Blog Ring of Power Presents: Lauren Jankowski

Grand CanyonWelcome to this week’s Blog Ring of Power guest, LAUREN JANKOWSKI. Lauren has been an avid reader for most of her life. She holds a B.A. in Women and Genders Studies from Beloit College. Aside from fiction, she has also dabbled in non-fiction, writing for sites like “The Next Family” and “Planet Fury.” She keeps a blog at Blogspot entitled “The Life and Times of a Writer.” She has been writing fiction since high school, when she noticed a lack of strong women in the popular genre books. When she’s not writing or researching, she enjoys reading (particularly anything relating to ancient myths) or playing with her dogs. She also participates in activism for asexual visibility and feminist causes. Her debut novel was Sere from the Green, the first volume in The Shape Shifter Chronicles. 
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Don’t miss the rest of Lauren’s interview:
  • Part 1 @ Sandra – Monday, August 19
  • Part 2 @ Vicki – Tuesday, August 20
  • Part 3 @ Terri – Wednesday, August 21
  • Part 4 @ T.W. - Thursday, August 22
  • Part 5 @ Emily – Friday, August 23

Section #5: Words of Wisdom

Tell us about your route to success – how/when did you decide to self-publish? Did you query an agent first? How did you handle the editing, proofreading, cover design, etc.

For more than five years, I was querying agents and publishers.  All I got in return was form rejections and occasionally some extremely sexist rejections (I was too feminine to write serious fantasy, I should write YA romance fiction, and the wonderfully clueless, “Can’t you stick a vampire in there”).  After getting rejected from a press for not being feminist enough, I got fed up and looked into self-publishing.  For all its drawbacks, I liked the idea of having complete creative control over my work.  Since no one else was going to give me a chance, I decided I had to do it myself.

I lucked out: my brother majored in English and is willing to look over my work for me (editing, proofreading).  If I experience any kind of success, a great part of it will be thanks to his sharp eyes.  For my first novel, I didn’t have any money (still don’t) so I had to take advantage of the free cover designer.  After getting ripped apart for this, my brother graciously designed the cover for my second novel.  I feel it makes my novel pop a bit more.

What are the most important elements of good writing? 

Passion, without a doubt is the most important element of good writing.  You have to love what you do because writing is not fun.  At all.  Writing the story is the easy part and even that comes with its fair share of frustration.  However, when you start rewriting your story, you really start to hate it.  And stories have to be rewritten at least three separate times.  If you just write a story once, you’re doing something wrong.  By the time I’ve completed a novel, words can’t even describe how much I hate it.  I’m proud of what I accomplished, but I don’t want to read it again.  When you read through and rewrite a story four separate times, trust me, you get tired of it.  Like most art, writing isn’t something one necessarily wants to do.  It’s something you have to do.  For me, writing isn’t a choice any more than breathing is.

Art is another important element of good writing.  Writing is an art.  It needs to be vivid and full of life.  Your words should jump off the page, grab ahold of the reader, and never let go.  You need to paint pictures using only words and it’s not easy.  Writing needs to stimulate the imagination and provide the reader with a picture they can easily see.  There has to be a point and purpose to your writing, which you must be in complete control of.

What tools are must-haves for writers?

You have to have a firm grasp of all the technical aspects of writing.  Grammar, sentence structure, plotting, characterization, these are tools you need to be able to wield like a pro.  You need to work on them constantly, to the point of being obsessive about them.  You should know why you used every single word in your manuscript, no matter what genre you write in.  The technical parts of writing are the tools a writer uses and therefore must be a master in.

A writer needs to come off as an expert in everything.  For example, if a character is an astrophysist, the writer doesn’t have to be one, but s/he needs to know at least enough basic information so the character is believable.  Trust me, this is nowhere near as easy as it sounds.  Writers have to know a little bit about everything and this requires a ton of research, which sometimes isn’t fun (it can often be dull or confusing, but you have to work through that).

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Writing is something you have to do.  It is something you live and breathe.  You are going to sacrifice so much more than you are willing to.  Be prepared to live on the edge of poverty for a good amount of your life (especially if you’re in the states.  You’re probably going to have to sacrifice things like health insurance, which really sucks).  Writing is not something you do to get rich.  It is not glamorous.  It is hard and exhausting work, often times thankless and always incredibly lonely.  There are going to be times when you’ll be the only one who believes in yourself.  However, if you’re a true writer, none of this will matter.  Because writing is in your blood and bones.  The work needs to be its own reward, first and foremost, no matter how many or how few readers read it.

Also, a couple small requests:

*Please don’t get into writing because you want to be a movie star.  If you want to write a movie, become a screenwriter.  I swear, so many modern novels I read feel as if they were written solely to be adapted for the big screen.  It is my biggest pet peeve.  A novel should be a novel.  You should write it because you are a novelist and enjoy reading/writing novels.  Not because you want to be the next Stephanie Meyer (don’t even get me started on her).

*For the love of all things, don’t sell out! Don’t write what publishers want to read just to “get a foot in the door”.  You have no idea how much harder this makes things for other women writers.  This isn’t to say ignore good constructive criticism, but be aware of what you want your work to look like and what you want it to say.  Your story should be unique, not a carbon copy of someone else’s work.

What do you feel is the key to your success?

As I've mentioned before, I write because it’s something I absolutely have to do.  I’m also too stubborn for my own good.  I don’t back down from things I’m truly passionate about and I’m most passionate about the art of writing.  I have dedicated my life to my work and I am determined to be successful.  I’m not fearless, but I know how to work in spite of being scared or anxious (writing can provide catharsis as well).  I follow the example of indie artists like the Soska sisters, who worked even when poor (their parents mortgaged their house so they could make “American Mary”, which was a superb feminist horror film).

I don’t fear obscurity.  The only thing that I’m scared of is not writing.  There are so many stories in my head that need to be committed to paper.  Some of them are missing parts (beginnings, endings, etc.), but they still need to be written down.  I also have unwavering belief in my stories.  I’m a good writer (not a great one, but I work towards that every day, even though I’ll probably never get there) and I’m proud of my work.  More than that, I’m proud to be a genre feminist and I’m proud of who I am.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

I think readers would agree fantasy needs more women’s voices.  More women need to be shown strong empowered women.  Fantasy is rife with damsels in distress.  It’s time to stand up and say that trope is bullshit.  There are women of all shapes and sizes and colors and orientations out there and we are strong.  We can rescue ourselves.  It’s about damn time all genres of writing reflected that.

Also, I want to say thank you to my readers.  Thank you for helping me achieve my dream.  Thank you for being the amazing people you are.  You really make a significant difference in this indie genre feminist writer’s life and I could not be more grateful.  I hope to see some of you at the conventions I’ll be at.

What are your current / future project(s)?

My next task is whipping the third novel in the series into shape.  From the Ashes is one of the best stories I’ve written to date and I’m so proud of it (I’m anxious to release it).  However, it still needs some work before it’s ready for sale.

I’ve also been working on a fairly ambitious project off and on (it’s great to have when I’m too tired to rewrite).  I’m writing a complete history of the Meadows, which is the home of the guardians.  Through it, readers will learn the history of shape shifters and guardians.  It’s incredibly difficult and I can already tell it’s going to take me years to finish.  At the moment, it’s mostly just an outline with some family trees.  It’s probably going to be a collection of tales, which is a style I’ve never written before.  If nothing else, it will be a valuable learning experience.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I hope I don’t sound like I’m on a soapbox, but there are many –isms still apparent in writing. However, the one no one seems willing to comment on is classism (or the discrimination of those from lower socioeconomic statuses). I have noticed a disturbing trend among writers of being dismissive towards poorer colleagues to the point of not recognizing them as actual writers. When I read articles that state things like “you can’t NOT afford to have a professional X-Y-Z”, I always think, “Really? You want to see how much money I have right now? Don’t tell me what I can afford!” The snide suggestion of some writers that poor people shouldn’t get into writing if they can’t afford it is offensive. This silences the voices of many women, which feminism should be against. It suggests only the rich and privileged should be allowed to be writers.

Many artists started out in abject poverty in the past. To dismiss an individual’s work because they happen to come from a lower socioeconomic class is unconscionable. To shame a writer for not being as well-off as some writers is just awful and the fact that it happens so frequently really disgusts me. I understand writing is a competitive thing, but there is such a thing as being too competitive.

Anyone who has the courage and tenacity and skill to create a well-written story is a writer. Period.

Through Storm and Night Covers OfficalTHROUGH STORM AND NIGHT (THE SHAPE SHIFTER CHRONICLES VOLUME 2): The Meadows is home to the guardians, a race of beings similar to the deities in ancient mythology. They watch over the Earth from their serene lands like the gods on Mount Olympus. For millennia, it has been peaceful. However, in the beginning, there was a great war. A war with Chaos: a war that is still remembered in the legends of guardians and shape shifters. More than five months have passed since Isis, a shape shifter/guardian hybrid and member of the prophesized Four, last saw Coop. The Four are still no closer to finding the Key and their search has yielded nothing but more questions. The sudden and unexpected return of a face from the past, one long believed dead, plunges them even deeper into the mystery of the Key. Meanwhile, a powerful enemy begins toying with them. Who are the strange, scentless men in suits who can move impossibly fast? Who are the strange shape shifters known only as “the glowing-eyes” and what connection do they have to the vanishing bodies? The answers may be found in the stories about the War of the Meadows, but a small oversight in the legends may prove to be the shape shifters’ undoing.
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Contact Information:
If you have them, we’d love to have your author headshot and/or a picture of the book cover. Please let us know where can your readers stalk you:

Twitter: @Lauren_Jankowsk

Is your book in print, ebook or both?

Both novels (Sere from the Green  and Through Storm and Night) will be available in print and ebook.


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