Janice Kay Johnson
Janice Kay Johnson
I’m glad you came for a visit! In launching a website, I’ve finally decided to join the, er, twenty-first century (almost slipped and said twentieth, which tells you something about how forward-thinking I am technologically).
I’m one of those people probably destined from birth to become a writer. I was carrying home huge piles of books from the library by the time I was eight years old or so. For as long as I can remember, I put myself to sleep at night by making up stories. I’ve since discovered that’s a pretty common characteristic of writers.
I started my first real novel right after graduating from Whitman College with a degree in history. I was trapped in a terminally boring job for a year, and took to sneaking peeks around and, when no one was paying attention, whisking out my lined notepad to add a few paragraphs. I regret to say, that first novel (a historical, no surprise given my newly minted degree) only made it to page 75 or so. I had an awful lot to learn.
So, here’s the weird part of my evolution into a writer. My mother (who always carried home huge piles of books from the library too) had started writing on her own. I was in Washington State, she was in the Bay Area in California. She wrote a couple of romantic suspense books that never sold. My then-husband and I were living in my parents’ summer cabin here on Puget Sound when Mom and Dad showed up to join us for the summer. We kept the cabin, they got the back of their VW camper. Mom and I decided that we’d write a contemporary romance novel together that summer. A Harlequin Romance. Nothing to it, we were confident. Like many beginners, we wrote it, sent it off to Harlequin…and received a form rejection in return. Unlike many of those other beginners, though, we sent it off to another publisher. And another. And another. When editors made comments, we rewrote. The 11th publisher, NAL, bought that book, and three more. Those were the only books we wrote together – as our styles diverged, it got harder, although we continued to critique each other’s work. But yes, mom and daughter actually wrote four romance novels together.
On with the life story. I went to grad school and got a master’s degree in library science, after which I became a public librarian. I had the thrill of setting up my own, brand-new branch library. I got to spend tens of thousands of dollars on books. New books. The memory gives me goose bumps even now. The downside of my otherwise wonderful job was an awful commute, which included a ferry ride (and long waits in line for the ferry, especially in the summer when tourists intruded). So I wrote. After the books with Mom, I decided to try a young adult novel. I sold it right away to the same publisher, NAL. I ended up doing six young adult novels, which I really loved. My memories of that tumultuous time in my life were still vivid.
Then came my first sale to Harlequin, a Temptation. Two books to Silhouette Intimate Moments. Four to Kismet Romance (remember them?). Oh, and a regency romance, probably the most fun I’ve ever had writing a book. Eventually I felt compelled to use that history degree, and wrote two books I still love, Winter of the Raven and The Island Snatchers, both published first in hardcover and then paperback by Forge Books and now available as ebooks. I’d probably still be writing books like them if, well, they’d made more money. What I discovered is that they took a lo-ong time to research and write. Something like a year each. And they didn’t make a year’s worth of income.
I did something else interesting in there, too. I wrote my only and only children’s picture book, partly inspired by my degree in history, partly by a new passion for growing antique roses. When you’re reading endless piles of children’s picture books to your own kids, taking a stab at writing one is probably inevitable. Rosamund was published by Simon & Schuster.
Back to romance, and the luck of selling to Harlequin Superromance, my home ever since. I discovered I could write a romantic suspense followed by an emotional story involving family roots and redemption. I could tackle really difficult subjects without ever once having an editor say, You can’t do that, Janice. Yes, the books had to be love stories, but otherwise I was astonishingly free to create the kind of books I wanted to write.
I feel great pride in having eight of my Superromance novels to date final for a Romance Writers of America RITA award. The judges are my fellow writers, so having them say, “Loved that book!” is the greatest compliment I can think of. Snowbound won the 2008 RITA for Best Contemporary Series Romance. That was a pretty cool experience.
I’m now up to over 80 books, and I never seem to run out of ideas. The most interesting thing about looking back is that I’ve discovered there are themes I’m compelled to return to over and over. Post-traumatic stress, in many forms (no subtlety there – my father was a World War II veteran who undoubtedly suffered from severe PTSD, undiagnosed, of course). I write about family – the significance of our relations with parents and children. I write about how we never leave our childhoods behind. I write about real people, flawed and yet capable of growth, of healing and achieving redemption. I try to set those people down in those most character-testing circumstances I can and see what happens. And I love every minute of it!
Welcome, and I hope you’ll give some of my books a chance.