Meet W.’s Clients: Jen

Jen Oleniczak Brown

Check out Jen’s new class on Skillshare: Small Talk 101: How to Master Any Networking Situation. She’s incredibly gifted with teaching and impromptu, and is looking to help prepare men and women for top-notch communication in the workplace.

Meet Jen

Residing in Winston-Salem with her husband, Jen is the founder and artistic director at The Engaging Educator (EE), using improv-based continuing education for communication, presentation and social skill development, as well Fearless, a shared space model for women’s empowerment and formation. She is the author of Improv(E): Using Improv to Find Your Voice, Style, and Self (2018) as well as the forthcoming Think on Your Feet: Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Impromptu Communication Skills on the Job (McGraw-Hill, 2019).

Since 2012, Jen has given three TEDx Talks on the power of Improv, grown EE to three locations in NYC, Winston-Salem, NC, and LA, and recently began The Engaging Educator Foundation, which offers free and low-cost Improv workshops for educators, at-risk adults, teens and students on the Autism Spectrum. EE’s pedagogical approach of ‘Improv as Continuing Education’ has reached over 25,000 people–all non-actors.

City/State: Currently: Winston Salem, North Carolina

Birthday: 06/27

Describe your writing and how you came to work with Weronika: I’ve always been a writer that writes very much how I talk – for better or worse. The conversational and growth/inspiration style connects my heart with my words. Late 2018, I got an email from McGraw-Hill Business, asking me to set up a call about a potential book proposal. Thinking I was being punked by a friend (especially since it came through my company’s website, and through the contact form!), I returned the email, had a call, and ended up signing a contract with McGraw-Hill for a book coming out Fall 2019. About a week later, my contact reached out to me to let me know that an agent was interested in setting up a call to discuss representation.

Skeptical still, I set up the call after looking Weronika up – and truth be told, the only reason I was so keen to set up the call was because she was Polish as well! After the conversation, I realized how we saw eye to eye on quite a bit of the work I do, and am interested in doing, for and with women. The rest is history!

Favorite TV show: Anything on Food Network

Favorite book of the year: My comfort book of every year will be any one of the Devil Wears Prada books!

If I could have dinner with anyone (dead or alive, fictional or historical), it would be: Brene Brown and Amy Cuddy – same night please!

If I were to hang a quote or an art piece above my fireplace, it would be: A Calder mobile that I would stare at for hours on end.

Three things to ask me about: 1) Thai Food (really, food in general); 2) My dog; Drumstick 3) How I want to teach everyone the power of And versus But.

Most interesting idea I’ve encountered in the past three years: Using green apple in place of papaya in Som Tum salad.

Learn About Jen’s Work

How did I get into the discipline within which I am working? Or: What is the particular body of personal experience from which I am drawing or about which I am writing?

This is a doozy! I started off as an actor, many moons ago. Performed improv in Chicago and NYC, then went back to school for art history and worked at the Guggenheim Museum and Frick Collection, among other museums, and ended up teaching presentation skills classes for other educators, as well as improv classes that helped educators with their flexibility ‘in the moment’. After a few in house workshops, I realized it was a real need: improv classes for professionals, and specifically ones that weren’t mixed in with people that wanted to be actors or improvisers.

I made the professional angle very clear, and soon after we were getting recognition by places like CBS for being the place to take improv if you had no desire to be on stage. From there, I’m always looking for ways to reach more people with our style of improving presentation, communication and social skills through improv. Fast forward over 6 years, and here I am, still doing the thing!

If I had to teach a core principle to a group of elementary school students, what would I teach? How would I teach it?

This is funny because I do teach elementary school students improv – for different and similar reasons! I work on their social, problem solving, team and public speaking skills. We generally don’t have a polished performance at the end, but we DO all of the same activities that the adults do. Sometimes, the kids are a lot funnier than the adults because they aren’t worried about what other people might think.

Say I am asked to give a lecture about my area of expertise. Podium or no? Hand mic or clip-on mic? PowerPoint presentation or no?

Absolutely no podium – that’s my death. I would much rather have a lav (clip on) because I’m a gesture person, and the one time someone asked me specifically to have a PowerPoint, I made three slides: One that said Hello, one that said I’m not Pizza, and the final one with my contact information.

If I can point to a writer whose research or writing or otherwise has inspired me to pursue my own work, it is…

Amy Cuddy

Describe the most important lesson you’ve learned from another human person in undergoing your work.

You can only change the way you communicate with other people, and how you interpret their communication. You can’t change how they communicate.

When Writers Write Much

My lovely client, Hayley, is a writer of adult speculative fiction. She is also one who writes much. Check out her list of 2018 publications and pieces up for different award nominations here.

“Stone writes with grit, passion, and indomitable energy. A helluva ride.” – Joseph Brassey, author of The Mongoliad and Skyfarer

An outlaw queen’s dangerous flesh magic brings a gentleman marshal into her debt. Together, the pair must take down an even deadlier gang to clear her name.

I’d encourage everyone to pay special attention to this weird Western, Make Me No Grave, which Hayley sold before we started to work together to Aethon Books, a new imprint that is blowing up the e- and audio- Science Fiction/Fantasy (SF/F) world.

It’s available in trade paperback, on Kindle, and on Audible via Amazon.


In addition to this newly published title, Hayley has written two prior novels, and a series of recent short stories and poems, the details about which are available on her blog post.

Here’s the beginning of a poem, “Results of Your Quiz: Which Survivor of the Trojan War Are You?”, and you’ll have to click to read the remainder.

In your bed, instead of a girl 
they will find the impression 
of a girl, your sheets soaked 
in sweat, a body-sized bruise 
left in the linens…

New Interview: Agent Spotlight with Literary Rambles

Natalie Aguirre, blogger at Literary Rambles, has been kind enough to include me for an agent spotlight, and is offering a query critique from me.

For the critique giveaway details and the remainder of the spotlight, see the link included.

4.  Is there anything you would be especially excited to seeing in the genres you are interested in?

I’m—to be entirely honest—not an agent who is overly concerned with tropes or categories. The best stories transcend those categories, or break them apart, or bring something so captivating to them that you forget why you hated the trope in the first place.

I, simply, have a heart for remarkably told stories, and writing proportionate to those stories.

In my first round of agenting, certain writers that I signed did have a debut novel that editors found “too similar” to something on the market, or didn’t add anything to a niche “too flooded.” Fine! This is part of the risk, and the puzzle, and the hard work! It so happens that most went on to write novels that sold, and sold brilliantly, and (in one or two cases) debuted on the New York Times bestseller list. All those that sold have also built sustainable, ongoing careers, and this to me is the essential marker of any worthwhile success. To give a specific example: I never thought I’d love a novel about zombies…but signed a former client, now a USA Today bestseller, who wrote the most delicious literary zombie novel, which didn’t go on to publish but helped break her into serious publishing—and, boy, I still hope to this day she’ll have a chance to place it, when people don’t feel tired of zombies.

Novelists who know their craft I will sign and work with, over long periods of time, any day.

On Writing Memoirs: Short Reflection #1

I love a good memoir.

Memoirs run a wide gamut. They can be, on one end, very platform-based books–which means that the person who is writing them, either himself/herself or with the support of a talented ghost writer, has a significant marketing powerhouse to back them. The nature of this marketing powerhouse depends entirely on the type of figure we are discussing, but can involve the institutions to which they are affiliated and the public value of their name, developed over time, with money, public exposure, wide-scale impact made through programming or otherwise, etc.

Think Brittney Spears and Michelle Obama-esque figures.

On the entirely opposite end, memoirs can be books with a very high concept–written by an individual without a platform, but are still compelling in some kind of essential ‘hook.’ The story organically captivates the hearts of readers, especially in the realm of particular forms of experience. These experiences can be deeply personal, or professional, or somewhere in between (i.e., ‘how an addict heals from addiction,’ ‘how an orphaned girl discovers her family,’ or ‘how a businesswoman’s career takes off under impossible circumstances’).

In either case, the best memoirs operate from within something like a novel’s structure: because you are not telling about a subject but about a life, and are thus telling a story, for no life can be explained without the story of the life, there needs to be an organic arc that arises from within the memoir’s premise or concept. An organic start, middle, end; an organic tension or problem or arc-in-experience .

Non-platform-based memoirs need tight work at the structural level, to tighten and to frame the individual chapters and scenes that operate along the story’s “arc”–to not just tell a super linear/horizontal series of events, that reads more like a timeline than it does a story, but something more vertical in its nature. This might mean that you the actual manuscript for the memoir begins in the heart of the story, the heart of the experience, and in working forward, works to integrate the background and history of the start in this setting in layers.

In may seem silly, but I think it’s a requirement for writers of memoir to read literary agent Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel (and/or anything else that he’s written, especially with an eye toward the tools he gives to teach structure and craft).

It should be a relatively easy book to read and apply–where memoirs are not writing something fiction, they already have the key story elements: the main characters, and the setting. They should always work to identify what is the sort of plot-like mechanism in this (as this is what will drive the love of the memoir–readers’ investment in the writer, and the story, and the stakes, and the nature of what the writer discovers and learns and has to share), as well as build out scenes to have a stronger beginning, middle, and end around their key ‘tension points’ and ‘focal points.’

Besides this, I think it’s important to read memoirs, and to answer these questions: How is the story structured? How are the scenes structured? What does the writer do in each individual scene? Where do they start and end? What keeps your interest? When is essential historical information introduced, and how does a plot-like or tension-related movement develop from within the early parts of the story? How much is related to voice–how the writer speaks, in telling the story–and how much is related to concrete external events or triggers that shape what happens?

I am actively open to memoirs, and love them, and entrust this as round #1–over what I hope will be many rounds–of some thoughts on memoir-writing. I did not have the opportunity to represent one in my first round as an agent, and hope to discover something that I respond to and believe in this time around.

Editing Anecdote 1/?

Sometimes, editing is hard, tough, nitty gritty work―and there’s something about learning to write that is learned in a particular way through the process of craft-learning and -practicing.

Elixir Club

A University of Washington ‘claim-to-fame’ is that no matter where someone is on campus, they are always two minutes away from a coffee shop. As such, a caffeine habit is slowly trickling into place. My dining account is emptying. I get whipped cream on every order and it’s the equivalent of eating sugar by the spoonful out of the bag. It’s terrible for me, and unbelievably great for me at the same time, since around mid-October I told myself I could only get coffee if I did something productive while drinking it.

The cold season was rolling in, too, so at that point, it was pretty much survival.

That’s how I did a large chunk of my revisions: sitting in UW’s Suzzallo library, mocha clasped in both hands, and my manuscript open in front of me. I have to admit, I had never done a rework on this scale before…

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Take Breaks ! — Elixir Club

It’s my joy to introduce the lovely Zoe Mikuta, a writer of YA sci-fi, whom I’d encourage you to follow online. See her blog debut here (via Take Breaks ! — Elixir Club):

I love the little breakthroughs that pop up during the writing process. It’ll usually go like this for me: I’ll be sitting in front of my computer for an hour plus, staring at the same blank page, forgetting the near entirety of the English language. I hate that little type line that flashes, too, disappearing […]

Results: September’s Operation Awesome Pass or Pages Agent Panel

See my feedback here:

W’s Pass or Pages Feedback

This may help answer the question: What’s going on when an agent reads your query and pages?

Background:

I love the opportunity to participate in little contests or critiques of this form, and was grateful for the chance to review queries and pages for submissions of Young Adult Fairy Tales, Folktales, or Myths, retold with diverse characters.

The submissions were published on the Operation Awesome blog, and I’ve hyperlinked the entries here (entry one, two, three, four, five).

The translation to blog content didn’t capture all of my feedback, so I’ve also included a PDF version above. All writers submitted their queries and ten pages with the green light for critique.