First, thank you for this opportunity to talk a little about my writing life. A certain amount of what we writers do is based on our willingness to reflect. We all need to pull ourselves out of our books periodically and check our process and progress.
1. You don’t consider yourself a young adult author, but your book, The Opposite of a Cowboy, is of the Y.A. genre. How do you think people see young adult books, and does that hurt or help your story?
My friend Rachel Hamilton, The Case of the Exploding Loo, said that she had written books all over the genre spectrum before she sold her phenomenal book in the Y.A. genre. This information was an epiphany really and freed me from the trap of my ego when I first started to write. “Oh, I'm this kind of person, so I should write these kinds of books.” Instead, I let myself write for fun, whatever my mood and wherever my ideas came from. Early on I discovered that the enjoyment of the creative process kept me writing – a much better motivation – a carrot instead of a stick.
People should ignore genres. Read good stories like The City and The City and The Invention of Wings. Two books that take you out of this world, completely different genres.
2. What's the spectrum of your writing style? Do you stick to specific genres or mediums? (Novels, short stories, screenplays...) How much unpublished work do you have lying around?
I rarely leave work unfinished, but I usually leave it for a while to peculate before I do the editing. I do have one book, a detective novel, I love picking up at odd moments. I'll read some tips in an interview or twitter and think, “Oh, I should include that in Bereavement Group.” It's also the only work that I have written out of sequence. I drop in and write a scene here or there, and then return to it later to write the transitions.
3. You have been writing for about six years, you’ve said. What is one opinion about writing you’ve had that’s changed over your career?
Six years, hmmm, I was a teacher for 30 years, and I remained a teacher because I loved it. Although I played around with writing, and I had a few poems published, it was a hobby.
When I retired from teaching, I didn't consider any other pastime. I've always wanted to write a book, but I never viewed writing as an easy career any more than teaching. I knew it would be time-consuming, lonely and taxing, but I didn't know it would be so much fun.
4. Is there any terrible advice you’ve received for your book or career? Bad advice you’ve overheard someone else be told? (If not, are there any common writing rules you don’t agree with?)
No, I can't remember any at the moment. I'm the kind of person that listens to every bit of advice I hear but apply it to the appropriate situation.
My husband tells me to take a break when I get frustrated. That was hard advice to follow – I would stay up all night finishing a scene that was giving me trouble. Now I do take breaks when I am not producing what I think is the caliber of writing I want to achieve. Because I love creating stories, with obstacles, dialog, description, flashbacks, love scenes, fight scenes, I take a break until I think of a scene I want to write, and go back to the difficult scene when I'm energized again.
5. What are your biggest concerns about the current literary world?
I wish I could tell you that I am up-to-speed on Sad Puppies and the Hugo, trad pub vs. self, but I am only peripherally, only what I read on twitter. I am more involved in the controversy in Y.A.: swearing, smoking and drinking, references to sex. Okay, that's a bit of advice I have had to ignore. Many parents want to protect their kids from these issues thinking their kids will swear etc. if they read these books. Sorry, but they are already out there swearing, smoking and thinking about sex. Let them read books that give them ideas about coping with peer pressure and hormones. Those were the kinds of books I was drawn to at that age.
6. What trends, tactics, styles, or genres would you like to see become popular in modern writing?
Keep it coming, whatever you are writing. Good writing will find an audience. I would like someone to write another Sector General, James White type series though.
7. What trends would you like to see disappear?
Nada, see above. P.S. loved Twilight. It was a perfect series for young people - to read about a couple in love who literally couldn't have sex under pain of death. No pressure.
8. Where do you find yourself getting stuck most often—beginning, middle, or end?
I am an outliner, although I don't always stick to it, so it is done before I start writing.
9. If you could hire someone to do any of the writing work for you, what jobs would you assign to them?
Formatting. I have an evil elf who comes to my computer at night and changes all my formatting instructions, even on my templates. I need someone to do the night shift and kill him. Preferably someone with insomnia and mean line-editing skills.
10. What is an assumption people make about your career that bothers you?
That I am wasting my time.
11. Tell us a little about The Opposite of a Cowboy:
I wrote this book initially for a friend of my daughter who is a reluctant reader. I wanted him to discover there are books with characters he could identify with. Unfortunately, Cowboy is Y.A. and he is a young adult. Next book, kiddo!
Cowboy is about fourteen-year-old Riley whose mother is dead. His father, a war vet who abandoned them, comes home to take her place. Paul is awkward, anxious and more than a little neurotic.
Riley doesn't want to end up like his father, crazy and alone.
He figures if he can get Bridget, the most beautiful girl in his class to go out with him, he won't be lonely anymore, and everyone will stop feeling sorry for him.
Nothing goes the way he plans.
I am putting part of my query synopsis here because it took me a year to write. That kind of effort for one page of writing demands I use it whenever I can (and memorize it for those elevator pitch opportunities.)
12. How fast do you tend to write?
First draft, fast, redrafting and editing takes at least a year.
13. You are from Dubai, but your book is set in Cody, Wyoming. Have you been there before? Were there any challenges in the setting choice you had to overcome?
Charley, you were born and raised in Wyoming, weren't you? I am curious – what part? I have never lived in the West (California doesn't count), but I have a close friend who lives in Cody, and when I visited her there I was mesmerized by the history, the landscape, and the people. I did a lot of research on the net, but my friend read and critiqued the book which was a tremendous boost. She also helped me with the gun scenes. It's one subject I know nothing about.
(Interviewer: In answer to your question, I am from Jackson Hole, which is about a four hour drive from Cody. Keeping in mind that we are the least populated state—under a million people—and have a lot of space, this actually isn’t that far. I’ve been there a few times for Speech and Debate meets, though I don’t remember much about it. Jackson, though, is very different. We’re right next to Yellowstone National Park, so we’re a tourist town and most of our “cowboy” things are pretty fake, though my grandfather was a cowboy. We have some of the richest people in the world living here, like Dick Cheney and Harrison Ford. And we have great ski areas, so there’s a lot of ski bums. Cody is much more of the genuine west.)
14. If you met people like your characters, would you get along?
Absolutely, I love all my characters, perhaps because all of them have some redeeming quality. After I finished Cowboy, I outlined another book from the point of view of the antagonist, Zero, the bully. It gave me tremendous insight into all the characters in Cowboy, so much so I had to rewrite parts of it. It probably wasn't the most efficient way to do it, but it helped just the same.
15. What was the hardest part in writing it?
I farm-out line-editing after I finish all the drafts and my own passes at editing. By that time, I can barely stand to read the thing. If you have friends that will line-edit, treat them like gold because they are that valuable.
If you are interested in finding out more about Janice Lane Frasier’s work:
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