Author Interview: Janet Gershen-Siegel
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Oh gosh I’m not sure. I think I must have been interested as a child but didn’t really realize it was a viable option until my twenties.
Do you write in a particular genre or do you like to bounce around to different ones? Is this / Are these the genre(s) that you also like to read?
I love science fiction because it can be all-encompassing. Romance, horror, mystery, etc. can all fit within it.
Do you have a favorite genre to write?
Do you have a favorite genre to read?
What books have most influenced your life?
I like a weird mix; Jane Eyre, The Metamorphosis, I like a good story.
What author has most influenced your life?
Probably Franz Kafka.
Do you have a favorite book or series from another author?
I have read way too much nonfiction and school works in the past few years – fiction reads went down as I needed to study. I love Bradbury and Asimov, works like that.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Walk, read, do the social media dance.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
When I was five years old, I wrote little books within old address and calendar books. They were mostly illustrations of dogs going on adventures. I suppose I was a graphic novelist to start.
What is your writing process?
I am generally a plotter. I like to have a plan in place but I do veer off it. I write down ideas as they come to me and organize them. I eject what does not work or suddenly becomes impossible (e.g. if I am writing something historical and it turns out my plot point didn’t exist yet).
Do you have a writing routine?
Think, outline, think some more. I am at home and study and work here, and I’m by myself during the day so I can try out dialogue if I want to and no one but the dust bunnies thinks I’m insane.
How long does it take you to write a book?
Last year’s NaNo novel was finished in late December although I was past 50k words by November 30th. This year’s is being outlined now, and has been for a few months. Does the outlining part count? This one will probably also be written from November 1 to maybe December 20 but the outlining and planning are going on for months before. The time gets longer as I have school work or just need a break.
Where do you get your ideas or inspiration for your books?
Everywhere. I also write fan fiction and got the idea for a character’s surname by seeing a Toyota Yaris on one walk. I changed the last name to Yarin and the guy was supposed to be Eastern European. It turns out yarin is a perfect word – in Hebrew it means ‘to understand’; in Turkish, it means ‘tomorrow’. This was a time travel story so it was just the best serendipity. This year’s NaNo comes from a nagging idea I had that there seem to be few stories that take place in New England in the Reconstruction Era unless they were written during that time period, such as Little Women.
What does your family think of your writing?
My parents have come around to it. I think the first book felt very weird to them because it is LGBT and there is a fairly explicit alien sex scene. But they have listened to me reading other works or parts of them and they like those better. I know I am improving plus a lot of these are less alien and are therefore more relatable. My husband is my beta listener rather than reader; I read my work aloud to him and that helps tremendously in terms of flow.
Do you have any suggestions to help others become a better writer?
Read and write. I know everybody says to do that. But also have experiences. Go out and listen to people, and watch them. Bring a phone or a pen and paper and write notes to yourself or emails and record bits of real dialogue or describe people. Think about where they are going or who they might be, how educated they are, etc. Flip that, too – maybe the heavily tattooed girl is going to a wealthy part of your city where she teaches kindergarten.
What is the most surprising thing you have heard from your fans?
When Untrustworthy was compared to 1984, I about fainted.
What's next for you/What are you working on now?
This year’s NaNo novel is probably going to be called The Hub of the Universe. It’s a science fiction novel taking place in 1870s – 1890s Boston. It may become a trilogy; I’m not sure.
What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?
I have way too many ways to be contacted, it seems! Here’s one: https://www.facebook.com/JRGershenSiegel/
Tell us about your journey in becoming self-published/Did you always want to go that route?
I have been both traditionally and self-published. The self-pubbing was for a few anthologies. I am of two minds about it. Truth is, traditional publishing these days offers few of the marketing perks it used to. Best thing about traditional is access to pro editors and cover artists, although many of the self-pubbed works I have seen lately have comparable quality. I don’t do this to get rich. I do it because I love it.
Is there anything you'd love to share with us about yourself?
I really love this journey.
What would you say is your favorite thing about becoming an author?
It’s kind of an interesting shorthand thing to say when I meet people. What do you do? Oh, I’m a published author.
What has been your toughest criticism given to you as an author? best compliment? How did you handle both?
I have issues with being detached from some characters, and that can be a help or a hindrance. For the traditionally published work, it was better that I was, as they were aliens and it was more of a fable. For work I have done more recently, I have sometimes had to inject more heart into the characters, and find ways to make them more living and breathing for readers.
Are any of your characters based on real people from your life?
Last year’s NaNo was loaded with people I know. It was a spaceship full of people I went to high school with, or I podcast with.
Is there a particular author that helped influence you into become an author?
I think Bradbury. His writing about writing is also very helpful.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing?
It can be hard sometimes to get the story in my head into someone else’s. Or one area will be richly detailed (say, characters), and then another area (world-building) suffers. I try to get works out with an eye toward not necessarily deadlines but to try to be productive and I suspect some works could use more editing pass-throughs by me.
What is the most fun part of writing?
Making people! I am very big on making strong female characters in particular. Peri Martin, Marnie Shapiro, and Ixalla are not shrinking violets. This year, Ceilidh O’Malley won’t be, either.
Can you tell us 5 random things about yourself?
In 1984, I was in law school in Wilmington, Delaware, and I worked on the Biden Senate campaign. At the victory party, he kissed all of the female volunteers on the cheek. So I have been kissed by our Vice President.
I have three post-high school degrees: a BA in Philosophy, a JD, and now an MS in Interactive Media, which is a social media degree. I will be finished with the Master’s in the summer of 2016.
I first saw a personal computer in probably 1970, a friend of my father’s worked for the NIH. I was eight years old and hooked.
I am massively geeky and have used my expertise in the law and Star Trek to podcast about the law and fandom. My friend and I are getting our own spin off show because so many people are interested in this stuff. I had no idea. And now I am a minor celebrity; people seem to know who the Trek lawyer is.
Because I have a wicked Long Island accent which comes out when I am passionate about things, I sound like Fran Drescher with a law degree on the podcast. But I also swear a blue streak.
Is there anything you'd like to say to your fans/readers?
Hi! Thank you for reading and for your kind support. I hope to give you more of what you like!
Favorite Food: Pie!
Favorite Color: blue
Favorite Animal: dogs!
Favorite Book: I’ll go with To Kill a Mockingbird today.
Favorite Movie: I’ll go with Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Favorite Drink: Guinness
Author: JR Gershen-Siegel
Page count: 208
Genre: LGBT Science Fiction/dystopia
Janet Gershen-Siegel is a freelance science fiction author and blogger for Adventures in Career Changing, which focuses on social media marketing. Her latest fiction project is a near-future detective trilogy, The Obolonk Murders. She works in social media, and lives in Boston with her husband and more computers than they need. You can visit her at http://janetgershen-siegel.com
Winner of the first Annual Riverdale Avenue NaNoWriMo contest, JR Gershen-Siegel’s first published novel Untrustworthy is a ground-breaking science fiction novel of Dystopian politics in an oddly familiar alien culture that pits gender “norm” against gender-bend in an age-old battle. “Untrustworthy is old-school political dystopia in the vein of Brave New World: brilliant, gripping, frightening. JR Gershen-Siegel tackles gender politics and gender oppression with an unflinching eye. Untrustworthy is panned NaNoWriMo gold.” Cecilia Tan, Publisher of Circlet Press, award-winning author of The Struck by Lightning series Tathrelle is the only liberal in the Cabossian government. She represents the will of the people and is responsible for communicating with them about how the war with the Cavirii is going. She has a pregnant wife, and all seems well. The future seems promising, until she meets her new assistant. Something is off with the man. When Tathrelle wakes up the morning after she first met him, she notices that subtle changes seem to have taken place overnight. She shrugs them off. But it happens again and again. Someone, somehow, is changing everything she knows, as Tathrelle begins to wonder if her memories are faulty or if her mind is going. Can she trust the face she sees in the mirror? Is Caboss winning the war or losing it? Why is she suddenly the one who is pregnant? Only her dreams provide a clue, a small vestige of what came before. Trust your dreams, not your memory.
How long did it take to write the book?
Untrustworthy is a real-life NaNo novel; it took me a month, with another two weeks or so for editing.
What inspired you to write the book?
A dream which sort of combined with an idea about an alien Kristallnacht.
Did you do any research, and if so, what did that involve?
None for this one. For the current WIP, I look up all sorts of weird things, like whether liquid soap existed in 1876 (it did, but steel wool did not).
What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?
I hope they appreciate freedom as much as they did before, or even more. The characters start off not knowing it; it is not a part of their common experiences.
Where can we go to buy your book?
Amazon or B & N or on the Riverdale Avenue Books website.
Any other links or info you'd like to share? This is my summer class project, which is to help independent (no agent yet) authors! I appreciate all support and will answer questions as I can: http://lonely-writer.com/
Excerpt from book:
Once Ixalla was ready, Tathrelle cornered her. “Before we leave for work, I just want to tell you, I’m sorry. I guess I sort of shut down last night. I know you were in pain and I wasn’t too terribly supportive.” There was a wall covering in the main part of their chamber, something that Tathrelle hadn’t noticed before. She stared at it for a second and then shook her head. Outside, a disembodied voice announced from a hidden speaker, “It is time to travel to all daytime places of employment. Transportation sleighs are available and ready. Citizens are encouraged to thank the sleigh drivers at the end of a successful transport. The government recommends haste, and requests that all pregnant persons be given preference for seating in their designated areas.” A little distracted, Ixalla just asked, “Pain?”
Do you have a Favorite Quote from the book or series?
There was nothing easy about it.
What is in store next for you?
I love to write and am always considering what would be a good story or would make a good character or scene. Ray Bradbury says to keep a jar full of writing ideas and I subscribe to that notion. My current idea is for a science fiction story to take place during 1870s – 1890s Boston. The story gets larger as I consider it, and is becoming more global in scope. I hope I can pull it off!
What was the inspiration for your book?
Directly, it was a dream, but I also wanted to tell a Holocaust-type story.
How much of yourself is reflected in this book (for example, professional expertise, personality, or other), and how?
Every character is me, but that’s always been the way I have written. Tathrelle starts off kind of sassy but she gets passive really quickly. Ixalla begins as very feminine and subordinate; the character surprised me when she became a revolutionary. Once I understood Adger’s motivations, he made more sense to me.
Tell us about your cover - why you chose that concept and who the artist is.
The artist is named Scott Carpenter. The cover was a group effort of him, me, and publisher/editor Lori Perkins. My initial input was that the aliens look so non-human that the only way they could be captured would be either a drawing or Photoshop and I wanted neither. We decided on the building because most of the action occurs in there, and the marring of the glass front is an indication of the turmoil beneath. The building was originally blue, and then I told Scott the aliens bleed teal and breathe salicylic acid, which is wintergreen oil. Plus the moon is very large and close, that’s another factor in the story. Put these together and we get a steeply angled and kind of sickly green ruined building with an enormous moon looming nearby. It felt familiar yet alien, and also timeless. I want the reader to imagine the Cabossians as I feel that’s more effective.
Why should we read this book (or series) and what sets you apart from the rest? / What makes your book/series unique?
Untrustworthy is very much a standalone story. One of the greater compliments I got was from a beta reader who had grown up in Romania when it was still a Soviet bloc country. She said the story felt queasily reminiscent of that time. The science fiction, alien, and LGBT trappings are a part of the story, but the real story line is of how an oppressed society consumes itself.
Who would you recommend this book to and what should readers be aware of (any warnings or disclaimers)?
There is an explicit alien sex scene, and they do not do it like we do. There is some violence. The story is a tragedy in the classical sense.
If you could turn this book/series into a movie, who would be your dream cast? Dream director? They can be dead, alive or fictional!
It would have to be animated as I feel prosthetics would not work. Hence it is a lot more about voice than anything else. I like the idea of someone like Miranda Otto from LOTR for Tathrelle. I really like Tucker Smallwood for Velexio as I feel he can do a menacing voice as easily as you and I breathe. After that, it’s fuzzy.
How did you come up with the title?
That one was a bit of luck. The tagline, ‘Trust your dreams, not your memory’ came to me first, and then the title was a natural offshoot of that. As a dystopian story, it made sense to make the title an uneasy, negative word.
How did you pick characters’ names?
Mainly they were sounds I liked together but which sounded convincingly alien. Plus the suffixes give a fairly easy impression of gender. I didn’t want a reader to be constantly flipping back and forth in the book to try to remember if Adger is male or female (spoiler alert: Adger is male).
Who is your favorite character? Why?
I had originally thought it would be Tathrelle, as she was supposed to be the heroine and the main character of the piece. But Ixalla really grew on me. I am finding that is fairly typical in what I write; the character who I feel will be the main one gets overshadowed by a supporting character and that supporting character gains strength as I write. I love Ixalla because she changes from a somewhat subordinate wife and teacher to an angry, drunken revolutionary. At the same time, she gets a rather unexpected chance to become a mother figure, and I feel she is a better one than she would have been if the events in the book had never happened.
What was the hardest part about writing this book?
Ending it! Part of that was due to NaNoWriMo; I had an ending in mind and I was short of words. Then I retooled it and also added more world-building in earlier chapters and that helped to fix the length issue. But it scrapingly makes it; I believe there are fewer than 60,000 words in the piece. It’s a slim volume.
Do you have a favorite line or two you’d like to share with everyone?
Ixalla took a transportation sleigh to work. It skittered along a set line of tracks, depositing her a short distance from the school. A few of the older children were still outside. She said to them, “Come, Student Number Five, Student Number Eleven, Student Number, uh, Three, and Student Number Fourteen! We’ll all be late for Tenth Form!” Obediently, they filed in behind her, although she thought she heard Student Number Five mutter something under her breath. A disembodied voice piped from an outside speaker announced that the school day was beginning and that the government recommended that all pupils study hard and to the best of their individual abilities.
Janet's other works can be found by searching their ISBNs:
QSF Discovery: B0103SP4X6
Longest Night Watch: B016LI20WA
Stardust Always: 1533559740
Thank you for stopping by! Check out Janet's books and sites, but don't forget to come back here for more author interviews.