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Interview with Jane Cleland

Jane K. Cleland writes the multiple award-winning and IMBA bestselling Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery series. The twelfth novel in the series, Antique Blues, will be out in April 2018. The Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery series has been reviewed as an Antiques Roadshow for mystery fans. Library Journal named Consigned to Death a “core title” for librarians looking to build a cozy collection.

Jane also writes about the craft of writing, including articles for Writer’s Digest Magazine and the bestselling and Agatha Award-nominated how-to book, Mastering Suspense, Structure & Plot, published by Writer’s Digest Books.  Cleland served as a director of the Mystery Writers of America and served a two-year term as president of the group’s New York chapter.

JB: I love your writing. How did you come up with the idea for the Josie Prescott Antiques Mysteries Series?

JC: Thank you. My first novel was a private eye novel that didn’t sell. In one of the rejection letters sent to my agent, an editor said the plot wasn’t fully formed, the narrative was messed up and the characters were mushy. But he felt I could write.  He added that if the author was interested, he was looking for a female amateur sleuth, not in New York. I had my sleuth, Josie and added the antiques business, so she has an organic reason to go out and do what she’s doing. I also created an ensemble cast of characters in her company.

I’d owned a rare book store for a while. I decided to broaden that scope to antiques. I wanted a character who found it hard to fit in. I also wanted rugged territory for my character to have to deal with, so I chose New Hampshire. It’s a sweet and decent place that people want to come back to.

I knew there would be a pivotal antique in each book.  I’d just read about Elizabeth Taylor being sued over a Renoir she was selling that was allegedly stolen by the Nazis. That ended up being not true, but it got me thinking. I was so naive that I had no idea about Nazi art theft. I did some research and the plot grew from there.

JB: You mentioned that you love being with your character, Josie. What do you like best about her?

JC: I like a lot of things about Josie. I like that she’s quaking on the inside but no one knows that about her. She doesn’t believe it’s in her best interest to show that vulnerability. I like that she’s one hundred percent ethical. She’s her own guiding compass. She has absolutely no desire to go to the dark side. She does the right thing always and only. She doesn’t try to convert anyone to her point of view, but she is very aware of situations that present themselves and she will walk away when necessary.

JB: Which book did you like writing the most?

JC: The first book because there is no moment like selling your first novel. I asked my agent to show the first few chapters of Consigned to Death to the editor to see if I was on the right track. He said yes. I finished the book in about eight months. They liked it, and it sold in a week as part of a three book deal.

I learned from the editor what my potential readers wanted. I listened very closely and didn’t try to persuade readers to like something else. I latched onto what the editor said readers wanted.

JB: Which book do you think readers connected with the most?

JC: Readers loved Deadly Threads. It was number five in the series. There are a lot of people who love vintage clothing. People love fashion. I have several designers from back in the day that I talked about. People liked that.  I introduced, Hank, the cat in that novel. I was very leery about bringing a cat to the series. I try to be a serious literary writer. I get reviewed as erudite. I don’t set out to write fluff, but I was told that people who read this type of story like cats. I like cats. Now Josie has two of them.

JB: What do you see in the future for Josie?

JC: Josie will be making another appearance in Antique Blues which will be out in April 2018.

JB: You’re being nominated for an Agatha award for your new book, Mastering Suspense, Structure and Plot. Why did you want to write a non-fiction book?

JC: I’ve written four non-fiction books. I’d written three of them when I was a business trainer so I knew what it entailed. I like speaking at writing conferences. My sessions were popular at the Writer’s Digest Conference, so the publisher asked me to do something on suspense, plot and structure. I was also up for tenure at Lehman College, part of the City University of New York.  I figured a non-fiction book would help in that respect. I was flattered to be asked, so I said yes.

JB: What type of writing schedule do you keep?

JC: If I’m not writing, I think about my current work in progress or ideas for a new novel all the time. If I’m not physically at a computer, I review TRD’s which are the plot twists, reversals and moments of heightened danger I talk about in the book. It’s how you control the pace of your novel.

JB: We’re a critique group, do you participate in one?

JC: No. Not my style. I’m a loner, a recluse. I’m not shy, but I like to work on my own. A critique group is a good way for writers to get feedback. I think that there can be pitfalls if you’re not in the right group. What if a person offering critique doesn’t like your topic or your voice? I was fortunate to be in a financial position where I could hire private editors, so I didn’t work with a critique group at all. It’s important to learn whatever you can about craft. There are so many things you can learn about the craft of writing at conferences. That’s why I like Sleuthfest it offers deep educational opportunities.

JB: Thanks, Jane for joining the Tuesday Writers and good luck with the Agatha award!

JC: My pleasure. Your readers can find me at www.janecleland.com or on Twitter @janekcleland

Media Monday – When an Editor becomes an Author

I’m super excited to have as our guest today Marcy Beller Paul, author of UNDERNEATH EVERYTHING. Marcy is a Harvard grad who worked in publishing for several years. I asked about how this helped her when she switched from editor hat to author hat. What I love about this interview is not only the insider info on publishing but Marcy’s passion and understanding of what it means to write for teens.

when an author becomes an editor

UNDERNEATH EVERYTHING is a contemporary YA about friendship and the manipulation that comes with toxic ones. Marcy talks about her book in her answers, so let’s get to it!

When an editor becomes an author

  1. Since you worked in publishing before writing Underneath Everything, I imagine people assume it would be easier for you to write and then get published, but I suspect that’s not the full story. How did your publishing past affect your work?

 

Oh, absolutely. People think I learned how to get my own book published by working in publishing, or that I used my connections. But here are the real things I learned while working in publishing: there are limitless pages of beautiful prose and fantastic stories that never get published. There are hundreds of books that do get published and nobody knows about. There are books that editors absolutely love that don’t get bought for any number of reasons. I could go on. I wrote my entire life, with one exception—the time I worked in publishing. After a year or two I couldn’t stomach adding more words to the slush pile. I wondered how I could ever get published if so many things I loved got passed over. I wondered how any books ever made it when so many were published. I was overwhelmed. Then again, I didn’t know the basics of fiction writing then either. It wasn’t until my children were 1 and 3—until I’d gotten some distance from the industry and needed something for myself—that I took a YA novel writing course through MediaBistro and got back into writing. When I started taking my writing seriously, I did it in spite of my publishing past, not because of it. And because I knew how fickle the industry was, I harbored no hopes of publishing my first book. I just wanted to finish the manuscript, which was something I’d never done.

My time in publishing didn’t help my agent search either. I did my research just like everyone else, and submitted just like everyone else—though after I’d signed with him, my agent and I did realize that early in our careers we had talked on the phone about publishing contracts!

The one place my publishing experience really helped was when I was on submission. This is not to say it actually helped me get an offer, it’s just to say I was familiar with the publishing process. Since I’d sat in acquisition meetings, created P&Ls (profit and loss statements), and seen a managing editor’s schedule before, I didn’t have anxiety about what was happening behind the closed doors of the publishing house. Don’t get me wrong, I still had anxiety about whether or not I’d actually get an offer—but at least the process that led to whether or not I got that offer wasn’t a mystery.

when an editor becomes an author

2. We’re a critique group, so how have they impacted your writing?

Since I met you in class, I’ll start there! The YA Novel Writing course I took online through MediaBistro was the first formal teaching I’d ever had in fiction writing. I learned the basics in terms of structure and character and plot. But more importantly, I developed a writing habit, and I found my critique group, and all of those things gave me permission to think about my own writing critically and seriously for the first time.

After the class ended, we still traded work each week, which kept me accountable until I finished my first draft—something I’d never done. The further I got into the writing and editing process, the more important my critique partners became. Not just for my writing, but for me. Writing is such a solitary process. Publishing can often make you feel invisible or helpless. But my writing community—and especially my critique partners—got me through the massive highs and lows of the publishing process, and gave me advice that changed my life. I wouldn’t have my agent, and probably wouldn’t have been as true to myself if I didn’t have you guys.

3.  What drew you to writing YA?

when an editor becomes an author

I had an internship in the Arrow and Teen Age Book Club division at Scholastic the summer after my junior year in college. That’s when I discovered YA. Part of my job was to read books for content and note any bad words and behavior. I tore through all of Ellen Hopkins’ and Laurie Halse Anderson’s books, and a bunch of others. I couldn’t believe books like that were being written. I couldn’t believe how well they were selling. That also happened to be the summer the first Harry Potter book came out (in paperback), so every day in the elevator you’d see some new article about how adults were buying children’s books, and how Harry Potter had hit the NYT adult bestseller list (there was no children’s list back then). It was pretty cool.

Though I did work in adult publishing for a few years after college, I was always drawn to YA, which is how I ended up back at Scholastic.

when an editor becomes an author

But why was I drawn to it? I think it has a lot to do with firsts. First loves. First friendships. First best friendships. First breakups. First independence. When you do something for the first time you have no template, no experience. You’re not sure what’s right or wrong. And to make things even more complicated, as a teenager you’re doing things for the first time while also trying to define yourself.

I mean, how are you supposed to know how much to give when you don’t know how much you’ve got to begin with? How are you supposed to know how vulnerable is too vulnerable? How much compromise crosses the line? When love is healthy and when it isn’t? Why so many songs and books and movies make love out to be this amazing thing when the reality feels like such a sucker punch? What that means about who you are?

You’ve got to go through it and come out the other side. You’ve got to try things and take risks and follow your heart and give up too much and take it back again. That’s how you figure out who you are and where your line is. That’s what Mattie, the main character in UNDERNEATH EVERYTHING does. That is how she eventually finds and defines herself.

The process is excruciating and scintillating. The emotions are strong. The experience changes you. My question is: how could you NOT be drawn to YA?

4.  What is the best piece of fan mail/fan art/ fan stalking you’ve ever received?

My first school visit was in Pennsylvania at William Tennent High School. I met with different students over four periods with lunch in between. At the end of one of them a student gave me a pen drawing of the cover of Underneath Everything. It’s fantastic. I keep it on my desk.

5.  In Underneath Everything Mattie collects maps. How did you come up with the idea?

I’m a pack rat. I still have all the notes I passed in high school and the letters I got from friends while I was at summer camp. So although I’m not officially collecting anything, I definitely don’t like to get rid of things. But the inspiration for Mattie’s love for maps really came from my brother Bryan. Part of our family lore is that Bryan directed my parents out of the Watchung Reservation (which is prominently featured in Underneath Everything!) when he was three years old. He had a thing for maps. He still does.

when an editor becomes an author

6.  What did you learn about yourself by writing Underneath Everything?

I had a very difficult friendship in middle school and high school, and just like Mattie, one day I walked away. Unlike Mattie, I never looked back.

 

In my first draft, Jolene was not a main character. I think I wanted to tell Mattie and Jolene’s story, but I wasn’t quite ready. Part of me still wanted to bury it. But during the revision process Jolene took center stage, as those kinds of girls often do. I could no longer look away. Mattie’s story isn’t mine, but it helped me face what I’d gone through—what I had escaped. It helped me figured out why my friend may have treated me the way she did, and why I let her.

 

Since Underneath Everything was also my first book, I learned that I could finish a draft, finish a revision, and survive copy edits. I learned that I could get a book on the shelves, at least once ☺