’s writing world.
KJ: 32:26 You got to do mean things. I think I put it up somewhere – woke up, did mean things to character. I don’t remember what it was.
Sarina: 32:35 I feel like I haven’t always been very good at that.
KJ: 32:38 Yeah, it’s a weakness of mine, too. Like, why don’t they just make all the great choices and the whole book will just be the happy middle.
Sarina: 32:47 Well plus, honestly, I let readers’ angst into my head. Like, I’m writing a book about two characters that my readers have already met and I know that they’re not gonna want me to make him make bad choices. Like I can the already hear the, ‘Don’t make him do that.’ And those voices are kind of hard to shut off sometimes.
KJ: 33:13 Yeah I have to just have the voice that’s like, ‘Oh, you know that’s just too hard. That’s just too much. That’s too awful. Nobody wants to read about that.’ But yeah, we do. We absolutely do. That’s exactly what we want to read about. And speaking about what we want to read about – should we talk about what we have been reading about?
Sarina: 33:31 Absolutely.
KJ: 33:32 Alright.
Jess: 33:33 Who’s going first?
KJ: 33:35 You go first cause we haven’t heard from you for awhile.
Jess: 33:38 Okay. So because I’ve been traveling this week and I’ve been doing a lot of audio book listening and I listened to some really interesting things. I also want to talk about the fact that Renee Denfeld’s book The Butterfly Girl came out this past week. She also published (and I know I’ve talked about her before) She wrote The Enchanted, she wrote The Child Finder and The Butterfly Girl is the next book in a sequence with the same protagonist that was in The Child Finder. But what’s so interesting about Renee is that she’s just decided, I have never seen her do this before, she just wrote something, memoiry for crimereads.com. It was an essay called The Green River Killer and Me because Renee was a teen runaway, she lived on the streets. She grew up in a very unsafe situation. And so the stuff that she writes about, these kids on the streets that get lost and sort of lost in the system and lost in the world, she’s lived that. And so it was really fascinating. I’ve been so engrossed in Renee Denfeld’s fiction, to suddenly read this piece of memoir from her. It was such a gift and it’s a beautiful piece of writing. Crimereads.com. The Green River Killer and Me. But then I have something really fun. I decided to do something a little bit light for this trip. And so I listened to Demi Moore’s memoir called Inside Out. And you know when there are those memoirs where you feel like you’re hearing a little too much. Like, I don’t think I should be hearing this. She spills everything and I got a little uncomfortable. And it was also really weird cause I read it right after it came out, which is when they were looking for like Ashton Kutcher for his response to what she accuses him of in the book. And so in real time I could see on Twitter how people were responding to this book. If you’re looking for a juicy, sort of scoopy memoir, this is the one for you. And you know, I also didn’t realize she’d been through some of the stuff that she’s been through. But it also made me a little uncomfortable.
KJ: 35:59 Yeah, the best memoirs walk that line. And the other ones slide a little bit in either direction, which doesn’t make them not necessarily good reads.
Jess: 36:07 Well there were moments where I was like, ‘Oh, this is probably best for the therapist, not me and the entire world.’
KJ: 36:15 That’s the problem with being Demi Moore is that nobody stops you. You know, your editor’s like ‘Hey, why don’t you sit on this part for a little while and we’ll come back to it.’ You know? Whereas her editor is like, ‘Oh, Demi it’s great.’
Jess: 36:37 Well, and she worked with a ghost and I believe it was with Harper. So that’s the kind of conversation I would love to be a fly on the wall for. You know, as much as I loved what I heard about investigative reporting in She Said with Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor and I got to see all that behind the scenes stuff, what I want is a behind the scenes. Here’s what it’s like when a celebrity and a ghost writer sit down and work on something together. I would love to be a fly on the wall to that, I think would be fascinating.
KJ: 37:08 Yeah, me too. Agreed. We have to find that person. If you’re out there, we’ll interview you completely anonymously. We promise. So I have a question for you. So if you’re traveling and you’re listening to this memoir, what are you doing while you listen? Are you walking through the airport?
Jess: 37:28 Oh yeah. I’m walking through the airport, I’m in the car on the way to the hotel. I don’t sleep very well when I travel in hotels and I’m trying to catch up on sleep a lot. So often in the air I have noise canceling headphones on the airplane and if I’m too tired to work, then I just listen to a book. I take a lot of walks when I’m traveling because I’ve been sitting on planes so much and then I’m listening. So, yeah, I do a lot of listening when I’m just sort of going from place to place.
KJ: 38:02 Cool. Yeah, that’s a lot of listening cause that’s a lot of hours.
Jess: 38:05 Well and you know things like before I go on stage, you know I have to do the whole getting ready and I do make-up, which is something I don’t normally do, and I do my hair and during all of that I’m listening. So there’s a lot more listening that goes on when I’m on the road.
KJ: 38:18 That makes total sense. I just like to picture you. I think your life traveling around speaking is as interesting to some of the rest of us as you know, this idea of the ghost writer sitting and talking to Demi Moore, it’s just different. So, details.
Jess: 38:34 What’s also fun about the audio book thing for me when I’m at home is like if I’m vacuuming, then I use my noise canceling headphones when I vacuum so that I can hear the book. Or if I’m out working in the woods than I had just have little earbuds in. So I’m almost always listening to a book if I’m doing like housework or yard work, that kind of thing, too. So anyway,
Sarina: 38:53 I am reading The Chase by Elle Kennedy, which is her new one. And Elle Kennedy is one of my collaborators and she is just super fun, super great dialogue, good time. She writes these romance series that take place in college, but they’re never in a bubble world. Like there’s a real world with grumpy coaches, and goofy teammates, and it’s just a good time.
KJ: 39:22 That’s fun, yeah, that’s what I need. Well, I want to concede that the book that I read this week was actually a little unlike me and oddly, this is a good time. So I finally read The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai and it was a big book last year and it just came out in paperback. I actually met Rebecca at a book festival, but more relevantly, I’ve heard her on a couple of podcasts. And what’s interesting, The Great Believers is a book about the 80’s AIDS epidemic, as well as having a part that happens in either 2016 or 2017. It’s kind of relevant, it’s historical fiction that you don’t think of as historical fiction. If I say historical fiction to you, you’re like, ‘Oh, bodice rippers, people riding horses, prairies, stage coaches, whatever. But this is as much historical fiction as that because she took Chicago where the AIDS epidemic hit hard and put her characters into the world of everything that was happening right then and it’s really well done. But even more importantly for me, it’s actually a super positive, hopeful read in which the people in it are joyful, real seeming people having happy lives, often up to the point when they’re not because you know, AIDS. I read another book that was in the literary fiction category this past couple of weeks and I ended up sort of hate reading it. Because I got why the story was getting everybody’s attention and I got what it was about it that made it sort of good literary fiction, but I really hated the people, all of them. You would not want to be in a room with anyone who had been in that book. The Great Believers is not like that. You would want to be in the room with everyone in it and yet it’s this really deep, emotional story. So anyway, highly recommend. Not that other people have not already recommended it, but it’s a good one.
Jess: 41:31 Tim just finished it too so you and Tim can talk about that one sometime. He liked it too. As an HIV doc, it was one that had been recommended to him about 15 times.
KJ: 41:44 I am not in any way an HIV doc. So don’t be scared off, you don’t have to be an HIV doc to enjoy this book. But yeah, that is what he does. So that doesn’t surprise me, but it’s just a good book. I can see why it was top 20 for a lot of people in the year that it came out.
Jess: 42:03 Am I doing a bookstore? I get to do a bookstore that the people were so kind. They were the booksellers at one of my events. I was recently in Illinois and Prairie Path Books came out and did my book sales for me and they were just really great. We got talking about other kinds of books that they carry and the book seller was making recommendations to me. I’m just always so grateful when a book seller comes out and works at one of my events and sells books for me. And they’re always just excited to meet the authors and talk to them about their books. And I’m always grateful. So I wanted to give Prairie Path Books in Wheaton, Illinois a shout-out.
KJ: 42:44 Excellent. Well, we love them all, all the bookstores. I want all the books. I want all the bookstores.
KJ: 42:53 Well before we shut ourselves down, a reminder that we’ve got our new thing. You can sign up for our weekly emails and every week when we drop a new podcast we’ll send you an email with a little something about what the episode is about. You can click and listen right there, although you can always listen in your podcast app, and you can also click through and find a transcript along with all of the show notes. But all the links, everything you might need to know for an episode, is in the email. And we are also inviting everybody to support us. So, if you love the podcast, if we’re doing something for you, if we’ve helped you out in your writing at all and you want to take a little time to head into our website and give us some financial support, we’d love it. I’m really rambling cause this is hard, it’s weird to do this. Let me just lay it out, but we created this really great thing that we love called Writer’s Top Fives. And if you’re a supporter of the podcast, then every week you get a top five and we have done top five questions you should ask your character. We’ve done top five reasons you should be on Instagram, top five things you’re going to get out of NaNoWriMoat. We’ve had a good time with it…
Sarina: 44:24 And we have so many coming up.
KJ: 44:25 We have so many coming up and they are great. And I just totally ran out of steam on my promotion there. That’s okay.
Jess: 44:33 I wanted to mention to you guys that we got a lovely note from one of our listeners who actually has hearing issues. She’s not completely deaf, but partially deaf and she wanted to thank us for our transcripts. She said it’s been really nice to be able to go back and look at the transcripts and see what she missed.
KJ: 44:49 That’s wonderful. And we’ve also been seeing it in the Facebook group, people saying, ‘Where are the show notes for episode 10?’ So it’s lovely to know that people are going back and looking at the show notes, that they’re not sort of just sitting there in some sort of metaphorical bottle of canary cage on the internet. So I love that. Go look for our show notes.
Jess: 45:11 Alright, well and till next week everyone. And by the way, when we come back next week, I will either be done with my book or deceased. Until next week, everyone, keep your butt in the chair and your head in the game. This episode of #AmWriting with Jess and KJ was produced by Andrew Parilla. Our music, aptly titled unemployed Monday was written and performed by Max Cohen. Andrew and Max were paid for their services because everyone, even creatives should be paid.