Since we've been introducing some of the writers that have contributed to Under the Gum Tree with our "Meet the Author" profiles, we thought we'd also introduce you to some of the magazine's staff. We are all hard at work on the next issue so we thought you might like a little peek behind the scenes.It’s only fitting that we start with Under the Gum Tree founder: Janna Marlies Maron. As a self-proclaimed woman in progress, Janna writes, edits, publishes and compulsively starts new projects. As a writer she hopes to inspire others to action by telling her personal story, and as a publisher she hopes to provide others the opportunity to do the same. She holds an MA in Creative Writing and teaches composition at Sacramento City College. When she’s not curating stories for Under the Gum Tree, you can find Janna tooling around town with her husband Jeremy on their red Vespa or holding down the fort at ThinkHouse Collective in Downtown Sacramento.
Q: What made you start Under the Gum Tree? A: The idea to start a magazine has been in the back of my mind for years but I didn't settle on what kind of magazine until Under the Gum Tree. I wanted to start a storytelling blog -- a place to collect and publish true, nonfiction stories. The more I worked on that idea, the more it became clear that a blog wasn't the right medium for it, and so it morphed into a magazine. One of the things I'm most passionate about is sharing personal stories -- it takes a lot of courage to write a true story and I believe it is the most powerful way we create human connection.
Q: What is your favorite part of working on Under The Gum Tree? A: Every issue of the magazine is a surprise and I enjoy seeing each issue come together. It's like a puzzle. We start with nothing. When submissions start coming in, the pieces are all jumbled up and the other editors and I have to sort through them, selecting what fits and where, until the final piece gets placed and the full picture of that issue is finished. That process of starting from scratch, not knowing what the final version will be, and coming to the end surprised and thrilled every time is so rewarding.
Q: When did you first realize you wanted be a writer? A: Well, I mostly make my living as an editor and college professor. But I have enjoyed writing since I was a kid, so I always knew I wanted it to be a part of my life in some way. It was in grad school that I came to terms with my identity as a creative nonfiction writer. Anytime I tried to write fiction, it would always be autobiographical and yet still hollow. I think the hollowness came from my own interference with the work because, since it was "fiction," I tried to create some distance between myself and the character in the story. But when I wrote the same story as nonfiction, that's when my own vulnerability came through on the page and people reacted to my writing in ways I had never experienced.
Q: What is the greatest challenge you've faced as a writer? How did you/do you deal with it? A: I used to say that I would write more often if only I had more time. Then I came across a website called 750words.com. It's based on the concept of morning pages from the book The Artist's Way -- the author suggests writing three hand-written pages every morning as part of leading a creative and artistic life. 750 words is roughly the equivalent of three hand-written pages. The thing I love about this site, though, is that it tracks statistics -- how often you write, how fast you type, how quickly you get to 750 words. The first time I used it, I wrote 750 words in 20 minutes, which completely busted the excuse of needing more time to write. It also helps me stay positive about what I've accomplished -- almost 3,000 words this month -- instead of being negative and beating myself up for not writing often enough.
Q: Do you have any advice for people who want to pursue writing or publishing? A: If you want to write, write. If you want to publish, publish. The one thing I've learned is that you can't sit around waiting for your big break. It will likely never come. We have to take risks and make our own opportunities. There is no better time to be living than the age we are in now for the chance to share creative work with the world, and we can't be afraid to share it.
Q: Running a literary magazine can be a stressful job. What do you do to relieve that stress? A: I write. If it's not for a specific project I'm working on, I write just to get the chatter out of my head. It helps me to release all the things competing for attention in my mind. If I write them down, then I don't have to think about them any more.
Q: Who was/is your mentor? A: Everything that I know about editing and publishing I learned at my first two jobs out of college, and my bosses at those two jobs were instrumental in developing my career. In a lot of ways I feel very lucky because I got a job as a staff writer for a weekly community paper right out of college and then worked at a magazine publishing company as the managing editor for four years -- there's no way I'd have started a magazine otherwise. Those two jobs gave me all of the experience that I now apply as an editor and publisher. I learned how to work in the Adobe suite software programs, I learned how to manage production flow by collecting and keeping track of all the elements of a publication, and I learned how to lead and manage a creative team. I also got a taste of what it's like to be constantly surrounded by talented people -- writers, photographers, designers -- I thrive on that creative energy, and it fuels my own work, from my writing to publishing Under the Gum Tree.
Q: If you could meet any author (alive or dead) who would you meet and why? A: This is a hard question, but I'll say Anne Lamott because I just heard her speak here in Sacramento not long ago. It was the second time I've heard her speak, and it makes me wish I could sit down and have a one-on-one conversation with her over a cup of coffee. Her perspective is just so no-nonsense and I would like to pick her brain about how she cultivates that mindset -- or better, how I could cultivate a similar mindset in the midst of my own circumstances. One thing she said about writing this last time I heard her was, "you do it badly and you do it anyway." She reminds me to write, even when it's bad.
Q: Is there anything else you'd like to share? A: If it does nothing else, I hope that Under the Gum Tree inspires and empowers you to share your own story in some way.