Best of 2020 Q&A: Jen Gerson

Jen Gerson appears on our Best of 2020 list for the piece “The destructive conspiracy theory that Victoria unleashed upon the world.” You can read it at Capital Daily.

GCL invited writers on the list to answer a questionnaire to give us further insight into their work. The following are Jen’s answers:

1. How did you start working on this story?

I’ve followed the Satanic Panic for many years, but this story came about thanks to a conversation I had with the former editor of the Capital Daily, Tristin Hopper. He and I are both weirdos; his interest is more towards history. He noticed that much of the Satanic Panic began with a book that was actually based in Victoria B.C., where the Capital Daily operates. He thought it would be a good subject for a feature and I was the obvious fellow traveller to go to to write it. 

2. How long did it take to write this piece?

Research and writing took about six months. 

3. What was the most challenging part of writing it?

Keeping it short. Every time I went in for an edit, the story grew by about 500 words. Originally, I was commissioned to write a 1,500 word piece. I delivered a 9,000 word draft, which was grossly unprofessional. I suppose I couldn’t help it. I found the subject matter too fascinating. 

4. Do you have a particular writing ritual you follow?

I generally try to stay disciplined by writing every day. I take care of emails, editing, and administrative work in the morning, draft outlines in the afternoon and I usually get to writing once the kids are in bed.

5. What did you find different about writing during a global pandemic?

I really wanted more first-person interviews for the piece. When I realized that it would not be possible to obtain them, I had to rely more on secondary sources than I would have liked.

6. What was the most surprising thing you learned about your subject (or in the case of a personal essay, yourself) during the process?

The recursive nature of this particular conspiracy theory. A deeper historical dive turned up the fact that we’ve been re-hashing some form of the QAnon narrative about Satanists abducting children for the purposes of ritual abuse and sacrifice since the 17th century.

7. What sort of reaction has your piece received from readers?

Most readers seemed to enjoy the piece, but I also received a disturbing amount of feedback from people genuinely convinced in the reality of the conspiracy theory; presumably they assume I’m a part of the conspiracy now. 

8. For any fellow non-fiction writers reading this, do you have a favourite writing tip to share?

Discipline is the only answer. You have to write a million words. Then write another million. 

9. What writing projects are you working on currently?

In addition to running The Line, I’m currently hoping to turn this piece into my first book.

Find Jen on Twitter: @jengerson

This Q&A may have been edited for clarity and length.


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