From creative writing to candle-making—and around again

From creative writing to candle-making—and around again
Jen Renart, BA ’21 with a focus in creative writing, took her creativity in a new direction during the pandemic.
With her husband Adri furloughed from his job and Jen out of work as well, the two of them created the ExMo Candle Company—ExMo referring to "Ex Mormon," as they explain on the company website.
While financial considerations played a factor in the new business, the company's name also speaks to another impetus and other goals for Renart herself.
"The very, very short answer about what inspired us is: I wanted ex-Mormon candles myself," Renart says. "I spent several hours online looking for some, and when I couldn't find them... we got to work!"
In between writing and candle-making, Renart answered a few more questions about her work—work in each direction. (Content warning: suicidal thoughts.)
How does being ex-Mormon inform what you’re doing with the candle company?
There wouldn’t be a candle company without that ExMo connection.

There are some truly beautiful things about being a Mormon. The community. Connection to your ancestors. And I still never miss the Tabernacle Choir's Christmas concert!

But it's not a religion that works for everyone. And for me, there were aspects of Mormonism that led me to being suicidal.

When I was struggling, I thought I was the only one, and that made everything so much harder.

First and foremost, the idea behind The ExMo Candle Co. was to create something that younger me needed. Something physical, that I could have held in my hands, that could have reminded me in my darkest moments that I wasn't alone, that there was at least one other person—maybe just one kooky candlemaker—who didn't think I was crazy, or evil, or unclean. "Licked Cupcake" was the candle that started it all. When I was alone in my room wishing I were dead those years before, it would have helped to look up and see a candle that poked some light-hearted fun at the teachings that were hurting me. It wouldn't have made that pain go away, but it would've helped.

And, of course, because these candles are related to my own Mormon journey, there's something incredibly cathartic about making them! About pouring my issues with the church into a jar, and then lighting it on fire.

As much as Adri and I both love candles, we would never have started a candle company without that idea of bringing something healing to my younger self.
The names and descriptions for the candles are deliciously clever—creative writing of their own, clearly, and the Bookworm Apostate actually mentions your creative writing degree. Did you write all these yourself, or others involved?
Adri and I run the company together, but he was never Mormon. So we collaborate when it comes to designing our scents and making the candles, but the concepts and descriptions are my job. And it's been so much fun discovering this way I can use creative writing in a practical way in my life! (Gasp!)
My other creative writing doesn't tend to be as light-hearted as the candles website, but my experiences within Mormonism are still at the center of what I'm working on. In fact, I got published for the first time earlier this year, in HerStry! "Mortification of the Flesh" is a flash lyric essay about how a Mormon worthiness interview and church rhetoric changed my relationship with my body, which I wrote with a lot of help from Professor Steph Liberatore and my classmates in English 486. Now just please cross your fingers that the fiction I'm working on goes somewhere.
What are your own favorite candles—top three maybe—and why?
It really depends on my mood, but I do have favorites.
  1. "Bookworm Apostate," which smells like old books and pipe tobacco, is my soul in a jar.
  2. "Tapir Saddle" has been my trusty companion when I watch fantasy shows, since its notes of prairie grass and leather invite a spirit of adventure.
  3. And "Recommend Buster," which blends espresso and molten fudge, became my go-to choice for gift-giving after one customer left a review saying this candle smelled like "a rich lesbian's country house".
Adri loves the bakery scents and always volunteers to make our crème brûlée candle, in particular!
Final question, back to that Bookworm Apostate: Have you been lighting it up lately as you’re pursuing your own writing….?
I force myself to only light "Bookworm Apostate" when I'm writing fiction, as an incentive to get a pen in my hand. I've burned through two of them since graduating, which comes to a little north of 80 writing hours in 2022. That's not as much as I'd like, but it's seen me through a mourning poet, a stolen statue, and a self-conscious barn owl over the past few months, and I'm looking forward to seeing what we get up to together next!
We all know how resolutions go, but my goal is to speed up and burn through one "Bookworm Apostate" per month in 2023. Fingers (and quills) crossed.