An Interview with Author Janie Bill
I’m excited today to be interviewing author Janie Bill.
She’s a writer of fiction laced with fantasy, has served as Conference Director of the Florida Writer’s Association and also created the blog “Feeling Fiction.” I first met Janie over two years ago on the HarperCollins website Authonomy and eventually read the entire novel she had published there called Spirit Prisoners.
One of the reasons I was drawn to it was that it was set in Florida, a state I’ve been able to visit several times. It’s an amazing place that keeps pulling me back.
Jeff: So Janie, what was it that attracted you to
Florida and what about the state appeals to you the most?
Janie: I wanted to move to a tropical climate for several reasons. 1) My joints ache in cold
weather. 2) I love meeting new people. 3) I prefer summer outfits. Less is more, so the saying has been proved true. I arranged to interview in Hawaii, the Virgin Islands, New Mexico, California, Arizona and the Carolinas. While visiting the destinations, I met intriguing people who inspired some of the characters in my novels, but none of the places had everything I envisioned. I realized my imaginary place where life was fabulous evolved from my traveling with my family to Florida. Being close to the wild and woolly ocean and within a few feet from modern conveniences appealed to me.
Once I settled into the Florida life and met amazing people who were open-minded and creative, I knew it was the perfect place for me. It’s as if the ground emits vibrations the same way heat visibly rises from a hot pavement. Those comforting vibes give me the sense of having energy pumped into my system. The lush vegetation and exotic wildlife makes me feel connected to nature. The atmosphere possesses a new age thinking based on traditional religious principles. Uniquely intelligent individuals with centered ideals gravitate to the state, all ready for an adventure like I am.
Jeff: You’ve written some great columns about writing, some wonderful travel blogs from a number of places around the world, and some fascinating fantasy in Lochness, Evangabella, and Under a Full Moon, moving back and forth between these different genres with apparent ease. Are you drawn to any one of these more than the others?
Janie: Traveling, learning about other cultures and seeing how they live, provides a great deal of inspiration for my stories. I don’t specifically write fantasy, but in my quest to answer difficult questions about the many layers of life that are not visible to the naked eye, it is the genre that describes what the reader can expect. My goal is to explore the reality of what forces influence our lives in addition to our choices and actions.
Two common themes in my novels are water and man’s quest for peace. In Lochness, a boy travels though the underwater world where souls exist between life and death. In Evangabella, a teenager searches for mystical waters to right her ancestors’ wrongs. Under a Full Moon takes place in the Caribbean where a ghost guides a student-sailor to solve a murder. Stone Surfer contemplates death and the ocean’s control over man. The more I incorporate reality into the character’s motivation, the more fantastical the stories become.
What I’ve learned about the last judgment day where people rise from their graves would’ve made an excellent 1970s horror flick. The parting of the Red Sea, the plagues, and hundreds of other events are accepted as miracles by conservative people who never question how reliable a story told by an angel to a monk four hundred years after the fact is. I have complete faith in the authenticity of supernatural events, but a non-Biblical story with the same subject matter is suitable for the fantasy and mystery genres.
The same elements that I rely on when writing travel stories surface in my fantasy novels, and a mystery is really just a well told fantasy. All of them are based on reality, albeit the difficult to explain moments in life.
Jeff: I love what you’re saying about fantasy, how it helps to explain and understand reality. The novel of yours I’m most familiar with is Evangabella. It’s a great example of explaining and understanding the primeval energy of a place as unique as Florida. I’m thinking of three very diverse pieces of this story: Ponce de Leon and his well documented historical adventures in Florida, ancient Native American legends
that are even older, but probably passed down purely by oral tradition, and a
“Bonafide” psychic with some bayou charm living here in the present day. What
brought those diverse elements together for you and how they work together to
tell your story?
Are there characters or places in that particular story that were inspired by people you know or places in Florida you’ve been?
Janie: If I could be anything in the whole wide word, I would be an explorer. My favorite part of history covers their adventures, which paths they took, how they survived, what
they discovered. When I go sailing through an undeveloped area, I imagine the flowering Florida as it was before men bushwhacked their way through the thick vegetation, amazed by nature and the never-before seen bugs and critters. Evangabella begins with a girl becoming an explorer in order to save her family. In referencing old, out of print books, I learned there was credibility to Ponce deLeon’s quest for the Fountain of Youth and incorporated the information previously printed as fact.
My family isn’t just those who are living; the people before my grandparents paved my life-path as much as my parents did. I wrote with action and circumstances as the driving forces in the plot. To better understand the protagonist’s ancestors, I studied numerous historical records, which included Native American legends. By coincidence, my fabricated circumstances were identical to their folklore, thus I gave them credit by adding a Native
Madame Bonafide was born as a result of my experiences and by people I’ve met. I was taught at my Southern Baptist school that any notion of spirits referenced outside the Bible was the devil trying to lure and entice me to become his victim; he was tricky and pretended to be Buddha, ghosts, all kinds of things. The concept ghosts and dreams and fortunetellers mentioned in the Bible were directed by God, but no one else was, didn’t make sense to me. Why would God stop? Man wasn’t particularly evolved spiritually at the time, as evident by all the wars and murders, and other sins. So, why would God hide
from modern society when so many of us are trying to understand him? He wouldn’t.
My family shares special abilities without trying to develop them. We have dreams and visions about the future and people’s past. Since they happened to us, we accept them without believing intuition is anything evil or fraudulent. Everyone has psychic skills the same way all can reason but not everyone knows the difference, and maybe there isn’t much. That’s actually a hidden message in Eangabella.
My curiosity led me to digest everything relating to spirituality and my new knowledge complimented my religious training and deepened my understanding of God. For fun, I joined a friend in having readings by psychics and while visiting the Virgin Islands, I befriended a psychic who also predicted my future. The psychics gave conflicting advice. I can’t say if any are ever accurate, all probably giving some truth with misinterpreted
I don’t think psychics are all knowing and always right, but I do believe they see glimpses of future events, since I have that same ability. We all do; however, with every second of every day all of us make choices that constantly redirect our paths. Therefore, a psychic sees the future that is never experienced due to a change before the event takes place.
Then again, maybe the psychic misinterprets a blue shirt to mean someone will marry a blue-collar worker, when it really showed a stain on a favorite white blouse. Psychics working from a positive God-source likely intend to spread love and help others, but what happens to the events a psychic prevents from materializing – another issue within Evangabella?
To delve further about my plot, some of my friends visited psychics in a town similar to my fictional location. Their lives unraveled as a result of their full-heartily believing the advice was truth according to their interpretations of snidbits. We hear what we want and with psychics only seeing glimpses of events, it’s possible to steer off the desired path by trusting an incorrect interpretation. Evangabella addresses that aspect of relying on others in paving our paths, as well.
Jeff: I like that you’ve talked about writing being a journey of discovery and learning for the writer. I think we’re often writing just as much for ourselves as we are for readers. Are there any things you’ve found out about yourself through your writing that you didn’t know before?
Janie: I discovered my thoughts don’t translate easily into words. Prior to writing
fiction, one of my strengths was writing, however, shifting away from facts and
persuasive arguments forced me to reinvent my wheel by detaching myself from
the way I hear the story in my mind.
As far as soul-searching, I had an internal journey when I immersed myself in nonfiction books during my spiritual quest before I started writing fiction. My character development and plots are inspired by what I learned about myself before picking up the pen.
Jeff: One of the things I enjoy about your blog is that you often write about traveling. Some of your local destinations sound almost as interesting as foreign ones. I get the impression that many people think of Florida and all they consider are things like Disney World, Miami, retirement communities, hurricanes and Cape Canaveral. But you’ve written about some very fascinating places in Florida and I particularly liked your blog
article about St. Augustine. What are some of the places you like best in Florida and how have they influenced your writing?
Janie: Traveling pushes my imagination and gives depth to my characters. I grew up with Griswald vacations where we drove for three weeks at a time due to my mother’s determination for her kids to see all fifty states and much of Canada. We took our 120 pound Airedale and drove from sunrise until about 3 p.m. when we’d explore a monumental location, like touring the Badlands, driving up the Black Hills, or taking a boat under Niagara Falls and a cable car down the Grand Canyon. When not traveling, my family went somewhere every weekend, whether it was the farm or to a nearby lake. By the time I was old enough to drive, I took off on my own, going to zoos and amusement parks, or canoeing and boating, in various towns throughout the South.
I always wanted to live life rather than witnessing others having their experiences, but instead of ceasing my travels, they spread farther. Now I am glad because meeting people all over the world builds on my interests to study other religions and learn about varying personalities, my internal journey.
There are so many amazing places to visit in Florida and each has such a unique environment. It all depends on what kind of mood I am in as to which is the right one for the moment. Each area has its best time of year for visiting it, too. Over the following year, I will feature many Florida coastal destinations at www.janiebill.com.
New Smyrna Beach, the setting for Stone Surfer, is the ideal beach town. The hometown of Palm Beach for the protagonist in Under a Full Moon is always breathtaking with its vias and whipping ocean. Evangabella takes place around the mysterious marshlands with
enormous Lake Okeechobee as the backdrop. The socially active and outdoorsy Captiva Island is the setting for Lochness. The list of inspirational environments in Florida is endless.
My travels provide mood, background, and even motivation in my novels. The ocean doesn’t act the same everywhere and neither do the clouds nor the wildlife. For instance, in Evangabella, Denmark influences the fantasy world the protagonist enters, while quaint towns in the Central Florida establish her reality. The landscape and elements around a community play a major role in how the people perceive life, whether they
struggle to survive or have all the resources they need. Man’s environment
shapes his religious views and his temperament. Locale is critical to my stories.
Jeff: I always find it interesting that when one writer starts talking about the writing process, other writers often nod and smile because they can relate, and yet we all seem to have something unique about how we create. What is your creative process like?
Janie: When I think about my creative process, a vision of clawing the air comes to mind. I have story ideas and before writing I spent long hours considering why people act the way they do. I’ve always loved making new friends with all types of people, including understanding why one person is the way he is and how a thought triggers an emotion. I went through a period of many years where I analyzed how religious beliefs, childhood experiences, anything and everything molds personal outlooks, and develops perceptions, which shape personalities. Incorporating those characteristics to diverse settings with original plots is my goal.
My creative process requires thinking it through, spending time not writing. Once I’ve started the novel, details born in moments that make me smile or cause me to reflect on what it means to be alive in this world add flavoring. We are all trying to understand the “whys” and I research the possible answers and include theories for others to contemplate.
Jeff: I really didn’t get connected with other writers until about three years ago. I joined Authonomy and made lots of new friends (including you) and also went to my first writer’s conference and was excited to meet many more writers. I mentioned to someone how cool it all felt and she said: “Welcome back to your home planet.” And I thought yeah, that’s what it feels like. Have you had long term connections with other
writers, or has it been sort of a recent thing for you too?
Janie: I first began by secretly writing young adult and middle grade books. One day my
husband suggested I write children’s books. He felt I would be a natural, probably because I read so many to my kids over the years, because my strength when employed was with writing, and because of my successes with artwork. Even though he meant I should create picture books, he was thrilled to find out I had been writing. My family became my audience, eagerly listening to me read aloud when we took our weekend road trips, which I deeply appreciated.
My self-taught skills from years of reading hundreds of thousands of books gave me the potential to write well, but I needed to improve my skills to earn a chance of becoming published. During my secretive days, I considered writing to be a solo project, as if I sat in a dark closet all day, which was the case since my study used to be a closet. I attended a couple of workshops and, despite my being the rough stone among polished academics, I stumbled across some long-term friends. Sticking with the craft, remaining in writing
circles led to friendships with authors and instructors.
A significant benefit of participating on Authonomy is networking. The writers on Authonomy taught me to take time to reach out for encouragement, advice and learning new skills. Today, I consider writing to be a community effort. To improve my craft, I’ve relied on other authors critiquing my work, teaching me about the social media marketing, and learning from their successes. The experience creates a bond between participants and as with all great sports opposing teams are comrades.
At the end of Authonomy, I surrounded myself with writers by serving as the conference director for the Florida Writers Association. While developing my talent, writing involved isolation, but once I desired publication, writing became a worldwide act of giving. Writers give so much to each other and must receive even more in order to write well, particularly in today’s evolving publishing market. Success within the industry calls for relationships similar to apprenticeships.
Jeff: Do you have some things you feel passionate about that you’ve yet to address in your writing? What sort of new things are on your writing horizon?
Janie: I have numerous ideas, all of which focus on fantastical adventures in exotic
environments. I want to apply my newfound skills to my manuscripts from my
secret writing days, most of which include life on the water, mysteries to be
solved, and supernatural elements. I also have some fresh concepts that include
traveling and historical themes. I intend to develop my illustrations for children’s
books by next year.
Jeff: Janie, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. I’ve had a great time getting to you know even better.
Jeff, I deeply appreciate your taking time to learn more about me and understand my stories. Please stop by www.janiebill.com and join me on my adventures in this world.