Interview
Jim Janke

Q: Do you like to write?

A: Yup.

Q: Do you love to write?

A: Yup!

[Q: Is "Yup" all you can say?

A: Nope.]*

Q: When did you first feel an urge to write?

A: When I was about 10-12 my younger sister, my mother, and I one summer decided to have a contest to see who could write the best short story. My sister wrote one page. My mother wrote about two pages. I wrote about 110 pages! It was called The Mystery of [?] Island. I can't remember the name of the island and, much to my current regret, the manuscript no longer exists. But I remember loving the process of writing.

Q: Do you use a word processor to write?

A: Yup.

Q: Do you revise on hardcopy or on the computer or . . . ?

A: I now do all my revisions directly on the computer. At first I still printed out the manuscript and covered that with revisions. Then I realized that I was doing double work - first scribbling notes on the hardcopy manuscript and then repeating, at much greater length, on the computer. Why not just skip that middle step?

Now I print out a final hardcopy to make sure I have a hardcopy in case the computer implodes and all my disks and flash drives disappear. Or to send off a hardcopy to a publisher if they want one.

Q: Do you like doing research for your novels?

A: Yup! Doing research is more fun than writing. Writing can be hard work. Rewarding hard work, mind you. But still hard work. Research is almost always just fun. In fact, it's one of the easiest ways to put off writing: "I have to do more research. For the good of the novel, of course." Yeah, sure. Discipline is one of the hardest things for a writer to maintain.

Q: How did you decide to write Westerns?

A: Originally I tried writing short stories. (My idea was that the shorter the work, the easier it must be to write it. Wrong!) I tried science fiction and mystery. I never sold anything, but I did get some encouragement from editors. That is very unusual because editors are extremely busy people and seldom write a personal note to submitters unless they feel a strong urge to encourage a writer.

So, I decided maybe I was in the wrong genre. I like to read science fiction but thought maybe I had not read enough. (I had not.) And I don't care to read mysteries. And you probably can't write what you don't like to read. Or maybe it was the format. Maybe writing short stories was more difficult than I thought. Maybe I should jump right to a novel.

But what kind of a novel? Maybe a Western. I had watched lots of TV Westerns and seen countless Western movies. So I went to the library and took out a dozen Westerns and read them. Slowly, studying them, analyzing them, plot, dialogue, characterization, reading level, language, etc. And I thought, I can do that. And I did. The result was Jeremiah Bacon.

Q: Have all your manuscripts been published?

A: Nope.

Q: What do you do with unpublished manuscripts?

A: I keep them. I have several Western manuscripts that have not been published and a couple of Civil War manuscripts too. I don't discard them because I feel that I can improve the manuscripts if the basic plot is still good. Above all the plot must be good. The story must be good.

Last Boat to Fort Benton was originally written some years before it was published by Avalon. After letting the manuscript sit for a long, long time I started reading it again, and I immediately saw where I could make revisions and, hopefully, improve it and make it fit a publisher's needs. I took out characters, rewrote dialogue and much of the narration, drastically changed some important events in the beginning of the book and completely changed the ending. The final manuscript was significantly different from the original one I had tried to sell. Avalon bought the revised version immediately.

A work of fiction is never really finished. (Even published works. Some writers revise books when they are reprinted. With e-books revisions can be done repeatedly. And you can always make "improvements.") If you set it aside and come back to it later, you will almost always see places where you think you can improve it. That may be because you get to be a better writer all the time. And there is a problem with reading a manuscript over and over again in the revision process. The words become set in stone. It is hard to envision changing them because you've seen them so many times. Setting the work aside before revising allows you a fresh perspective. The longer you put the work aside, the more easily will come the next revision.

Q: Was Jeremiah Bacon accepted at the first publisher you sent it to?

A: Nope. You have to develop a thick skin and expect rejections if you want to be a writer. Competition is fierce. Editors get far more submissions than they can even read, much less publish. And just because some editors turn down a manuscript doesn't mean there isn't a chance for it elsewhere. Editors really do have particularly needs at certain times. And they usually have very specific target audiences. Or maybe your manuscript is poor. But the act of writing can make you a better writer. So try again.

Obviously, once you have published one book it is easier to get another one published. Previous credits help a lot. Editors will consider more seriously a manuscript sent by an author who already has published work than one sent by an unpublished author. There are so many unpublished authors and far fewer published ones. But you still have to write good manuscripts to get them published.

Q: Do you use an agent?

A: All the manuscripts I've sold have been sold unagented. And I have sold books to three different editors. I had an agent once, but he did not sell anything for me. However, that may have been a function of the times during the period he was trying because I had not sold anything either recently. You should be aware that some publishers will accept manuscripts only through agents. All other submissions will be returned unopened and unread.

Q: Do you write all the time?

A: Sigh. I just don't have time. I envy those writers who can actually make a living writing novels.

                                        *With apologies to Gary Cooper - and to the computer bit in Tron.

                                              

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