Chatting with Jan Stites

As you all have learned by now I love introducing new authors to the rest of my readers. Today is no exception. I was delighted when author Jan Stites emailed me and asked if I wanted to interview her. Her book has received many rave reviews.

Thank you so much for this interview.

Thank you. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to reach out to readers.

Can you please share a little bit about yourself.

I love to write, except of course for those days when I’m tempted to hurl my computer through the window because I can’t seem to find the right words. Lots of people ask me how I have the discipline to spend so much time writing, but to me it doesn’t take discipline because it’s what I love to do. Going to the gym takes discipline. I regard gym workouts with about as much enthusiasm as I have for jury duty.
Teaching was my second passion. I’ve taught middle school in inner-city and affluent public schools in Missouri and California. I’ve also worked in village schools in Kenya and Mexico, and for six years taught screenwriting at San Francisco State University.
Much as I loved teaching, I was elated to be able to quit and write full time.

Do you have any type of morning routine?

I usually get up about 5:30, gobble a quick breakfast, stretch, and then head downstairs to the office to write until lunch. I’m definitely a morning person, probably one of the few people in America who hates to see daylight savings time spring back because I like to begin work in the dark and watch daylight ease into being.

I read that you were once hired to write about scuba diving. You were in the Caribbean. Have you been back to the Caribbean since?

I’ve been to Curacao, Cozumel and St. Crois, but none of them matched the exhilaration I felt on first diving in tropical waters for that book. It was a tough job having to dive the Bahamas all expenses paid while staying at 4-star hotels, but I mustered up sufficient willpower to tough it out.

What other fun hobbies do you have?

Nothing comes to mind. I tend to spend 8 hours or so a day on writing-related work. In the remaining time I like to hang out with my husband or friends, read, walk, do volunteer work, or attend one of my two writers’ groups.

Do you prefer peace and quiet when you write?

Absolutely. I get distracted if people around me are talking. I tend to want to eavesdrop and analyze conversations, gestures, appearances. Often I take notes. I should wear a sign: Beware: Writer with Notebook in Vicinity.

Which comes to you first…the characters or the plot?

The characters, although the idea of what the book will revolve around often comes to me simultaneously. For instance, with Edgewise I knew I wanted to write a novel that revolved around patients in an outpatient psychiatric hospital, and I knew I wanted to have two main women characters, one white, one black, but I didn’t know what would happen until I got to know them. For the new book I have conducted interviews with my characters, read books through their eyes, and written eight-page, single-spaced character monologues. Most plot ideas arise for me through doing such preliminary work on character. (I hear Deborah Kerr singing, Getting to know you, getting to know all about you.)

One of the characters in your book is named Satch. That is a unique name. How did you come up with that name?

Satchell Paige was a terrific baseball player in the old Negro League before the majors were integrated. I’d known about him for years, though I don’t remember how I first heard of him. When I knew one of the two main characters was a black woman, I just seemed to always know that her father would have expected a boy whom he would have named Satchell in Paige’s honor, so when he had a daughter, he went ahead and named her Satch.

Edgewise drew from some of your experiences in a hospital. Was it hard to re-live some of that for your book?

More so at the very beginning, but I worked on this book for over thirteen years. By the last few years, I found writing about it to be more therapeutic than traumatic. And of course the book is a novel. As I got to really know the characters, I became immersed in their fictional world rather than bogging down in my own reality.

Now after writing Edgewise and currently working on a new novel, do you find it easier or harder to write and why?

Easier because I learned a lot from writing Edgewise and through studying fiction, both other people’s novels and authors on writing like Janet Burroway. Recently I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, which gave me so much joy, I wanted to try to write a book that affords similar pleasure to others. My new novel, not autobio-graphical, is a romantic comedy set in the Ozarks. Currently I’m brainstorming and researching, the most enjoyable phase of writing because I’m not yet trying to choose the right words but am simply getting to know characters and setting.

What has been the most rewarding experience to happen to you since the release of Edgewise?

At one of my readings, a woman came up and tearfully thanked me for writing a book about people with mental illness and for talking openly about my own struggles. I reached up to touch her, but she’d already turned to flee. That moment has stayed with me. At readings and book groups where I’ve been a guest, many people have expressed similar sentiments. I’m gratified to know I’ve shed at least a little bit of light for people who have experienced their own or another’s darkness.

Any last words to the readers?

I’ve accepted lots of invitations to come to local book groups. Edgewise has generated remarkable discussions. So, please, read it and if you like it, talk it up to family, friends, bookstores and book clubs, review or profile the book on your blog, or review it on Amazon. Word of mouth is the best publicity for any book, but particularly for a self-published novel. To borrow a phrase, it really does take a village. And thanks for the help.

Check out Jan Stites's website


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