Author Archives: Jan Gangsei

Shhh… Writer at Work!

One of the best things about being a writer is getting to work at home, amirite? You know, we can work in our pajamas! No annoying commute! No office politics! Endless chocolate and coffee!

Okay, maybe not so much. Maybe it’s more like I’m working in pajamas because I’m on deadline and haven’t had a chance to touch that massive pile of laundry in my bedroom. And I’m obviously not commuting anywhere because I’m not dressed. And chocolate… well, thank heavens for leftover Halloween candy or I might starve. A Snickers bar is okay for breakfast, right? It’s got peanuts in it and I’m pretty sure those are healthy.

(Full disclaimer: I’m not really in my pajamas. I can’t function unless I shower and get dressed every morning. I am, however, pleading the fifth on the Snickers bar. And the laundry situation.)

That said, it’s true that working at home isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. And it’s not just because of that shiny thing called “the internet” that keeps distracting me. Or my laundry piles. Or the dishwasher that needs unloading. (I’m actually quite good at ignoring housework. It’s something of a specialty of mine.)

No, the thing that always derails me is this little distraction called… other people. Don’t get me wrong — I love my family. I love my friends. I love spending time with them.

I just don’t like it when they interrupt my work.

And even though I know they all mean well, it can be hard to get the point across that despite the fact I am home, sitting on my sofa with a laptop looking all relaxed and happy with chocolate in my teeth — I. Am. Working.

I mean, I know for a fact if I happened to be in a ditch operating a jackhammer, my kids wouldn’t come over to ask what was for dinner. Just like I’d never dream of walking into the operating room while my brother was performing surgery to see what we should get Mom for her birthday.

But hey — writer on sofa. Fair game.

Sometimes I dream about renting myself an office somewhere with an assistant to screen all my calls and fetch me stuff. But then, that thoroughly defeats my plan to work at home in my pajamas eating Snickers bars and ignoring the dishes.

Now, I know I’m not the only writer to suffer from other-people-distraction syndrome. At a retreat with some of my agency-mates last year this very topic came up, as well as some clever ways to deal with it — i.e. hanging a curtain in front of the desk to indicate Mom’s off limits (unless there’s blood, then well, go find Dad anyway); a figurine on the computer — if he’s facing out, okay to talk; in, keep it to yourself, unless, well, blood.

I myself haven’t come up with any good tricks — other than to inform my family when I’m working that I’m in my “cone of silence,” which I envision looking like an invisible version of one of these:

dog collar

(Actually, come to think of it, maybe I should put one of those on my head whenever I’m busy. At the very least, my family and friends would think I’d completely and finally lost it and would stay away long enough for me to get something done.)

So, how about you? Do you suffer from other-people-distraction syndrome? How do you deal with it? Tell me in the comments below! Right now, I’ve got to run… I’ve got a whole load of laundry to not do…

The Power of Words

So I was watching this video while working out at the gym the other day:

(Okay, I obviously wasn’t working out that hard, but hey, sometimes I just like to get on the elliptical and do some thinking between bursts of cardio…).

Anyway, watching all The Fault in Our Stars quotes stream by, I was reminded why I’ve always loved books so much. I mean, I’ve always been a sucker for a good story whatever the format, but books offer something more, something magical:


I know that seems sort of obvious. But all my fellow book lovers understand what I mean. There’s nothing quite like being immersed in a good book and coming across a turn of phrase so perfect it makes you stop in your tracks and catch your breath, just due to the sheer beauty of how the words come together. Sort of like taking a walk and being captivated by how the sunlight hits the leaves in the trees — a simple and fleeting reminder of how wonderful it is to think… To feel… To be alive and connected to the world.

When I was a tween and teen, I dog-eared countless books, marking words that spoke to me. Some quotes made it onto the covers of my notebooks or into the yearbooks of friends. Some just rattled around in my head, making me think. Maybe that’s why I’ve always been drawn to writing for this age group — words held such power for me back then, shaping me, helping me see things in new ways and understanding I wasn’t the only one who felt a certain way.

Of course, I still love words and continue to highlight phrases that speak to me — reading them over and over, rattling them around in my brain, making myself think. A couple of my recent favorites:

As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once. — John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

It’s as if someone vacuumed up the horizon while we were looking the other way. — Jandy Nelson, The Sky is Everywhere 

(Huh, looking back at those I clearly have a thing for books that reference the sky in the title somehow…)

So how about you? What are some of your favorite quotes (or quotable authors or books)? What makes you stop, catch your breath, and read something again? Tell me in the comments below!

Put down those arms… and strike a pose!

So, yesterday I did something kind of fun — I finally got an official “author chickenauthorsheadshot.”

I know, I probably should have done this a couple of years ago. But I’m weirdly superstitious at times. And I never really wanted to get one until I actually needed it.

(As it turns out, this may not be the best strategy. Especially when your agent asks for a high res photo and the only recent ones you have are your Facebook profile pictures and a collection of selfies from the Pitbull concert you went to Saturday.)

Luckily, my very talented photographer friend Jennifer Smetek was available on short notice (and also kindly didn’t insist I pose with a pimp cane).

Instead, she had the cool idea to do our photo shoot at the Workhouse Arts Center, a former prison site in Lorton, Virginia. Lots of neat distressed brick, overgrown vines, inmate-painted murals, etc., to use as backdrops. I’d highly recommend it. (Heck, even if you don’t need a headshot, it’s worth checking out — in addition to now housing dozens of working artists, the site has a fascinating history, including the (in)famous imprisonment and force-feeding of more than 70 hunger-striking suffragists in the early 1900s.)

Anyway, after spending an hour and a half posing all over the former prison grounds (and thankfully not getting kicked out… or jailed), I made a few stray observations about what to do should you ever find yourself standing awkwardly in front of a camera:

  • Put your arms down… Yeah, it’s really hard to know what to do with your hands when there’s a camera in your face. I found myself desperate for some pockets to stuff mine in. Or maybe just the opportunity to detach my arms for a few minutes. They felt weirdly in the way. All. The. Time. I spent a lot of time swinging them around like a monkey until I settled on crossing them, keeping them at my sides or putting them behind my back. Having something to lean on helps, too. But for Pete’s sake, don’t look like you’re trying to flap yourself airborne.
  • Put your true self forward. Me — I cannot pull off a serious face. At. All. While some people look great all thoughtful and brooding, I look like I just sat in something cold and wet. Or was given a very uncomfortable wedgie. I’m going to stick with smiling because I don’t look like a serial killer that way. Or, at least I look like a very nice one. Do what makes you comfortable.
  • Photo editing software is AWESOME. I know, I know — it’s really annoying when magazines photoshop a model’s arms right off (although, now that I think about it, maybe they were swinging them like monkeys…). But seriously, I don’t want to add a “thigh gap.” And I don’t need to look like Jennifer Lawrence (though that would be nice). Really, I just want to look like my best self. Not the one that’s been drinking too much coffee and hasn’t slept more than five hours a night for a week. A good photographer can do this without making you look like someone your own mother wouldn’t recognize.
  • Have fun! The best pictures we got were the ones where I was relaxed (and smiling and not flapping my arms). It may have taken a little while — poor Jenn probably had to discard the first 100 shots. But hey, that’s the beauty of digital.

Jan Edit 5095 CroppedNow that the pictures are done, I’m not really sure what I was waiting for. It’s kind of nice to have a professional portrait. So if you haven’t had yours done, go for it! And in case you’re curious, here’s how mine turned out. I may not be JLaw, but I’m happy… At least my arms aren’t waving around and I’m smiling. Really, all that’s missing are some laser beams and a cat and it would be perfect:)