Rambling to Interviews: Did you always want to be a writer?
Janni Lee Simner: I always wanted to write (and always did write), but I don't think I realized that maybe I could write for publication until around the time I graduated from college. I didn't know if I would ever sell my work, but I spent the last of my student loan money on my first computer and told myself that I would write something -- even if it was only a few words -- every single day. The thought of writing a whole book was overwhelming, but the thought of those few words wasn't as scary -- I knew I could do that. (I didn't yet know how much work it would be to revise those words into something others would want to read, but there was time for that later!)
RI: What is your goal as a writer?
JLS: To keep getting a little better with every book I write -- there's always something new to learn, which is part of what I love about writing. It always challenges me, and I never get bored with or tired of it.
And of course, I also hope to keep selling those books, so that they can make their way out into the world where others can read them!
RI: What is your writing style? Outline or no outline?
JLS: No outline!
If I have a choice, anyway. I'm happy to write an outline when I need to present one as a sales tool, but it's not the way I prefer to write. I prefer to jump in and find the story by writing it. The first draft, I often tell the entirely wrong story, actually. Then the next draft gets closer to the right story, and then I spend several drafts after making that story compelling and readable. It's sort of like the first draft is the exploratory draft (where I'm finding out what characters and tensions are available to me), the second draft is the incoherent draft (where I tell the right story, mostly, but it's pretty rough and rambly), and the third draft (and the several drafts after that) are where it begins to come together. By the fourth draft or so, I'm compressing the story and adding details; by maybe the fifth I'm polishing the language.
I do think whether or not to outline is a really individual call, though. Writers all think and work so differently--the important thing is for each writer to find a process that works for us, and then to make the most of it.
RI: Faeries have been a major trend lately, yet your book manages to take a fresh spin on the subject. What made you come up with such an interesting post apocalyptic world? Was it the main character whispering to you as you've mentioned on your website?
JLS: The whole story really did come from that opening scene. I wrote it fifteen years ago now, and I still don't entirely know where it came from! I was already fascinated with faeries, and had been reading lots of early urban fantasy, and the opening ... just happened, with its image of Liza (I wasn't even sure of her name yet) describing how her baby sister was set out on a hillside for the faeries to take. I loved that opening, but it terrified me, too, because I didn't know what came next, or how to write a book worthy of those first few pages. So I went off and wrote other things, and worked on becoming a better and better writer until I was finally ready to tell the rest of the story.
It's funny -- when I started writing Bones of Faerie, no one was writing about faeries anymore, and I kind of worried there'd be no place for a book about them. I had no idea lots of other people were writing faerie books too, and that by the time Bones of Faerie sold, they would be a trend! Sometimes I wonder what it is that makes many writers decide to write about the same things at the same time without realizing it. And what's really fascinating is how when we do that, we all still wind up telling very different sorts of stories -- I love how that happens!
RI: The romance is intriguing and subtle. (Sorry, don't want to contain spoilers) Did you draw from some of your own experiences when it came to the characters?
JLS: Interesting question! I think not directly ... but I am very much a fan of relationships that begin as friendships (I'm also lucky enough to be married to my best friend), so that probably did have some influence. I figure if you're not friends, what's the point? And I also think romance doesn't always begin with sparks flying the moment your eyes meet -- sometimes it sneaks up on you while you're busy doing other things, and I like seeing that in fiction, too.
RI: For those of us wanting to learn more about Tara, Caleb, Kate, and Matthew, can you tell us anything about a sequel? (Due out in 2011)
JLS: I can't say much mostly because I don't know much yet! I'm still in the middle of one of my early "incoherent" drafts, so even the things I think I know are likely to change. I can say that we'll be back in Liza's point of view, probably during the winter after the end of Bones of Faerie. I want to know more about all the characters, too, which is one reason I'm thrilled to be writing a sequel -- writing is a process of discovery for me, and I'm learning things right along with Liza.
RI: The querying process generally deals with loads of rejection. Was your first novel picked up quickly or did you face a lot of, "While your story sounds interesting, I'm afraid it isn't right for me"?
JLS: I've definitely gotten letters like this for most of my books, and for many of my short stories, too. The book I sold before Bones of Faerie (Secret of the Three Treasures, which is aimed at kid rather than teen readers) received a large collection of rejection letters that mostly said, "I love this book, it's perfect, but I don't think I can sell it" before I received an offer. Bones of Faerie is the first book I sold with an agent, so it found a home a little more quickly, but there were still publishers who liked the writing but thought the book wasn't right for them. (But given how much I love working with my editor, I really don't regret those rejections at all -- his enthusiasm and concrete suggestions for how to make the book better have both made a huge difference.)
RI: Any advice for those looking to land an agent?
JLS: Be persistent. Do your research, and try to find out both what various agents are looking for and what sorts of books they tend to represent -- www.agentquery.com is a good resource, and many writers also acknowledge their agents in their books as well. Query agents who genuinely seem a good fit, and don't give up if the first few tries you get turned down.
Also, start working on your next book even while you're querying the first one. If the book you're working on turns out not to be right for anyone, possibly the next book (which, because we're all always improving as writers, will probably be a better book) will fare better.
RI: What's the one question no one ever asks you, but you wish they would? (Plus the answer please!)
JLS: Q: What's your favorite apocalyptic poem?
A: Richard Wilbur's "Advice to a Prophet" ( www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15485) -- I was reciting bits of it aloud long before I knew I'd be writing a post-apocalyptic novel. I'm also fond of the eerie imagery of W.B. Yeats' "The Second Coming" ( www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15527)
3 Quick Facts:
Madeleine L'Engle (started reading her as a teen and still turn to her books for comfort now)
Books you're reading at the moment-
Kathleen Duey's Sacred Scars, Kate Messner's The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z, and The Illiad
Bad movie you secretly love-
Do old (70s and 80s) Doctor Who episodes count?
RI: Yes, it does! Again, thanks so much for the wonderful interview!
JLS: Thanks for having me here, and for your good words about Bones of Faerie!