Janet is one of my oldest online friends, that growing number people whom I’ve only ever met online. I met her at least 6 or 7 years ago (a long time in Internet-land) on one of the writing loops we belong to. She’s a real go-getter. She has self-published more books than I can keep count of, has successfully seen them placed in many bookstores, works as Marketing Director of an ebook/POD company and I’m sure is involved in a whole lot more. I’m thrilled to introduce you to Janet Elaine Smith, author of “Pampas,” “Hello, Daddy!” and many more humorous and heartwarming stories!
Seriously, I try to spend at least an hour every evening writing. If things go really well I often get wrapped up and before I know it, two or three hours have passed. That is not, sadly, always on the book I am working on at the time. I write regularly for several magazines, too, so that is where a lot of my writing time is spent.
During the daylight hours I spend a great deal of time marketing (I am the Marketing Director for Star Publish LLC), and if I am in need of doing some research, I do that then. I have found, judging from the e-mails and letters I get, that good research is an absolute must. I love hearing from somebody that they can’t tell which of my characters or what part of the story line is true and what is fictional. I have as much fun stumbling across some fact in a history book that changes the course of the story as I do in the actual writing of it.
Even in writing a contemporary book, I feel that research is one of the most vital parts. For example, I love it when a geographical setting is so real and so much a part of the book that it almost becomes a character in its own right. Mary Higgins Clark is a genius at doing this.
My latest book, Hi, Daddy! is a good example of making sure things work properly. My late husband and I ran a charitable organization for almost 40 years in the Red River Valley of North Dakota and Minnesota. Hi, Daddy! is the tale of a convoluted man who had four ex-wives, seven kids, and a whole closet full of secrets that he didn’t want exposed. What does research have to do with that mess? By working with numerous families that had “extended” branches I knew how the “system” worked in such matters as child support, joint custody, etc. That made it easy to write the book. I had already done the research, even though it wasn’t done intentionally.
My next book will be a historical, Maiden Rock Mistress. It is set in Lake City, MN, in an area where my mother grew up. I had spent a lot of time there when I was growing up, so it was easy to draw on those memories for the book. In fact, my great grandfather William Ledra Bowen and his parents figure prominently in the book, blending in with the fictional characters.
If I could pass on one hint it would be, especially if you are writing historicals, to have several sets of old encyclopedias. The new ones have left so much of the “good stuff” out of them to make room for all the new space explorations, medical discoveries, etc. If you are writing about Europe, Great Britain, or Asia, the Encyclopedia Britannica can’t be beat, but if you are writing about Colonial America you will find much more detailed information in the Encyclopedia Americana. If you keep your eyes open at rummage sales, thrift shops, used bookstores, etc. you can find these sets for just a few dollars. Also, watch for good children’s historical books. You can get a much better feeling for what life was like in a typical family from them than you can from a history book.
Above all, when you write, remember to have fun with it. If it is hard work, it isn’t going to entertain the reader. Write a book that you would love to read. If you get stuck, set it aside for a few days and then go back and read what you have written so far to get a feeling for where you have been and where you are heading. To me, my ultimate test of whether it is “working” is if it makes me both laugh and cry, I’ve done a good job.
Janet Elaine Smith began writing after she and her late husband returned from Venezuela, where they were missionaries for 9 years. She wanted to write their experiences before she forgot them. By the time she had finished that, she was hooked on writing. She waited for over 20 years before her first book, Dunnottar, was published (in June 2000). She now has 19 published novels, with the 20th one, Maiden Rock Mistress, ready to be released this spring. Meanwhile, she found a niche in magazine writing, and she has had over 3000 articles published and she continues to write for several magazines, including Memories and Mysteries, Genealogical Helper and Writers’ Journal. She admits that she is living her dream life.