Every year Pitch Wars hopefuls post profiles of themselves to share with the community via #PimpMyBio. Pitch Wars is a contest where the prize is a mentor to help you revise your book. Learn more about Pitch Wars at organizer Brenda Drake’s website.
First, the easy stuff. I live just south of Boston in a 90-year-old home (where else would someone named Joan live?) with my husband, our toddler, and our newborn.
My hobbies include exercise, dance, avoiding cooking, travel, terrible puns, comedy movies, renovating our home, and competing with my husband in our endless parody of popular songs with regard to childrearing. (Our favorites: Phil Collins’s “One More Night” became “One More Bite”; Kid Rock ft. Sheryl Crow’s “I Put Your Picture Away” is “I Changed Your Diaper Today.”)
I work as the Lead Faculty for Creative Writing for SNHU’s online division. Outside of designing creative writing courses with a talented team (and teaching them, of course), I develop our creative writing programs with a twofold “practical and passionate” goal: 1) making our creative writing programs accessible to marginalized writers, and 2) aiding students in developing practical career skills to work in the field of writing. I am psyched to discuss all of this at our panel for #AWP18!
I have been dancing since I was two years old, and now I teach both recreational and competitive dance (mostly hip-hop, jazz, and contemporary, if you’re curious). I am deeply committed to my students, and I am so lucky to watch them grow up and go forth. I encourage them to sweat every day, and my overall focus is on instilling strength and confidence as they do so. I consider myself deeply fortunate to be in a career where I can fulfill both of my creative passions: writing and movement.
About My Book
I always knew I’d write about my father’s suicide in some manner, but I wasn’t sure how — until I boarded the plane for the AWP conference in 2016.
Twenty-four hours before, my daughter (who was 18 months at the time) had a dangerous fever and her pediatrician made us call 911 in the middle of the night, so I’d had the displeasure of riding in an ambulance and staying with her at the hospital overnight. She rebounded quickly; I did not — but my husband urged me to board the plane.
As I waited to depart, I read an article checking in with former campers from America’s Camp, a 9/11 grief camp for kids who lost their parents in the tragedy (read about the closing of this camp here). I thought about how those kids have “aged out” of camp, and then I thought about how that beautiful, serene woodsy setting no longer had a purpose.
So, in my thirty-six hours-awake delirium, I gave it one.
Dead Parents Camp was born from this setting: a former 9/11 grief camp, reimagined for kids who might need it today. Lurking somewhere in the depths of my autobiographical seeds, there was a kid who needed that camp. Her name is Lila, and she’s the sarcastic and guarded teen I would have been if my father had succeeded in taking his life when he’d first attempted to. Lila desperately misses her father, even though he’d lied to her for the entirety of her life. And all during AWP, as I sat in panels and readings and events, I wrote furiously: inventing character details, imagining turning points and beats, sketching a map of the camp, and beginning the plot arc that would culminate in Lila coming of age. When I got home, I brought it to life:
I was honored Dead Parents Camp was chosen for this year’s QueryKombat contest (where I was ousted by the winner!). The feedback there helped me cut my query in half. I am first-draft verbose, but in final drafts, I value brevity.
A sample of my published moments include:
How I Work
All of my students — writers and dancers alike — know that I have very high expectations. (When my doctor informed me that my blood type is A+, my husband muttered, “Of course it is.”) But to meet these expectations, all I ask is that my students do their best. I teach with humor, joy, and positivity so that when my students need a push in their creativity, they can get it from a person with whom they feel safe and in whom they trust.
John Irving once said that “half my life is an act of revision.” I’m a firm believer in that concept, which is why I’m known to rip apart manuscripts at the seams. Thoroughly. I am a realistic and logical person who is completely amenable to constructive feedback, and I’d say I have a fairly hard shell.
I have also never missed a deadline in my entire professional or academic life, and I’m very proud of that fact. I adore to-do lists and have an unbeatable work ethic. As proof, here’s my to-do list from my first day of solo maternity leave. I accomplished everything except a full purge of the kitchen – though I did start it.
- Due to a combination of fearlessness and terrible luck as a spectator at a charity volleyball tournament, I’ve had a lot of sports medicine surgeries: ACL reconstruction, two meniscus repairs, and a hip labral repair. A portion of my left ankle was replaced with plastic.
- I’ve suffered from insomnia since I was 16. I’m fairly certain it’s how I get things done.
- I skipped into first grade in the middle of the year. When my kindergarten teacher suggested we sit in a circle to discuss the weather, I reportedly rolled my eyes, sighed, and advised her to “turn on Channel 5 to see what Dick Albert said about it” (RIP Dick Albert). The next week, I was in first grade.
- I did not drink coffee until my honeymoon, when my husband informed me I wasn’t supposed to be grumpy in Paris. I started with espresso. Now, I binge-drink black coffee.
- As a casual restaurant bystander, I witnessed Madonna and Elton John make up after a long-standing feud. Before I knew she was there, her security team stopped her right in front of our table, and she wiggled her fingers at us in the classiest wave I’ve ever seen.
- I’ve stood in line behind Jordan Knight of NKOTB fame three times at our neighborhood Starbucks.
- I once walked into Steven Tyler in the Apple Store.
Please feel free to connect with me on Twitter or Instagram — I’m @jf_smit. Nice to meet you!