Welcome to the fourth installment of Literary Mary Chats. I am pleased to be sharing this space with the incomparable Jen Mann, a prolific, genuine, and funny author whom I had the pleasure to meet and hear speak at a stop on her book tour in Plainfield, Il.
Jen Mann is best known for her wildly popular and hysterical blog People I Want to Punch in the Throat. She has been described by many as Erma Bombeck―with f-bombs. Jen is known for her hilarious rants and funny observations on everything from parenting to gift giving to celebrity behavior to politics to Elves on Shelves. She does not suffer fools lightly. Jen is the author of the New York Times bestseller People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges which was a Finalist for a Goodreads Reader’s Choice Award. Her latest book is My Lame Life: Queen of the Misfits, her first book fiction for young adults. She is also the mastermind behind the New York Times bestselling I Just Want to Pee Alone series.
Literary Mary Chats
Jen, you are a filterless wonder. Personable, funny, clever, down to earth, and *boom*, f- bombed. You say out loud the things many people, like me, are thinking, without fear or regret. Your observations are spot on.
1. Based on your comfort level with meeting, greeting, and public speaking, you seem like someone who has always gravitated to the forefront. What recognitions were you awarded growing up?
Growing up I was quite shy and quiet. Don’t get me wrong, I was still full of balled up fits of anger and rage, but I kept them to myself. I was hilarious in private and I’ve been dropping f-bombs since I learned how in second grade, but I didn’t receive any sort of recognition or awards growing up. I’m not sure anyone would even remember me from school. I did win some writing contests, but that’s about it. I was one of those invisible kids who walked the halls. I remember being gone for a week or so and no one had even noticed. It wasn’t until I hit my 20s that I decided to start speaking out more and then once I discovered I could rage in my pjs at 3 am on the internet, I was hooked.
You’re famous for your origin story–in December of 2011, you posted a blog called, “Overachieving Elf on the Shelf Mommies”, and overnight you gained several thousand followers (which has grown to over a million!). That blog hit a nerve, you touched thousands of readers with your wit and affinity for identifying common ground.
2. How has that kind of popularity affected your day to day life?
The popularity is non-existent in the “real” world, haha. The first time I was recognized in public, my family accused me of hiring a plant. I live a very low-key life and I stick to myself a lot. I have a few close friends and everyone else gives me a wide berth, which I kind of like. Most of the people around me don’t know what to make of me. They don’t understand the internet. Many of my friends and family don’t follow me on social media and if they do, it’s just to lurk. (Hi, Mom!) My kids think I’m a chump because all my fans are on Facebook (yawn) and they’d be a lot more impressed with just about any other platform (except maybe Pinterest).
You have written several books compiling stories about wanting to punch people in the throat and wanting to pee alone. With a focus on crafters, yahoos, clients, kids, and their antics, well, I can’t imagine you will ever run out of material.
3. What other writing interests are you pursuing?
In 2017 I wrote my first fiction book, My Lame Life. It’s for young adults and I’ve got a few more planned. You’d think I’d never run out of people to punch, but you’d be surprised. I have probably 2 more Punch books in me and that’s probably it, unless I win the lottery or something really bizarre happens in my life that I can write about. I enjoy fiction, because I can go wild and really punch people. I am currently working on a women’s fiction novel. Think Bridget Jones Diary meets Big Little Lies.
You are both self-published and published by Ballantine (Penguin Random House), fulfilling most author’s dreams.
4. Which came first, the indy or the big five, and how much of the process are you responsible for (editing, formatting, design, etc)?
Indy came first. I published my first book in 2012. When you self publish, you are responsible for EVERYTHING. I hire editors, proofreaders, and designers for cover and layout. I manage and pay for all the publicity and all the marketing. I don’t get paid until I sell a book. I queried agents after I self-published Spending the Holidays with People I Want to Punch in the Throat. Once I found an agent, we wrote a proposal together and Ballantine offered me a two-book deal. With Ballantine, I got an advance, so I had money coming in right away. They pay for the editing, proofreading, etc. They come up with the marketing plan and they send out all the advance copies, etc.
I know you were touring in support of Working with People I Want to Punch in the Throat. Being away from home and family certainly has its perks, and pitfalls. Meeting adoring strangers in person must be…interesting. I imagine a book of “road stories” is in the works.
5. As one who will reliably say something dumb, awkward, or mispronounced in the face of stardom, I wonder what is the oddest exchange you’ve had with a fan?
I really haven’t had any odd exchanges with fans. My fans are super cool and down to earth and normal people (thank goodness!). Sometimes they can be a bit shy when we meet and that might come across as odd. But I’ve learned that a lot of people have anxiety and it’s a big deal to just leave your house and come to a book signing where you know no one and you’re meeting someone who you admire. Another maybe odd thing is I get a lot of gifts when I’m on the road that others might think are strange, but I think are awesome. I keep coming home with tins of Trader Joe’s Chai because I talk about my love for TJ Chai and how it’s sold out a lot of times when I go looking for it. People bring me elves, because of the Elf on the Shelf. Sweary coloring books are also popular gifts because I love to do both. Snarky socks are a big one too. These might seem odd to others, but to me, these gifts prove that these people know me and follow me and hear me when I’m yelling into the black hole of Facebook. They took the time to find me something that *I* find practical and it’s always cool.
Thank you, Jen Mann, for taking the time to offer a sneak peek into your world. I get a kick out of your Facebook posts and blogs and look forward to reading the rest of your books! I hope I can catch up before I fall further behind, lol.
LMC note: I recommend that anyone who has ever had one of “those” days seriously look into ordering from the People I want to Punch series. Also, check out the I Just Want to Be Alone books. And definitely, SEE JEN in person if you get the opportunity. In the meantime, check out her videos here.