Thursday, December 8, 2011
First, Linda, thanks so much for requesting this interview and giving me this opportunity. I was born in a small town in Alabama but grew up in Miami, Florida. My husband and I moved to Idaho where we lived for a number of years and then returned to Florida. We now live in the mountains of western North Carolina. I started writing stories as a child and always considered books my best friends. I have had several short stories published in literary magazines, one of which won an award.
Tell us a little about your psychic thriller, From the Shadows.
Anne Merrill, a reluctant psychic, leaves her home in Bermuda to become an agent for OSS during WWII. She soon finds herself in a psychic battle with her powerful, German-born, psychic father, Albert, as well as with an ancient, secret society, the Chhayas (Shadows) Society, that is attempting to help the Nazis defeat the Allies. During all this, she and fellow OSS agent, half-white/half-Navajo, Paul Bancroft, who is haunted by the shadow of a terrible hereditary disease, fall in love. Anne first plays cat-and-mouse games with a female Nazi spy in Istanbul. She is then sent to Berlin when OSS penetrates the Third Reich. The story is told mostly from Anne's viewpoint but also from Paul and Albert's viewpoint as the story action vaults from Bermuda to London to New York to Spain to Turkey and, lastly, to Berlin.
As a writer, I could fully appreciate the research that must have gone into From the Shadows. Can you tell us what gave you the initial idea to write this book, and a little about the research process and its complexity.
A number of years ago, I read a book entitled Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain about the psychic research going on in Russia. I never forgot that book. I have always had an interest in psychic phenomenon having experienced minor brushes with it myself. Also, I have talked to people who have had major psychic experiences. I read a number of books on the daring and brave deeds of women pilots and spies during WWII. And in recent years, I have become interested in what is called Earth Mysteries, which takes in a number of subjects such as ley lines or power grids beneath the earth's surface, geomancy, sacred sites, etc. Then I happened to read some books about secret societies and their connections to the occult, and, in some cases, their connections to Hitler and WWII. As usually happens when I research, one idea or topic leads me into another and, in total, I researched some forty books to write this one book. Out of the threads of all this research, my characters and the plot idea came together.
Did psychic espionage actually play a role in WWII, and was Hitler engaged in this and other aspects of the occult?
From a couple of nonfiction books I read, Hitler was described as being an explorer of the occult mysteries. And, supposedly, Himmler, as well as others around Hitler, was deeply involved in belief in the occult. It was said that the rise of the Third Reich was meticulously contrived and orchestrated. The ceremonies surrounding some of Hitler's banal speeches were said to have been occult-inspired and superbly stage-managed to control the people. And in England, there were psychics who met together to raise their powers to keep the Germans out of England. Also, supposedly, British Intelligence, and probably OSS, put a few psychics and astrologers on the payroll. And there was the wife of a high military official who, purportedly, could 'see' enemy ships and submarines at sea. And, at least in one instance, her information helped the Allies to sink some German submarines. Also, during WWII, a Jew, executed by the Nazis, was reported to have used paranormal powers to help the Polish resistance. In WWI, there were dowsers who were able to locate mines, traps and drinking water with success. And there were a few reports of psychic abilities being used in battles.
Do you have favorite authors who might have influenced your desire to write?
As I wrote earlier, books were my friends from a very early age. My parents, especially my mother, were readers. I used to read books off my mother's bookshelf. She had a couple of books by John Steinbeck that I read and was impressed with. A little later, I became a great fan of Taylor Caldwell who did splendid characterizations.
In your opinion, and your experience, what aspect of the writing/marketing process presents the biggest challenge for writers in today's changing publishing atmosphere?
The Internet has greatly changed the publishing parameters, of course. In many ways, it has thrown the literary industry into chaos. A lot of talented writers and good books have been, for various reasons, basically shut out of the regular publishing industry. But while the Internet offers writers a wonderful opportunity, getting your books noticed in that environment is quite daunting. For me personally, the marketing aspect is difficult, as I am by nature a shy, reserved person. And nowadays, between talk of platforms and writers being encouraged to be more aggressive in pushing their books and themselves, I find it difficult to fit in. Yet, I realize that marketing my work is important. I remember reading a book about Dean Koontz and how his publishers kept after him to do book tours, etc., and he kept trying to avoid it. This, by the way, was at a time when he was already very well known, and his books were at the top of the best seller lists. Reading about his attitude helped me feel not so odd.
Do you have any thoughts on the large number of authors, both new and established, who are turning to self-publishing? What would be the pros and cons in your opinion?
When agents became the primary gatekeepers to most of the major publishing houses, I think, as I wrote earlier, it closed the door to a lot of very talented people with good, viable books. Also, when the big media companies took over most of the literary industry, aside from some university and small presses, it became more of a bean counter environment. I have read countless times how agents will admit to being ready to say no to a manuscript far faster than yes. And the big publishing houses seem to expect most books to be blockbusters, which, to my way of thinking, is ridiculous. Being an old movie fan, I remember hearing a famous actor talk about the studio-system and how they just put out a lot of movies, not expecting most of them to be blockbusters. She thought the idea that present-day Hollywood had that every movie should be a blockbuster was totally unrealistic. Well, the same goes for books. For established writers, they may feel they want more control over their work and keeping it out there. The POD world can give them that. I order mysteries from a little company in Colorado, and numerous times they have talked about this or that wonderful author's books going out-of-print. A lot of these mystery writers have now turned to POD to get their books back on the market. Again, though, the biggest problem is marketing one's work and trying to get some notice among all the books being published.
What's next for you? Do you have a new book in the making?
I have a couple of adult novels, which I am reworking right now. And I have two middle-grade children's books that I am going through again. Also, I am doing research on another idea for an adult novel involving the subjects of earth mysteries, archaeology and early civilizations. As well as being a catholic reader, I am also a catholic writer. I don't fit easily into categories, which has always been a bit of a problem for me regarding the publishing world.
You can purchase Janie's book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Lulu.
Saturday, December 3, 2011
We’ve all known the person who says they’ll call but never do, or who says they’ll meet you at the restaurant at 1:00 on Tuesday but never show. And when you call them to see what happened, they don’t even remember having made the date. We quickly realize this person is unreliable and, consequently, we no longer want to do things with him or her and we cease believing anything they say. They made promises they didn’t keep and they lost our faith and trust.
What exactly do I mean by promises in writing? These come in the form of dilemmas, obstacles, conflicts, and twists and turns in the plot. In each scene you make a promise that something is going to happen in the next scene and then the one after that. You suggest something is going to go wrong to mess up your character’s plans for the future he envisions for himself. You hint at impending disaster. You create suspense in everything your characters do and say and in how they interact. As you fulfill one promise, make another one, until each promise flows into the next and until each one is fulfilled in the book’s final resolution.
Readers anticipate the best–and the worst–and they darn well don’t want to be let down. If you keep promising something, but nothing happens, you’re going to be in big trouble. You’re going to lose credibility.
This makes me think of the famous poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” by Robert Frost. Although it had nothing to do with writing, the words still might hold wisdom for us if we apply them to our situation and read between the lines.
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
It is fun but challenging to navigate the “lovely, dark and deep” world of novel writing. We do have promises to keep to our readers, and we should not rest until we meet our ultimate goal of successfully fulfilling each and every one of them. If we don’t deliver on those promises, we won’t have readers for long, and we will become like that unreliable friend who forgets her promises as soon as they leave her mouth. We should always strive to be the writer our readers can trust for a good read.