Jenny Bristol is a married, work-at-home mother of two teenagers, a girl and a boy, whom she homeschools, and one is also going to college. She was only diagnosed as autistic at age 45, and it’s like her whole life finally became clear.
“Everything finally made sense. I’ve been spending my time since then reevaluating how I am and how I used to be, seeing everything through this new lens.”
Jenny says she “sort of fell into writing as a career.” She wrote for fun when she was a teenager but didn’t do anything with it. It wasn’t until her mid 30s when she started writing her own blog posts, which turned into writing for blogs, which led to writing books and other writing-based jobs.
Jenny, give us an overview of yourself as a book author.
I would really enjoy being able to write books full time, but so far that hasn’t happened; it’s hard to find an agent when you don’t stick to one genre! The books I’ve written and want to write are all over the place in terms of subject matter, from advice to fiction to poetry to nerdery to history to sewing and crafts. The two books that I’ve written so far on my own only cover two corners of my brain: the helpful corner and the weird books corner. I wrote them as labors of love and wanted to publish them regardless of audience. The Isle of Kern I wrote for myself for fun, and Wisdom from Mom I wrote for my kids.
I’ve done NaNoWriMo several times and ended up with one very rough draft of a time travel book, a rough draft of a fantasy book, and a book that went nowhere and ended up being a series of short stories. I write best when I can do it for an hour or two first thing in the morning, before looking at the internet, and ideally before anyone else is awake. Which doesn’t happen very often.
Tell us about your books, The Isle of Kern and Wisdom from Mom.
The Isle of Kern is a fictional guidebook to Kern, a fictional island off the coast of England. It takes visitors on a tour of the island, covering historic sites, geology, wildlife, and out-of-the-way places. I learned quite a lot about the cuttlefish while doing research for the book. Scattered throughout the book are excerpts from a fictional coming-of-age novel written by Kern’s most famous resident, John Dunn. It’s an unusual mashup of content and writing styles, but I had a great deal of fun writing it.
Wisdom from Mom: Advice for Living is a nonfiction advice book focusing on only the best, most important advice I feel that people should receive, from kids and the teen years to retirement age, including general advice for adults and plenty of extra advice for parents. Each nugget of wisdom can be read on its own, or the book can be read cover to cover. I include many personal examples where applicable.
What inspired you to write them?
I was inspired to write The Isle of Kern by the fun movie The Decoy Bride, actually. In the movie, the main character is writing a guidebook to the island she lives on. I thought, “What if I wrote such a guidebook, but for a fictional island?” I started making notes and the ideas took off from there. I picked the location of an actual small group of islands, the Isles of Scilly, and put Kern in the same spot.
Wisdom from Mom, however, was entirely inspired by my own mother. She has given me plenty of wisdom over the years, especially as I was growing up. A few of the bits of advice were easily encapsulated, so I started writing them down for my own kids. The list grew, and I started adding my own advice (especially advice I figured out on my own as I raised my own kids) and the advice given to me from friends. I tried to gather all the best advice I heard or came up with in one place, so I could just hand the book to my kids, or to someone else, and they’d have my best advice to use whenever they needed it. Since publishing that book, however, I’ve remembered a few more bits of advice, so I’ve been taking notes for a second volume.
Who is the ideal reader and how do you see your books being used?
The Isle of Kern would appeal most to the cross section of people who enjoy armchair travel and fiction, since the book includes excerpts of a fictional book (written by Kern’s most famous resident) as well as the travel component. I based some of the history along with the geology and wildlife on what actually occurs in that area, to make the book more plausible and interesting.
Wisdom from Mom will be useful to anyone from the teen years onward to those in retirement. Since it includes wisdom for all parts of life, it can be a valuable tool for just about anyone at any time. While it is useful to read the entire book, cover to cover, so that you have all the advice already in mind as you go through life, it’s also useful as a reference book, turning to specific portions when you’re in need of advice for specific situations.
What’s the message you want your readers to take away after reading your books?
From The Isle of Kern, I’d hope to inspire people to keep exploring, both in the greater world and inside themselves. There is no end of things to learn, and continuing to learn throughout your life can deepen your understanding of yourself, the world, and those around you. I also would hope to inspire people to keep imagining, to be creative in all that they do.
Wisdom from Mom is full of messages to take away. My hope is that readers would find a few bits of advice that really stick with them and are helpful. But here are a few of the most important ones, in my opinion:
- One, there is always help, always people to turn to when you feel at a loss or stuck.
- Two, hold yourself to a high standard and take personal responsibility for all that you say and do.
- And three, consider Future You in all the decisions you make and actions you take; Future You will thank you.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your books?
At least half of Wisdom from Mom was written several years ago during NaNoWriMo—in a different year from the novels I mentioned earlier—but I only had time to compile it this past summer. The Isle of Kern was written slowly over about six months, back in 2015, and then furiously assembled over that Christmas break. Both of my books are available in print and on Kindle.
Do you have a proud moment you’d like to share?
Since my most important audience for Wisdom from Mom was my kids, I made sure to get each of them their own copy. My daughter has her copy near her bed, and regularly reads sections of it. She occasionally references it, and values what it contains. Considering she’s 17, this is a pretty proud moment for me.
If our readers leave with only one message after reading this interview, what would you like it to be?
I want your readers to know that they can accomplish their goals. It is possible. Find a passion, set a goal, follow through, and complete the work. Getting started on something is easy, but I find that actually completing the work is the most difficult part.
Fortunately, the internet makes a lot of things possible these days. You no longer need a lot of money or an investment by a book publisher, for example, to put your writing out there. You don’t need someone to hire you to have a platform for your ideas and your influence. You can do it yourself. But be sure to take that final step: complete the work. It’s worth it, and the world needs your unique perspective.
In addition to writing, you are one of the co-founders of the GeekFamily Network. Tell us more about your popular network of blogs?
The GeekFamily Network is an umbrella concept that covers GeekDad, GeekMom, and a few other things. We focus on content of interest to geeks, parents, and geeky parents, including products, places, interviews, experiences, and think pieces.
GeekDad.com was founded in 2007 by the then-editor of Wired, Chris Anderson, as a way to write about the geeky things he did with his kids. He eventually brought other people on to expand it, including Ken Denmead, who is still the blog’s publisher, and a heck of a great guy. I joined as a writer in the spring of 2009 and have been writing weekly posts ever since.
In 2010, there were four women, including me, writing for GeekDad. We, with Ken’s help and with him at the publisher helm once again, spun off GeekMom.com to form a similar-but-different blog aimed at geeky moms. There, we write about the same kinds of things that are at GeekDad, but with more of a female/mom angle.
Two of the four founding editors (plus Ken) are still there, and we work in tandem with GeekDad, with a combined editorial team and collaboration between the blogs. Along with GeekDad and GeekMom, the GeekFamily Network includes GeekKid.com, a blog written by the kids of some of the GeekMom and GeekDad writers, including my two kids. We also have the GeekFamily Podcast Network, which includes all of the podcasts that we run on our blogs, and the Geek Book Shop, which is still a work in progress but includes books written by some of our blog writers, including my books.
How does being autistic influence your writing and your work at the GeekFamily Network?
Since I was only diagnosed this past spring (at age 45!), I’m still unpacking my life and what it means to be autistic. Slowly, certain things are making a lot more sense to me. So, if you were to ask me this question in a few years, I might have a better answer. But I’ll take a stab at it.
Though I don’t have a single interest that I’ve put all of my energy to over the years, several of them have stuck around for my entire lifetime, such as travel, books, maps, technology, lists and organization, crafts and putting things together, logic puzzles and the like, and the kinds of things that are hard to categorize (those are fun for me because they challenge my sense of order). I’ve been able to write about any or all of these kinds of things at GeekDad and GeekMom, as well as add my point of view as a parent.
My varied interests and skills have also all come in handy in my job as a freelance writer. I’m good at a lot of different things, but I’m not an expert in many of them. But this versatility makes it easy to do some work in creative fields and other work in technical fields. That crossover effect landed me perfectly at the GeekFamily network and means that my freelance career is fairly wide open.
For writing my books, I follow my passions. I follow where my interests take me. I’ve always done that with my leisure time, exploring in depth the world of computers when I was a teenager, making things and even designing my own dolls and other sewn items, and planning (and occasionally taking) elaborate trips around the world. I’ve defined for myself what my books should be, and that has been incredibly freeing. That has always been one of my biggest priorities in life, to be able to define for myself what my life should look like, and not just follow society’s or someone else’s notion of what I should do and how I should do it.
It’s a little weird putting yourself out there in such a permanent way, in the form of books and blog posts, but it’s so exciting to see my words out there in the world, and to see my books on bookshelves. Having a tangible result of my efforts helps me feel like I’m contributing to the world in a lasting way.
What words of encouragement can you offer to other autistic creatives?
Your words, your voice, and your ideas matter. You have a unique way of looking at the world which is both valuable and vital to share, both with other autistics and with the world at large. We are able to see things that not everyone sees. We are able to look at the world in ways that other people are unable to look at it. We are able to draw connections between disparate ideas and events that are invisible to others. We have wisdom and experience that is important and valuable that can be used in relationships, jobs, projects, and passions, and at helping ourselves cope with the challenges of everyday life.
Discover more about Jenny and her books:
- Buy Isle of Kern on Amazon*
- Buy Wisdom from Mom: Advice for Living on Amazon*
- Jenny Bristol Website
- Jenny Bristol Amazon Author Page
- Jenny’s Facebook Page
- @jennywbristol on Twitter
- @jennywrenbristol on Instagram
If you liked this post, you may also like:
- The Comics that are Jetpacked with Encouragement!
- Bringing the Worlds in Her Head into the Real World
- The Adventurous Asperger Author Who Achieved Her Dream
- Discover more books written by autistic authors
- Go to our Amazon Influencer Autism Book Shop
Photo credits: Black and White headshot by Ed Williams, Image of Jenny “in action” by Rory Bristol
*The links to buy the books are our affiliate links. By purchasing using these links, you will not only support Jenny as an author, you’ll be raising funds to support our autistic team of contributors for their work too.