Jeryl Brunner of My City, My New York and My City, My Los Angeles
This past weekend I was in New York City for an interview. Sunday morning I was lucky enough to brunch with the ever so sweet Jeryl Brunner, whom I’ve been tweeting and posting photos on Instagram for since November, to promote her Parade Magazine stories. Check out some of them here: Celebrities Tweet About The Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special and 12 Beloved Passages from Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird. Jeryl is also the author of two books, My City, My New York and My City, My Los Angeles. Over cobb salads, bagels, lox, and fresh orange juice at her go- to spot on the Upper West Side, Viand Cafe, I learned all about her freelance journey. As we began, she apologized for being a bit out of breath for she had just come from a spinning class, her favorite way to start off the day (spinning tomorrow morning anyone??). At the end of our meeting, she let me in on a secret, which I too will let you all in on– she’s currently working on a new book, a memoir or short essays centering around her childhood.
What is your favorite and least favorite aspect of freelance?
JB: “I adore that I’m in the driving seat. I love the freedom, the variety– I write so many different pieces from honeymoons to chefs to interviewing celebs. I love that I can pick what I want to write about, but of course I have editors coming to me and telling me what to write at the same time. What I love is also what is hard about freelance. It’s like going to the cereal isle in a big suburban supermarket, I want to write about so many things but in the end I have to pick and choose. Being in the driver seat has responsibilities. I could work 24/7 but I have to do other things too, things that support me spiritually like spinning and going to shows with friends. Work smart. It’s very important.”
What are some preconceived notions people have about freelance writers? Have you encountered any?
JB: “Well, about myself even. I thought, I’m going to be a lady of leisure freelancing and that time is your own but editors will e-mail you at all hours, you work a lot of hours, on weekends and week nights too. I thought, I can go to a movie at noon on a Thursday, but I’m never at a movie then. You have deadlines to meet. I do have freedom but at the same time you have responsibilities. You have to be self reliant. For a long time I was pitching all the time, every 10 pitches I’d get a good one. You meet a lot of nut cases who say they’ve never pitched a story. At one time I thought, who are these mythic people and how do I get to be in that club? But editors work with people who meet deadlines and follow the guidelines. You’d be surprised how many people can’t do this. Even if they’re brilliant, if they can’t meet deadlines, it doesn’t work.”
Tell me about your favorite place you’ve been for a story.
JB: “The South of France. Not fancy, Versace wearing France though, an island off the South of France called Porquerolles. I was supposed to go for 1 night but it turned into 5 nights. You walk or bike everywhere and every day is the perfect day for a picnic and walk on the beach with a really good book. The first day I was there, I got to the main square and bought some bread and cheese and found a place to sit and write. The story just came to me. I e-mailed the National Geographic travel editor and she said write! It all happened so organically.”
How has the freelance industry chanced throughout your career?
JB: “When I first started there was no internet. I was a fact checker at InStye and I would have to go to the library that we shared with Time Magazine. Everything was manual. When the Internet happened and I wrote stories, my clients only wanted stories that would appear in print. It was all about the magazine, there was no social media. There weren’t as many opportunities then as there are now. If you were a freelancer you had to find ways to get in because there were only a certain number of publications. Today I have so many choices whereas at InStyle, I was always told what to write. You’d spend weeks on one story. Today I have to train myself how to write a story in an hour.”
What are the best character traits to work on if pursuing a writing career?
JB: “Creativity, having an imagination, being able to think out of the box, having an internal sense of discipline. You have to force yourself to work sometimes when you don’t want to and learn how to manage your time because you don’t have a supervisor. You have to be self motivated. Also, be aware of the business of relationships: celebs and their publicists, maintain relationships with your editors and figure out how to make their life easier, they need people like that.”
How do you think living in New York City has helped your writing career?
JB: “I once asked Terrance McNally how he deals with writers block and he said ‘how can I get writers block in New York City? There is so much to do here.’ The action is here. In one day, I could go to a play, an event for a new perfume, or chef’s dinner tasting. Plus all of the major publishing houses are here like the Time Inc., Condé Nast, Hearst, etc. I’m not saying you have to be here but getting started here can really be helpful.”