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Writers@Drew Presents Renée Branum and Jessie Gaynor

The debut novelists share tips and learnings with Drew students

October 2023 – Drew University’s Writers@Drew kicked off the fall semester by welcoming fiction authors Renée Branum and Jessie Gaynor as they presented readings from their published work. 

Gaynor, whose work has appeared in such venues as McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The New Yorker, and WSJ Magazine, shared a passage from her debut novel The Glow, hailed a “Best New Book to Read in Summer 2023” by Elle.

Branum’s stories and essays have appeared in The Georgia Review, Narrative Magazine, The Kenyon Review, and Alaska Quarterly Review. Her story “As the Sparks Fly Upward” was included in Best American Nonrequired Reading’s 2019 anthology. 

She shared a passage from her first novel, Defenestrate.

The authors then fielded questions from an audience of students, faculty, and staff.

Biggest source of inspiration?

“I get inspiration from reading,” said Gaynor. “And talking to people who I think are smarter than I am. Having a conversation with  someone who is going to challenge you is the biggest source of inspiration for me.”

“When I am feeling creatively wilted, I go to my favorite authors,” answered Branum.

What do you do when you’re faced with writer’s block?

“I read and watch trash tv,” replied Branum. “There’s a narrative everywhere. No time is wasted if you’re delving into a narrative space. Be patient with yourself.”

“I need a deadline,” said Gaynor. “I need a person to say that they will be disappointed if I don’t provide in time.”

How do you research a character without personal experience?

“The internet is a great resource,” said Gaynor. “It helps if you are able to find the broad outlines of a character, fill it in, and fact check. Ask questions from people.”

“The internet is your friend,” echoed Branum. “It contains knowledge.”

Do you plot? And what do you do when your characters decide to not follow your plot?

“I don’t plot at all, I think plot is very hard,” answered Gaynor. “I was following what felt right to me. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t.”

“I’m a fly by the seat of my pants person,” said Branum. “I write to discover. My characters are driving, I’m along for the ride.”

Do you change your mind when writing?

“All the time,” said Branum. “There are so many files in my computer that are beginnings. My agent tell me that nothing is wasted.”

The free event was co-sponsored by The Casement Fund, the English Department, and the Women’s and Gender Studies program.   

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