Back to My Roots, Yet Again
by Janis Susan May
Very true. I think when he wrote it he said “a blank piece of paper” instead of “screen” but the truth of the statement holds no matter what technology is in force. Sometimes when you’re writing it does feel like you’re pulling little bits of your lifeforce out, drop by drop. And it ain’t easy.
I’m romance and horror writer Janis Susan May, who also writes cozy mysteries as Janis Patterson, children’s as Janis Susan Patterson and non-fiction/scholarly as J.S.M. Patterson. Today I’m talking as Janis Susan May, which was my maiden name. I grew up in a multigenerational newspaper/advertising/writing family, so I really didn’t have a sparrow’s chance of being anything else but a wordsmith of some sort. Advertising was boring and newspapering seemed to be a lot of hard work, so I decided early on that I would be a writer of fiction. It seemed a natural fit, because didn’t I make up stories all the time? I still do – only difference is that now I get paid instead of punished. It’s really much better!
My first novel sold many years ago, back when the dinosaurs first browsed outside the cave. I’m not kidding – that first novel and several after it were written on a manual portable Smith-Corona typewriter that used to be my father’s when he was a young man! Anyway, I wondered about using a pen name and thought up some lovely – and very improbable – monikers.
Then I asked my dad’s opinion. A top-drawer advertising agent, Daddy had always wanted to write fiction, but his life had been consumed by the necessity of making a good living. He had a wife and a family, and supporting us was his main goal. By the time I actually got around to selling a book he was in very poor health and – after multiple strokes – handicapped in reading and speaking. I remember the afternoon I sat with him, talking about pen names, and he said with a very sad expression, “I wanted to write books. I always wanted to see my name on a book.”
Well, that decided me and I used my birth name instead of a pen name. He didn’t live long enough to see an actual copy of my first book – WHERE SHADOWS LINGER by Janis Susan May – I am so grateful that he did see the galleys (it was long enough ago that they actually used paper galleys) with the name May on it, and the dedication to him and my mother.
I love the old Gothic romances – Mary Stewart, Virginia Coffman, Victoria Holt, Phyllis A. Whitney, and a host of others whose names have unjustly faded with time. One of the happiest moments of my life was when an especially perspicacious reviewer called me ‘the logical successor to Phyllis A. Whitney!’
I’ve always needed some mystery with my romance. A creepy old house, two or three men, one of whom you know is the heartless villain, assorted mysterious happenings, maybe a ghost or two just to keep things lively… wonderful!
And no sex. Lots of yearning, lots of tension, but nothing lubricious. There are very few things I find more boring than sex on a page. He does this. She does that. Ho-hum. I realize that puts me into a very small minority, as popular wisdom has it you can’t sell a book without lots and lots of graphic sex scenes. Might be the reason I’m not selling as well as I would like, but I can think of a gazillion things I’d rather be doing than writing or reading about sexual acts. There are some things that should just be done instead of discussed!
That said, I wrote an erotic novella once, using a name that only my publisher and God will ever be able to connect with me. It was an exercise just to prove that I could do it, and it was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had. I had to force myself to go to the computer. Writing each word was almost as bad as forcing a drop of blood from my forehead. I found myself fantasizing a stylish murder mystery even as I was writing passionate and gymnastic sex, and was basically bored to tears. Yes, I finished and sold the book, and it has done rather well, but it is an experience I’ll not repeat. I’ll work retail (my own personal vision of hell) first.
For those of you who like the genre, joy go with you and I wish you well. I just won’t join you.
After a ten-year hiatus from writing due to family difficulties, I finally went back to writing at The Husband’s insistence. My love of Gothic surfaced almost immediately, and I penned two books set in the 1960s, both with a definite Gothic feel – DARK MUSIC (set at a romance writers’ conference in a snowbound hotel) and ECHOES IN THE DARK (set on an archaeological dig in an abandoned Victorian mountain spa.) Both are currently available from Vinspire. I switched to cozy mysteries and horror for a while, then Carina Press allowed me to go back to my first love by publishing INHERITANCE OF SHADOWS (where a young woman must decide if the otherworldly creatures created by the author-father she never met are really fictitious or not.)
At the moment I’m in the process of re-releasing some of my earlier Gothics and Regencies. THE AVENGING MAID, a traditional Regency, is currently available as an ebook and THE DEVIL OF DRAGON HOUSE, an old-style Gothic, will be released as an ebook soon.
Every so often the pundits proclaim that “Gothics are back!” Well, it hasn’t happened yet – at least, not to my satisfaction. I do keep hoping, though.
So I will do my bit to aid the cause – I’m doing a giveaway of the lucky winner’s choice of either DARK MUSIC or an ARC of ECHOES IN THE DARK (both paper copies). Good luck!
Janis Susan May is a seventh-generation Texan and a third-generation wordsmith who writes mysteries as Janis Patterson, romances and other things as Janis Susan May, children’s books as Janis Susan Patterson and scholarly works as J.S.M. Patterson.
Formerly an actress and singer, a talent agent and Supervisor of Accessioning for a bio-genetic DNA testing lab, Janis has also been editor-in-chief of two multi-magazine publishing groups as well as many other things, including an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist.
Janis married for the first time when most of her contemporaries were becoming grandmothers. Her husband, also an Egyptophile, even proposed in a moonlit garden near the Pyramids of Giza. Janis and her husband live in Texas with an assortment of rescued furbabies.