Authors of blockbuster novels can make crafting a story look so easy. To the public, a writer’s work day is made up of creating prose in a trendy coffee shop followed by a reading of that day’s work to adoring fans and closing with an impromptu autograph session. Writer’s block, critics and finger cramps are nonexistent. Then mere mortals (myself included) sit down to the computer and we discover the huge hurdle that exists between getting the book in your head onto the page in your hands. That’s why I was so ecstatic to chat with the talented and fabulous Janice Hardy. Ms. Hardy is not only is a gifted and bestselling author, but an amazing writing teacher as well. We talked about everything from her workday schedule to her advice for aspiring writers and everything else in between.
Please describe your route to writing and eventual publication.
I’ve written all my life, and I’d submitted several books to agents that all got rejected. Then one amazing weekend back in 2006, I attended the Surrey International Writers Conference and everything changed. I was pitching my latest fantasy novel to agents there (which was rejected yet again), but during that conference I attended workshops that made me realize what I needed to do to push my writing to a professional level. I’d been in tears after a few particularly difficult workshops and meetings, but I came home inspired and determined and wrote what would become my debut novel, The Shifter.
I knew right away this novel was different. It just felt better than anything I’d ever written before, and even the querying process was easier. My goal at that time was to get one manuscript request. Getting an agent or getting published was still just a dream, and all I wanted was another step forward to prove I was making progress. Instead of the expected form rejections, I got requests for chapters, and then requests for full manuscripts. I’d never gotten that far before, so it was a personal victory for me. Out of eight queries sent, I ended up with four full manuscript requests.
That was right about the time of the next Surrey conference, so I went back to pitch The Shifter to agents. I had my terrifying ten minutes with literary agent Kristin Nelson, and she asked for the full manuscript. I was ecstatic. Ten days later she offered to represent me and I signed with her.
We went through several rounds of edits and polishing before she started submitting the novel to editors. Several were excited about the book, and in June 2008, I sold The Healing Wars trilogy to Donna Bray at Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins. Much screaming with joy ensued.
They myth is you need to know someone to get an agent and get published, but that’s not true. I was a slush pile query, and a blind pitch appointment. I didn’t know anyone in the business or have any real credits to my name. Like so many other writers, I have a thick file of form rejections (even a few from my own agent on previous books). With hard work, determination, and a little luck you can succeed.
What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?
I’m a morning person, so I’m up about 6am every day. I write from 7 to 11am on weekdays. When I’m on deadline I’ll write or edit in the afternoons, but those morning hours are when I’m the most productive. I also do marketing/social media tasks in the afternoons, and carve out about 30-45 minutes a day for that. Saturday mornings I save for my blog, and I write and schedule all the posts for the upcoming week. Sundays I take off.
In addition to being a successful author, you are also an awesome writing teacher. Do you have a specific philosophy or curriculum that you follow as a teacher? If so, please describe.
Thanks! When I was learning to write I read a lot of how-to books that told me what I needed to do, but never sufficiently explained how I was supposed to do it. Sure, they told me to show, not tell, and to use strong nouns and verbs, but that wasn’t very helpful. I wasn’t clear on what showing vs telling looked like, so even though I knew what I had to do on one level, I didn’t get it enough to put it into practice. I also never knew if I was doing it right. It was frustrating to feel so close to understanding, but still missing something that would help improve my writing.
Eventually I figured it out, so now I strive to take those same things I struggled with and make it easier for other writers to understand. I hope to save them some of the frustration I went through and teach the how and why, not just the what. I use a lot of examples because I feel it’s easier to understand something when you can see it in practice. I also do real life diagnostics on my blog, where writers send in a samples of their own work with questions about something they’re stuck on or unsure about, and I answer those questions as I critique the work. It’s part critique, part teaching tool. I used to just do them on Saturdays, but I get so many submissions I’ve been doing them on Sundays as well just to keep up.
Who are your favorite writers and why?
Harlan Ellison is my all-time favorite because I love his writing. There’s an immediacy and excitement to it that draws you in and holds you there. His voice is amazing and his word choice is unexpected and surprising. I’m also a big fan of Kathleen Duey, because her stories grab you and you have to know what happens next. She creates characters you really care about.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Read a lot, write a lot. Writing is a skill like any other, and to improve it helps to practice and study how other writers craft their stories. There’s a lot to learn, so take it one piece at a time and don’t pressure yourself to master everything at once. Oh, and first drafts always stink no matter who you are, so don’t worry when yours does. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. It just means you’re a writer.
What are you working on now?
A young adult fantasy about a deep-cover spy who gets caught between love and loyalty when she uncovers a plot to assassinate the boy she’s spying own.
Do you have any upcoming appearances?
The paperback for Darkfall, the third book of the trilogy, is out November 1. I’m also speaking at Olde City, New Blood on February 8 – 10, 2013 in St. Augustine, FL. It’s an intimate, new con for paranormal romance and urban fantasy.
Be sure to visit Ms. Hardy online at http://www.janicehardy.com/ . The Healing Wars trilogy is available at your favorite brick and mortar or online bookstore.