Compose Q&A with Jennie Nash

Jennie Nash Headshot

Please welcome Jennie Nash, our features editor.

Jennie Nash is the author of four novels, including Perfect RedThe Threadbare HeartThe Only True Genius in the Family and The Last Beach Bungalow. She is the author of three memoirs, including The Victoria’s Secret Catalog Never Stops Coming and Other Lessons I Learned From Breast Cancer.

Jennie has worked in a wide variety of publishing roles, including stints in the editorial department at Random House, on the editorial staff of New York Woman magazine, and as a freelancer for dozens of publications from GQ toThe New York Times. Jennie is an instructor at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and a private writing coach/consultant for fiction and non-fiction writers.

She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two daughters.

Who are your greatest literary influences, and which of their works have had the biggest impact on your own writing?

Last Christmas, I purchased a gorgeous book called My Ideal Bookshelf. A wide range of artists, writers and thinkers were asked to pick the ten (or so) books that would comprise their ideal bookshelf, and artist Jane Mount then painted the spines of the books so that their images accompany the descriptions. It’s an incredibly moving book – and it struck absolute panic in me. The lists were generally so profound, intellectual, and lucid, and when I began to try to make my own list (you can identify ideal in any way you want – most influential, the books you’d take with you to a desert island, the books you keep near you…), I found myself with a random collection of books that didn’t really make a lot of sense — books like Richard Scary’s Busy Town, which I read to my kids when they were little and which I think, for better of for worse, may have formed a huge part of my parenting philosophy, or Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, which is the book I tend to recommend to people more than any other, or Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, which is a book that helped me to make peace with my dad. Where was my passion for one great writer? Where was my devotion to the classics? So many people talked about a book they read over again every year and I thought – oh no! I am so far behind. Which is all a very long way of saying, that, um, I don’t know how to answer this question.

What is your writing process like?

It’s far more chaotic than I’d like to admit!

What books are on your to-be-read list at the moment?

I’m going to read Lean In and Wild, just to see what all the fuss is about. I just read a review of Kate Atkinson’s novel, Life After Life, and can’t wait to get my hands on it. There’s a new book by Elizabeth Strout and I’m a huge fan so I know I’ll be reading that. And I just came across a book called The Worry Cure and I’m thinking – Oh yeah! This is for me! I am so totally not above self help.

In your opinion, what makes a piece of writing outstanding?

A clear and passionate vision, well executed.

Tell us about the most painful and/or the most hopeful rejection letter you’ve ever received. How about your most victorious acceptance?

The most painful rejection is easy because it just happened. My novel Perfect Red, my seventh book, was set to have an auction, which means that multiple editors are planning to make offers. In this case, it was five editors. I was beside myself with excitement! This was the dream! About three days before the auction date, my agent said that no news is good news, so I was praying for there to be no phone calls and no emails. There weren’t. On the set day, however, there was a strange silence. By about 11 a.m. California time, I knew something wasn’t right. My agent finally called and said that every single editor had dropped out, in the end. No one bid. Instead of a dizzy frenzy of bidding there was no bidding at all. The book didn’t sell.

This event inspired me to write a book called The Writers’ Guide to Agony and Defeat: The 43 Worst Moments in the Writing Life and How to Get Over Them. It will be out shortly. You can sign up to receive notice of the launch here.

What’s the most bizarre or exciting literary experience you’ve ever had?

Oh! I actually have one of these stories! John Irving made me dinner. I wrote a series of linked stories for my senior thesis in college and my advisor sent them to Mr. Irving. He called me in my dorm room to say how much he enjoyed them, and how if I was ever in New York, he’d be glad to talk to me about writing. After graduation, I was in New York, and the dinner actually transpired. He made a roasted pepper pasta dish, and gave me a copy of a Robertson Davies book so that I could learn how better to handle the passage of time in a story. He was incredibly generous and gracious.

What are your long-term goals for your writing? Where to you hope to be ten years from now?

I hope to be doing exactly what I am doing today – but with more readers.

Where can we read some of your work online?

The first chapter of all of my novels can be read on my website.

Connect with Jennie on Twitter and at


  1. sandra gardner says

    Really liked and related to this post by Jennie Nash. More from her, please!
    Sandra Gardner

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