Saturday, February 16, 2013

Interview with Author and Radio Host Janet Elaine Smith

 

Give us a quick introduction on yourself and your book. I am living my dream as an author. I spent 9 years in Venezuela as a missionary, then ran a home mission (with Mexican/American migrants and local residents) in the Red River Valley of MN/ND with my late husband for 37 years. After he passed away, I was able to begin to do things with my books that I was not able to do because I was his care giver 24/7.The book I am working on currently is Tuesday Nolan, the 2nd one in the Women of the Week series.
What inspired you to write your first book? I wrote the experiences we had in Venezuela so I wouldn't forget them. I had always loved to read, but by the time I had finished writing that, I was hooked. I had fallen in love with the whole writing process.
Do you have a specific writing style? I don't think I do, as I write in a whole lot of different genres. I have had people ask me if I hire a ghost writer for some of my books because they sound so different from others they have read. I would never do that. I think the one thing that is consistent throughout my books is that they are all character-driven.
How did you come up with the title? That's sort of funny. I was in a bookstore back in Grand Forks ND when we lived there. I was in the bookstore so often that a customer thought I was a clerk. They were looking for the old children's poem, "Monday's Child is Fair of Face, etc." I found a book that contained the poem. I went home and thought about what a great idea for a series. Each title woman in the book is named for the day of the week on which they were born, but their mothers all taught them that the sentiment behind each line of the poem for "their special day" should embody their entire life. The first one was Monday Knight, and this one is Tuesday Nolan. At least it's not as big a challenge as the gal who is going through the letters of the alphabet in her mysteries. And no, I am not planning a follow-up series for the months of the year!
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? I never start out to include a message, but somehow it always seems to end up that way. In Monday Knight, it involves the consequences of drunk drivers. If there is a lesson in Tuesday Nolan, I guess it would be that a person's value or worth is not to be judged by the way things look, because usually things aren't what they appear to be on the surface.
How much of the book is realistic? It is fictional, but I call my books "faction," as there is always an element of truth or facts that lies just beneath the surface.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life? Some of both, and some completely living in my head.
What books have most influenced your life most? Oh, that is such a hard question to answer. I think the one that influenced me the most personally was Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking. I try to find the good in everything that crosses my path. Sometimes it might be in reading a bad book, because it helps me see what NOT to do. In real life, no matter how bad things might seem at the moment, if I look just a little ways from home, there is always somebody else who has so many more problems than I do that my life seems like a breeze.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor? I guess I would have to pick two of them. Mary Higgins Clark and I became friends after she began writing about some of my ancestors (Halletts in Anastasia Syndrome and Other Stories ) and John Grisham, who wrote about my life. (You can see that on the John Grisham and Me page on my website: http://www.janetelainesmith.com )
What book are you reading now? I am reading Norman Schwarzkopf's autobiography, It Doesn't Take A Hero. It is a wonderfully written and inspiring book.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? There are a ton of them, far too numerous to name. One of my favorite fairly recent books is Storm, the debut book by Joyce A. Anthony. It ranks right up there with Norman Vincent Peale's book, although this one has a fantasy element to it. I highly recommend it.
What are your current projects? As I said, I am working on Tuesday Nolan. After that, I'm not sure what I will delve into next. I have at least 60 or 70 books written in my head. I'm waiting for somebody to come up with a cable that will hook my brain (at night, when it functions the best) to my computer. It will make it so easy. The last book I did was St. Peter by the Bay, the 4th Patrick and Grace Mystery. I am stupid enough to have started several series at the same time. I don't advise it. I hope to get 3 books out this year, including a republication of my book about the flood in the Red River Valley that occurred in 1997. My late husband and I were right in the thick of the recovery efforts at the Grand Forks Air Force Base, as well as back in Grand Forks when people were able to begin to return home and hopefully rebuild their lives. The new edition will include a number of pictures.
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members. Oh, Mary Higgins Clark, as I mentioned, was a great source of inspiration to me. Also, joining a local writers' group is the very best thing any writer can do. You have to have a thick skin, but it keeps you writing. They cry with you when you get a rejection and they applaud you when you get something published.
Do you see writing as a career? A career? I'm retired! How can you start a new career after that? Seriously, I have never worked harder at anything in my life than I do at my research, my writing, and marketing the books once they come out. However, I have never had so much fun doing anything I've ever tackled in my life. So yes, the bottom line is that I consider it as my career. I hope it will last until I am about 124. It will take that long to get all of the books out of my head. Now, if new ideas would just stop so that number doesn't increase.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book? No. The latest book I did, as I mentioned, was St. Peter by the Bay. I have never had a book write itself so easily. It took me about 3 weeks to write the whole thing. It was the first time I had done a contemporary book using real people from the town where it was set. They were all wonderfully co-operative. Actually, they were beyond that. They all wanted to be included (and named) in the book. Besides, that gives me some outside (or would it be inside?) help with marketing, because they feel like I have given them a little piece of fame in their lives, and they want to share it with all their friends and family members.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? I described this earlier, but when I began writing, it took me 25 years to get my first book published. I got wonderful rejection letters! During that time, though, I kept writing. Not only books, but also magazine articles. I have had over 5,000 magazine articles published since I started that first book. That was in 1972. Sadly, the magazine market has almost completely either disappeared or changed into emags.
Can you share a little of your current work with us? This is one of my favorite passages-so far.
"Go away!" she called out to the disheveled man in her slow, easy southern drawl.
Tuesday cringed as her eyes focused on the man. His clothes were wrinkled and too big, a black suit jacket and a brown pair of pants. Anybody knows you don't wear black and brown together, she thought. His black hair was too long, and far more mangled and matted than Buffy's had been when she rescued her from the shelter. His face had a five-o'clock shadow-no, it was more like an eight-o'clock cloud-and his mustache had a spot of something that resembled sour milk on one corner of it.
"All I want is enough to buy a decent meal," he called back to her. "Surely you can afford that." He smiled, and Tuesday almost softened for a moment. "I am so poor my penny loafers are penniless."
"It isn't a matter of whether I can afford it or not," she replied, walking towards him, even though she was repelled by his very appearance. "I do not wish to associate with the likes of you."
"Is that any way for a woman of means to act? Just enough for one meal. I'll even buy it at a fast food joint so it won't cost you much."
For some reason, his condescension caused Tuesday to laugh. She put her hand to her face, trying to hide her reaction. She had to give him credit; his smart aleck remark about the loafers was a good line.
Buffy, sensing that this man was friendly, went bounding ahead of Tuesday and began to lick the stranger's hand through the iron fence.
"See? Your pup thinks I'm all right. Maybe you should take lessons from him."
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? Yes, it is definitely finding enough time to do everything I want to do. Marketing takes up a huge chunk of my "book time." It has paid off well, as the books continue to sell well. My first book, Dunnottar, was published in 2000. After nearly 13 years, it is still my overall best selling book. It made it to a No. 1 spot on Amazon for nearly 3 months.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work? I do a lot of arts & craft fairs in both the spring and fall, and the books sell very well there. I also contact regular brick-and-mortar bookstores regularly to let the managers know about my books. With the number of new books published each year (somewhere around 3 million new titles in 2011), if you don't make the effort to make them sell, you might as well not bother writing them, unless you are just doing it for fun.
I am also very active in a number of local groups (not necessarily writing-related) and in the church I attend. I have a lot of interruptions, but even those interruptions sometimes lead to a book sale. I have a suitcase in my office with a few copies of each of my 23 titles in it. It is often sitting open, and when people come in, they start to look through them, and Voila! They buy a book, and I didn't even have to leave home.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)? I travel quite a bit for the arts & craft sales, for speaking engagements, etc. but it is restricted to a pretty small regional area. I think the farthest I have gone is about 70 miles, to a couple of signings in Green Bay (WI). Well, unless you count my 50th high school reunion (Deer River MN), in 2010. I sold 84 books there, between the reunion and a signing at a historical site in Grand Rapids MN.
Who designed the covers? I have been very fortunate in having a number of very talented people do my covers. I can't draw a round circle bunny, as my kids will all agree to. The most recent one, St. Peter by the Bay, was an actual photograph I took (using a friend as St. Peter) at the Marina in Menominee, MI, which is where the whole story scene started out. T.C. McMullen, the owner of Star Publish LLC, who publishes all of my books, did a wonderful job of enhancing the photograph by painting over it. I don't have the cover done yet for Tuesday Nolan, but I have the image in my mind. It will partially be a doll I have that is the spittin' image of Tuesday. That much of it will be from a photo, but it will need a Georgian-style mansion in the background. Some of them are original artwork, some computer generated images, and some from photographs. I think the old adage of "You can't judge a book by its cover" is just plain wrong. If somebody walks into a store and sees a cover that appeals to them, they will pick it up and read the back cover blurb. If they aren't drawn to the cover, they will never even get that far.
What was the hardest part of writing your book? Again, time. Only one book gave me a real problem until I got going with it. It was Port Call to the Future, the sequel to House Call to the Past. Both books are time travels. House Call to the Past went back in time, but the same characters came forward in time in Port Call to the Future. It was hard to keep it straight in my head of which characters could and would know from the 1st book, and what they couldn't know because they hadn't yet gone back in time. Confused? So was I, but it ended up just fine. Readers don't seem to have nearly as much trouble with that as I did.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it? I always learn new things each time I write. One of the things I have learned is that it seems to work much better for me to try to relay information through dialogue, rather than describing things. Like I said, my books are pretty much character-driven, and I just never know what they might do next!
Do you have any advice for other writers? Write the kind of a book you would like to read; don't be swayed by the market or current trends. Those things change faster than the wind in North Dakota! Also, believe in yourself, and eventually, other people will believe in you too. Don't let other people put you down. The best comeback I have found to use with people who are critical of your work is to ask them, "What is the title of your book?" Chances are, they don't have one!
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers? I never set out to educate or even to inspire people. I felt like God gave me a plan to let my characters share their faith with the readers. I write "inspirational" books, but they are in no way "preachy." They have been accepted in both the Christian market as well as the secular arena. That was my goal. My characters are very real people, with flaws and imperfections, just like real people. My goal was to entertain the reader, and maybe make them a little better person, even if it was just to learn to laugh. So, to my readers, I would say, as I use on most of my promo materials, "Explore roads less traveled in a Janet Elaine Smith Book." I just want you to forget about your own problems and enjoy life.
What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life? I think for me, the most challenging is to do very thorough research. Especially in historical books, people are very critical if things aren't exactly right. I do enjoy the research, though. I have tons of notebooks of research notes that never made it into certain books, but the "real feeling" that comes from having that information in my head makes the books more believable.
I find that if I get to know my characters really well before I ever start writing a new book, they practically write the book themselves. In fact, I feel like I have no more control over my characters than I had over my kids when they were young. I use a filing (recipe) card for each character, and as I see things or think of certain traits about each character, I add it to the card. By the time I start writing, they seem like old friends.
I do have a couple of non-fiction books out, but fiction is my love. The hardest one for me to write was Rebel With a Cause. It is an autobiography of my preparation to go to the mission field, and the 9 years we spent in Venezuela. There were things that were not that pleasant that happened, and I didn't like dredging them up after all those years. Still, so many people asked for it that I felt like it was time to tell "the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." Surprisingly, the things that were the hardest for me to write, seem to be the things that have been the most encouraging to the people who have read it.

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