Q&A with Author Jennifer Lieberman
Q: What inspired you to create your latest work, Year of the What?
My novel Year of the What? was originally a solo show entitled Year of the Slut. When I first moved to Los Angeles a friend suggested I write myself a vehicle and invite talent agents, producers, directors and other film industry professionals to let them know I exist…and like in the movie “La La Land” no one from the industry showed up. However, I did get into a festival in New York City and went on to win the Audience Choice Award for the show. It was after the success in New York that some colleagues suggested I adapted the show into a novel. So I did. I chose a provocative title and subject matter for the show to give people a reason to get out of the house and into the theatre.
Q: What themes will readers find out in your book?
This piece is definitely a female empowerment piece that explores the themes of feminism, sexual expression and coming of age (or coming into one’s own) in a world where women are constantly judged, especially by our own self critics, for being too much or not enough of whatever we choose to be. It is also a candid account of sexual discovery intended to help other women have the confidence to find themselves both in and out of the bedroom.
Q: How would you describe your character, Dana, using three words? And Kelly?
Dana is insecure, naive, and traditional.
Kelly is ballsy, outspoken and nonconformist.
Q: How did you come up with these female characters?
When I was developing the stage version on this story Dana started off as a version of myself and my old roommate as Kelly; I indeed was a naive virgin when I arrived in New York City and my roommate did in fact drop out of a full scholarship to a prestigious NY University to become a dominatrix in a dungeon in Chelsea. The characters evolved and took on lives of their own in the most wonderful ways that would make them fun to perform (I played 10 characters in the stage version). Then the characters evolved further when I was developing the manuscript. There are still many truths in the story, but only my old roommate and I can separate the truth from fiction.
Q: Describe how being a filmmaker, producer, and award-winning actress has influenced your writing.
At 8 years old I began writing myself into scripts for popular TV shows I used to watch like Saved By The Bell because I wanted to be a character on the shows. So I began writing many years before I ever became an actor, filmmaker or producer; which wasn’t until I was an adult. I guess from that very young age I always knew I was a storyteller and knew I wanted to write and be in my own movies. The actress in me definitely helps breathe life into the character because of the way I interact with them vocally and physically in the creative process, It’s almost an acting exercise every time I add a new character to a story. It helps me make them real by taking on each once living a sensory experience with them (what are their physical attributes? how they walk, talk etc…)
In terms of my producing and filmmaking, I was running a small theatre company in New York City’s East Village by age 22 and had hands-on experience helping other writers develop their new plays. This development process was an invaluable experience especially in theatre, because we always read new pieces in front of an audience so there was immediate feedback from their reactions and then Q&A sessions following the reading. As a filmmaker and film producer I’ve carried this process into every project I’ve spearheaded insisting on script readings with an audience, and with a feedback session immediately following. There is something that happens when we hear our work read aloud, with someone else’s voice, we are able to shift perspective. This has really helped me as a writer, because many times we are so close to the work it’s hard to take a step back and see things more objectively. This has all been part of learning to respect the development process, the importance of feedback and collaboration; understanding that great pieces are not written, they are rewritten and rewritten and rewritten and that nothing is developed in a vacuum. Being part of a group or collective, sharing pages, listening to other writer’s pieces and their process, all of this is fuel for our creative fire.
Q: Is the Year of the What your debut novel?
Yes, Year of the What is my debut novel. I have also penned two ‘how to’ books under the umbrella of my production consulting business Make Your Own Break: How to Master Your Virtual Meeting in 7 Simple Steps and Make Your Own Break: How to Record and Publish Your Audiobook in 7 Simple Steps.
Up until recently my writing has been predominantly theatrical; I’ve penned five feature screenplays, the web series Dumpwater Divas with Rebecca Morgan, the stage play Shiksa Wives with Sandi Gardner and both short films Leash and Details that screened at the Festival De Cannes Court Métrage among other international festivals.
Q: When did you begin writing books?
I always thought I’d write a novel later in life when (and if) I would get unbitten by the acting bug. So of course my first book came from an adaptation of a stage piece much earlier than expected.
The first draft of the book was completed in December of 2011. A few girlfriends were concerned it was a little too racy, fast forward a few months and Fifty Shades of Grey was the biggest book in the world so I knew I had something. While trying to get Year of the Slut published I ended up getting my erotic poetry book Aural Sex: Naughty Notes for Lovers published, which was also an offshoot of the play; the play began with the title and 5 poems and built the story that.
After years of rejection from agents and publishers, self doubt and giving up and going back and giving up and going back in 2017 my boyfriend convinced me to just get to the finish line regardless of the outcome. So I did. Year of the Slut was first launched in 2018 and was a complete failure because the title was censored from advertising on Amazon and all social media platforms, 3 publicists had also turned me down because of the word slut. In 2019 a colleague (www.thememoirmidwife.com) suggested I re-title and re-brand the book to give it a fair shot in the marketplace. I was beyond resistant and attributed all the success of the piece in New York to the title, not only that, I had the title first and wrote the story around the title, so I was married to it and didn’t want to consider changing it. Eventually, I came around and Year of the What was launched in 2020.
Q: How would you describe your writing style?
I have two very distinct writing styles and flip flops between comedy and drama. Year of the What and my other comedic writing is breezy, conversational and relatable. My dramatic film writing tends to be much darker and avant-garde.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers in your genre?
Advice I would give to other aspiring writers is to be gentle with yourself and your process. Some people may tell you to write a certain amount every day even if you don’t feel like it, that doesn’t work for me and may not work for every writer. I let the story tell me when it’s ready to be written. One week of ‘inspired writing’ can yield a greater product than six months of forced writing. However, if you are not writing daily, you can still be in process daily by reading great books, researching topics for your piece and doing things that feed your creative spirit like listening to music, watching movies, connecting with nature, or whatever else energizes your soul.
Also, sometimes the feedback you are most resistant to, is exactly where you are supposed to go to find the gold.
Q: What future projects are you currently working on, if any?
I’m currently in pre-production for my first feature film Longing, which has been on hold due to Covid. I’m also writing a TV series that I’m not ready to talk about yet but am very excited about.
Q: Where can readers find you and your work online?
For more information about me and my upcoming productions please check out www.JenniferLiebermanActor.com and @iamjenlieberman on all social media.
For all Year of the What related news and events please go to www.YearOfTheWhat.com and @yearofthewhatnovel on all social media.