2016 Best of the Best Winner - with Jan Ackerson
Jan Ackerson is perhaps one of the best-known names at FaithWriters. Not only has she placed numerous times in the Writing Challenge editor's choice, but she is a FaithWriters- approved editor, mentor to many, and provider of free weekly writing lessons for all FaithWriters members. And now, her fable for the "Candy" topic of the FaithWriter Writing Challenge, Salvo, has been recognized as Best of the Best for 2016 (her second time with this honor - not counting times she placed second or third in the competition). Join interviewer (and Jan friend/fan) Joanne Sher as she talks to her about her winning piece, her wishes for her writing lessons, and a bit about her life away from FaithWriters.
JOANNE SHER : Congratulations on your Best of the Best win. What was your reaction when you found out your piece was at the top?
JAN ACKERSON : I was incredibly excited!
JOANNE: I wish I could have seen your face. You were a regular challenge contributor for quite a while, but until recently, you hadn't submitted a piece to the writing challenge in several years. What brought you back?
JAN : Well, I missed writing. I'd stopped for several reasons-busyness, family issues demanding my time and my energy, and a crisis of confidence, among others. But several months ago, I contributed to the KickStarter campaign of a writer whose work I admire, and the premium for my contribution was a few hours of one-on-one time with him, to critique my work and give me some direction for the future. He was very encouraging, and the spark to write again was ignited. But I'm still kind of shy about my writing, and I wanted to go back to a place where I felt comfortable before I branched out to other writing venues.
JOANNE: FaithWriters certainly fits the bill that way. So glad you came back. You have had many, many roles at FaithWriters, but right now, your most prominent contribution to the site is your weekly writing lessons . What keeps you doing them? Where do you get ideas for topics? What do you most want people to know about these lessons?
JAN: I keep doing them because I love to help people to become better writers. Some of my ideas come from my editing jobs; when I see a particular issue showing up over and over again, I figure maybe a lesson on that issue is in order. Deb Porter has requested several specific lessons based on problems she sees when she reads Writing Challenge entries. And some lessons have been requested by contributors to that particular forum.
I wish there was more participation-it has died down considerably in the past half year or so. I don't think people realize that the lessons are absolutely free, and that I respond to every post.
JOANNE : Well, I hope this interview helps increase your participation. The lessons really are wonderful, and your feedback priceless. Your winning entry, Salvo , is an incredible piece. What gave you the idea for it? How did it come together? Did it turn out how you wanted? What impact were you going for in the writing? Do you think you achieved it?
JAN : The topic for that week was 'Candy,' and it's always been my goal to write as far out of the box as possible while still being true to the prompt. There aren't many people who think of 'war' in the same context as 'candy,' so that's where I started. It took shape as a fable, as that was the best vehicle for the central event of the story-firing candy instead of lethal projectiles. And I'm a peace-lover to the core, so of course that was going to be the take-away of the story: that soldiers are just boys who miss their mothers and grandmothers, and that peace could be a simple as deciding not to fight, just for today. There's nothing I hope for more, on this earth, than the time when all the swords are beaten into plowshares.
I like the story-except I wish I hadn't used the word 'projectile' so often.
JOANNE : (She used it four times, by the way, and I didn't notice until I purposefully counted) Your story certainly exhibited the take-away you were hoping for, in my opinion. What is the hardest part of writing for you? How do you overcome it?
JAN : Finding beautiful combinations of words. I don't know that I do overcome it often enough, but I'm pretty compulsive about editing, and re-editing, and editing again.
JOANNE : Is there one particular challenge entry that you'd call your favorite? One that perhaps flowed effortlessly or means a lot to you personally?
JAN: My favorite entry ever-and possibly the best thing I've ever written-was called ' Sacrament,' and it was written 8 ½ years ago. It's not one that caught the judges' attention, but I read it every now and then, and I never see a single word that I'd want to change. To see Christ's body in the simple meal offered by this little boy to his brothers-I don't usually write overtly about faith, but this story still preaches to me, all these years later.
JOANNE : That is an incredible piece that EVERYONE should read - and it preaches to me too. What is one thing about you that most people don't know?
JAN : Precision of grammar, spelling, or writing mechanics isn't in the least bit important to me in real life. I don't mentally correct others' grammar, and misspelled Facebook posts don't bother me at all. If I'm wearing my writing hats--editor, teacher, judge-then sure, those things become important. But I get a little bit peeved when people seem to think that those sorts of things are an obsession with me or when they apologize to me for a grammatical error.
I'd far rather read something interesting, creative, lovely, or thought-provoking that's got several errors than something ordinary and dull but technically perfect. And my thoughts are more often with things like my granddaughters, social justice, tolerance and inclusion, and good coffee than with semicolons and misplaced modifiers.
JOANNE : So, in other words, you are human. Glad to hear it ;) Tell us a bit about your family and life away from FaithWriters.
JAN : I've been retired from teaching for seven years. My husband and I have two adult daughters and two precious granddaughters. We spend time with them when we can (they're in different states) and we also enjoy traveling around the country, doing a few long road trips every year.
I do some freelance editing (www.superioreditingservice.com) and a few other part-time and occasional jobs to keep my brain sharp. I enjoy playing the piano, doing word puzzles, and playing board games with friends (as long as I'm winning).
JOANNE : Is there anything else you would like to add?
JAN : My first book, Stolen Postcards is coming out in the Fall. It's a collection of tiny stories-each exactly 100 words long, one for every day of the year. Look for it at Amazon.com.
JOANNE : Congratulations on that, Jan - AND congratulations again on taking the BoB crown (for the second time: be sure to check out her first Best of the Best winner - with a very different theme - Sniggles ). Praying for much success with your new book, more participating in the writing lessons, and blessings all around!