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Books that spark movements are “tomes of knowledge,” an interview with authors Sara Connell & Jessica Mehta

Books are built into our society and psyche to be tomes of knowledge, and they are. There’s a reason there’s the phrase “wrote the book on it.” They encompass manifestos, dissertations, and the culmination of our best ideas and art. That’s something you’re not going to associate with something like a video. Aspart of my series […]


Books are built into our society and psyche to be tomes of knowledge, and they are. There’s a reason there’s the phrase “wrote the book on it.” They encompass manifestos, dissertations, and the culmination of our best ideas and art. That’s something you’re not going to associate with something like a video.

Aspart of my series about “How to write a book that sparks a movement,” I had the great pleasure of interviewing Jessica (Tyner) Mehta.

Jessica (Tyner) Mehta, born and raised in Oregon and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is the author of over one dozen books. She’s received several writer-in-residency posts around the world, including the Hosking Houses Trust with an appointment at The Shakespeare Birthplace (Stratford-Upon-Avon, UK), Paris Lit Up (Paris, France), the Women’s International Study Center (WISC) Acequia Madre House post (Santa Fe, NM), the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts (Nebraska City, NE), and a Writer in the Schools (WITS) residency at Literary Arts (Portland, OR).

Jessica received a Halcyon Art Labs fellowship in 2018–19 to curate an anthology of poetry by incarcerated and previously incarcerated indigenous women and is also a member of the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Incubator co-hort in Chicago. She is the recipient of a 40 Under 40 Award from the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED), received a Barbara Deming Award in Poetry, and was a Top 10 Pick from Portland Story Theatre for “Indian Burns.” She serves as the Associate Poetry Editor for Bending Genres literary journal and Exclamat! onpeer-reviewed open access journal, and is the former President of the Board of Directors for VoiceCatcher journal and non-profit. Jessica has led writing workshops around the globe including at the International Women’s Writing Guild summer conference series and has taught poetry at various institutions including The Loft Literary Center.

Jessica founded MehtaFor (www.mehtafor.com), a writing services company, in 2012 which serves a variety of clients including Fortune 500 enterprises and major media outlets. MehtaFor received two national bronze awards for Startup of the Year in 2015. Jessica offers complimentary writing services to Native American students and non-profits based in the Pacific Northwest and/or serving Native communities.

She received her master’s degree in writing from Portland State University in 2007 and established The Jessica Tyner Scholarship Fund in 2013. It’s the only scholarship exclusively for Native Americans pursuing an advanced degree in writing or a related field. Jessica is the Visiting Poet at Chemeketa Community College for the 2018–19 academic year and is currently an editor and poet at Airlie Press, a non-profit poetry publisher based in Oregon.

Jessica is also a registered yoga instructor (E-RYT®), registered children’s yoga teacher (RCYT®), certified Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Provider (YACEP®), and NASM-certified personal trainer (CPT). She continues to advance her yoga teacher-ship at The Bhaktishop in Portland. She’s the founder of the Get it Ohm! karma yoga and strength movement (www.getitohm.com), which offers free classes to groups that don’t have access to traditional yoga studios and/or don’t feel comfortable in such environments.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share the “backstory” about how you grew up?

I was born in a small southern Oregon town. My father was a foreman at the local timber mill and my mom was a waitress until I was born. As far as I know, my parents were the only interracial couple in the town at the time. My father was largely neglectful and would disappear for weeks on end. My mother was an alcoholic and overbearing and abusive. When I was 15, my parents divorced, I was (for lack of a better word) kicked out of the house, and was briefly homeless and lived in a car. I graduated high school at 16 through a community college’s independent study program in Portland.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life?

No single book stands out. I devoured books. It was an escape, as cliched as that sounds. I was especially found of the Sweet Valley series and any horror (with a soft spot for 80s Stephen King and Dean Koontz). Books didn’t change my life in a concrete way that I can describe until I was an adult. As a child, they were simply a way of understanding that there were alternative paths out there.

What was the moment or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world?

I founded my writing services company a bit by chance after two consecutive layoffs in the heat of the Great Recession. My goal was to either make $100,000+ in the first year or give up and go back to the non-profit world. Many writers and those with English degrees were always asking me “how I did it.” Finally, I figured I might as well write a book about it! Writers aren’t taught how to make a sustainable living with their art in traditional programs, including high schools and universities. We’re told we can either teach or take low-paying “writer” jobs. There are other options.

What impact did you hope to make when you wrote this book?

I dedicated the book to English majors. I hope to help students and new writers understand that they can make a lucrative living doing what they love — and on their own terms — but it might not look like what they imagine. Sometimes I’m getting paid to write about Kylie Jenner or I’m ghostwriting best-selling erotica. But that gives me the money, time, and flexibility to focus on my own writing while still constantly practicing my writing skills.

Did the actual results align with your expectations?

I hope so! Many writers don’t get a lot of feedback from their readers (especially when it comes to business books). However, I regularly teach workshops based on this book and have brought it to high schools when I’m a teaching artist, and I have received feedback and surprised responses from students who thought writing could only be a hobby.

What moment let you know that your book had started a movement?

Likely when it was a finalist for a book award. When I wrote the book, there was nothing like it on the market. Since then, I’ve received several requests to teach workshops based on the teaching around the world.

What kinds of things did you hear right away from readers? What are the most frequent things you hear from readers about your book now? Are they the same? Different?

“I didn’t know you could do this.” People don’t realize that, largely thanks to the internet, every company and person who wants a digital footprint needs a professional writer. Written text is increasingly the first and most common way to give a first impression. This means writers can find preferred and profitable niches no matter what their backgrounds and interests might be.

What is the most moving or fulfilling experience you’ve had as a result of writing this book?

My most fulfilling experience was working with high school students interested in “being writers” for nine weeks. They understandably had no knowledge foundation when it came to different types of writing or various complementary skills they needed to develop, such as SEO. I wish someone had told me (well before I was 30!) that I could make money doing what I love. It’s a recommendation we give all teenagers, but don’t go on to help them explore how.

Have you experienced anything negative? Do you feel there are drawbacks to writing a book that starts such colossal conversation and change?

There’s always a drawback to writing a “how to” book because in some circles “those kinds of books” have a certain stigma. It can seem gimmicky or like an attempt to make a shortcut for fast cash. However, there’s also another potential drawback: I am potentially increasing my own competition. I had a choice of either sharing what I’d learned after years of trial and error or helping to make the road a little less bumpy for those who come after me. I choses the latter.

Can you articulate why you think books in particular have the power to create movements, revolutions, and true change?

Books are built into our society and psyche to be tomes of knowledge, and they are. There’s a reason there’s the phrase “wrote the book on it.” They encompass manifestos, dissertations, and the culmination of our best ideas and art. That’s something you’re not going to associate with something like a video.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer?

Decline to answer the best-selling aspect (I personally only consider the New York Times as a best-selling authority). However, what has contributed to my being an award-winning writer is two-fold. First, writing has simply always been my best personal form of communication. Second, I am incredibly naturally driven and ambitious. I’m up at 4 a.m. daily and a Type-A personality.

What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career? Can you share the lesson(s) that you learned?

The odds of you writing what will naturally be massively appealing are slim to none. I simply cannot bring myself to write what I consider fodder and sometimes trash — but that’s what’s often on the best-seller list. I do write best-selling erotica, but as a ghostwriter. Call it ego or pride, but for me writing is an art. I am an artist. When it comes to the creative form of writing, I don’t want to attach my name to something I’m not proud of. It’s a choice every writer must make.

Many aspiring authors would love to make an impact similar to what you have done. What are the 5 things writers needs to know if they want to spark a movement with a book?

1. Be passionate about your subject. It’s just like a dissertation. You’re going to be stuck with it for a long time.

2. An editor, whether you hire one yourself or your publisher provides one, will make all the difference.

3. The right publisher and agent will make all the difference, too.

4. Increasingly, a famous book is more about marketing than the content. It’s an unfortunate reality, but a game that can be played.

5. Not everyone will love your book.

The world, of course, needs progress in many areas. What movement do you hope someone (or you!) starts next?

I want to see virtual reality integrated more into other facets of our lives, including within literature. With the power to increase empathy and compassion through embodiment, it’s something the world despearetly needs right now. And, hey, I’m working on it! Check out my website’s antipode section for a sneak peek.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter @ndns4vage

Facebook.com/jessicamehtaauthor

Instagram @ndnsav4gee

Thank you so much for these insights!


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