Oprah: Nice to talk to you after so many years. I have to tell you, I've been anxiously waiting for a new novel.
Janet: Yeah, it's about time. Lots of life intervened, and it took a while to get this book up on its feet.
Oprah: Did your becoming a writer start with a love of reading?
Janet: Yes. My father was an engineer—he wasn't literary, not a writer or a journalist, but he was one of the world's great readers. Every two weeks, he'd take me to our local branch library and pull books off the shelf for me, stacking them up in my arms—"Have you read this? And this? And this?" He taught me to always take out the maximum number of books—I think it was 12—so in case there were books I didn't like, I'd always have something else to read. If I became a reader and then a writer, I can say that it was because of his love of books and his sharing that love. When you're a little kid, you are small, your life is small—and you're terrifically aware of that. But when you read, you can ride Arabian horses across the desert, you can be a dogsledder.
Oprah: Didn't you write your first story when you were 9?
Janet: I did. The story combined my favorite authors: Marguerite Henry, who wrote horse stories, and Edgar Allan Poe. My story was called "Diamond: Horse of Mystery." I wanted so badly for my teachers to like me, and none of them did. Not until years later did I understand my problem.
Oprah: Which was what?
Janet: I needed a lot of attention. I was in a public school, in a class of 40 students. I thought I could get the teacher's attention by showing her the story, but all she did was take a red pen and mark all over it, correcting the spelling, grammar, and punctuation. She didn't say a thing about the story itself. I didn't write again until I was 21.
Oprah: I think of writers as rock stars. There's something divine about being able to use the written word to communicate in a way that's translatable through the ages. You've said that while you could always tell stories, you had to learn the craft of writing.
Janet: Yes. I kept sending out stories and getting rejected. I once sent a story to the Santa Monica Review. In his rejection letter, the editor wrote: "Good enough story—but what's unique about your sentences?" I had not taken writing classes. As an undergraduate, I had not studied literature—I was a history major. So I was on my own, and I could not figure out what this editor was talking about. I had to work on word choices, the music of language. I hadn't realized that writing would be so hard.
We Hear You!