The Twelfth Stone and Weeping Under This Same Moon
by Jana Laiz
When I found out that we were required to conduct informational interviews for our portfolio, I immediately began to fret. Writers who are willing to take time from their busy schedule to talk to aspiring writers are hard to come across. Writers also aren’t easy to find. It’s not so easy as to go online and search in order to find someone. Thankfully, I stumbled across a connection to Jana, and I’m so glad I did. My roommate here went to high school with Jana’s daughter and gave me her website to look up. When I was able to interview Jana, I connected with every word she said. She has a brilliant personality, and I can’t wait to buy The Twelfth Stone for my collection (No, I have not yet read it, but it seems right up my alley. As soon as I have money, it will be at the top of my list).
Jana is clearly a gifted writer, as her novel Weeping Under This Same Moon was deemed ForeWord Magazine’s book of the year gold medalist, and some of her other books have been silver medalists and finalists. She also has enough of a passion for English that she works to share that passion with interested students as an educator. Though she has taught numerous subjects, she is certified for ESL, TESOL, and Elementary education. As I could never be a teacher myself, it is encouraging to see writers who can teach and inspire writing in others.
Unfortunately, I did not get a direct transcript of Jana’s interview, so the responses below are paraphrased, drawing as much as possible from her direct words. I hope that many writers find the same familiarity and affirmation in Jana’s words as I did. Anything in bold is my commentary or questions.
What drove you to become a writer?
Jana has been writing since she was 6. Around then, her mom gave her an old notebook she’d used in high school, then Jana’s grandfather gave her a teeny-tiny pencil and, boom, she became a writer. “I love to make words and put them together to make them sound beautiful,” Jana says.
What experiences or ideas have inspired some of your novels?
Jana is most proud of her 2008 book, Weeping Under the Same Moon, which was inspired from a real life experience of working with Vietnamese refugees. She loves teaching and wants her work to make a difference in the world. So she picks topics that she’s passionate about to entertain others, to inspire others, but also to make a difference.
How do you conduct the research for your stories? Do you have any resources you might suggest?
“The internet is a great resource. Always go to legitimate sources, on the internet and at the library.” She has also had personal experiences sway her writing.
How do you plan your stories? Or do you at all?
“I do a lot of daydreaming and a lot of walking and thinking. Books take a lot of time to percolate. It’s very organic.” Jana begins a foundation for her characters, but after that, they build themselves and grow on their own. In The Twelfth Stone, one of her favorite characters appeared out of nowhere at a bus stop and ended up changing the direction of the story. “I love him. I think he’s a real person. Whether he’s from the recesses of my mind or another plane, I don’t know, but he’s real.” Which I think many writers would agree with. We’re not crazy, we promise. Well… Not too crazy.
What is your writing process like? Chronological or scene-by-scene? And how do you edit (or re-write) your own work?
“Sometimes I can write for ten hours straight and it feels like an hour. Other times I sit for ten minutes and it feels like 10 hours.” Jana writes chronologically from beginning to end, but when she edits she often moves scenes around. “I like to say I’m eclectic. I always read it out loud; I think it’s absolutely critical.” After reworking her draft, Jana gives the manuscript to her daughter for editing, then gives it to a professional editor.
How do you publish your work after the process? What made you decide to take that route?
Jana is commercially published, in part because she created her own publishing company. “I had a great agent when I did Twelfth Stone before Twilight and Harry Potter, but we got a ton of fantastic rejections.” At the time, publishers didn’t believe young adult fantasy had much of a market and were largely unwilling to risk underwhelming sales. HP was a decisive turning point – boy were they wrong. So she started her own company and has published her own books. It has gone really well, to the point of potential movie deals. Although she has to work to create her own platform, she agrees it’s ultimately worth the effort.
How do you balance writing with the “real” world?
“Make time.” Why does that make it sound so easy? Jana is a full time writer and also a teacher for ESL. “I teach to feed my writing habit. Even when I’m not writing words on paper, I’m thinking about stories. And don’t ever delete,” she adds. “You might need it one day.”
What is it like to write for a span of audiences? How do you adapt your writing?
“I don’t really adapt my writing. I write to please myself. I don’t say, I’m gonna write a YA novel, I just write. Maybe I’m young at heart and yet also an adult, because a lot of stories I write have crossover audiences. Don’t make rules for yourself. Write for the love of it. And if you have a great story to tell, you’ll have an audience to read it.”
What advice do you have aspiring writers?
“An Irish singer told me when I was working on Twelfth Stone, ‘Don’t give up one minute before the miracle.'” That is stunning advice, really, when facing an entirely objective field. The will always be rejection, but giving up means you could miss the miracle. Then Jana had one more piece of advice to add:
“If your editor tells you to kill it: kill it, then look at it, and then make the decision you feel is best for the story. Don’t let their word be law; it’s still your story to tell.”
Thank you so much for your time! It was a huge help.
“When your first novel comes out, send me a copy. Autographed!”
And I absolutely will! Jana was a great connection to make, and I hope to stay in touch with her past the requirements of this program!