Welcome to the blog tour for my special guest, Janet Elizabeth Henderson. She’s been a guest before, and I always love having her on my blog. This time, rather than an interview, I’ve asked her to share some writing wisdom for those of us who have been in the writing game for a while. Check out her advice below, and be sure to read all the way to the end so you can read all about her new book: Reckless.
There are a lot of fiction writing advice books out there. Most of them focus on teaching the basics of the craft and guiding you on how to find your voice. There are very few that concentrate on what to do once you have the basics down. I think this lack of balance reflects a deeper problem within the world of fiction writing—a lot of writers assume that once they’ve found their personal style and understand the basics there’s nothing else to learn.
If you don’t want your writing to stagnate… If you don’t want to write the same book over and over… Then you have to challenge yourself in every new piece of work you write. Think of the process as mining. You can dig down a little, find something interesting and then stay at that depth forever as you widen the same hole outwards. Or, you can go deeper and find something more precious. Maybe even find something that no one has ever found before. And yes, digging deeper is harder. But it’s worth it.
So, if you’re a mid-career writer and you want to dig deeper, how do you go about doing that? You could try some of the following:
Get out of your character comfort zone
Challenge yourself to write a character unlike any you’ve ever written before. If your speciality is alpha men, write the weakling—but do it in a way that makes him lovable, desirable and magnetic. (Be careful he doesn’t morph into your usual character type throughout the book. Keep him true to himself.) If you write great submissive women, try writing about a strong, leader-type woman. Get into the head of your character, changing your language and adapting your style to suit the character’s voice.
Make story, not plot, your priority
When we first start out, we cling to the formulas for plotting as though they are lifelines. The problem with this is that sometimes the flow of the story can become mutated or get lost to accommodate the structure you feel it must fit. Instead of following a pattern for your book, focus on the story. Story is the natural development of a tale which meets the criteria of your fictional world and the needs of your character. Plot is a series of events which follow a set structure. Do you see the difference?
Try not to think about whether your fiction fits accepted norms, but rather whether the story flows or not. Ask yourself: is this is the story your characters need to tell? Does it make logical sense within the frame of the world you’ve created? When you read something written by a natural storyteller, you often can’t see a structure at all. It’s buried underneath the very real dilemmas of the characters. It flows with a natural rhythm that suits the world the writer has set up. And it always surprises the reader.
Do one thing in each piece of work that you haven’t done before
With each new book, try to do something new and do it well. If you’ve always focused on the internal drama of your characters, write a scene where everyone has to deal with an external drama. If your last book was full of action, make this one full of emotion instead. If your last book flitted all over the world, set this one in a single room for the duration. Do something hard that will make you think deeper for every single scene in your story.
Never go with your first idea
I learned this one in art college! Always brainstorm your story ideas. Keep asking “what if?” until you hit an angle that you wouldn’t have come across otherwise. This will keep your stories fresh and give greater depth to your writing. The first few ideas we have are usually pretty obvious. Dig deeper. Find the idea that’s going to surprise you and your reader.
Critique your own work
There is a difference between having a critique and being a critic. Being a critic is often a negative thing; staging a critique is a productive event. The difference is that a critic often compares your work to the work of those around you, whereas a critique asks questions of the work itself to make you consider it on a deeper level.
Have a critique of your work by asking questions of it and not being afraid of the answers. Ask things like: “Is this truly in character or am I trying to bend the hero to fit the plot?” and “What other outcomes are possible from this set of circumstances?”
Always ask yourself why you’ve chosen something and whether there is a better, more unusual choice to be had. Make “what if?” your mantra. What if the plot took a different direction? What if the character did something else? What if there was another person in this scene? What if the setting was different? “What if?” is a question that will help you mine deeper into your work.
Okay, so that’s five things I try to do with each new book. I hope, if you give it a go, that you’ll let me know how it works out for you. And if you have some suggestions to add, all the better—I’m always looking to improve my writing!
Celebrate the release of Reckless
by Janet Elizabeth Henderson!
Follow the tour and enter to win great prizes!
2 grand prize winners will receive a $10 Amazon Gift Card.
2 runner-ups will receive an e-copy of choice from Janet’s backlist!
The new London office of Benson Security hasn’t even opened its doors yet and already it’s neck deep in its first case…
If the mission doesn’t kill him, his sexy partner just might.
Dimitri Raast and Megan Donaldson have a common enemy—the head of an organisation that specializes in human trafficking and sexual slavery.
They have similar motivation—Dimitri’s sister was taken by the organisation, and Megan’s sister is threatened by it.
They have the same goal—eliminate their enemy and save their sisters.
Given they have so much in common, you would think working together would be a piece of cake.
You would be wrong.
While Dimitri brings skills and experience from years as a US Army Ranger to their partnership, Megan brings a background in failed career choices and an ability to cause trouble wherever she goes. Yet, even with so much at stake, Dimitri can’t resist Megan’s particular brand of crazy.
She’s wild, she’s sexy and she’s fearless. An irresistible combination for a man who lives his life completely in control. Now, after almost a year with one all-consuming focus, Dimitri finds himself torn between rescuing his sister and protecting the woman he wants—from herself.
They were meeting Johnny Rotten in a dark alley. Of course they were meeting a guy called Johnny Rotten in a dark alley. Megan rolled her eyes. Obviously Johnny went to the TV movie school of how to be a bad guy.
“You stay here.” Dimitri pointed at a dumpster. Yeah. A dumpster. She half expected some guy with a camera to shout cut and make them start again.
“You don’t mean in the dumpster, right?” Because—eew!
“No. Beside it. In the dark.” He didn’t even try to disguise that he was losing patience. “Don’t move, don’t make a sound, don’t interrupt.”
Blah, blah, blah, let the big boys play. She was so tired of hearing the same old tune. It was time to change the radio station.
“Right,” Dimitri said. “I’m going to drive round and come in from the other end.”
“Why can’t I just wait in the car? It’s cold and it stinks here.”
“Because…” He stretched the word out. “You’re supposed to be my hostage. I can’t just let you hang out in the car.”
“I can pretend to be drugged.”
“No. Too dangerous. He might spot you, know who you are and that Rudi wants you. Then what would stop him deciding to eliminate me and take you to Rudi himself?”
She stamped her feet to get her blood circulating before the chill removed her toes. “Why didn’t you just take me back to the office?”
“You’re my backup.” There was a silent ‘idiot’ attached to that sentence, she just knew it.
“The backup that hides in dumpsters?”
“The backup that phones for help if it looks like things are going south.”
Megan blushed, grateful he couldn’t see it in the dark. “So, I need my phone?”
He put his hands on his hips and looked skyward for a moment. “Where is it?”
“Car.” She gave him what she hoped was an apologetic smile.
He stomped off, cursing under his breath and came back a few minutes later with the phone. “Sorted now?”
Megan nodded. It probably wasn’t the best time to tell him she really needed to use the bathroom. She could hold it. How long did it take to have a covert meeting in an alley anyway?
She gave him a thumbs up and watched him march back to the car. Leaving her alone in a stinky, dark alley. Alone and not thinking about how good Dimitri’s lips felt against hers. Nope. She wasn’t thinking about that at all. She was a professional—nearly. She had a job to do. She backed into the shadows and tried to become invisible. Ninja Megan. She could do it. It was all about the power of the mind. She closed her eyes and took a few calming breaths.
That’s when her stomach rumbled. Her hand smacked flat on it as she bit her lip. Maybe all that fried food wasn’t such a great idea after all. Not that she would ever admit that to Dimitri. She was still mad at the man. Sure she’d been the first to say they weren’t in a relationship, but he didn’t have to agree so enthusiastically. He’d sounded affronted. As though she was the last person on earth he’d consider dating. It was insulting. Her stomach made a strange bubbling sound as she saw Dimitri’s SUV pull up at the other end of the alley. He got out and stood under the yellow glow of the street lamp. Waiting. Alert. Moody.
Megan’s stomach rumbled again. Loudly. This wasn’t good. So much for not making a sound. Her own body was working against her. She crouched down in an attempt to dull the noise, and hoped it worked. She closed her eyes, tried to calm her stomach and think thoughts that made her invisible.
That’s when she farted.
It wasn’t silent.
Megan dropped her head to her knees. If the bad guys didn’t get her, she’d die of humiliation.
I grew up in Scotland, but now I’m living in New Zealand – married to a Dutch man whom I met in America. (It can get a little confusing in my household!) When I’m not living in my head, I’m a mother to two tiny kids, three pet sheep, three miniature horses, three alpacas, one dog, two cats, several chickens and an escape artist goat.
5 random things about me:
I accidentally mooned a crowd at a Bolivian wedding.
I’ve been chased by a gang of baboons. And I mean gang. They were organised and vicious. All that was missing was their leather jackets and tattoos!
I wrote my first novel when I was 22. It was a cross between Star Wars, Monsters Inc. and Tinkerbelle. Funnily enough, no one wanted to publish it. Odd, that…
I was a portrait artist on the streets of Amsterdam for a time.
I worked night shift as a security guard at Stirling Castle in Scotland while I was in art college. The castle was on a terrorist hit-list back then. To defend it they gave me a flashlight, a two-way radio that only worked one-way and made me wear a polyester A-line skirt…
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So…I’m totally fangirling right now. *biting nails* I have the honor and privilege of hosting one of my very favorite authors, Janet Elizabeth Henderson. I discovered her through a Goodreads ad one rainy day in January 2014. The blurb for her book, Lingerie Wars, sounded like the story would be my cup of tea, so I took a risk and bought a copy. Once I started reading, it was hard to stop. But, you know, I had to work and eat….and shower, I suppose. In the span of two days, I finished the book and was hooked.
What was so great about it? (Besides everything, of course?) It made me laugh, like, every other page. Out loud. I hadn’t laughed that much (in a good way) while reading a book in a long, long time. And I had been rooting for the characters from the get-go. It was just hours and hours of awesome/love/funny/great characters packed into one book.
Click HERE to read my review of Lingerie Wars on Goodreads.
Does this talented lady have more books for me to read? I asked myself. I started Internet-stalking her and found her Goodreads Author Pageand perused all the other books she had written. I ended up purchasing ALL ofthem, reading them within a few days, and impatiently waiting for the followup to Lingerie Wars to come out. Do I believe in love at first sight? Yes, when it comes to books, yes. And I fell in love with Janet’s writing in Lingerie Wars and have continued the affair ever since.
In fact, Janet’s the one I can blame for my obsession of all things romance in literature. Sure, I liked the YA romance here and there—being that, hello, I AM a YA writer—but I had always scoffed at readers of romance. And now? Well…I’ve probably read about 100 romance novels THIS YEAR. *looking sheepish*
Now that you have the backstory, allow me to introduce to you Janet Elizabeth Henderson, romance writer extraordinaire. Enjoy the interview!
Tell us a bit about yourself—what’s your background and how did you become a writer?
Like most writers, I’ve done a bit of everything in my life—from working as a hospital cleaner to travelling the world, taking photos for a UK based charity. I studied fine art at college, then years later, when I couldn’t get employed as a sculptor (funny, that!), I did a postgrad in teaching. I taught at high school for a couple of years before going to work as a marketing manager for a charity.
In between all of this, I’ve been a portrait artist in Amsterdam, a volunteer worker in the shanty towns of Peru, a camp counsellor for Camp America, a cleaner of a drug addict’s drop-in center, and shoe sales person—amongst other things! I always wanted to be a writer but went to Art College because it seemed like a good idea at the time—seriously, teenagers should not be allowed to choose a career!
I wrote my first novel at 22. It was a kid’s book that was so bad it had the potential to become a cult classic. The story was a cross between Star Wars, Monsters Inc., and Lassie. It still shocks me that no one wanted to publish it! 😉 It took me a long time to find my own particular voice for writing and the genre I wanted to write in.
Before writing romance, I tried to write crime. All that happened was I gave myself nightmares! Once I read my first romance novel, I felt like I’d come home. I knew that all the stories in my head, the ones that had been rattling around for years, were romance stories. Once I understood this, everything fell into place, and writing was a lot easier for me.
What books have most influenced your life most?
The Bible, definitely. Though it might be an obvious choice, it’s not just influenced my life but how I think about writing. The story of Ruth is a fantastic romance—probably the first romance ever written!
Other books that have had an influence on my writing are The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath because it has amazing depth and great imagery, Judas Child by Carol O’Connell because she is a seriously good writer who writes slightly oddball characters, and Kresley Cole’s books because they are easy reads, which means they were super hard to write.
Kresley Cole manages to combine humor, pacing, great romance, and intricate plotting in all of her books. I’m rereading them now and am seriously envious of her skill. I also found Get That Novel Started by Donna Levin really helpful when I was starting out.
What is the genre in which you write?
Contemporary romance with humorous elements. I don’t mind calling it romantic comedy, but I’m worried that people think romantic comedy is full of silly humor, and I don’t want to be silly! 😀
What is the book you recently published? What is it all about?
Calamity Jena, Invertary Book 4, came out on the 16th of June. It’s part of a series that’s set in a fictitious small town in the Scottish Highlands. This one tells the story of Jena Morgan, who’s a famous Atlantic City go-go dancer looking for a new start in life. Jena is a really sweet character. She is totally accident prone, has an optimistic outlook on life, and makes decisions that no sane person would make! After she catches her cheating boyfriend in the act, Jena gets drunk and buys a house in Scotland—sight unseen. When she turns up, she discovers it’s a dump, but she doesn’t let that get her down; instead she works hard to learn DIY and fix the place up.
Meanwhile, her ex-boyfriend follows her to Scotland and is intent on winning her back. Seeing as he’s a wannabe member of the New Jersey mob, Jena ends up under the protection of Matt Donaldson, the town’s only cop. Matt is everything Jena isn’t. He’s sensible, slightly pessimistic, and a stickler for order. Jena’s chaotic life both fascinates and terrifies him. As he protects her from her ex, the attraction he feels towards her grows into love, and they end up helping each other to deal with the difficult things life throws at them.
Yes! Calamity Jena is book number seven. There are three more Invertary books, all stand-alones set in the same Highland town. There are also two connected books that tell the stories of best friends: Mad Love and Laura’s Big Break, and then there’s The Davina Code. The Davina Code has possibly the worst title and cover of any of book ever written! People don’t have a clue what to think about it. I have a real soft spot for Davina’s story though, she’s probably the character who’s most like me!
Name your favorite characters you’ve written into existence and explain why they’re your favorites.
My favorite is always the one I’m working on right now. Or the one I’ve just finished. I have a soft spot for Davina and Jena, who are quite similar. Of the boys, I love Grunt. I love that he’s a taciturn, behemoth of a man who is brought to his knees while dealing with Claire—their story is in Calamity Jena. Also, I enjoyed poking fun at the Alpha Hero stereotype while writing Grunt.
I also love Mitch. He’s Josh’s best friend in Goody Two Shoes, but I know what’s coming for him, and it takes a lot of effort not to cackle with glee when I think about it.
Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?
Not really. When something sticks in my writing, it usually means there’s a major problem with the story, or that the characters aren’t behaving ‘in character’. Your subconscious often picks up things your conscious misses. When this happens, I go back over everything, rewriting until it flows again. It’s hard work, frustrating and sometimes demoralizing, but at least it keeps going forward.
Do you write an outline before you write a book?
I don’t know…no…yes…kind of! Does that answer your question?! 🙂 I have two whiteboards in my office, and I map out the characters, themes, and story ideas on them. This is one of my Calamity Jena boards. As you can see, sometimes my kids help with the planning!
This was quite early in my process for Calamity Jena, and a lot of the ideas on the board didn’t make it to the book. There were other ones that cropped up while I was writing did. It’s a very fluid process. Basically, I try to really understand my characters, then I stick them in a situation and ask myself continually what they would do in that situation—and that’s where the story comes from.
What inspired you to write your first romance novel?
My youngest daughter was born with a severely clubbed foot and problems with her leg. From the day after she was born, she was in a full leg cast to try to stretch it into the correct position. This is one of the standard, non-invasive treatments for this condition. Unfortunately, it’s also uncomfortable and painful. She had her cast changed every couple of weeks for over two years. In that time, she never slept for more than 40 minutes at a time before she woke up crying in pain.
I spent those first few years awake all night, caring for her. There was no point trying to nap in the short space that she was asleep, so I read romance novels to pass the time. I read fast, so I ran out of books pretty quickly and thought why not write my own? So I did.
I wrote Mad Love in short bursts during the night while my daughter napped. I wanted to write something light-hearted, something with a happy ending, and something that didn’t have any angst in it at all. Basically, the kind of story that kept me going when things got hard.
How long did it take to finish your first romance novel?
It took about six weeks to write Mad Love. I should say that it took eight years to write the crime novel I wrote before Mad Love!
What were the challenges you faced when getting your first book published?
Lots! I tried the traditional route first. I had an agent for my crime fiction, and when I swapped to writing romance, she didn’t really know what to do with me, so I sent my book to Mills and Boon in London. They had it for two years.
In that time, they lost it three times and the editor changed several times. With each new editor, I started right back at the beginning in dealing with them. Meanwhile, my agent wasn’t helping, so we parted ways. I was just about to try lots of other agents and publishers when a writer friend suggested self-publishing. That’s what I did. And I love it!
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found that work best for your genre?
Argh! I hate marketing. Okay, I tend to promote my work in wee bursts. For Lingerie Wars, I tried NetGalley, press releases to newspapers, advance copies to bloggers—all the usual stuff. I didn’t advertise Goody Two Shoes or Magenta Mine at all—apart from on my Facebook page, running a Goodreads giveaway, and putting them in my newsletter. I have to say, Goody Two Shoes did just as well as Lingerie Wars sales-wise, maybe even better.
I haven’t found that mythical place that’s perfect for marketing my work. I’m not sure it exists. I find it helps to realize that there isn’t a lot of influence you can have over sales and reviews. The only thing you really control is your story. And that’s where your effort should go.
I find the best marketing you can do is to try to write the best book you can. Don’t cut any corners. Try to improve with each book you write. I think if you do that then the books sell themselves. Eventually, people will find you, someone will tell them about you, or the blurb will attract them. The best marketing you can ever have is word of mouth, and you only get that if you put in the work and write as best you can.
What does your writing process “look” like?
A big, chaotic mess!! As I said above, I use white boards to keep track of what I’m thinking. On one, I concentrate on characters, what their motivation is, what they want, what they’re going to get! I use the other board to keep track of plot ideas and timelines. I also have an excel spreadsheet to keep track of characters, otherwise their eye color and hair would change randomly throughout each story.
Usually, I get an idea for a book, or a set of characters start having a discussion in my head at night when I really want to sleep. From there, I write down the basic idea, let it ferment, then start working it out on my board. I like using boards as things change for me as I write, and this way, I can easily wipe off and start again. Also, I like sitting, staring at my boards for long periods of time, hoping that the story will write itself!
What projects are you currently working on?
Right now, I’m working on Bad Boy, Invertary book 5. It tells the story of Flynn Boyle who’s the bad boy of European soccer. When he’s injured, he returns home to Invertary, but has no idea what to do with himself. Flynn is the older brother of Harry from Magenta Mine, and the cousin of Matt, from Calamity Jena.
Flynn gets to fall in love with Abby, who we met in Calamity Jena. She’s a widow with a five-year-old daughter and some business problems. I haven’t quite worked out where the story is going yet, or I would tell you more. 🙂
I’ve also got another couple of books in the works that I can’t talk about yet because I’ve no idea what I’m doing! One is the start of a new contemporary romance series. The other is a paranormal romance.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
I get bad reviews now and then, like any writer, and they can be hard to stomach. I’ve also had a lot of feedback over the years from editors and agents—not all of it encouraging. The thing I realized a long time ago is that all criticism is just personal opinion. What one person likes, another will hate. You have to remember that when you get feedback.
I try hard to listen to people who really know their craft. They often see things others don’t because they have insight into the underlying structure of a novel. If someone who knows how to write tells me how to make my plot or pacing better, I jump on their advice. All criticism should go through a filter inside your head before you let it affect your work. You should ask yourself if it is in line with your aims, and if taking it on board will make you a better writer.
As for compliments, the greatest one I receive is when someone buys one of my books and goes on to buy another. That’s mind blowing! I find it hard to believe people want to read one of my books, let alone two or more!!
Also, years ago, an agent told me she thought relationships, dialogue, and humor were my strengths. I got a second opinion and found that more people I respected agreed with her. That helped me to hone my voice. It’s always a good idea to work to your strength while you improve your weaker areas.
What advice can you give to aspiring authors?
Write good books! Whatever your genre, or sub-set thereof, make sure you are writing the best book you can for it. Don’t ever stop working to improve your writing. Forget about marketing seminars and increasing your Facebook likes; instead, work on your craft. Make each story you write better than the last. Listen to your instinct. If something is telling you that a scene isn’t right, then it probably isn’t right.
Never wait for inspiration to strike; just wake up and get your bum in your chair, ready to write. That way, inspiration will know where to find you. Develop a very clear sense of what you’re trying to achieve. That will help you to cope with the overwhelming amount of well-meaning advice that will come your way.
Be generous with your knowledge and experience to other writers. Support others in the community in any way you can. Writing isn’t a competition. You don’t do yourself any favors by spending time comparing your work/success to others. Instead, concentrate on writing a good book and encouraging other writers.
Never take your readers for granted.
Most of all, write. You can only learn to write by writing. You can only improve your writing by writing. You can only find your voice by writing. You’re only a writer if you write! (Which means all the hours you spend on writer’s forums, and talking about writing on Facebook, don’t count!)
When can we expect to see another publication of your work?
Later this year. If all goes well, October or November. If it all goes to hell in a hand basket, who knows when…
What’s a cool (or nerdy) fact about you that you’ll share with us?
I’m not sure I would recognize cool if it smacked me in the face. But I can give you odd. Here are some odd facts about me:
I attract trouble wherever I go. I’ve been “detained” by authorities in Dubai, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Nepal, Uganda, and Scotland—all over misunderstandings or stupidities! I’ve been stranded in the desert and in the jungle after managing to miss my plane on both occasions. I’ve been trodden on, spat at or attacked by various animals—including monkeys, baboons, a donkey, a swan, a warthog, a camel, and a very angry highland cow.
I’ve just missed being blown up twice, once by the IRA in London and once by the Shining Path in Peru. I’ve been witness to crimes and testified three times. One of those times, the court date changed, and the police had to track me down. I was in Nepal, and the hotel thought I was wanted by Interpol! I was in a motorway crash in India when my motorized rickshaw ran into the rear end of an elephant. My driver was irate because the elephant was out at night without any lights…
I seriously believe you can learn everything you need to know about story telling from watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Die Hard! I can quote massive amounts of dialogue from both and would probably pass out from fan overload if I ever met Joss Whedon.
I’m slightly OCD, and take my own cutlery and glassware wherever I go. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t pass out if I have to drink out of a ceramic mug instead of a glass cup, but I don’t like it. I really don’t like it. It’s just wrong!
Janet’s bio (from her website): I’m a Scot, living in New Zealand and married to a Dutch man. I write contemporary romance with a humorous bent – this is mainly due to the fact I have an odd sense of humour and can’t keep it out of anything I do! If I wasn’t a writer, I’d like to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Indiana Jones. Unfortunately, both these roles have already been filled. Which may be a good thing as I have no fighting skills, wouldn’t know a precious relic if it hit me in the face and have an aversion to blood. When I’m not living in my head, I’m a mother to two kids, three pet sheep, one dog, three cats and an escape artist chicken.
Huge, huge, HUGE thanks to Janet for letting me host her on my blog! I learned lots more about her that I didn’t know before. I hope that you will give her books a try if you haven’t already. Learn more about Janet by visiting her: