My guest today is a fellow lover and author of historical fiction. Please help me welcome Janet Wertman, author of several interesting books I’m sure you’re going to want to check out! Let’s look at her bio and then dive into the interview.
By day, Janet Wertman is a freelance grantwriter for impactful nonprofits. By night, she indulges a passion for the Tudor era she has harbored since she was *cough* eight years old and her parents let her stay up late to watch The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Elizabeth R. Janet’s Seymour Saga trilogy – featuring Jane the Quene, The Path to Somerset, and The Boy King – has been critically acclaimed as masterful and engaging, her dialogue as exceptional.
Janet is deep into writing the first book of her next trilogy, which takes up where the Seymours left off to chronicle the life of Elizabeth I. Janet also runs a blog where she posts interesting takes on the Tudors, and she’s part of a group of HNS novelists from Southern California who formed a Librarian Speakers Bureau to offer interesting panels and discussions.
Betty: When did you become a writer?
Janet: I tried to write my first book at around twelve, but never made it past the first chapter. It was when I was about 25 that I started to write the book that would end up morphing from the story of Anne Boleyn to the story of Jane Seymour. Of course, it wasn’t until I was 36 that I had a burst of energy and got 150 pages written … only to find that someone else had just published my exact book (The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn, using a dual timeline – what are the odds?). After that setback, it wasn’t until 51 that I finally got serious.
Betty: How long did you work on your writing skills before you became published?
Janet: I already had decades of reading books about the craft of writing, but when I began in earnest I embarked on three years of intensive skill-building to get to the publishing stage. It started when I sent my manuscript off to a developmental editor, secretly hoping that she would say “This is perfect just as it is.” Instead, she gave me my “Harper Lee moment” (so named after the episode where Harper Lee’s agent told her she was telling the wrong story…). The editor explained that I was prioritizing the objective story over the characters’ stories, and that I would never have a character arc until I slashed the number of point-of-view characters (I had read that scenes should be written from the POV of the character with the most at stake and I took that to heart and gave voices to twelve people). These were concepts I had read about but never saw how they applied to my writing. I completely restructured the book, joined a critique group, and read as many books on writing as I could find.
Betty: What authors or stories do you feel influenced your writing style?
Janet: I consider James Clavell’s Shogun the finest book ever written. Multiple points of view, mind you (which is what gave me the idea) – but he gave every one of them an arc (which is why the book is more than a thousand pages long). Perfect structure, with every action leading into the next. Compelling descriptions that use every sense and tell you things on several levels (in one scene, Blackthorne is describing his English wife, and he points to one of the room’s wood posts to show the color of her hair and they all suck in their lower lips at such an amazing thing).
I have also been heavily influenced by the French classics; this gives my prose a bit of an old-fashioned tone that works well to tell Tudor stories.
Betty: What prompted you to start writing?
Janet: I knew for years that I had that first book inside me, and had played around with varying degrees of seriousness, but nothing ever really gelled. And then I realized that there was more to the story – that to really tell it required a trilogy. That’s when it all came together. It made perfect sense to me, based on an analogous lesson I learned from karate: when you’re trying to break a board, aiming *at* it will dissipate your energy too early. If you want to break a board, you have to aim beyond it. If I wanted to write a book, I had to plan for a trilogy (and by the way, I have a couple more trilogies planned for the future to keep me going!).
Betty: What type of writing did you start with?
Janet: The stark nonfiction of legal contracts! I was a corporate lawyer for fifteen years, one of the few forums (technically “fora”…) that appreciated skill at crafting really long sentences. Then I moved to grantwriting, which was still nonfiction but has its own arc (beginning with the need, moving on to describe the programs and how the organization responds to that need, then culminating with the crescendo of results). Then I added a blog, which also was still nonfiction, but nonfiction in full service to story. Finally, I made it to fiction!
Betty: What do you most enjoy writing? Why?
Janet: Fiction, even though I insist on keeping my fiction as accurate as possible. I don’t know that I have it in me to fully create a story from scratch: I feel so much better figuring out what the story has to be given actual events. Years ago, I heard the phrase, “Limitations are an asset” – that when architects are given specific constraints, they create a Fallingwater, but when they are given a flat, giant plot and unlimited money, they produce little more than a large box. For my writing, I feel like the limitations of the actual events give me a chance to craft the perfect story.
Betty: How did you learn to write? A mentor, classes, conferences, craft books, or something else?
Janet: Craft books are important, but you need more in order to really apply their principles. I see critique groups as the most valuable path to progress: there is no easier way to notice writing mistakes than when someone else is making them. Too, there is tremendous value in having multiple people react to your writing: when five people all agree that something does or does not work, you really need to listen – even when they disagree, there is a common thread that gets you to the answer. Plus, nothing that will keep you on track like the accountability of having to submit a new scene each week!
Betty: What do you wish you knew before you started writing/publishing?
Janet: I wish I had known how much authors enjoy having their readers get in touch with them. It is a true joy to have people tell me they enjoyed my books, it is a real pleasure to get questions about the topic. I feel like if I had known that, I might have reached out more to my own favorite authors.
Betty: What other authors inspired you (either directly or through their writing) to try your hand at writing?
Janet: We’re back to James Clavell! Though he also made me nervous that I would never measure up…
Betty: What inspired you to write the book you’re sharing with us today?
Janet: It was tough to pick this with The Boy King launching soon and taking up all the oxygen in the room! But Jane fits best with this blog since it skews romantic and is the first in the series. Even though the books are more than capable of standing alone, there is actually an overarching story spanning the three works. The trilogy is bookended by Mary, who is important in the prologue to Book One and central to the epilogue to Book Three. And there are references in each book to scenes from the previous ones – and while I was careful to make sure you had all the information you needed, there is something fun to knowing all the details (there is a decades-old line from a movie or a book or an advertisement and I wish I could give the credit but all I can remember is the line itself, “Makes you feel inside”). Besides, The Boy King is still a month away from its publication date. Readers can start Jane now, and get all the way through the series without having to wait too long!
The Tragic Romance of Jane Seymour
England, 1535. At 27, Jane Seymour is increasingly desperate to marry and secure her place in the world. When the Court visits Wolf Hall, her family’s ancestral manor, Jane has the perfect opportunity to shine: her diligence, efficiency, and newfound poise are sure to attract a suitor.
Meanwhile, King Henry VIII is increasingly desperate for an heir. He changed his country’s religion to leave his first wife, a princess of Spain, for Anne Boleyn — but she too has failed to provide a son. As Henry begins to fear he is cursed, Jane Seymour’s honesty and innocence conjure in him the hope of redemption.
When Thomas Cromwell, an ambitious clerk whose political prowess keeps the king’s changing desires satisfied, sees in Jane Seymour the perfect answer to the unrest threatening England, he engineers a plot that ends with Jane becoming the King’s third wife. For Jane, who believes herself virtuous and her actions justified, miscarriages early in her marriage to the king shake her confidence. How can a woman who has committed no wrong bear the guilt of unseating her predecessor?
November 1, 1536 … 11 a.m.
Jane had dismissed her ladies until supper. She didn’t want to hear their chatter. Truth be told, she didn’t want to hear Anne’s or Edward’s prattle either, but she had no choice. To dismiss them too would signal that something was wrong, inviting more of the gossip that constantly surrounded her. Especially this week, after her public shaming.
“It is stunning.” Anne Seymour Beauchamp looked down at the blood-red ruby ring the King had just given Jane to celebrate the news of the rebels’ capitulation and to reiterate his deep and everlasting love. Anne’s eyes glittered. “Just stunning.”
“Take it, it’s yours,” Jane declared, trying to pry the band off her finger without success.
Despite the excitement behind his wife’s eyes, Edward put a cautionary hand over Jane’s. “No, no, Jane. It is yours. It is a magnificent gift from your loving husband. You must wear it proudly to show his forgiveness.”
His forgiveness. She was the one who needed to forgive. Her deep regret over her action had quickly ceded to hurt over her husband’s outburst – an emotion she couldn’t show to him, as it would only inflame him and drive them further apart. Penitence was the only acceptable reaction in this situation.
“I prefer my betrothal ring, a more honest ruby,” she said. “This one once belonged to the woman I wronged. It makes my skin crawl.”
“The Boleyn never wore such a ring,” Anne said, then quickly rushed to add, “And you never wronged her.”
Thanks for sharing your experience and inspiration, Janet! I’m sure your stories benefit from your approach to storytelling and your enthusiasm for the time period.
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