Courtney Peppernell Talks Poetry and All Things Jellyfish
I am so honored to have gotten the chance to talk with Courtney Peppernell about her poetic inspiration, her writing journey, and that sweet, iconic jellyfish. She has some incredible insights for readers and writers alike that are sure to help you along your own journey. You won’t want to miss this discussion!
Liz Newman: Readers know you best for Pillow Thoughts, volumes 1-3. Can you tell us a little bit more about The Road Between, which was your first publication?
Courtney Peppernell: I had self-published Pillow Thoughts originally, and during the time that it was growing, I decided to write a second poetry book and titled it The Road Between. I enjoyed breaking the book up into sections, however, I wanted to make it a little different from Pillow Thoughts, so I decided to create a road for the reader to travel along. I was trying to depict a journey from hurt to healing.
Each section of The Road Between is a place the reader travels to, and each place represents certain feelings. When I was approached by Andrews McMeel to publish Pillow Thoughts, I mentioned that I also had a second book ready and they decided they wanted this book, too.
With all the retrospect I’ve gained since then, I probably would have released The Road Between at another time and not the same day as Pillow Thoughts, as to this day not many people do not realize I have this book out as well.
In the end, it has worked out great for me though, as I have been able to redesign The Road Between with new artwork, a new cover, and some new poetry and release it back out into the market! I really enjoy the new version and feel blessed I had the opportunity to re-release it.
LN: Everyone associates that beautiful jellyfish with your collections of poetry. Can you describe how the jellyfish came to be and how that has become such a huge part of your personal brand?
CP: I was unaware of the concept called “modern poetry” when I first started. I didn’t read much poetry and I wasn’t using Instagram to share my work. I was, however, writing short stories and novels. So, for me, when I created Pillow Thoughts, I still had the idea of storytelling and characters on my mind.
I wanted a character that could represent everybody—no matter what gender, race or sexual preference they had. So, I thought to myself, what is something that exists in this world that holds a certain transparency that I am looking for? And I thought immediately, “that would be a jellyfish!” I feel very grateful that people have identified so much with the jellyfish, and I think that is largely because they are able to see themselves in the artwork and also the words.
It’s very important to me that I remain an author that is open, accepting and writes for everyone. I never wanted to pigeon-hole myself into a specific demographic, so through the jellyfish character, and all its friends in the series, I think I was lucky enough to be able to do that.
LN: What has been your favorite part about sharing your work on social media?
CP: I just really enjoy interacting with my readers because they inspire me. I think sharing my work on social media has enabled me to do what I do in a way I wouldn’t be able to if it didn’t exist. I still find it so strange to receive messages that Pillow Thoughts has saved someone’s life because I really believe that we make our own choices and every struggle that someone has, they are the ones dealing with that struggle, and, in turn, rising above it, but if Pillow Thoughts has played any role in making someone feel less alone, then I am very grateful for that.
LN: What was your journey to publication like? Were you ever nervous about sharing your work with a wider audience?
CP: My journey to publication was a long and rewarding journey. It’s something that I think a lot of people come into thinking it will be a lot easier than what it is. It isn’t any fault of their own of course, I think sometimes you see other people being successful and you think “I write like that, or that looks easy, I bet I can do that too.”
The truth is, you can definitely achieve the same level of success, but you have to be prepared to work hard. It is a very difficult genre to be successful in. I get a lot of emails asking for advice and help with publication and I see a little bit of myself in some of those people, and how I was in the beginning. I could be a little impatient and expect things to happen overnight, but over time, I have realized that it is a long, winding journey that is full of ups and downs.
This is why it’s so important to stay determined and never give up on your belief in your creative self. I think my journey to publication has made me stronger and a better creative artist. It never made me nervous to share my work, as I had already reached a wide audience through my blog on Tumblr. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to be an author so that I could share my words with as many people as possible. I am also a believer in the idea that if you don’t try, you will never know. People can say they are going to do something, but if they never try to do it, then they will never know how successful they could become!
LN: Who has been the biggest influence on your poetry? Are there any poets in the community that you especially look up to as a source of inspiration for your work?
CP: The biggest influence on my poetry is my readers and my loved ones. My inspiration comes from them! I will say that I love Wilder’s work; she’s a dear friend of mine, and I really respect the work she does. I think she is extremely talented and unique.
LN: I think it’s awesome that you do several book-signing events to interact with and meet your fans! Can you tell us about one of the best experiences you’ve ever had with a fan?
CP: I think what most people don’t realize about my tours is that I actually pay for a lot of the travel myself from my own company called Pepperbooks. I would do it over and over again in a heartbeat because it’s so valuable to receive the kind of feedback I do at signing events.
To just be able to meet and talk to the people reading and supporting my work is priceless. It’s great to interact on social media or email but that face-to-face interaction with readers is largely what keeps me doing what I am doing.
I think every experience I’ve had with a reader is the best! A few standouts are the people who come to show me the jellyfish tattoo that takes up half their arm, which is amazing, and I do really need to get one of those ha! But I also love that people of all ages come to these events, from kids in high school to college, to mums and dads, and each of them has their own story to tell me. It’s those stories that keep me going and keep me inspired.
A reader bought me an In ‘n Out voucher once and another bought me coffee beans from Starbucks—you forget that people are following you so closely that they know the things you like and listen to you. I suppose that’s why I try to give back as much as I can through my writing and interactions!
LN: What has been the most challenging part about being a Modern-Day Poet in the age of social media?
CP: I think social media is a great platform to share your work as a Modern-Day Poet. It has many positives, but it also definitely has challenges. I think the biggest challenge for me has been people’s perception that if you have a huge following then you must be extremely successful, so people place a lot of their self-worth on how many followers they have. It’s not true though.
I’ve discovered that it doesn’t always matter how many followers you have on Instagram; it’s about whether or not you can write a good book and sell that book. I know many poets with large follower bases, but their book sales numbers are low. But here I am, and I don’t have a million followers, yet Pillow Thoughts has been consistently in the top three poetry books for the last two years. It’s challenging to explain it to people, because consumers don’t have access to book sales, but I think they would be genuinely surprised. This is why I try not to think of social media as a scale of someone’s worth. It’s not the basis of being successful.
LN: How and when did you discover poetry, and how has it shaped who you are as a person?
CP: I sort of discovered poetry through Tumblr when I started writing little pieces about how I felt and how I saw the world, and people wrote to me saying they loved my poetry. I didn’t think of it as poetry when I wrote it, but since then I’ve learned a lot more and I can see that it is poetry. Sharing and writing poetry has definitely helped me to be more in touch with my own feelings as a person and to recognize my own thoughts, feelings, and insecurities.