Janni Lee Simner’s Young Adult novel, Bones of Faerie, was released this January by Random House, but she’s been writing and selling short stories for readers of all ages for some time, with over thirty publications in pro markets, including Realms of Fantasy and The Year’s Best Science Fiction, and anthologies such as Chicks in Chainmail, and the short fiction podcasts Pseudopod and Escapepod. In other existences, she was born on a pirate ship, caravaned across the Sahara, and perused the stacks of the Library of Alexandria for priceless nuggets of forgotten lore.
TH: Can you give a brief arc of your career as a writer/author?
JLS: I’ve pretty much been telling stories all my life, even before I knew how to write them down. By junior high I was filling notebooks with poems and the openings of novels, but it wasn’t until I got out of college that I began wondering if I could write professionally. I took the last of my student loan money, bought my own computer (two 5 1/4″ floppy drives, no hard drive), and started training myself into the habit of writing at least something every single day.
After that–it’s probably been the usual mix of steps forward and back. I sold the very first short story I sent out, thought writing was going to be easy, and then began collecting rejection slips and waited two years to sell my next story. I published my first three books, the middle grade Phantom Rider trilogy, six years after buying that first computer (which I wrote them on), then didn’t publish my fourth (also middle grade) novel, Secret of the Three Treasures, until ten years after that.
My fifth novel and first book for young adults, Bones of Faerie, was published this spring. I wrote the opening of Bones of Faerie not long after I bought that computer, too, but it took me more than a decade to figure out what to do with that opening–and become good enough a writer to do it justice. But the opening (which is online at http://www.simner.com/bonesoffaerie/excerpt.html) haunted me through all those years, so I kept returning to it until I was finally ready.
TH: Does your creative spirit follow mostly younger readers or will you explore more adult-oriented stories at some point?Â Why?
JLS: I’ve written some short fiction for adults, but in general, I’ve always been fond of coming of age stories. I very much enjoy writing about characters right on the cusp between childhood and adulthood, as well as about younger characters. I have an enormous amount of respect for teens and kids both–it takes a lot of strength and courage to make it through childhood and adolescence, something I think many adults forget. (Books for teens, as an aside, are YA; books for younger kids are middle grade. Bones of Faerie is my first YA novel, but I’ve also written four previous middle grade novels.)
And YA is such a vibrant genre, with so many stories one can tell there. There are no real limits on content (sometimes adult writers think of YA as fiction where all the sex and violence is scrubbed away, but that’s not true at all)–as far as I can tell, the only real requirements are that the stories be of interest to teens (so a book about a midlife crisis probably won’t work :-)), and that they be well written. I find YA books at least as strong as, and often stronger than, the adult books I read, especially on a quality-of-prose level.
TH: What is The Story of Janni?Â Is it a novel?Â A short story?Â An epic fantasy poem?Â A limerick?
JLS: It’s a rough draft that I keep revising in hopes of one day getting it right. 🙂
TH: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?Â How did you know?
JLS: I think I always knew I wanted to write, but it took me until sometime in college to realize that maybe I really could try to do this professionally. Until then I’d planned to be a research chemist, but while I loved learning about chemistry (and science in general), I discovered that I really didn’t like lab work. And since what a chemist does is work in the lab, it became clear that sticking with that, for me, a research career would mean a lot of unhappiness. So I began thinking about what I did enjoy doing, and it became clear to me that it was time to try taking my writing more seriously. (I should add that I think it’s a fine thing to write–or do anything else–as a hobby, too! That’s very much an individual call.)
I still enjoy learning about the sciences and being an educated layperson, though, and I sometimes write nonfiction science and health articles as well.
TH: Of course, most writers want to have bestsellers or make some sort of artistic or literary impact. Is there some unrealized accomplishment that you’re striving for in the near future?
JLS: I’m mostly just always striving to make each new book better than the ones that came before–and in general trying to continue improving my craft–because that’s the part of being a writer I have the most control over.
TH: What are some of the things that inspire you?
JLS: Looking up at the mountains that surround my city. The natural landscapes around me in general–whether it’s the desert I live in, or visiting someplace I’ve never been before. Reading a story that just blows me away.
TH: What was the last story that blew you away?
JLS: That’s a hard one–I seem to be connecting with a lot of particularly powerful books this year! For the very most recent, I’d say Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls, a mainstream YA dealing with eating disorders which is just–powerful and real and painful.
For science fiction and fantasy books, I think the most recent would be Mary E. Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox, a YA which doesn’t look like science fiction at first, but which very much is. I loved this intensely personal story that dealt with much larger issues at the same time–I’m not sure how to even begin to talk about it without major spoilers, but I’d highly recommend it, and know I’ll be reading it again.
TH: What about the writing process most appeals to you?
JLS: Revising! I write extremely messy (even incoherent) first drafts, then through successive revisions slowly move toward a story that works. In many ways I’m a better rewriter than writer–and if I couldn’t revise, I probably couldn’t write at all.
TH: What are the most successful ways you have used to promote yourself and your work? Are there any promising marketing avenues that you might yet explore?
JLS: While I’ve done (and will continue to do) various promotional things through the years, and they’ve all played a role (being present online has probably done the most good), I’ve come to believe that the most important thing I can do to promote my work is simply to keep writing the very best books I possibly can. I can’t think of anything else that’s had anywhere near the impact simply writing as well as I can has.
TH: What sorts of online promotion do you actively pursue, or do you just put yourself out there and let people come to you?
JLS: I think online promotion works best when … you’re not actively promoting. I’ve been online for more than 20 years, and I spend time online because I enjoy it. Hopefully in doing so I also get the word out about my stories — but I think that when a blogger is actively shouting about their book and nothing else, readers get bored and drift away. My experience has been that it’s better to talk about the things that interest you and to become part of a community than to always be putting self-promotion first and foremost–and it’s definitely more fun. 🙂 If you’re not having fun online, I don’t think being there is going to be to your benefit, as a writer or as a person just choosing where to spend your free time.
TH: Have your reached the point at which you realized that you had “made it” as a writer and author?Â If so, can you describe the milestone or circumstances where you had that realization?Â Do you recall how that felt?Â If not, what is the milestone you’re seeking?
JLS: At some point, I realized that the “real writer” milestone was a receding target. First I thought I’d be a real writer when I sold a short story, then when I sold more than one short story, then it was selling my first novel, then it was about making my second novel sale … the bar just kept moving higher. When I finally realized there’d be no magical moment of writerly validation–that no one was ever going to walk up to me, wave their magic wand, and dub me a real writer–I took matters into my own hands and created my own Real Writer Certificate instead. (It’s online at www.simner.com/realwriter.html — others are welcome to it too, so long as they meet the requirements set forth there. :-))
TH: Was there a moment of epiphany when you realized that being a “real writer” was a state of being rather something that had to be achieved?
JLS: I don’t think so–it was more of a gradual realization that happened alongside the day to day work of writing.
TH: Some say that professional writers have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity.Â Do you take that approach?Â Do you write under any pseudonyms?
JLS: I’ve written books and short stories for a wide range of ages (preteen, teen, adult), but they’ve all been under my own name. I think my readers are pretty smart: they can figure out that, say, my YA fantasy and middle grade mystery are different sorts of books, and choose whether they want to read both anyway. And if my work wasn’t all under my name, maybe they’d only discover one and not the other.
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future?Â What are you working on?
JLS: I’m working on a couple of different YA fantasy projects. (More on that soon, hopefully!) I also have a short story currently set in the same world of Bones of Faerie, only in Arizona instead of Missouri, in the online magazine Coyote Wild: coyotewildmag.com/2008/august/simner_invasive_species.html
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your life as an author?
JLS: I’ll keep thinking on this, but I honestly can’t think of any one moment that stands out–mostly being a writer involves a lot of time sitting in front of a keyboard putting words together, which can be hugely rewarding, but isn’t necessarily all that memorable or dramatic afterwards!
TH: What would you like to have accomplished ten years from now?
JLS: To have kept growing and improving my craft as a writer, to have written more books that I’m proud of, and to know that readers are still reading them.