I’m Jen Violi, author of Putting Makeup on Dead People, a finalist for the Oregon Book Awards and a BCCB Blue Ribbon Book, and founder of Jen Violi: The Business. I’m a mentor, editor, and facilitator, and I help writers unleash the stories they’re ready to tell.
That’s you. And your story. Are you ready?
I know that what you’re working on isn’t a product. It’s a piece of your heart, a slice of your soul, and if you’re going to share that with someone else, that person better understand the depth of what you’re offering and handle it with care. I do, and I will.
At the same time, sharing the words of your heart is a joyful, creative, abundant act that so often becomes more burdensome, dark, and lonely than it needs to be. You might wonder how you’ll ever be able to bear it. Never fear. I have lots of practice taking myself way too seriously and working my way out of it, and I know how to help you get the playful back into your prose and your process.
With advanced degrees in theology and creative writing and certification in the Gateless method, for over 20 years I’ve facilitated hundreds of retreats and workshops across the United States and Canada, and mentored and nurtured hundreds of writers as they find their voices, hone their manuscripts, and take creative leaps and plunges.
Like internationally acclaimed speaker and entrepreneur Jo Dibblee, whose memoir, Frock Off: Living Undisguised, I had the pleasure of editing. Jo’s book became an Amazon Bestseller in both 2013 and 2015, and received its fifth bronze medal in the international Readers’ Favorite competition this fall. Go Jo! What a thrill!
Through my signature course, Discover the Book You’re Meant to Write (DTB), again and again, the writers who take it are reminded that their lives—their loves and losses and particularities and peculiarities—are not incidental to the process. Rather, the writer is essential to the writing. One of these brave writers, DTB alumna, Jennifer Brownell, had an exciting 2015, as her memoir was picked up by The Pilgrim Press and released this past spring!
My own writing is regularly published in the Story Sanctuary I’ve built on Patreon, and I’ve been a featured author, panelist, and presenter at The Louisiana Book Festival, Wordstock Literary Festival, the Antioch Writers’ Workshop, and the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival.
The highlight for me of any literary festival or workshop is always connection—encountering other writers and their stories. If you’d like to know more about my story—how and why I got here, please read on.
Or feel free to explore this site and be in touch with any questions. Either way, I’d love to connect with you.
My Origin Story
I was born during a thunderstorm in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My dad had to fly through it to get home to meet me. My mom packed her suitcase and drove herself to the hospital. When I was born, I let out just one tiny cry. I had so much hair that the nurses used me for a bath demonstration for the other new mothers. After my bath, I promptly peed on the nurse. My mom and dad brought me home from the hospital on Thanksgiving Day.
I love hearing the story of my birth. Every year, my mom tells it to me, and I still get excited over each detail of how I came to life.
I grew up devouring stories. One of my fondest memories is checking out at least a dozen books every two weeks from the Northland Public Library, getting lost in novel after novel. Another was going to see musicals like The King and I (with Yul Brynner!) at Heinz Hall downtown.
Stories fed me.
When I was fourteen, my dad died, snapping the reality of death into focus as I turned a corner from childhood into young adulthood.
My simple story about life—that all kids grew up loved and guided by two living parents, that my dad would interview my boyfriends and test their mettle, that when I got married one day my dad would walk me down the aisle—collapsed. I needed a new one. I needed a story in which a girl could survive devastating loss and find joys in unexpected ways.
I kept on devouring stories, with a new fervor. And when I read a particularly moving novel or poem, saw a movie or a play that cracked my heart open, as well as when I wrote a story or speech or essay that found its way to a soulful center, something else happened.
Stories still fed me, but they also healed me. I knew I was meant to write them. I had to. My heart said so. You know what I mean?
Although I love to write, it’s not enough for me to just tell stories; I also feel compelled to make way for them. Helping another person unleash a story that’s been swelling in the depths of her heart or burning its way through his skin, is as much of a gift as the story itself.
In the telling of stories, doors and hearts can open, and we can step through to a new place. One of my favorite stories is in the biblical book of Ezekiel, when the narrator experiences the valley of dry bones and watches divine spirit come in and make those bones dance, enfleshing and breathing life into them.
In writing my novel, Putting Makeup on Dead People, I took the dry bones of losing my dad and let a fictive world emerge, breathe life into loss, and let it sing a new song. What a release.
The people I work with are ready, are itching, even, to take the dry bones of their lives and to make them dance. They want that release.
In my work and play, I remain a frequent visitor to themes of birth and death, hope and loss, joy and grief, and the transformation from one to the other. And bringing myself home to gratitude.
For me, that’s all at the center of story.
While I’m fascinated with birth, I’m not interested in having babies. I’ve chosen to give birth to books and to help others do the same.
In an emergency, if you’re, say, stranded on a desert island or caught in a snow storm in a cabin in the forest, you can give birth to a book on your own, but ideally, really, you want some support personnel. That’s me.
I should add that I don’t see my work as limited to books; it goes deeper than that. What I know is this:
The stories we are meant to tell are inextricably linked
to the lives we are meant to live.
Primarily, I work with people who are longing to express deep truth, liberate their voices, and in so doing, make the difference they came onto this planet to make.I’ve always loved envisioning a big picture, from crafting jewelry heist mystery plays for my baby dolls and stuffed animals, to designing and creating retreat experiences for hundreds of college students, to planning luscious meals for people I love. I put this passion to work when I offer feedback on a manuscript and when I craft a coaching plan for someone.
I also believe in the big picture and cycle of life, from birth to death to new life. I see it in the movement of the seasons, in relationship triumphs and trials, in what can feel like birth or a slow painful demise during a writing session. This cycle permeates spiritual and religious traditions worldwide, throughout history—from the story of Jesus dying and rising to the story of the movement of Goddess and God in Pagan traditions through the Wheel of the Year, a constant cycle of death and rebirth.
We are this cycle. We live this story. Sometimes we resist it. I know I do. And that’s when I suffer. I didn’t want my marriage to end; I held tight and kept trying to resuscitate it. But it was dying. I was terrified to leave behind traditional employment and start my own business, but that new part of my story demanded to be born, pushing other work out of the way until I paid attention.
When I allow myself to live the cycle—to not only bud and bloom and soak in the sun, but also to let my leaves fall away and myself compost or rest under cold frozen ground—then I go with the flow of the world, then I thrive, even in those wintery hibernations.
In all of my work, I hope to embrace and honor that sacred cycle and inspire others to do the same. Feel free to visit my Story Sanctuary for new pieces of writing from me, or the archives of my blog, Litany to Wonder, for more thoughts on the cycle of seasons in story, ritual, and life.
Or, let’s schedule some Story Time so you can tell me all about the story you’re longing to tell and discover what kind of support will help you to unleash it.
I’m so glad you’re here.