Janice is the Bram Stoker nominated author of PREDATOR (Month9Books 2014) and WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE (w/NEW YORK TIMES bestseller Jonathan Maberry) (Citadel Press 2010). She is editor of THE BIG THRILL (International Thriller Writers’ magazine). Her short fiction has been published in various anthologies and magazines. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Mystery Writers of America, Horror Writers Association, and the International Thriller Writers, where she serves on the board of directors as Vice President.
PWC Board member Larry Atkins interviewed Janice about her thoughts on research and writing as well as her thoughts on the conference. Read what she has to say after the break.
When did you first realize you were a writer?
I always wanted to write, but it took me a very long time to actually do so. One of my favorite memories is of going to the library on Saturday mornings, checking out a huge stack of books, coming home and spreading them across the floor, deciding what order to read them, and then digging in to those pages that magically transformed me to another world. Along with my love of reading came my desire to write. I’d hold a pencil in my hand and imagine what it could create (as an extension of me). Imagined the power it held. Thought of all the authors I read. I was enamored with their abilities to create wonderful stories from words, from their imaginations. To me, that was the ultimate achievement. It was something I only dreamed of doing, something I aspired to accomplish. Although I wrote character sketches and short stories while in school, I didn’t write much until about eight years ago. And I haven’t stopped since. My published credits include many articles, short stories, and two books—PREDATOR; Month9Books 2014 (young adult novel) and WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE (co-authored with Jonathan Maberry); Citadel Press 2010.
I first considered myself a writer when I started writing for publication about eight years ago. I write because it’s something I have to do. Writing takes me to new places, teaches me new things, and exposes me to situations that I might not otherwise encounter. It gives me a means to express myself and a way to connect with all the many readers who I might not otherwise have an opportunity to connect with.
How has your writing career changed and evolved?
I began my writing career by writing non-fiction articles for magazines while working on short stories for fun. As I sold more and more non-fiction articles, I gained more confidence in my writing abilities and began to write a novel.
I enjoy creating—turning a gem of an idea into a plot, creating characters, and watching them act and react to the situations I put them in. It’s a lot of fun to write without constraint and to go where you story and characters take you. I continue to write non-fiction because there are stories to tell there too—they are just told in a different format.
What are the benefits and challenges of being a Thriller writer?
I’ve always loved thrillers and I have been reading them for as long as I can remember. I love the pace, the characters, the interesting locations, the science behind the fiction, the historical elements, and how seemingly unrelated ideas or events mesh together to form an intriguing story. I write thrillers because they are what I know, what I love, and what comes naturally to me. Thrillers excite me. They always have and they always will. That said, the challenges of writing thrillers, and with writing in any genre, is finding your readers.
The future of the thriller genre is very strong. If you look at any bestseller list at any given time, you’ll see numerous thrillers. People want to read books that excite them, that take them to new places, and that let them discover new things. Thrillers are the one place, where, against all odds, the hero can somehow manage to triumph. And I don’t foresee that changing any time in the near future.
How do you balance your writing time with the rest of your responsibilities?
That’s hard, sometimes. I write full-time now, and although I work at home I find myself taking a quick break to do the laundry, run to the grocery store, or deal with other household essentials. I try to time those breaks for when I need to step away from the actual writing process. Although I’m not at my keyboard, I am thinking about my writing, and this break enables me to process my work and hit the keys at a fast clip when I return from my errands.
Writing is my job and I treat it like one. I’m dressed and on the computer early in the morning, and I work as long as possible throughout the day, expecting that towards the end of the day my work will be interrupted by family obligations. I also grab fifteen minutes here and fifteen minutes there to write or research whenever I can, but I try to plan ahead and leave the writing-related tasks that can be completed in a short period for those times.
Before I wrote full-time, I held down a day job and attending to family needs proved to be difficult. Writing time was squeezed in during lunch at work, on the weekends before my family woke or early mornings before work, and a half hour here or an hour there when I had some down time. I’d jot down ideas or entire paragraphs before bed, when stopped at a traffic light, while shopping for food, etc. As soon as I could grab a few minutes I’d write as much as I could. I’d write instead of watching TV or checking the computer. I made writing a priority, so whenever I had a few minutes, that’s what I’d do. It’s amazing how many minutes of writing can be squeezed out of the day when we make it a priority.
Discuss the importance of researching as a writer.
Research enables the writer to add realism to his or her fiction. Readers are knowledgeable and they know when something doesn’t seem right. A writer doesn’t want to give a reader a reason to put down his book. Incorrect facts will cause a reader to do so.
When writing fiction, writers often need to interview people to obtain source material that cannot be found through normal research channels such as on the internet or in books. The information gleaned from these interviews can provide background material or information directly relevant to a plot. For example, for PREDATOR I interviewed a world-famous geneticist to help me figure out how to create the werewolves using modern-day science and how it can go horrible wrong. I interviewed a bioanthropologist for help with the anthropological aspects of the book. I also interviewed an automotive expert (don’t want to give anything away in explaining why) and several people who live (or have lived) in Ireland to ensure I used the language and lingo correct (film vs. movie, etc.). The information they provided has proved invaluable, and it’s information I could not have found any other way. The information added realism and detail to my work and also ensured the accuracy of the hard science/fact behind the fiction.
What are some hints for overcoming writers block or procrastination?
When I experience writer’s block it’s really a sense of being stuck and not knowing where to go next, usually because something is not working in my story. I give myself permission to write badly, ask myself “what if” and then follow it up with “how?” “why” etc. until I find a solution that works. If I’m really stuck, I research the fact behind the fiction I’m working on to see if it helps generate new ideas. If that doesn’t yield an idea in a short of period of time, I step away from the work for ten minutes and immerse myself in something else while thinking about the issue. The simple action of moving about (the brief change of scenery, purpose, etc.) often provides the answer I am seeking.
If I’m stuck on dialogue or movement in a scene rather than a plot issue, I step away from the keyboard and act it out. I play the characters and see what they say and how they move. Involving the body along with the mind produces some fantastic results.
If a writer feels like she has writers’ block, get up and do something. For me, a quick walk around the house works (but only a quick one or I’ll never get back to writing). Or I keep my butt in the chair and brainstorm: What if this happens? What if that person does this? What if? What if? What if? If I keep questioning and dig deeper and deeper, I’ll come up with different scenarios that will lead to a creative solution to my problem.
How important are conferences to a writer?
Conferences are important for writers in that they provide writers a chance to learn about the craft of writing (it’s a continual process for all writers) and to network with other writers. A writer can’t write a good book without knowing his craft and he can’t achieve success by working in a bubble, especially in today’s market. Knowing other writers helps not only to ease the solitude of the writing process but also helps with reach when it comes time to promoting a book. If writers help each other get the word out about each other’s books, the message is received by so many more people. In addition, writers can help support one another when things get tough with the writing process. It is often difficult for those who don’t write to know what writer’s experience, so knowing other writers is helpful in that respect. And there’s no better way to find other writers then at a conference.
What are you most looking forward to at the 2015 Philadelphia Writers Conference?
The Philadelphia Writers Conference is very special to me. It was the first conference I attended and it gave me the self-confidence to begin to send my work out for publication. Since then, I’ve obtained an agent, sold two books, sold five short stories, and sold over a hundred non-fiction articles. I look forward to connecting with writers and helping them in whatever way I can. And, I’ll be attending a few workshops (in addition to giving my own) where I’m sure I will learn something new about the craft of writing.
What will your workshop focus on?
My workshop will cover researching the fact behind fiction and finding information for nonfiction. Because information and quotes from experts make written work come alive and expert advice and insider info lifts novels above the ordinary, I’ll show writers how to get experts to share their secrets. I’ll give writers expert advice on doing research, locating and contacting experts, interviewing them, attaining specialized information, writing to-the-heart interview questions and much more. If writers want to make all of their writing more compelling, I’ll show them how.
Ready to meet Janice and listen to all she has to teach on the art of researching? Register for the conference HERE!