Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Interview With Janet Lorimer!

I featured Janet Lorimer's MASTER OF SHADOWS last month. I first announced her novel in November (along with some others), and then she did a guest post. Then in December, I blogged on it several times as I read it.

I wanted to interview Janet because she has been a published author of children's books since the 80s, and I don't often get the chance to interview experienced authors. Also, I found her background as a freelance writer interesting. She truly makes her living with the written word, in areas both glamorous and distinctly not!

FD: Please tell us about your inspiration for MASTER OF SHADOWS.

JL: Without giving too much of the story away, I actually wanted to write a novel using a werewolf as the protagonist. This was back in the late ‘80s and the idea of vampires as sympathetic characters was just barely taking hold. I thought a werewolf hero would be interesting. I always do copious amounts of research – much more than I ever need – before I start writing anything, so I began reading everything I could get my hands on regarding werewolves. That led me down another path and that branched into something else and so on. The story grew from there.

FD: MASTER OF SHADOWS is very much a fairy tale for adults, inspired by both Beauty and the Beast and The Elephant's Child by Rudyard Kipling. Do you have any plans to run with the idea and write other stories based on other fairy tales? Or did I just give you the idea?

JL: I must confess that Beauty and the Beast was always my favorite fairy tale. And if you notice, the Beast – not the handsome prince – was very, very popular when the Disney version was released. But no, I don’t have plans to write anything else inspired by fairy tales. However, having said that, I don’t rule out the likelihood of referring to other children’s classics when I write. One of my horror stories – Last Echoes – appeared in Women of Darkness II, an anthology edited by Kathryn Ptacek in 1990. Throughout the story I referenced nursery rhymes. (By the way, Kathryn edits a wonderful marketing guide – The Gila Queen’s Guide to Markets.) I love referencing favorite stories I’ve enjoyed, especially the children’s classics.

FD: MASTER OF SHADOWS is also a stand-alone novel. Can you tell us about any other adult novels that you have in the works?

JL: The novel I finished in 2007 and am currently trying to market – The Visitant -- is a romance with a paranormal element. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit what Juno is currently looking for, so that’s why it’s being shopped around.

The book I’m working on right now –Deadly Illusions – is a mystery with an element of the paranormal.

After that I’m very tempted to delve back into a juvenile novel again. I have four children’s books coming out in 2008. James A. Rock & Co., Publishers is publishing them. They include the reprints of three children’s books that were originally published by Scholastic. Two are juvenile novels for readers ages 9 – 12; they are The Mystery of the Missing Treasure and The Mystery of the Haunted Trail. The third one is an early chapter book for readers 6-8 entitled The Trouble With Buster. The 4th book that’s being published is a new juvenile novel entitled The Ghost That Wasn’t Dead.

FD: Unlike most of the debut authors I've featured here, your bio is quite extensive. Please tell us a bit about your writing career.

JL: I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was about 5 years old, and had just learned to read. When I found out that people actually wrote the stories I was reading, I knew that was what I wanted to do. Of course I wrote and wrote as I grew up, but I didn’t actually start writing with the intent of getting published until I was in my 30s. By then I also had two small children. I began with a novel, probably the hardest thing for a beginning writer to write and yet I think many of us do begin with novels. I did finish it and believe it or not, in due course I found an agent who even found a publisher. I was beginning to think that this writing and publishing thing was going to be a slam-dunk, but Fate stepped in and the publisher went bankrupt. The manuscript – for a gothic novel – didn’t find another home. It’s still in a box! And when I read bits and pieces of it, I wince. I had a lot to learn about writing back then.

After that I decided to try writing shorter pieces – articles and short stories. Eventually I got an article published in a local magazine, and then after a period of time I sold my first children’s story to Highlights For Children. I actually sold four stories to Highlights, but they have only published two. They buy all rights, so I can’t try to market the ones that never saw the light of day. A good lesson about the rights we sell, but as a beginning writer I was so hungry for those publishing credits, I didn’t mind.

One type of writing that fascinated me was high/low writing. High/low stands for high or adult interest/low reading level materials. These are designed for reluctant readers in middle school and high school, for adults in ESL (English As A Second Language) classes, and adults in literacy classes. The stories are usually genre stories (such as science fiction or mystery), and the characters are young adults or adults. You use a lot of dialogue; there is no sex of any kind – explicit or otherwise – and no gratuitous violence. Sentences are kept either simple or compound, but almost never complex. Believe it or not, you use no more than 20 words in a sentence, and, yes, I have been known to count the words in sentences when I wasn’t sure. The vocabulary is somewhat simple; you generally stay away from three syllable words. For example, you would chose “enough” over “sufficient.” The story needs to start with a bang and you have to tell a good story. They are a fantastic challenge, and I think they are a lot of fun to write.

I finally got my first opportunity to do some high/low writing when I read in a writer’s magazine that Fearon Education was looking for high/low fiction. I wrote to Fearon for their guidelines and submitted a story entitled Tomb of Horror. I was stunned when they bought it. After that I began to write regularly for them. When Fearon sold out to Lake Publishing, I continued to write high/lows, and when one of the editors I worked with at Lake began working with Saddleback Publishing, I dutifully followed along. It’s been wonderful fun, and will always be a favorite kind of writing.

Once I learned how to write high/lows, I was able to market this skill in other ways. For example, the local community college needed someone to revise materials used to teach non-credit classes. I was able to revise materials on different jobs in the hotel industry, on golf course maintenance, and also the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) manual. I co-wrote a state tour guide manual, and revised a report on violence against women.

In the meantime I sold a few short stories for adults, and an abundance of articles. I also began teaching writing classes in the non-credit program at the community college. Then, for a period of time, I burned out. It felt like I was always hustling for the next job. So I took a job with a regular paycheck, working for a non-profit company – an active railroad museum. I also took over the writing and editing of their newsletter since no one else wanted to do it. Today, 15 years later, I’m still writing their newsletter, although I left the company when we moved to Arizona.

FD: What made you decide to strike into adult fiction after spending years writing for children?

JL: I never did devote myself to just one or the other. But I seemed to be able to write more successfully for children. I’m not sure why except that I was reading a lot to my own children, so I really knew what was going on in the wonderful world of ‘kiddie lit’ as we used to call it.

I wrote MASTER OF SHADOWS over 15 years ago, in the early ‘90s. I wrote it when I was revising that CDL manual. By day I wrote about driving a truck, but to keep myself sane, I began writing the novel at night. I really wrote it for myself, but once I was done with it I realized I had a good story. My agent couldn’t sell it, however, because it was a cross-genre story. It had elements of mystery and romance with a little fantasy and horror thrown in. One editor wrote in her rejection letter that the story moved like the wind, but…. They really didn’t think their women readers would like the hero, Louvel, because he was not a typical handsome prince type of guy.

So into a box the story finally went. A few years ago I found another publisher online. They, too, loved the story, but guess what? Before the story could be published, the publisher went bankrupt. Hmm, shades of déjà vu!

Then I read about Juno Books in The Gila Queen’s Guide to Markets. When I read Juno’s guidelines, I remember thinking, “Do I really want to try this market? Do I really want to go through this again?” I finally decided that the worst thing that could happen would be another rejection, so why not give it a try? I did! And when Paula Guran e-mailed me to say that she liked the submission package and wanted to buy the manuscript, I almost fell off my chair! I don’t think I really, truly believed it would happen until the day I actually held a copy of MASTER OF SHADOWS in my hand!

FD: What is the most positive change you have seen in the publishing industry since you started your career?

JL: I think the most positive change is the advent of computers and the Internet. I began writing (boy, here I go dating myself) on a typewriter. That meant we used a lot of whiteout and you learned pretty quickly to be a very good typist and make few mistakes. But it was so time-consuming. Also, if you wanted to do research, you had to go to the library, which I actually adore doing, but again, it’s very time consuming. Now, thanks to the Internet, I can do research on line, I can find publishers’ guidelines on line, I can e-mail materials to publishers and they to me. That saves a lot of money in postage fees. But I will also confess that I am still very new to the wonderful world of the Internet, still learning to use this magnificent tool.

FD: How about the most negative change?

JL: I think the most negative change is that the big, big publishing companies are so impersonal. They won’t look at unagented submissions. And many agents are just not taking on new writers as clients.

Hey, I don’t have an agent now either! My wonderful agent was Laurie Harper of The Sebastian Agency who is still a dear friend and who does great work with contracts, but she finally decided not to pursue the selling of fiction. Her area of expertise is business writing and she’s had great success in marketing business books. But that left me agentless, and when I tried to find an agent, my experience didn’t count for a darned thing.

I think the sad thing about this state of affairs is that there are many exciting writers coming along who can’t get an agent because they don’t have a lot of publishing credits, and most of the big publishers won’t look at their work unless they have an agent. It’s a catch-22.

However, the good news is that there are still an impressive number of good publishers who are still looking for good writers and you don’t need an agent to submit to them.

FD: Do you write full-time or do you have a day job?

JL: I have a part-time day job that is a ton of fun! I work for a small plumbing company and my job is mainly answering phones and scheduling the plumbers. In the summer, it gets mighty quiet in this town with most people going to cooler climates, so my employers let me write at work when things get slow. Oh, yes, I do know how lucky I am. They think it’s quite amusing that they have a published author advising people about leaky toilets.

FD: You also work as a freelance writer. What sort of work do you do and how does it differ from regular nonfiction, such as magazine article sales?

JL: To me, a freelance writer is one who does not have an employer but one who is self-employed. So, as I mentioned earlier, as a freelancer, you are always hustling, always trying to sell. When you finally get some regular clients, things are a bit easier.

I have gotten regular work from Saddleback Publishing, for example. The editor would call me when they needed writers for one series or another. For example, a couple of years ago, another of their regular writers and I wrote five non-fiction books in Saddleback’s Strange-But-True series. The stories were such incredible fun to research and write. I wrote about everything from the Jersey Devil and Extraterrestrials to Cancer Sniffing Dogs and the Mutter Museum.

And, as I mentioned earlier, I also write and edit a bi-monthly newsletter for the non-profit company I used to work for, the Hawaiian Railway Society.

Every now and then I’ll find a market that sounds interesting, and I’ll either send them a manuscript that hasn’t found a home or I’ll be inspired to write something new.

FD: Are you planning any additional publicity for MASTER OF SHADOWS? Conventions? Websites? Or even a blog?

JL: Here’s where I get to confess how technically impaired I am. In fact, if it weren’t for Carole Mc Donnell, author of Wind Follower, I wouldn’t even know how to blog. But thanks to Carole’s patience and persistence, I finally figured out how to post a blog (hey, six months ago I wasn’t even sure what a blog was).

My youngest daughter, Marnie, has been helping me find ways to promote MASTER OF SHADOWS. Thanks to her efforts, I now have a quarter-page full color ad and a review of the novel scheduled to come out in either the March or April issue of Romantic Times Book Reviews. And in April, I plan to be at the RTBR convention in Pittsburgh. They are offering a lot of workshops on e-publishing and e-publicizing, and I plan to take advantage of as many of those workshops as I can.

Marnie has also decided I need a Website, so that’s in the offing, and she’s trying to find new places for the book to be reviewed. She’s promised to set up book signings in northern Virginia where she lives. Locally, I have a book-signings coming up where I live.

And then, of course, the whole thing starts again when the children’s novels are published this year. But that’s another story!

Thank you!!


Barrie said...

Great interview! Love the leaky toilet story.

Tia Nevitt said...

Janet is very funny; we've exchanged lots of emails. That's probably why she's a successful children's author.

I looked at your site; I'll have to get your novel on my debut calendar.

CaroleMcDonnell said...

Such a great interview...and everyone, Janet is really a great person! -C

Tia Nevitt said...

I've met a lot of very nice authors through Juno Books!

SQT said...

Excellent interview. I have a bunch of books from Juno and I have got to cracking on them! I'm almost done with "Dancing With Werewolves" and should have that up soon. After that will be "Wind Follower."

Juno has been a happy discovery. I've been pleasantly surprised by the quality of their books.

Tia Nevitt said...

Thank you! I'll look for that Wind Follower review.