I wrote my first book at four – details below. I was first paid for writing (an advertising slogan) when I was nine years old. I sold my first novel in 1979, when I was long past nine. In the interim years I have done advertising copy, magazine articles, commercial copy, industrial films, political speeches… I literally cannot remember a time when I wasn’t writing something.
2. How did you pick the genre you write in?
I tend to write in a genre that doesn’t bore me at the moment. I have been published in historical mystery, contemporary mystery, horror, historical romance, contemporary romance, gothic romance, Regency romance, children’s, non-fiction and scholarly non-fiction. So far.
3. Do you plot or do you write by the seat of your pants?
I use a system I call ‘the suspension bridge’. We all know what a suspension bridge looks like. With a story I know where it’s going to start and approximately where it’s going to end (though I may have to scoot that around a little bit if the ground of the story won’t support it). There are a couple of immovable plot points (the middle towers). Then it’s just a matter of stringing the webwork of the story between them. It’s a mere skeleton, but that gives my imagination freedom.
Other than that, I don’t outline. I hate outlining. I detest outlining. To me it is the antithesis of creativity. Once I took a very highly recommended course in outlining and did rather well in it, ending up with an extremely well-plotted adventure novel. A novel that unfortunately will never be written, because by the time I had the outline finished I was so incredibly bored with the story that I never wanted to see it again.
My desk, however, does bloom with a blizzard of sticky notes on the works in process. As I do tend to work on a minimum of three books at a time (I do bore easily) I have learned to color code and use one color for each book.
4. What drew you to the subject of EXERCISE IS MURDER?
I find I like writing mysteries. I used to have an antique shop (let’s be honest – it was really just old stuff instead of true antiques) and a dear friend lived in an exclusive condo like the Olympus House. Then I started wondering what if there were an older woman who was the ‘dark side’ of Miss Marple… Voila! A book.
5. What was the name of the first novel you wrote? Did you try to publish it?
I don’t think it had a title. I do remember it was about some children playing in the park and how they captured a lion escaped from the zoo and still made it home in time for dinner so their mothers wouldn’t worry. Not much of a storyline, I admit, but then I was only four years old and my critical faculties were still developing. I wrote the story, then carefully hand printed and illustrated about six or eight copies and then stitched the pages together with Mother’s sewing thread. (My first foray into self-publishing!) My father had told me the difference between glued, saddle-stitched and signature-sewn bindings, so I knew I wanted the best. I also learned that making up the stories was much more fun than printing/illustrating/binding them, so that’s when I decided to be a writer than a publisher. I think in my late mother’s papers there’s still a copy or two of that book – it was about 12 finished pages, as I recall, which to a four year old is quite a big book!
My first truly published novel was one of the old Dell Candlelight series called WHERE SHADOWS LINGER. It was a contemporary (for the time) semi-gothic/romantic suspense about a young widow who finds out that her Mexican husband’s legacy is a drug farm in a remote area of Mexico. Added in were a former lover, a couple of vengeful relatives-in-law, a drug war and a couple of murder attempts. As I have brought out a number of my backlist titles I’ve thought about self-publishing it, but it’s so dated it would take a lot of work to revise. Some things should just stay buried.
6. What do you know now that you are published that you didn’t know pre-published that you wish you knew?
I honestly don’t remember what I knew before I was published – I’ve been in the industry so long and everything has changed so much it wouldn’t be relevant anyway.
I do know that the term pre-published is one of my hot buttons. It is a nonsense term and should never be used except when applied to the time period between signing the contract and the appearance of the book. Not everyone who writes will ever be published. The only way ‘pre -‘ ever correctly applies to any group of people is that we’re all pre-dead. I love words and hate the egregious way they are used today – and ‘pre-published’ is a prime example of that, especially when it is applied to wanna-bes primarily as a ‘feel-good’ stroke. Can you tell I loathe that particular phrase?
7. How many rejections have you received?
Good grief, I can’t count that high! At one time I had a file of rejection letters that was about three inches thick. I threw it away during a move some 15-20 years ago, but have had probably that many or more since. Nowadays, though, there is a terrible trend among agents and editors both not to reject, just to say ‘we’ll contact you if we’re interested.’ That is most unmannerly and poor business practice in my opinion.
8. What was the best writing advice someone gave you?
Never give up – never stop writing. Never stop learning. Get it right! Learn to spell and how to use apostrophes correctly. (Misused apostrophes will make a book a wallbanger for me.)
9. What was the worst? Did you know it at the time?
Anything that begins with ‘Nobody’ or ‘Everyone’ or ‘Never’. Yes, I did, and still do. I have never been big on absolutes, especially in a field as idiocyncratic and subjective as writing.
10. If you could ask your readers one question, what would it be?
Why don’t you buy more of my books? I could use the money.
Janis Susan May Patterson is a 7th-generation Texan and a 3rd-generation wordsmith who writes in mystery, romance, and horror. Once an actress and a singer 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’ husband even proposed in a moonlit garden near the Pyramids of Giza. Janis and her husband live in Texas with an assortment of rescued furbabies.
Invalided out of the police, Rebecca Cloudwebb has become an antique dealer. While delivering some earrings, Rebecca witnesses the brutal murder of Laura Tyler, a harmless widow.
Almost everyone connected with the murder has multiple reasons to kill everyone else connected with the murder, but no one had any motive to poison Laura Tyler. A mad mix of politics, big money, extra-marital affairs, blackmail, strong personalities, gambling and assorted secrets, the mystery proves almost impossible to solve, but solve it Rebecca does, and in the process learns something about her own problems since the shooting that crippled her.