Writerly Questions with Janis Flores

Warm weather has finally arrived and it is time to start thinking about what to read as you lounge around the pool, while your kids play in the park, or during your hour-long commute on the transpo. To help you prepare your summer-time TBR list, every Monday for the next few months I will be talking with some really fabulous authors about their latest or upcoming books.

Let’s give a warm welcome to Janis Flores whose novel, Sweeter than Wine, is hitting the virtual shelves on June 6th from Terpsichore Her next book – working title of Touched By Fire- will be coming out later this year. 

Born in Montana and raised on Colorado and California, Janis Flores worked for ten years as a Medical Technologist before turning full-time to writing. She lives on a small ranch in Sebastopol, California with her husband, four dogs, a cat, and two pampered Arabian horses. 

How would you summarize your book in one sentence?
Sweeter than Wine is about two people: a man who can’t forget the tragic past, and a woman who is tormented by a past she can’t remember.

The past always does seem to affect our lives, whether we can remember it or not.  How long did it take you to write this book?
About 9 months—sort of like birthing a baby.

And as we all know, babies take a lot of work to care for! Did you go through a lot of drafts for this book?
I normally go through one draft because I hate going over things endlessly. Consequently I try to make the book as good as it can be on the first go-around, so that I can just go back and clean things up when I read it again.

When do you write best: in the morning, afternoon, or at night?
Since writing is my job, I can write any time. But it really depends on what’s going on in my life—and how many times my husband comes to my office door to ask , “Aren’t you finished yet for the day?”

Aw, that just means he wants to spend time with you *wink* So your favorite place to write is your office?
Yes, I have everything there I need: my desktop, my reference books, and my four dogs.

Typewriter, computer/laptop, or pen & paper?
Before the days of the computer, I wrote longhand, then on an IBM Correcting Selectric Typewriter. I use my desktop now most of the time, but if I write at night I just use pad and pen.

It sounds like you are in your office writing all day. Do you drink or eat while you write, or forget to eat?
It depends on how hungry I am and if I’m on a diet, but usually I have a diet Pepsi sitting at hand and maybe a Milano cookie. When those are gone, that’s it.

Mmmm, cookies… What about music, do you listen to any while you write?
Music distracts me; I tend to sing or hum along  and not get anything done. That’s why I’m glad when my husband goes to work. The whole house becomes my office, and it’s quiet!

Since you have a home office, what do you wear when you write?
I usually wear jeans and a T-shirt and running shoes. If it’s cold I’ll put on a fleece jacket (or two). I have these really neat “Skechers” shoes that are lined with fake fur that keep my feet warm—and make me four inches taller. I always put on makeup and fix my hair because that makes me feel like I’m heading off to work. And it really helps when I accidentally look at my self in the mirror.

Those sound like cute shoes! And I can always use a few additional inches in height myself. Other than getting ready for work, do you have any other writing rituals?
I don’t lay out pens or pencils in a row or make sure everything on the desk lines up (I’d never get any work done!), but if I’m going to write longhand I do like brand-new yellow legal pads.

Now, about the writing process itself: How do you plot? Chapter by chapter or an overall synopsis?
I do most of the research first so that I’ll know what is possible for the characters to do. Then I write a pretty detailed synopsis (so that I’ll have it when editors inevitably ask for one). After that I do a chapter by chapter outline so I’ll know how to move the characters and the plot forward. Most of the time I stay within these parameters, but sometimes the characters take over and write the scenes for me. That’s the best part of writing—being the conduit between the characters and the page. But I don’t let them go hog-wild. After all, I am the conductor and responsible for getting the us and the train into the station in relatively good order and on time.

 How do you decide which narrative point of view to write from?
Of all the books I’ve written, I’ve only done one—a Gothic suspense—in first person. It was very difficult for me because I like to have several characters—good and bad—get in on the action. And second person is for literary writers, of which I’m definitely not one. So I write in third person, which allows me to give everyone (or almost everyone) in the book a chance to have their say.

Characters do tend to want their moment to shine! How do you choose your characters’ names?
Names are extremely  important to me.  I usually define a character and then find a name for him or her, something that suits them. For example, in SWEETER THAN WINE, the heroine’s name is Terra, which in Latin means land, or earth. It’s a perfect name for her because she grew up on her family’s century-old winery and always loved the land, never more so than when she’s determined to save it from people who are trying to take it from her.

 Who is the first person to read your manuscript?
My husband. Over the years (of writing and having had published 30+ books), he’s always been the best critic, pointing out something that I missed, or telling me that something isn’t working, or doesn’t seem logical or reasonable. (He tells me these things when we’re out to dinner, so that I can’t make a scene). It took him a while to learn to take off his “husband” hat and put on his “critic” hat, but he has the best instincts. I always realize that after I’ve thrown a fit and demanded to know why he was so critical and didn’t like the book 😉

It’s good to know husbands are good for something *L0L* What did you do immediately after hearing that you were being published for the very first time?
I was working as a Medical Technologist when the letter from (then) Doubleday and Company came in the mail. My husband had just come home from work and found it, so he called me. I couldn’t wait, so I had him read it. I’m not a screamer, but when Ray read the words, “We would like to offer you a contract…” I think I started to laugh hysterically, and then everyone in the lab crowded around and we all cheered.

 If your book were to become a movie, who would you like to see star in it?
I’m not really a movie fan, so I don’t know too many actors and actresses. But Sandra Bullock comes to mind for the heroine, and David Boreanaz would be good for the hero—as long as he shaved and wasn’t scruffy. I don’t like this current vogue for men looking like they haven’t shaved for a couple of days.

I’m definitely a fan of Sandra Bullock, she’s a fabulous actress. Tell me a bit more about your fabulous self, what is the first book you remember reading?
Oh, that’s easy. THE WIZARD OF OZ by Frank L. Baum. In the original, with the big letters and the masterful ink-drawn characters. The books were physically big for a little kid, but the librarian told me I could have a library card as soon as I could write my name. I learned to do it—in cursive—when I was about four. Then I could take out all the OZ books I could carry. I was in heaven!

I spent hours at the library myself as a child, and still do for that matter! What book is on your nightstand right now?
I never read just one book at a time, so I have several books by Dick Francis; the latest one by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, GIDEON’S CORPSE; and THE THYROID SOLUTION, by Ridha Arem, MD. I’m trying to find out why my metabolism seems to have died at birth.

I could never manage to read multiple novels at once and keep them straight *sigh* Do you have a guilty pleasure read?
I confess to reading Kitty Kelley’s books. I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help myself. Her latest one, I believe, was OPRAH. I have to say, it was pretty good.

 How do you organize your library/book collection?
By author for fiction; by subject for non-fiction.

Did you always want to be a writer?
I think so. My first stab at writing was when I was about five years old, when I wrote a little one-page story about a fox and a rabbit. But I always wanted to be able to support myself, so I went to college and then got a Medical Technologist license to work in medical labs. I was working full-time when I sold my first book, but I didn’t quit until I got a HUGE advance for my third book. Lucky me; I’ve supported myself by writing since.

If there was one book you wish you had written what would it be?
Wow, that’s a tough one. Only one? Then I guess it would have to be LONESOME DOVE by Larry McMurtry. Or, DANCES WITH WOLVES by Michael Blake. Or maybe PRIMAL FEAR by William Diehl. Or, wait—any of the early Dick Francis novels. Or…

If you could talk to any writer living or dead who would it be, and what would you ask/talk about?
Living or dead, it would be Charles Dickens, because he supposedly is my 42nd cousin (one of my aunts didn’t have anything better to do with her money than to research the Dickens family tree. This was before ancestry.com). I’d ask him how he could so clearly define societal problems.

I think it would be wonderful to have Dickens as a relative! His books and characters are rather well known, but if you could be any character from any book, who would you be?
Another hard question! I love all my heroines, because they’re always so strong. I love my heroes for the same thing. But if I had to choose, it would be Briar McKenna, from TOUCHED BY FIRE, a book (actually divided into two) that Musa Publishing is bringing out in September, 2012. She learned at an early age to depend on herself; she was deeply loved by two completely different men; and when the chips were down, she courageously bet everything she owned to win what she held dear. I’d like to have that kind of courage.

What is the best gift someone could give a writer?
Uninterrupted time to write, and unwavering support for what was written.

Time and support are always good things to have, writer or no. What would you say is the best advice someone could give a writer?
To start at the beginning and not quit until s/he reached the end.

 Once last question, what is one random thing most people don’t know about you?
That I enjoy giving new writers the benefit of my experience. It doesn’t even matter whether they take my advice or not. I just like to help someone get a little push in the right direction.

 Previous Interviews: Peter Lukes InterviewKarenKSamoranos InterviewJune Kramin Interview


Author: JaimeKristal

JaimeKristal is a freelance editor and writer. She started her book review blog "Tales of a Booklover" for the enjoyment of sharing her love of reading.

4 thoughts on “Writerly Questions with Janis Flores”

  1. This was one of the most interesting and well-written interviews I’ve read lately. Quite a lot of thought went into the questions, and the answers were interesting and insightful. Thank you, both, for adding much pleasure to my day. I will be back often.


  2. I am a lifelong fan of your books, Jan. Your characters become very real to me by the time I’m a few chapters in. You’ve written some multi-generational sagas as well. What method do you use to keep all the people/stories/motivations/relationships straight while you’re writing?


  3. What a great compliment! I hope to keep you a fan with Sweeter Than Wine. As for keeping everything straight while I’m writing–you should see my office! I’ve got charts and notes and books and papers all over the place, on every surface (except where the cat is sleeping). But I find that the best way is to know my characters before I begin to write–and to write a little memo to myself after every chapter so that I can gather up all the loose threads at the end and tie them together. Thanks again, and as always, happy reading!


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