Long and Short Reviews welcomes Jane Toombs, to talk with us about her first Young Adult book The Turquoise Dragon. She told me she didn’t really feel “driven” to write for the YA market, but it seemed what she wrote was more suited for that age group than any other.
Jane is 85 and has been writing most of her life. When she was four, she asked her father (a non-fiction writer) if she could learn to use his old L.C. Smith typewriter. He told her that she needed to learn to read and write first. So, when she turned seven, he showed her how to use the typewriter.
“Unfortunately he was a seek and find typist, so I am as well,” she told me. “But he added that now that I could type, I had to write him a story. To my seven-year-old mind that sounded perfectly logical. I’d read a lot of stories, so why couldn’t I write one? So I chose to write about the day he brought me my first kitten–a half starved one he’d found in the woods and named Merriweather after the place he found him. (My father was a conservation officer at the time). I can still remember how I loved that cat. My father told me I’d written a good story. Then he suggested a few ways it could be made better. I knew it went good, better, best, so I didn’t mind at all. After that, I wrote him stories whenever I felt like it and they were always ‘good’ but could be ‘made better.’ He was the perfect critiquer and my inspiration. I do regret he died too early to see my first book published.”
In fact, Jane’s main advice for a new writer just starting out it to find someone, or a group, to “help make your good stories better.”
“Critique groups, if you find the right one can help a beginning writer tremendously, so do listen to well-meant comments,” she recommended. “But ignore anybody who trashes your book instead of giving helpful critiquing. They should be banned from any and all critique groups because they are of no help at all. While I’m on critique groups, they do need a leader /monitor who can call a halt to bashing and keep the group moving right along.”
“How do you develop your plot and characters?” I wondered.
“I started out just writing a story and was lucky enough to take an off-campus class from an elderly mystery writer who announced in his first session that, since none of us had yet paid the fee, he wanted to tell us how he felt. He said that writing memoirs for your family was fine, but his class was not going to be about that, but about writing to sell. He told us that, in his opinion writing a story and never sending it out was akin to masturbation. At this point, at least a third of the class walked out. The rest of us learned a lot, because this guy critiqued every story, showing clearly what was good and what needed changing. A lot like my father did with me when I was seven. He picked out three stories he thought were viable and my Tule Witch was one of them. He worked very hard with these three stories and finally told me privately that if I finished my book, he’d give a final critique and then send it to his agent. Whoa! I did, he did and the agent sold it to Avon in 1973. What‘s this have to do with plot and characters? I‘m getting to that,” she explained. “I wrote another gothic and the agent sold that. Then died. But another agent immediately called me, wanting to represent me. I agreed and wrote another gothic. The new agent couldn‘t give it away. But he didn‘t give up. He called to tell me a packager wanted a gothic writer to do Sagittarius for his Zodiac Series, so could I work up a synopsis and three chapters? Since I hadn’t a clue what a synopsis was, I asked him. After he explained, I went ahead and did research about Sagittarius, then wrote a synopsis and the first three chapters. The packager promptly went to contract. And I learned you didn’t have to write a complete book to make s sale. I learned more than that–finding the story easy to write because of the synopsis. After another sale made the same way, I went back and tried to write a synopsis for the third book. Couldn’t because it wandered all over the place… I became a plotter then and there. Wrote a new synopsis for it and the agent promptly sold it. And I got my one and only review in Publisher’s Weekly–a good one! I never tried to write a book without a synopsis again.”
Jane’s office is what would be a third bedroom or den; however, because she counts if off for income tax, even the closet has nothing by material related to writing in it. She shares her office with a fax, a desktop computer, a laptop, two printers and a CD player with CDs. She also has a stand containing nothing but reference material, two bookcases filled with writing-related books and old books that she frequently uses to look things up. There are also two accordion file cases with receipts for income tax and a lot of old disks she might need someday. Two windows look out at Lake Superior. There are also various chairs the cat often sleeps in and a dictionary stand a handyman built for her that contains a giant dictionary. The walls are decorated with her framed book covers, a clock, a bulletin board, and a few awards.
She told me that her home on the lake was all due to her older brother.
“I’m living in my hometown after years in California, upstate New York and Nevada. After my brother, 20 years older than I, retired from what was then the Conservation Department in Michigan (now the DNR), I came from California for a visit and discovered he’d gone into real estate and had bought some lots along the lakeshore. He insisted I needed to buy two of them because ‘your roots are here.’ Only $500 apiece and the best view. I didn‘t have a whole bunch of money at the time, but when I got back to California I sent him the 1000 bucks and now I owned two lots along the lake. Paid taxes on them for years. One day, I’m visiting my oldest niece in Ontonagon and she tells me the high school is building houses for people and don’t have one yet to build this year, so why don’t I have them do one on my lots? She’s so enthusiastic she calls the guy who teaches the kids and he shows up. Next thing I know I’m committed. At this time, the Viking and I are living in Carson City, NV. So when I get the call that they need the plans, I remember we found the plans for the house we’re in and like the floor plan, so I send him those. Building a house long distance is interesting, to say the least. And so here we are back home, living in this house. And, of course, the lots have so appreciated in value that if I hadn’t done what my brother wanted me to do way back when, we couldn’t afford to be living here.”
About the Author:
Jane Toombs, the Viking from her past and their calico grandcat, Kinko, live across the road from Lake Superior’s south shore in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula wilderness. Jane’s published books, including novels and novellas, have reached ninety. She’s aiming for one hundred. www.JaneToombs.com
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