Last Monday, Evergreen Junior High was lucky to have author Janet Lee Carey stop by for a visit. Ms. Carey talked with a group of 90 7th and 8th grade students about the "writing life." Her presentation was interesting, engaging, and informative. I think that students and teachers alike walked away with gems of knowledge for future reference...I know that I sure did! In fact, I'm already composing a "Wisdom from Janet" blog post for another day.
I am quite proud of the great questions our students asked. One girl asked, "How do you start your stories? For example, when I start mine, I think about the characters first..." WOW! The following interview is one that I had prepared ahead of time, but our students actually asked most of the questions without my guidance.
Mrs.Y: Thank you so much for being here today! Tell us about your latest book! (Which has a great cover, by the way).
Ms. Carey: My newest book is called The Dragons of Noor.
Miles, Hanna, and Taunier join with the dragons to save the last ancient forest of Noor. If they fail, they will never find the children stolen by the wind. This second book based in Noor is the sequel to my YA fantasy The Beast of Noor.
Mrs. Y: What were you like as a young reader?
Ms. Carey: I read all the time and accumulated a lot of library fines! I had a ‘reading tree’ just down the block. I loved hauling my book up to the high branches and losing myself inside the story. I’m eternally grateful to my school librarian who knew my reading tastes and recommended I read The Hobbit when I was in sixth grade.
Mrs Y: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
Ms. Carey: Books greatly influenced my childhood. I couldn’t get enough of them. I longed to be inside the books I loved. One of the best ways to do that was to start writing my own stories. I kept a journal filled with poems, songs, and dreams, so I was writing constantly from junior high school on, but I didn’t write an entire novel until I was twenty-seven.
Mrs. Y: How long did it take you to write your first book (from start to publication)? How long does it typically take you to write a book?
Ms. Carey: My first published book took about a year to write. That included many drafts and chapter revisions. It took another nine months working with my editor at Simon & Schuster before the manuscript was ready for publication.
That said, every book is different. I write longer novels now (usually about three hundred pages or more). I’ve gotten faster since my first book. My fastest turnaround was for my 2009 book Stealing Death for Egmont USA. The first draft was written in three months and it was revised in another three. I was writing at top speed and I did little else when I was working on that book. I was glued to my writing desk and my husband had to take over in the kitchen cooking all the meals. The Dragons of Noor was written and revised at a more realistic pace.
Mrs. Y: What does your work schedule look like when you are writing?
Ms. Carey: Like most people out there I work nine to five. I show up at my writing desk with a cup of hot tea first thing in the morning, write until about 1 pm when I take a lunch break and sometimes a brisk walk. Then I go back to my desk and work again until 5 or 5:30. I love writing and it’s lovely to be able to work at home. My office is just upstairs.
Mrs. Y: Where do you get your ideas?
Ms. Carey: Some ideas come from memories and life experience. Others come from stories I’ve read or daydreams. The story idea for The Dragons of Noor came in two parts.
I support Nature Conservancy. As I was coming up with ideas for the fantasy book, I was upset to learn about the state of the Earth’s endangered rain forests. I grew up in the redwood trees of California, so trees are very important to me. A vision of falling trees haunted me, so I knew I had to write about it. The other idea (of a wind stealing children) came as a daydream. A verse about it emerged as I began to write the first draft:
Children fly when worlds are shaken,
Now the children are Wind-taken.
Seek them there, seek them here, before the children disappear.
As I started writing the story, I knew the loss of the ancient trees and the wind-stolen children were connected somehow, but I didn’t discover the internal story map right away. I had to write the entire book to understand the connection.
Since the novel has so much to do with the importance of trees, I’m donating 10% of my school visit money to The Nature Conservancy’s Plant A Billion Trees. Readers can also donate. They can find out more about it on my website, in my “Giving Back” pages.
Mrs. Y: You have written realistic fiction, historical fiction, and fantasy. That seems like an interesting mix of genres for an author. Is it easier to write one genre over the other? Do you prefer one over the other?
Ms. Carey: The story idea dictates the form. Some stories fit contemporary settings; others require an historical setting or a fantasy world. I have three separate fantasy worlds going just now. Noor for The Beast of Noor and The Dragons of Noor, Wilde Island for Dragon’s Keep and the sequel Tess of Dragonswood due out spring 2010, and Zolya for Stealing Death.
As a writer it’s my job to follow the story’s lead. I’m currently writing lots of YA fantasy, but if another contemporary realistic fiction story comes to mind, I’ll go with it.
Mrs. Y: Who are some of your favorite authors? A few books that you think nobody should miss?
Ms. Carey: I have so many favorites, but I highly recommend Ursula K. LeGuin for her beautiful Earthsea series beginning with The Wizard of Earthsea, and for her Annals of the Western Shore books: Gifts, Voices, and Powers. I also love Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia books, beginning with The Thief, Laini Taylor’s Lips Touch Three Times, Justina Chen Headley’s North of Beautiful, Holly Cupala’s Tell Me A Secret, Lorie Ann Grover’s On Pointe, and Dia Calhoun’s books including Aria of the Sea to name just a few.
Ms. Carey: Reading, walking in the woods, rock climbing, and swimming. I’ll be flying to Maui soon. I can’t wait to snorkel in the warm Hawaiian sea again!
Mrs. Y: What is your advice for students that want to become writers?
Ms. Carey: Read. Read. Read. Keep a journal. Write poems, ideas, and dreams down in your journal. Make friends with other people who love to read and write. If you gather a few like-minded people together you can start your own writing group.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
We had a great time with Ms. Carey and our actual author visit photos will appear on the EJH Library website soon! If you want to have as much fun as we did, contact Janet for an author visit at your school/library. I highly recommend the experience! And I wanted to say how wonderful that she recommended one of my favorite books, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner...YEAH!
What's my favorite Janet Lee Carey title? Definitely Wenny Has Wings. What about you?