Tales from the Trenches
Interview with Janet Lee Carey
How do your stories take shape in your head or on paper? For example, do you brainstorm organically or do you use an outline?
Complete outlines are too restrictive for me. I lean toward a more organic approach. I daydream and keep a story journal where I jot notes, define the core plot question, create character back-stories, and zero in on character motivation. The character has a life before he or she steps into the story. Once I have a sense of the story trajectory, I work from a gut level, use the plot to hit the character where it hurts then follow the character’s actions and reactions through every plot twist until one of us cries uncle! It’s a dangerous and exciting way to write, especially when my agent, Irene Kraas, sells the novel to a publisher before I finish it.
Tell us about your path to publication. Did anything unusual or unexpected happen?
I’d received a lot of interest but no sales for a number of years. Three factors contributed to my first sale. I joined a fabulous critique group the Diviners with Peggy King Anderson, Judy Bodmer, Katherine Grace Bond, Dawn Knight, and Deborah Davis. A few years later Justina Chen, Holly Cupala, and Molly Blaisdell joined the group.
Here’s a pic of a few of us celebrating Holly Cupala’s sale of Tell Me A Secret
The Diviners helped me hone my craft. They taught me to celebrate the victories (we award each other with the Nancy Pearl shushing librarian doll)
And to keep writing after each rejection. Let’s face it there is a long apprenticeship in this business! The published authors in the group also helped me navigate the vast and unpredictable sea of publishing. I learned to send thank you notes for rejection letters especially if the editor took the time to write a little personal message on the form letter. It’s a good practice because we are not just sending in manuscripts, we are building business relationships, and with editors moving around as much as they do, you never know which editors you will be working with in future. Second, I joined SCBWI and learned from the editors, agents, and colleagues I met through the organization. Our local chapter is phenomenal! Third, I was willing to revise for interested editors at Atheneum before they sent me a contract. Revising before they buy is tricky and the result is not always a sale, but most editors like to see what kind of revisions you’re willing to do before they take you on. In my case it paid off.
When writing a series, how do you stay true to the voice or voices of the series? How do you keep track of changing events and characters from book to book?
I’m working on sequels to all three of my YA fantasy books. It’s a real challenge, but there are ways to keep a series fresh and vital. Characters are human, and flawed, their incompleteness, their desire for wholeness will always drive the plot. I also know every book in a trilogy or a series must be strong enough to stand on its own. Books two and three should be just as compelling as book one. This means No Sagging Plots! Never enter a novel without the blood scent of story in your nose.
This article was previously published in The Chinook, quarterly newsletter for SCBWI Western Washington
Thank you Elizabeth Mills for the fine interview and permission to repub here on Dreamwalks.