Interview | Janice Hardy
Janice Hardy is a brilliant writer. She’s written one of the most complex, entertaining trilogies in recent years called The Healing Wars Trilogy, made up of titles The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Dark Fall. The story is about Nya, a Shifter-someone who can heal by shifting pain from person to person. She’s hunted by those eager to exploit her ability for their own purposes, determined to make her a weapon, a killer, even a symbol for the war that’s brewing. It’s an incredible fantasy-adventure for ages 10 and up and I read these books and had an incredible time. I was, as they say, immersed in the world. And not only is Janice an outstanding writer, she’s also a wonderful teacher and incredible author-advocate. Her website for writers, The Other Side of the Story, is a master class on everything you ever wanted to know about writing and stories. From tackling plotting, characters or motivation, she covers it all and with amazing clarity and candor. The website is definitely a must-read for every writer!
I’m so excited to have her on the site! It was such a privilege! Enjoy!
1. Your website for writers is amazing! It’s such a helpful resource and so informative, but also probably a lot of work!!! How do you schedule your time between always having great, current content on the site vs. writing your new story vs. editing an older one vs. promotions and everything else?
Thanks so much! It’s a labor of love for sure. I try to write my posts on Saturday mornings, fiction on weekday mornings, and Sundays off. It doesn’t always work out that way, and sometimes I’m writing a post the day it posts or the day before. But I do try!
I keep a file of blog ideas so I don’t have to struggle for ideas and can get through the weekly posts pretty quickly. When I’m swamped, I’ll pull an old post from the archives and either run it as is or update something from the early days before I found my blog style.
Scheduling time helps me the most. I write best in the mornings, so I try to allocate those hours to being creative. Afternoons I can edit if I have to, but those are good for promotion and social media stuff, and for reading my blog list and scheduling Tweets of useful writing posts. I also have my day job (I’m a graphic designer) so when clients need work, I’m doing that. I’ll juggle the priorities based on critical deadlines, but having set times for activities makes it easier to focus and get it all done.
2. Through your Real Life Diagnostics, where anyone can send in about 250 words of the manuscript and you critique it for certain things, I’m sure you’ve read thousands of sample pages. What’s one thing that catches your eye again and again?
Great question. Probably a lack of goals and motives for the protagonist. I don’t know why a character is doing what they’re doing (or I’m not sure what they’re doing) or why it matters. There’s a lack of internalization to show motives so it’s just a character doing vague things. The scene is described and illustrated, but there’s no sense of a story yet.
3. What’s your best advice to writers so they avoid that mistake?
Know what your protagonist is doing and why they’re doing it when you write a scene. Make sure the reader knows what’s going on and why this matters. It’s okay to keep some things a secret (like just knowing someone is trying to break into a house is good, you don’t need to explain the reasons right away) as long as the general situation is clear and makes the reader curious about what’s going on. Curiosity = good. Confusion = bad. You want them thinking, “Ooo why are they doing that?” not “What’s going on?”
4. Alright, let’s switch gears and talk about your writing! I love it and have been a fan of yours ever since your agent Kristin Nelson posted your query letter on her site years ago. That query was for The Shifter, which is the first in your Healing Wars trilogy. You finished that trilogy up in 2011. Was that journey everything you thought it would be?
-blush- Thanks! Actually, it wasn’t. I’d never written a trilogy before, and I thought the next two books would be as easy to write as the first. Boy was I wrong. Second books are notorious for being hard, and middle books in a trilogy are the hardest things to write, so it’s a double whammy. As amazing and cool as realizing a lifelong dream was, it was also scary at times and I did feel the pressure. Being under contract adds a whole other layer to the process. If the writing doesn’t go well, suddenly you start feeling like a one-book wonder and fear the publisher will ask for their advance back (grin).
There were fantastic aspects to it as well. Working with a top-notch editor like Donna Bray is amazing. She’d spot things and comment and suddenly all these light bulbs went off in my head on how to make the book better. She never told me what to write or anything, but she’d ask just the right questions to spark my imagination. I learned so much from her.
5. I recently did an interview with the wonderful Anita Mumm of Nelson Literary Agency where you gave us a peek of what you’re working on now. A YA fantasy you say??? Can you tell us anymore than that?
It’s about a deep cover spy who gets caught between love and loyalty and has to choose sides. A fantasy with spy thriller and romance elements, that plays with the theme of identity and knowing who you are when your life depends on being someone else.
6. You said in the same interview that Blue Fire, the second book in the Healing Wars trilogy, was the hardest one to write. You said you had to start over five times! How in the world did you find the strength to do it!! And also, if you had to pick a lesson learned from Blue Fire, what would it be?
I was under contact (grin). I’m not sure how I survived it (the final draft I finished while sick in bed with the flu), but it had its benefits. It really taught me that no matter how hard it gets, I can do this. It also taught me to clarify my plot and story before I dive in. I thought I knew the story and what was going to happen and didn’t do as tight an outline as I had for The Shifter. I also didn’t realize that book two was like the middle of a story and all the “Boggy Middle Syndrome” issues applied. I knew “kinda” what Nya was going to do, but when it got down to it, the plot just felt weak. It took a LOT of drafts before I found the core plot of the story that also fit into the bigger trilogy arc.
7. Speaking of publishing industry, give us a temperature read. Is it doom n’ gloom? Is it as rapidly changing as people say? Is it not changing enough, as other people say?
All of the above. I don’t think it’s doom n’ gloom, though aspects of it can be pretty dark and scary. Large chain bookstores closing down locations is bad, but I recently read about the rise in independent bookstore sales, which is good. The market is changing, but I think readers and authors will adapt. Small press and independent authors are embracing e-books and trying new publishing models. Their size allows them to try different things and see what works best. Because of that, things change fast as new and better options are discovered. Larger, traditional publishers are moving more slowly in most cases, and that can be frustrating.
The bonus is that writers have a slew of options now. It’s not about hoping that one agent or editor likes your book. You have to be smart about it, and do it professionally, but you can have as much or as little control and involvement as you want. It’s more about finding the right publishing option for you and your career. And the stigma of self publishing is fading fast. Of course, it’s also becoming more mainstream and readers and starting to see the difference, so poor-quality books are likely to start falling away as more quality e-books emerge. I imagine we’ll start to see more people to help with things like cover design and editing popping up. Places where authors can go and one-stop shop.
8. You work with the fabulous Kristin Nelson of NLA. How’s that relationship?
She’s awesome. She has such a great editorial eye, and I’m so lucky to have access to her expertise and knowledge. She’s also savvy about the publishing business and is always on the lookout for better ways to serve her clients. I think she’s a good model for what an agent’s role can be in the future. It’s not just about that 15% and the ability to submit to big houses, but about doing what’s best for her authors and their careers and finding what works for them.
9. Going back to your website, you have such a great sense of the industry and you obviously are an excellent critiquer. (Thanks for helping me!) Ever think about becoming an agent yourself?
Egads no, lol. I don’t have what it takes to be an agent, though I think I could enjoy being an editor. I love revising and developing story ideas. (and you’re welcome!)
10. Finally, advice time. For those writers who are reading this interview (hello) and want to write a trilogy or are in the middle of writing a trilogy, what’s the best piece of advice you want to tell them?
Ooo that’s tough. If you have no time constraints, I think writing the first draft of the entire thing has huge benefits. There were things I thought of or figured out in later books I wish I could have added to book one. I would have been able to better shape the larger story arc, and really foreshadowed the main plot and weaved the subplots together. A trilogy really is one big story, and the more of that you can play with before it’s printed has a lot of advantages.
At the very least, plot it out and see how the story unfolds on both a book-by-book basis and as a larger story. Just like every act should escalate the stakes and reveal new information, a trilogy show raise the stakes and reveal new things for the reader. The character should keep growing and learning from past mistakes.
And really plot it, don’t just put down vague concepts or scenes. Pay particular attention to your antagonist and why they’re doing what they’re doing. That’s an area frequently forgotten about or left thin that causes trouble later. Your protagonist is only as good as your antagonist, and if you don’t know why the bad guy is being so bad, your ending falls flat or feels weak. A weak ending hurts the entire trilogy, and makes book three really hard to write.