Wednesday 29 May 2013

Janis Susan May Patterson Shares The Wealth of her Experience

Welcome, Janis. Tell us about yourself.
Oh, my, where do I start? The short version is, I’m proud to be a seventh generation Texan. In my 50's I married the world’s most wonderful man – a Naval officer several years younger than I. It was my first marriage and he had been single for over twenty years; we were the poster children for middle age romance. We’re both also enthusiastic amateur Egyptologists and I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn't know that he proposed to me in a moonlit garden in Egypt. I was one of the original 40 or so women who began RWA. I’m also a member of MWA, NINC and Author’s Guild.

Your love story is the stuff of a great novel! Have you had other careers before becoming a writer?
I've lost count. I've been a talent agent, an actress and singer, a jewelry designer, Supervisor of Accessioning for a bio-genetic DNA lab (not easy when I've never taken a science course in my life), editor in chief of two multi-magazine publishing groups, edited and published the only monthly publication for The American Research Center in Egypt in the world (for nine years at least)… and that’s the short list. Yes, I bore easily. I've raced cars, flown planes and am a serious shooting enthusiast. 

Wow! Impressive! Are you a full time writer or do you have a “day job”?
Full time writing is my day job. And occasionally, when a deadline is breathing heavily on my neck, my night job as well.

I hear you! Tell us about your current WIP.
My current WIP is a romantic adventure called THE EGYPTIAN FILE. The Husband and I spent January of 2010 in Egypt. At a place called El Kab there are four magnificent tombs (and a lot more, which we didn't get to see) and in one is a mysterious graffito. That started the wheels turning. After consulting with Dr. Dirk Huyge, Director of the Belgian Archaeological Mission at El Kab, and Dr. Stephen Harvey of Memphis, that ancient, simple graffito became the key to a tale of lovers and lies and antiquities smuggling and revenge and the lost treasure of Ahmose l.

I can't wait to read it! Where else do you get the ideas for your stories?
My favorite answer to that question is where DON”T you get ideas for stories? Ideas are everywhere, in swarms as thick as bees. The only problem is sorting out which ones to use. That said, however, I will state that an idea is not a plot. (Repeat after me – an idea is not a plot!) You need to have a lot of ideas that fit together seamlessly to make a plot. That’s the hard part – getting ideas by themselves is pitifully easy.

What is your typical day like?
Believe me, ‘typical’ and ‘day’ do not go together in my world. About the only thing I can count on is the sun coming up (which I don’t see, but take on faith) and the sun going down. Some days I sit at the computer all day, never even getting out of my pajamas. (Anna nods in perfect understanding!)
Other days I don’t even turn it on to check my email. Some days I plan to write, but there is a crisis in my circle of family/friends and writing goes on the back burner. I don’t depend on my writing for income (thank both The Husband and the Good Lord) so I prioritize. The computer and my stories will always be there – friends and family, not necessarily. I am so blessed that I can choose what’s important.

That's great. How does your family feel about your writing career?
I’m blessed to have been supported and encouraged by my family. My parents were both word people and loved the idea that I wrote, even in the years when I was concentrating more on traveling and having fun and adventures. When I married, after they were gone, I didn't know how The Husband would react. He, like all of his family, are science people and writers are both alien and somewhat suspect beings. It took a while, but all of them have generally come around. The Husband is now an enthusiastic supporter, though occasionally bemused, but he’s behind me and my dreams all the way.

You are lucky to have found such a great guy! How much time do you spend promoting your books? What works best for you?
Not nearly enough, which is why I am one of the best undiscovered writers around. I was raised in a place and an era when to put yourself forward was both vulgar and unacceptable. I absolutely loathe doing publicity, find social media a great time suck and believe my time is better spent writing. I call The Husband my assistant-in-training, and when he retires in a couple of years he will take over these tiresome chores. If I had the money I would hire a publicist and be done with it.

I've also had a hard time overcoming my upbringing of keeping to the background and not tooting my own horn. How has your experience with self-publishing been?
Costly and unremunerative. I am in the process of bringing out my backlist, but although they have been professionally edited, have dynamite covers and are quite good stories, they are just lying there like dead marmots. Of course, I don’t write sexy (to me sex on the page is a dead bore) so that could be part of the problem. However, as some wise person said, ‘this is a marathon and not a sprint’ so my books will be available for a good long time and who knows what will happen?

It can be frustrating, though. What advice can you offer to anyone deciding to self-publish?
Do it correctly. Get editing. Get good covers. Be professional. Learn, learn, learn.

All self-pubbed books are rumoured to be shoddily edited. What do you say to that?
Too many are, unfortunately. To me bad/lack of editing just screams ‘Amateur’! I can live with a typo or two (having had a long and intimate association with the Typo Gremlin myself) but scads of them, many misspelled words, lack of coherence in story form, pathetic characterization and, sadly, much more just says the “author” wasn't doing his job. It’s sad today that so many people are seeking the cachet of “published author” by putting out unbelievable dreck. It makes all of us look bad and, unfortunately, there’s no way to stop them. They wouldn't dream of doing brain surgery or replacing brake pads or whatever without any training, but ‘hey – anyone can write a book, right?’ It’s things like these that make me grieve for the days of the gatekeepers. At least then there was a pretense of maintaining standards. Sometimes I am very tempted to do a violence to those clueless ones.

Right on! Do you have critique partners?
No. To me using critique partners smacks of writing by committee, which is the antithesis of creativity. I know some people swear by them, but the concept just doesn't work for me. I do have a small, trusted group of beta readers whose taste and judgment I trust, and as soon as I finish a manuscript I beg their help, which is wonderful.

Was your road to publication difficult or a walk in the park?
Frankly, it’s been so long ago (1979) that I don’t remember!

Do you have a view in your writing space? What does your space look like?
View? You’re kidding, right? I believe that writers should be looking at their writing, not a view. As for my writing space – ! Our house is large, but very weird; it was my mother’s dream house and is not like any other house anywhere as she designed every inch to her peculiar desires – very few but huge rooms, no front door, no side door, two back doors and no hallways at all. Most peculiar. The location, however, is top-notch. The Husband’s office is a small room off the sunroom where, before a minor remodeling, the heater used to live. My ‘office’ is a small desk against one wall in the guest room. It’s as far away from his talk radio and TV as I can get – if I moved any further away, my desk would have to be in the driveway!

I too fight a constant battle against media noise at certain times of the day. Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Pantser all the way, though I do generally have a vague idea of the skeleton and shape of the story. To me a detailed outline is a guaranteed enthusiasm-killer and a guarantee the book will never be written! Sometimes I don’t know the murderer until the last two or three chapters – but my subconscious must be smarter than I, for when I go back to lard in the necessary clues, more often than not they’re already there! For THE EGYPTIAN FILE I have come up with three different endings – and I’m using them all. It’s going to be a total corkscrew of a finale.

Intriguing! What genres are you drawn to as a reader?
Cozy mysteries. Romantic adventures. Gothic mysteries. Traditional Regency romance. Basically, all the genres I write. I just wish more people liked them so I could sell more books!

Do you prefer to read in the same genres you write in or do you avoid reading that genre? 
I don’t think a writer can be effective in a genre if they don’t read that genre. That said, however, I try not to read in the same genre in which I’m writing at the moment in an effort to avoid accidental plagiarism or cross-contamination. For example, while working on CURSE OF THE EXILE I avoided Gothics and mid-19th century British history and read a lot of Egyptology and contemporary romantic adventure. Now that I’m primarily working on THE EGYPTIAN FILE I avoid Egyptology (save for dedicated factual research) and romantic adventure and at the moment am reading some old Regency romances.

Do you write under a pen name?

Sort of. My maiden name is Janis Susan May, and it was under that name I first began writing books. I considered using a pen name, but my father was wistful. He had always wanted to write books, but he always had a family to care for and no time to write, so I kept the May name as an homage to him. I feel blessed that he lived long enough to see our name on my first book. Later, after a decade hiatus from writing in which I cared for my mother in her last illness, when I decided to return to writing I wanted to write cozy mysteries as well. I decided to use Janis Patterson because (1) it is my legal, married name, (2) it honors my husband, and (3) with any luck at all it will get me shelved next to James Patterson! Janis Susan Patterson (children’s) and J.S.M. Patterson (non-fiction/scholarly) are merely two more mutations of my name. I did use a pen name for the two erotic novels I was convinced by a publisher to write (which was one of the most horrible, trying and thoroughly boring experiences in my life), but that name will never be known to anyone except that publisher and God. I've never made a secret of my identity/names (save for the erotic one) and regularly cross-pollinate between them on both my websites. It’s more of a genre branding thing than a secret.

What do you have planned for the future?
To continue writing what interests and amuses me. Hopefully to sell some. Personally, to travel. To have a good time. To love my family and friends. To adventure. To learn. My patron saint is Auntie Mame, and I always think of her most famous quote – “Life is a banquet, and most poor fools are starving to death!” It’s a credo I've followed in the few days I've been flush in the pocket, and in the many more days I've been poor – sometimes so poor I didn't know where my rent money was coming from. I believe happiness and satisfaction are interior aspects, and should be cultivated.

How far do you plan ahead?
Tomorrow? This evening? Remember, “Man makes plans, and God laughs.” To be happy you have to be flexible.

Do you have any words of inspiration for aspiring authors?
Read. Write. Learn. Live. Read. Write. Learn. Live. Repeat for the rest of your life.

What did you want to be when you were a child? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
It never occurred to me that I would not write, even when I was happily (and sometimes not so happily) up to my neck in other disciplines. I wrote my first book at four (needless to say, it will NOT appear with the rest of my backlist!) and have never really stopped since, though there have been years and even decades when I haven’t submitted a single thing. Writers write. Publication/sales are just a happy by-product.
Being a published author is one of the few decent ways I can make my living in my pajamas.

Will you share some encouraging words for authors still struggling for that first contract?
Read. Write. Learn. Never give up. Writing is a craft, a discipline, as much as and perhaps more so than any other trade. Publication is a reward, not a sinecure. 

What’s next for you?
Who knows? That’s what makes life such an adventure!

Where can readers find you and your books?
The best place to find my books is just about anywhere they choose to look. My books are at 5Star/Gale/Cengage, Carina Press, Amazon, Kobo, B&N, Smashwords, and most any other reputable online retailer… I can be found at either of my websites, and . Come on by and say hello!

Thanks, Janis. This has been fun. Love your sense of humour. Janis will give away a $5 Amazon gift certificate to one lucky commenter.


  1. Hi, Janis,

    Excellent, in-depth interview! I appreciate your honesty. As a fellow writer, I'm very interested in what you have to say about self-publishing. I haven't done it yet but may also try to place backlist out there. I agree that it needs to be done professionally.

    1. Thanks for writing, Jacqueline - self-pubbing is definitely a unique experience!

      Janis, also known as Susan

  2. Sounds like you and your husband were meant to be together! I don't know of too many Egyptologists out there! What a romantic proposal!

    I also didn't realize you were one of the founds of RWA. Very impressive!

    Great interview!

    Morgan Mandel

    1. Hey, Morgan, glad you came by! Yep, I was there at the original RWA (though it wasn't called that then) organizational meeting in December of 1980 - which makes me... old. And yes, I do think The Husband and I were meant for each other. I'm so lucky in that he's very romantic.

  3. Hi Janis! Wow, what an interesting interview. Anna, thanks for having her as your guest and asking such terrific questions. Janis, I hope those "dead marmots" find hoards of new readers, and that being shelved beside James Patterson pays off.

    1. Whee! I've gotten two comments published today - maybe the computer gods are relenting. Good to hear from you, Susan, and thanks for the good wishes about my 'dead marmots'.

      Janis, also known as Susan

  4. Fabulous interview! I love your sense of humor and fun way of looking at things. You have done some pretty amazing things in your lifetime. I wish I had the energy to do half of what you do!

    Congrats and best of luck!

    1. Hey, Melissa - sweet of you to comment. I didn't set out to do amazing things - I just wanted to have fun! And if you find energy, I need some too!

      Janis, also known as Susan

  5. Great interview, Janis and Anna. Egypt sounds like such a great place, but I think you have to know your history well if you want to get the real feeling for it!

    1. So glad to see you here, Beate - Egypt is a magical place - I've studied it all my life, and just love it. And yes, you have to know your history!

      Janis, also known as Susan

  6. Hi Janis!

    What a fascinating interview of a fascinating woman! Loved reading about your path! Thank you!

    1. Thank you for coming by, Jackie! And thank you for the lovely compliment.

      Janis, also known as Susan

  7. Wonderful interview. I like romantic adventure and will have to check out your Egypt story when it is available. Sounds like you've had fascinating trips there. I use legends in my romances but from Norse mythology. You are impressively productive to be writing in multiple genres!

    1. Nancy, I've had some fantastic trips to Egypt - it's one of my favorite places in the world and The Husband and I are hoping to go again next year. I love the power and the mystery of Norse mythology, but know very little about it. As for being productive... that's not it. I just bore easily!

      Janis, also known as Susan

  8. Loved the interview. Loved your your humor. And totally agree that outlining is an enthusiasm killer. You are now on my TBR list.

    1. You are so sweet! I am honored to be on your TBR list! Shall we swear a pact never to outline? Thanks for coming by -

      Janis, also known as Susan

  9. Oh, I am so frustrated! I've tried 4 or 5 times to respond to your kind comments, and the gremlins at Blogger won't let me! Grrr - I do appreciate all that you've said, and will keep trying to tell you so! Computers just don't like me...

  10. Okay, my friends, the cyber gremlins seem to have relented and are letting me reply, though not from my usual account, hence 'Susan' instead of 'Janis'... oh, well - I thank all of you for stopping by, and think I've replied to each of you, so now I will say a great and heartfelt thanks to Anna for letting me expound here. Thank you!

    Janis, also known as Susan