Monday, April 27, 2015

Interview With Author Jan Elizabeth Watson

1.      What inspired you to write your newest story? I have always been interested in novels set in academia as well as literary crime novels, and What Has Become of You gives the reader a bit of both. Due to a variety of macabre influences in my youth, most notably having four older brothers with a taste for the macabre, I’ve had a lifelong curiosity about the darker side of human nature and what that says about us as a larger society. I also enjoyed playing with the idea of a protagonist who over-identifies with her students and, as a result, does everything wrong.

2.      What challenges did you have in writing it? Writing about the murder of several young girls brought me to a tough place emotionally, but I had to push my way through that sense of recoil. And creating Vera, my less than perfect protagonist, required a certain amount of letting-go as well; I was tempted at times to clean her up, to make her more admirable, but I felt that keeping her flaws intact was important to the story.

3.      This thriller revolves around the murder of a young woman. Why are so many stories built around the loss of someone? Loss is our greatest fear, and it is all the more fearsome because loss is unavoidable. We all are doomed to experience it at some point—most of us more than once. And although all loss is always painful, a loss that is greatly unexpected and unjust—the death of a vibrant young person under barbaric circumstances, for example—is something that grips our national consciousness.  We idealize youth and innocence even when we know that youth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

4.      What do you find most rewarding about being a writer? For me, it’s the process itself. When the writing is going well… when the sentences start taking on a fluidity and start humming with life… when the ideas start to coalesce and I know I’m writing something that’s true to my own voice and not quite like anyone else’s… that’s when the feeling of being a writer is most intoxicating.  If the writing eventually sees the light of publication and finds its audience… well, that’s just gravy.

5.      Your book is set in New England. What is it about that area that fascinates you and your readers? Having lived most of my life in New England and coming from a long line of Mainers, this is definitely the region with which I have the most firsthand experience. Being a dyed-in-the-wool New Englander is its own funny thing. We are proud people but also inherently modest, not liking to call a lot of attention to ourselves, preferring remote observation to stepping forward (the mere act of publishing a book goes somewhat against the New England character, even though our literary tradition that extends way back). There is also a great deal of Puritanism that is still alive and well in parts of New England. A true New Englander values things like thrift and  ingenuity and simplicity. I always say that I am a complex woman with simple tastes, and this simplicity comes straight out of my New England background.  From a writing perspective, I  like creating stories in which complex characters can pop against simple backdrops.

6.      Any advice for struggling writers out there? Read! Read as though your life depends on it, because it does. The worst mistake that any writer can make is to not be well-read enough and to not be well-versed in our rich literary history. Engage with the text to make note of the author’s sentence structures, the use of imagery, the selection of particular detail. Why were these choices made? What do these choices achieve? Read from a ‘reverse engineering’ standpoint, where you are taking the text apart in order to see how the author fit it all together. That’s the best way to learn your craft, consciously and unconsciously.

7.      Where do you see book publishing heading? I keep my eye blissfully trained away from the publishing trends, so I’m not one to foretell what ‘the next big thing’ is going to be. But what I do strongly feel is that the publishing industry is alive and well and not nearly as endangered as some seem to think. I was just at the AWP Conference in Minneapolis and was staggered by the number of booths in the Book Fair—staggered! Publishing companies in the thousands, ones I’d never even heard of, turning out good books not just because it is a business but because they still have such a tenacious belief in the power of the written word. It’s enough to give anyone hope.


2015 Book PR & Marketing Toolkit: All New

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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