Welcome to Readers Write to Know! I asked you, my readers, what questions they would ask their favorite authors if given the chance, and the authors visiting my blog answered them! This week, I have seven-generation (wow!) Texan Janis Patterson as my guest. I enjoyed her interview so much and would love to just sit down with her and have a cup of coffee and listen to her talk about her life and writing. I hope you enjoy her interview as much as I did. Read on to see how you can enter to win a Kindle copy of her brand new release!
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I’m proud to be a seventh-generation Texan; my family has lived within 100 miles of where I am currently sitting since the late 1790s. I am from a wordsmith family simply festooned with English teachers and am a third generation newspapering/advertising writer.
Since I bore easily, I don’t even try to restrict myself to a single genre. I write romance and horror as Janis Susan May, traditional cozy mysteries as Janis Patterson, children’s as Janis Susan Patterson, and scholarly and non-fiction as J.S.M. Patterson. Plus, there have been ghostwritten books and work-for-hire books that don’t bear my name. Oh, and a handful of erotics written under names known only to me and God – and God better not talk!
I was first paid for writing when I was nine years old – I won an advertising slogan contest. My first novel was published (by Dell, as there only was traditional publishing then) in 1979; since then under a plethora of pen names and various contracts I have written about 80-90 books.
In December of 1980 I was one of the original 40 or so women who founded Romance Writers of America and have kept my membership all these years. Currently I also belong to Authors Guild, Novelists Inc., Regency Fiction Writers and Mystery Writers of America, where I sit on the Southwest Regional Board.
Over the course of my life I’ve done a number of things besides write – act and sing professionally, design jewelry, be a SAG/AFTRA talent agent, document checker for a cruise agency, Editor in Chief of two multi-magazine publishing companies, Supervisor of Accessioning for a bio-genetic DNA testing lab, VP of an advertising agency and a bunch of other stuff. I began, published and edited the Newsletter of NT/ARCE, which for the 9 years of my reign (word chosen advisedly) was archived as a scholarly journal in museums and universities around the world, as well as being (at the time) the only monthly publication for the American Research Center in Egypt in the world. I did mention I bored easily, didn’t I?
I’m a rabid Egyptomane – my husband and I met through Egyptology, and he even proposed to me in a moonlit English-style garden across the road from the Pyramids. Yes, those Pyramids. In 2005 I had the honor of being the closing speaker for the International Conference of the American Research Center in Egypt at Cambridge University (MA).
Tell us about your current release: A KILLING AT TARA TWO is the first of the Dr. Rachel Petrie, Contract Archaeologist. Estranged from her overbearing family, Rachel has been fascinated by archaeology her entire life. As a contract archaeologist she is not restricted to any particular discipline – such as Egyptology, Assyriology, etc. – but can and does work on any kind of dig, from road construction rescue archaeology to excavating what might be a Native American site overbuilt by a Middle America cemetery to finding a lost silver tea set at the site of a destroyed Southern plantation, the story of her first adventure. From an ancestor-obsessed owner who lives as though she is Scarlett O’Hara to a body in the portable toilet to the unexpected discovery of Civil War-era bodies in the ruin of the original plantation house Rachel is more and more dangerously involved in the lives – present and past – of the notorious Bootwill family.
If you knew ahead of time your book would benefit only one person on their spiritual journey, would you still write it? Hmmm…. I don’t know. While I believe in helping those whom we can, writing an entire book just for the benefit of a single person seems a sad misuse of time and effort, if not more than a little hubristic. Besides, what book benefits only one person? The world is full of people and a well-written book should touch lots of them.
Do you feel pressured to compromise your standards in order to reach a larger audience or be more successful?Yes, but I ignore it. Earlier in my career when pressured (threatened?) by a publisher I did compromise my standards on occasion – such as putting egregious amounts of minutely described sex into a story where it didn’t really fit – and I have regretted it every time. I am not perfect, and I do not pretend to be, but holding to my personal standards is very important to me.
What do you think is lacking in Christian Fiction? I don’t write or even particularly read Christian fiction, but am proud to say that most of my work (the few exceptions fitting into the question above) can be read by Christian readers without offense. The little I have read and have heard Christian writer friends talk about leads me to believe that far too many readers conflate ‘Christian’ with ‘clean.’ There should be more to Christian fiction than that – a true sense of the ethos of Christianity, a deep belief in the teachings of Christ, a display of the beauties of the Christian faith.
With all those characters in your head screaming to get out how do you write fast enough to get it all down? Simple. I can’t. There are too many ideas, too many characters, and never enough time. If I wrote every book and character I have in my mind up until now and never had another idea, I’d still have to live to be at least 150 years old, if not older.
How do you push past the fear of your writing being average and be bold enough to sell it to a publisher(or agent or audience if you self publish)? Just do it. Oh, I’m not super-confident all the time; there are hours and days when I am positive I’m not qualified to write a laundry list let alone a book, but I’ve enough experience to know that these are transitory. Usually a cup of coffee or a soak in the hot tub or even an evening of mindless TV will allow me to get back on track. If those fail, I examine the manuscript and see if I can pinpoint the time/place when things quit working. In an extreme case, I’ll put that project aside and work on another, one that’s fresh – that’s one reason I always have no fewer than four projects in various stages of completion. Plus, there is the knowledge that there is so much pure dreck – both self and traditionally published – that my work is at least as good as that. Self-doubt is everyone’s worst enemy; we all have it in all facets of our lives. You should see me, at best an indifferent cook, paralyzed at the thought of trying a new recipe that The Husband has raved about. The only way to get past this is to do it. Yes, there are temporary fixes and spurs and tricks of the trade, but those work only if you let them. Just gird up your loins, put your courage to the sticking point and forge on. I accepted long ago that I probably will never be the first, the last, the only, the best or the worst at anything. That is not an excuse not to try.
Whats the first major news headline that you can remember and what do you remember? That is a terrible question! Why don’t you just come out an ask my age? (I’ll probably fib, but you could ask!) Actually, I think the first major news headline I can remember being interested in was about a battle during the Korean War. I had indeed read it but, being only three or so, didn’t understand what it was all about, so I asked my mother, who got terribly upset. I remember her being upset (she was a very calm, in-control lady) more than I remember the headline.
Who was your first Screen/Musical Crush? Oh, law, as a child I had crushes on everyone. John Wayne, of course, in his Western movies. Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly when we saw ‘Singing in the Rain.’ After seeing ‘The Paleface’ I wanted to become Jane Russell… and I loved the song ‘Buttons and Bows’ so much that my parents (at no small financial sacrifice, since we were poor) bought me a 78 record of it. I played it over and over again until it literally wore out and wouldn’t play any more. Even today (mumble mumble) years later I can still sing most of it.
What is your personal, most effective way to get past writers’ block?
Since I grew up in advertising and later journalism where deadlines are sacrosanct and there is only one excuse for missing one (that being death – yours) I’ve never had much trouble with writers’ block. The rare times the writing just doesn’t work and I can’t force my way through it I do the cup of coffee or hot tub routine. If that doesn’t work, I sit down and make myself start putting one word down, then another and another and another… A lot of time it is pure garbage, but after a while the pump is primed and I start to really write again. Successful novelist Nora Roberts gave the best writers’ advice I ever heard – “Write the book, even if it’s garbage. You can fix garbage. You cannot fix a blank page.” I heard this quote quite a while into my career and it is a much neater answer than mine, and it is so very very true!
How did you determine whether to self-publish or seek a traditional publisher? Law, when I started out there was only traditional publishing. Sort of – there were pure vanity presses of the kind that you paid a lot of money and in turn received several thousand books in your garage, but I was canny enough to know that distribution was the key, and that was firmly controlled by the trad publishers. When self publishing became a thing in the early 2000s I was unimpressed until I found out you could get 50-70% royalties, and that sounded a lot better than the 6% of cover, as it was then. Plus I liked the idea of control, having early on developed a dislike of the unholy circus of repeated edits with varying viewpoints on each one and finally ending up with a book that only faintly resembled my original one. For a while I swore I would only self publish, and put out a number of really rather good books, but lately I have been approached by two large and respectable houses to submit, so I have. I can always pull out and self publish if it gets too weird.
What is your preferred method of writing? (computer, pen & paper, etc.) Having learned to type the summer before I entered the fourth grade, I type everything and regard anything handwritten more than a signature as cruel and unusual punishment. I started on a manual typewriter, then graduated to an electric, and from there to a computer keyboard, which is where I will probably stay until something measurably better is invented.
How did you make the initial step into writing your first novel. What were some of your major roadblocks and how did you overcome them? I assume you mean my first grown-up novel rather than my four-year-old effort. Initial step? I was bored. My life at home was not exciting and I wanted adventure and danger and romance, and since I wasn’t going to get it where I was in real life, I created it in my head and put it on paper. I had written three before I sold one – then a laborious process of typing a perfect copy, packaging it up and sending to an agent or publisher and waiting for an interminable length of time before hearing back. In those days publishers and agents actually had the courtesy of sending you a refusal letter instead of just saying ‘you’re rejected if you don’t hear from us’ – a heinous practice! Other than being rejected I don’t remember any roadblocks. My parents were supportive and encouraged me. I lucked out and got a fairly decent agent, a lovely old man who long ago went to his justly deserved reward, and he sold me to Dell. I did a couple of books there, and then went up and down with periods of sales and periods of unrelieved rejection. How did I overcome them? I held on and kept on. Though I will say, self publishing today is so much more satisfying, if a lot more work and monetary investment.
What is your inspiration for writing? Part of me says money. It’s the only decent way I can earn a living in my nightgown. Another part, probably the greatest, says it’s an adventure. Through my writing I can have experiences and live lives that I never could in the real world. But – my writing has brought me real world adventure, like the time The Husband and I were invited to come stay at the headquarters of an Egyptian archaeological dig (which never happens to civilians) so that I could write a novel set there – A KILLING AT EL KAB. We had the run of the dig site and got to stay four days, sandwiched in between the visits of our dear friend Dr. Salima Ikram and a BBC documentary film crew. Things like that don’t happen to plumbers or accountants. If you mean what is my inspiration for stories, that varies, because there is more inspiration out there floating around in five minutes than anyone could be able to write in a lifetime. Life itself is an inspiration for a story.
Who were some of your favorite authors as a child? (Book series, maybe?) Carolyn Keene, the ‘author’ of the Nancy Drew series. I still read them (the originals, not the abysmal modern rewrites) on occasion. I loved Ellery Queen and Boswell and a few of Pearl Buck’s stories – not all, just a few. I had the run of my parents’ library from the time I could crawl. One of the things that outraged me when I began school was that I had to read the puerile babblings of Dick and Jane instead of my Shakespeare, and was denied access to the adult portion of the city library. But that’s a rant for another day.
Who do you envision your typical reader to be? An intelligent, well-educated, curious woman of any age who wants to step outside her own life into another’s. Oddly enough, I do have a fair number of male readers who fit this description – they were never part of my original vision, but I’m glad to have them.
What is one thing that you never saw yourself doing and either do it now or have done? Over the course of my life I have pretty much done everything I wanted – including a couple of things I probably shouldn’t have – but for many years it seemed my real inner, secret desires would not come to pass – being a very contented stay-at-home wife and clubwoman. All my life I wanted to marry – to have a husband I could admire and be proud of. I wanted to be a woman wore nice clothes and had beautiful jewelry who joined ladies’ clubs and did good things for the community. Sadly, for a great deal of my life I had to work at ‘real’ jobs while I wrote and took care of elderly and sick family members – and to be honest I wouldn’t marry the men who would have married me! Then life changed; I met the man who would become The Husband – a handsome, high-ranking Naval officer a number of years younger than I. And I was so blessed that he wanted to marry me! We passed our twentieth anniversary a couple of months ago, but people say we still act like honeymooners. Now retired, he is enthusiastic about helping me with everything about my writing from research to handling my publicity. I do belong to several ladies’ clubs and The Husband and I have a vibrant social life, traveling when we can. I even adore my mother-in-law. Life could not be more perfect.
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Janis is giving away an Amazon Kindle version of A KILLING AT TARA TWO! Here’s how you can enter:
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