Write from the start: Cookeville columnist, author shares remarkable life
By Melanie Tucker | melt@thedailytimes.Com
Jennie Ivey has two English teachers to thank, or blame for giving her a taste of success in the world of writing that has propelled her on now for decades.
She hasn’t made millionaire status yet, but she’s having the time of her life.
Ivey is a Sunday columnist for the Cookeville Herald-Citizen and has also co-written three books. She has taught high school students, driven a tour bus of stars’ homes in Nashville and is penning a young adult novel as we speak. It all got started, she said, when her seventh grade English teacher “forced” her and the other students to enter an essay contest on fire prevention.
I can do that
“I won the grand prize, which was a Schwinn bicycle,” Ivey said. “That was pretty big back in those days. I realized I just got paid for writing.”
Then as a senior in high school, another English teacher “forced” her to enter an essay contest on freedom. Once again, Ivey took home the top prize, this time a $500 savings bond.
“I thought, Holy Cow, this is pretty cool,” Ivey said. “Then for the next million years I didn’t make anything at writing.”
This mother of three, grandmother of two and reader of all things, will be the guest speaker at the Blount County Friends of the Library Annual Meeting that takes place starting at 6:30 p.m. today in the Sharon Lawson Room of the library. It is open to the public and there is no cost to attend. Her presentation is entitled “A Writer Spills All. She said she will share some of her experiences and then let the audience ask their questions.
As a columnist for the Herald-Citizen, Ivey gets to write about anything she wants. Just recently, she entertained her readers with how to cook a groundhog.
The job doesn’t pay that well, she admits, just enough to keep herself in office supplies, but there are things money just can’t buy, she explained.
“To be honest, what I like about this job is being a local celebrity,” she said. “My picture runs with my column and I have red hair so people recognize me when I’m out. They mostly say nice things.”
That was until she wrote a tongue-and-cheek column on Elvis Presley on his birthday. “I thought it was funny,” she said. “I got the most awful hate mail.”
Ivey said she wasn’t making fun of Elvis but some readers took her humor the wrong way. Some have even told her she was the reason they canceled their newspaper subscription.
Her books include “Tennessee Tales the Textbooks Don’t Talk About,” “Soldiers, Spies and Spartans: Civil War Stories From Tennessee” and “E is for Elvis: The Elvis Presley Alphabet.”
“Tennessee Tales” is a textbook written for seventh-graders that includes some of the lesser-known stories about Tennessee history. “Soldiers, Spies and Spartans” is also a book for young people that tells the story of the Civil War through young people who witnessed it. “E is for Elvis” focuses on the King of Rock n Roll.
Ivey has made some money off of writing the books, but she has had more lucrative success writing stories for Guideposts magazine and also stories for the Chicken Soup series of books. Speaking engagements are also a way to earn some extra money.
She entered a contest back in 2008 for Guideposts and was selected from thousands to be one of their writers. She was brought to New York for a week-long workshop to learn everything she needed to know to become a “Guideposter” she said. “I am the eyes and ears of Guideposts for Middle Tennessee,” the writer said. She will have an article in the September issue on her quest to ride a mule in the Grand Canyon.
Getting it done
The book Ivey is currently working on is for young adults and is about a young girl overcoming isolation in a small town. She said she’s been working on it for years, but has now given herself a concrete deadline to complete it.
“I will be 59 on Dec. 29,” she explained. “I am going to have my first draft done by then.”
She said she is adopting one of her pastor’s methods of writing. He does so standing up. Take the comfort of an office away and maybe that will speed up the process.
“When you write standing up, that just says get on with it, go ahead and finish,” Ivey said. If you write 1,000 words a day, you can have a 60,000 word novel written in two months.”
Writing about what she knows has always been her guide. She was a stay-at-home mom who raised three children. She rides a motorcycle, loves to camp in the Smokies, and said she could stand in front of a packed stadium of Yankees fans and never flinch.
She has taught Sunday school, operated a small, one room library, served as basketball coach, been president of the PTA and headed up a Cub Scout troop. Stories emerge from all of those experiences.
“Everything you have done makes you the writer that you are,” this author said.
Being rich and famous might have been the goal years ago when writing an essay brought instance success. Ivey said she isn’t that naive anymore, but she’s not switching off the computer just yet. There’s that novel to finish and the weekly newspaper column readers to entertain. Guideposts continues to be a wonderful opportunity. As for aspiring writers, Ivey said she tells them two pieces of advice, neither of which is her own original idea, she admitted. First, you have to read a lot, she said. That includes the really good stuff and the equally bad.
The second is to get busy and write. “You can’t learn to write unless you write,” she said. “It’ just like making foul shots. You can’t do that unless you practice.”