Winging It – You Won’t Want to Miss This One!

I first “met” Jenny Gardiner when she emailed me after seeing my GoLions87 persona online – “Is that Penn State?” she asked in an email. It was and she graduated from PSU and thus a friendship was born

Then, both of our manuscripts (Sleeping With Ward Cleaver for her, Beauty and The Best for me) were chosen for the third American Title Contest sponsored by Romantic Times Magazine and Dorchester Publishing. Jenny, the marketing queen, won the contest and I have to say, if you haven’t yet read Sleeping With Ward Cleaver, get thee to a bookstore and buy it. Laugh-out-loud funny and very poignant.

And now her second book is out and it’s just as laugh-out-loud funny; I was lucky enough to be one of her early readers and knew she’d sell this to some lucky publishing house. Well, Simon & Schuster is that lucky house and Winging It releases today.

Like many new bird owners, Jenny and Scott Gardiner hoped for a smart, talkative, friendly companion. Instead, as they took on the unexpected task of raising a curmudgeonly wild African grey parrot and a newborn, they learned an important lesson: parrothood is way harder than parenthood. WINGING IT: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who’s Determined to Kill Me (Gallery Books; on sale March 16, 2010; Hardcover; $23.00), is a hilarious and poignant cautionary tale about two very different types of creatures, thrown together by fate, who learn to make the best of a challenging situation.

A gift from Scott’s brother who was living in Zaire, Graycie arrived scrawny, pissed – off, and missing a lot of her feathers. Every day became a constant game of chicken with a bird that would do anything to ruffle their feathers.

The old adage about not biting the hand that feeds you—literally—never applied to Graycie.

But Jenny and Scott learned to adapt as the family grew to three children, a menagerie of dogs and cats, and, of course, Graycie. WINGING IT is a laugh-out- loud funny and touching memoir, Jenny vividly shares many hazards of parrot ownership, from the endless avian latrine duty and the joyful day the bird learned to mimic the sound of the smoke detector, to multiple ways a beak can pierce human flesh.

Graycie is a court jester, a karaoke partner, an unusual audio record of their family history, and at times, a nemesis. But most of all, she has taught the family volumes about tolerance, going with the flow, and realizing that you can no sooner make your child fit into a mold than you can turn a wild parrot into a docile house pet.

WINGING IT reminds us of the importance of patience, loyalty, and humor when it comes to dealing with even the most unpleasant members of the family.


Here’s what people are saying:

“As sweet as a song and sharp as a beak, Winging It really soars as a memoir about family–children and husbands, feathers and fur–and our capacity to keep loving though life may occasionally bite.”
–Wade Rouse, bestselling author of At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream, and Confessions of a Prep School Mommy Handler

“Jenny Gardiner’s hilarious memoir will have you alternately laughing and crying, and watching the skies for winged pets out for your blood.”

–Kristy Kiernan, Award-winning author of Catching Genius

“With her right-on humor, Jenny Gardiner manages to make owning a vengeful parrot sound like fun! You don’t even have to like pets to like this book.”

–Eve Brown-Waite

“This funny, smart book is much more than a story about life with a challenging parrot. Jenny Gardiner writes with humor and grace about the challenges and joys and stresses of parenthood, too. I loved it.”

–Sarah Pekkanen
author of The Opposite of Me

Jenny and I are part of the Girfriends CyberCircuit, a group of 24 women who blog about each others’ books, and this week it’s her turn in the hot seat with the interview questions. Here goes:

Tell us about the inspiration behind Winging It.

This time around my book is a memoir, titled WINGING IT: A MEMOIR OF CARING FOR A VENGEFUL PARROT WHO’S DETERMINED TO KILL ME (Gallery Books). Think of it as David Sedaris meets Marley & Me, with a deadly beak. It’s about an African gray parrot with an attitude who arrived as a surprise Christmas gift the year we had our new baby. Life has never been the same.

The idea grew over many years. We got this parrot as a gift–my brother-in-law came back from Africa one Christmas with parrots for the family, and we ended up with the ornery one. And over the years, stories about her have become so legendary, she is such an entertaining thing (when she’s not being vicious). I have written about her for my newspaper column before and people were so interested in her. At dinner parties, she becomes the focus of everyone’s interest–we’ve had her now for almost 2 decades and people are always so entertained by her and stories about her, so I thought it would be fun to do a book. My sort of funny backstory is YEARS ago, I was sitting in a bat mitzvah, and I get really antsy when I’m a captive audience, especially when everything isn’t in a language I can remotely understand. So when I was sitting there for like 3-1/2 arduous hours (it was a high holiday so they had a huge service with it), I pulled out a notebook and pen and HANDWROTE four chapters of what would eventually become this book…

What is your author fantasy?

I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to be optioned and produced by Drew Barrymore and Nancy Juvonen’s Flower Films. Or how about Nora Ephron.  Either of those would (sorry, I just have to say it) um, er, make my day...

(snork! Yeah, that’s so you.)

What is one of the nicest compliments that you have ever received about your book(s)?

For my novel, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, I received so many emails from women who were grateful that I put into words what they feel in their lives. I think the circumstances of my protagonist in that novel were so universal, yet it’s not something that’s often spoken about in such a truthful–or blatant–way. I loved that not only did they enjoy the book as a book, but they enjoyed the content and it helped them to think “Hey, I’m normal, this is just like other people!”

Oh, and the other fabulous compliment I received several times was reviewers and readers saying they peed their pants laughing when reading my book. That, to me, is high praise LOL

(Judi’s note: yeah, I was pretty close to doing that, too, and I was reading it in the same room as you – remember?)

Do you have a vice that you’ve given up, but long to continue?

Currently I’ve given up Mint M&Ms for Lent. And while I know I can go back to them (while the limited supply lasts!) in a few weeks, I’m disinclined to because it was a habit I needed to break. I did that last year with Peanut M&Ms and it seemed to stick. Though I think I just end up trading one bad habit for another.

What’s the promo machine looking like for this book?  Any upcoming signings/tours?

When my first novel, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, won a publishing contract in the American Title III contest (sort of an American Idol for books), I won that by surviving a 6-month period of online voting. What was wonderful about that was it really gave me a leg-up on marketing–particularly online marketing–a product that at the time wasn’t even a tangible book one could buy. But I guess you’d call me an “early adapter” LOL to capitalizing on the internet as a marketing tool. So I do try to maximize my online presence as much as possible, especially because with a family it’s hard to technically “tour” when  book comes out. I do do plenty of appearances and signings, try to do as many book festivals as I can afford, and do whatever media appearances as possible.

I’m appearing on a panel and signing at the Virginia Festival of the Book, in fact, March 21. I’ve got a signing at Fountain Books in Richmond, VA, on April 8, and at the Barnes & Noble, Tyson’s Corner, VA, on April 16. I’m also at the PennWriters Conference in Lancaster, PA in mid-May. We’re setting up other events still.

For you, what is the most difficult part of being an author?

The time it takes to market and publicize oneself. I don’t mind marketing and publicizing, but I’d way rather be just focusing on writing books, and rue the day that this became so much more the onus of the author. I understand why it is that way, but wasn’t it a beautiful thing in this country when those with an area of expertise were able to take care of that end of things, rather than nowadays when it seems that everyone is expected to do everything themselves? There was a time when people didn’t pump their own gas–remember that? And you hired someone to come fix things, rather than trying to patch it together yourself. Ah, but I digress…

What’s next for you?

Writing, writing writing. I’ve got a proposal to put together for my next non-fiction book, I’ve got an agent and editor awaiting a book I’m writing right now, and so many other ideas I’d love to start writing.

Thanks, Jenny! My copy of Winging It just arrived yesterday so now all I need is some free time (what’s that?) to get to reading it! Can’t wait!

Here’s a link to Gracie  – you can hear her in all her glory. And I can attest to what a great mimic she is – she really has Jenny’s laugh and voice down pat!

Graycie video:
and raw footage of Graycie talking:

and Jenny talking about the book:

and relevant links:

Find the book here:

Barnes and Noble:

Jenny Gardiner is also the author of the award – winning novel Sleeping with Ward Cleaver. Her work has appeared in Ladies Home Journal, and the Washington Post. She writes a column of humorous essays for Charlottesville, Virginia’s newspaper, the Daily Progress. She lives in central Virginia with her family.


10 Responses

  1. I wish you rave reviews and many sales on your new release. Sounds great! I hope your fantasy is fulfilled. I see a movie deal in your future…


  2. OMG, this sounds hilarious! And the video clips were great! Wishing you great success with this!

  3. Sounds like a fantastic read, Jenny! Thanks for sharing your story, and best of luck with the book! You and Judi sound like two peas in a pod! 🙂

  4. Hi Jenny –
    I can’t wait to read your book! I had decided to put a cantankerous African Grey in my current manuscript (a murder mystery) and did quite a bit of research on parrots. It was amazing how much you have to know to take care of one, with their special diets, and how things like burning candles and cooking in Teflon pans can be toxic for them? I found myself becoming really fascinated, especially with the research that Dr. Irene Pepperberg did with her African Grey, Alex, how intelligent he was, and how special their relationship became. I had a lot of fun with the parrot in my book, and how he wins the love of the heroine even though he’s messy, demanding and very rude! Best of luck with your new release!

  5. Congrats on your new release, Jenny. It sounds hilarious!

    Birds creep me out anyway, so knowing one wasdetermined to kill me would make for a nightmare. I’m glad you saw the humor in it. I probably would have written a horror novel instead. 🙂

  6. Lordy! One look at that face and I can see the devil inside, either you are extremely brave or foolhardy. Personally, I think it is the latter after watching that clip.

    Do you still talk to this brother-in-law that “gifted” you Graycie? If so, did you at least try and strangle the responsible sister? It might be that I’m biased, I think birds are too creepy to be pets in the traditional sense. Way to predatory, falconry – sure, perched on my shoulder? No thanks.

    Nevertheless, the book sounds hysterical. Though I’d probably feel guilty at laughing at your misfortunes, I’d do it anyway.

  7. Oh, this sounds hilarious! I like parrots but I’ve always heard they are a TON of work and pretty close to a lifetime commitment. Congratulations on your book and…well, I hope Graycie doesn’t bite you.

  8. Oh, Jenny, this sounds like a hoot to read. I love animals of all sorts.

    When I lived in California, I had a friend that had a special room built for her birds. Yah, you walked in that door and you knew there were birds. She had a Hyacynth Macaw. He wasn’t a particularly friendly bird, not nasty, but…aloof. For some reason he seemed to love me. He knew when I came to the house and set a racket until I came in to see him.

    Hmmm,I wonder if the fact I brought him treats had anything to do with it?

    My friend also had a inside /outside avairy for them to fly loose and one day I stopped by and they forgot he was loose. About scared the crap out of me.

    He flew straight over and landed on my shoulder–I now know first hand why those who deal with birds wear gloves and leather protection. Ouch.

    He liked my hair, which was long–past my shoulders–and played with it. Oh, and my shiny gold dangle earrings–which I quickly removed before he did via ripping them out of my ear, lolol!

    Oh lord her husband tried to get him so he could put back in the *bird* room. Pfft, he wanted no part of it. Got a bit nasty with Tom. Have you SEEN what they can do with their beaks? Sheesh.

    Yah, I was a bit worried about him chomping on something but Rufus was…a gentlemen. More or less. Several strands of hair were…shortened. Tom and Lia had raised these birds from babyhood. Most were sweet, but they had their moments.

    I need to read this book. Judi has great taste, and a great spotter of humor.

  9. Hi all!!!!
    apologies for being a day late–been on the road promoting the book!
    thank you SOOO much for stopping by–I do so love Judi, not the least of which because of our Penn State connection but also because a) she’s a riot, b) she’s a terrific writer and c) she’s so damned much fun. And I always know any friend of Judi’s is a friend of mine.
    Thanks for your parrot stories—you guys are spot-on that parrots are massive amts of work (and in honor of Judi, massive amts of poop, too!). Those hyacinth macaws are beautiful but it’s weird, their eyes make them seem sort of cold, don’t they?
    and I just realized I totally suck b/c I forgot to thank Judi in my acknowledgments for being an early reader–I’m SORRY about that!!!

  10. Wish I had seen this earlier. Will definitely have to get SLEEPING WITH WARD CLEAVER. As for WINGING IT – been there, done that in a way. I was the primary caregiver for a scarlet macaw at a children’s museum. I was the only one she didn’t bite, not that she wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been careful. Often, people who get these birds have no idea they can bite a child’s finger off or that they’ll probably have to make arrangements for them in their will. I’m sure I’ll enjoy this book too.

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