Janet Dawson interview with David Alan Binder
Her bio from her website: Janet Dawson has written two novels featuring Zephyrette Jill McLeod and twelve novels with Oakland private investigator Jeri Howard. Her first Jeri Howard book, Kindred Crimes, won the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America contest for best first private eye novel. It was nominated in the best first category for three mystery awards, the Shamus, the Macavity and the Anthony.
The California Zephyr series, a historical mystery series with Zephyrette Jill McLeod, includes Death Rides the Zephyr and the latest, Death Deals a Hand.
The latest book in the Jeri Howard series, Water Signs, will be published by Perseverance Press in spring 2017. Other Jeri Howard books include Till The Old Men Die, Take A Number, Don’t Turn Your Back On The Ocean, Nobody’s Child, A Credible Threat, Witness to Evil, Where The Bodies Are Buried, A Killing at the Track, Bit Player, and Cold Trail. She has written twelve short stories, including Macavity winner “Voice Mail.”
Janet has also written a stand-alone suspense novel, What You Wish For.
In the past, Dawson was a newspaper reporter in Colorado, and her stint as a U.S. Navy journalist took her to Guam and Florida. As an officer in the Navy, she was stationed in the San Francisco Bay Area. After leaving the Navy, Dawson worked in the legal field and at the University of California.
Dawson is a long-time member of Mystery Writers of America, serving as MWA NorCal president and chair of the Edgar Allan Poe awards. She also belongs to Sisters in Crime.
1. Where are you currently living?
I live in Northern California, in the San Francisco Bay Area.
2. What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?
The most important thing is determination. It doesn’t matter how talented or artistic you are, if you don’t show up on a regular basis, nothing gets written. I was determined to be a published writer and that determination helped me achieve my goal.
3. What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?
Had to give this one some thought, in that I don’t think I really have any quirks. Over the past few books I tend to write scenes, jumping around in the timeline, rather than writing the book in a chronological fashion. Then I stitch the scenes together.
4. Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?
I have been traditionally published for most of my career, though I have self-published my backlist after getting back the rights. My Jeri Howard and California Zephyr series are published by a small press, since the first series was dropped by a New York publisher. I’ve also self-published my short stories, most of which were published in anthologies or magazines before that. I wouldn’t rule out self-publishing a book. The landscape for writers has changed so drastically in the 26 years since my first book came out that I think as a writer I must consider all options when it comes to getting my books out to the public. I would call myself a hybrid author, doing both and open to both self-publishing and traditional publishing
a. Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they? Perseverance Press, McKinleyville, California.
5. Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
I prefer reading print books. However, I like ebooks when I am traveling. I used to be the person hauling five paperbacks on the plane, because it would be terrible to run out of something to read mid-flight. Now I have a loaded Kindle. I read fast and have been known to read two books while waiting for a flight and during the flight, and that’s a short flight. As for alternative vs. conventional publishing, I think a writer must consider all options.
6. Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?
There is no secret handshake or magic password. The only thing to do is write the best book you can, the book that you want to write. You must also pay attention to the basics, such as no typos and a beginning that grabs the reader.
7. How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent? Any tips for new writers on getting one?
These days I don’t have an agent, and with the changes in the publishing industry, I am not sure I need one. However, one size does not fit all. A new writer may feel the need for an agent. Belonging to the various organizations can help. In my case, that would be Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.
8. Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?
What I said earlier about determination. Add persistence to that list. You have to show up and do the work, and be willing to learn and perfect the craft. When I was a new writer I read lots of books and took many classes. That helps, but this is one craft that we learn by doing. When I got serious about writing, I put myself on a schedule. Before that I had been writing whenever the spirit moved me. I decided I had to treat it like my job. For 30-plus years I got up early in the morning so I could write before going to work, Monday through Friday, sometimes on weekends. Even an hour a day makes the difference.
9. What was one of the most surprising things you learned your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating? It never gets easier. I start with raw material and work it into a book. Once that is done, I have to start over with the same blank computer screen.
10. How many books have you written?
I have written 15 novels. That’s 12 books in the Jeri Howard series, two in the California Zephyr series, and one suspense novel. I have also written 12 short stories.
11. Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)?
Write often and develop your own voice.
12. Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?
I like to take a specific type of person and turn a stereotype around so that the person is not what he or she appears. In one book I have an autocratic, unpleasant character who butts heads with my private eye, Jeri Howard, who then helps her investigate a crime in another book in the series. Turning the character type on its head is a good way to explore new aspects of the character and story.
13. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?
I think I have good twisty plots and interesting characters. Both my series protagonists, Jeri Howard and Jill McLeod (the California Zephyr series) are likable, determined people.
14. What are some ways in which you promote your work?
I do some things with Facebook and with a mailing list. I don’t do Twitter, can’t stand it. I’m thinking of ways to promote but often I think the best thing I can do is stay home, write a good book and get it out there.
15. What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?
Looking back, I would have eliminated the long gaps between a couple of my books. There were people who thought I had stopped writing. That wasn’t true, I was still at it, but in both cases I had been dropped by a publisher and had to find a new home for my work.
What saying or mantra do you live by?