Janell Butler Wojtowicz Interview

Janell Butler Wojtowicz, born and raised on an Iowa farm, was one of those kids who loved to write the dreaded “What I did on summer vacation” essay. She wrote stories for her own enjoyment, including a short story about a teenage drug addict—something of which she knew absolutely nothing about. Her cousin, with a flair for detail, illustrated the cover using Halloween orange paper featuring a gruesome graphic hypodermic needle.

What inspired you to write?
I never set out to write a novel, let alone a Christian romance. After all, I was a small town journalist who morphed into a higher education and local government public relations professional. Romance fiction seemed “fluffy” and irrelevant. I had read very few Christian romances, but Catherine Marshall’s “Christy” stood out from my teen years.

The impetus (obsession?) emerged after two years working in local government public information. Instead of writing people stories as I did for the college, I was writing about emerald ash borer, milfoil, and tedious board meetings heavy on Robert’s Rules of Order. The stifled creativity of writing was poised to catapult out of my brain.

Was your inspiration sudden, or did it take time?
I have come to love the classic novelists—Austen, Bronte sisters, Dickens—so one night in 2007, I watched a BBC version of “Jane Eyre.” That night, I dreamed the beginning, pivotal scene in the middle, and the ending of what later became “Embracing Hope.” I furiously began writing it the next day in a creative frenzy. My writing was so furious and frenzied that the first draft was a whopping 230,000 words. When I realized how long it was and would need to be butchered, I about cried. But once I began hitting the “delete” key it wasn’t as bad as I thought. My second draft was 130,000. Eventually it was published at 97,000 words.

Did you use an outline, or just write your story from start to finish?
I’m a “chunk” writer. While I had the beginning, middle and happy ending in place, I added scenes and chapters as the story developed. As time went on some chunks were deleted or moved. The first chapter changed three times. An outline developed later for timing and balance of Points of View.

Do you work alone, or get encouragement from family and friends?
I had two critique partners who knew the novel-writing biz. I had two friends and two cousins who read it and gave me more encouragement than content input. I truly valued their insights and opinions because they read it for pure enjoyment.

What was the most difficult part of writing your book?
Knowing I had to stop was hard. I wanted to keep the story going as I had become the characters. (Talk about a split personality!) It was hard to hand off the book to the publisher because that meant my lives as the characters came to an end. I miss them.

What was the most enjoyable aspect of writing your book?
I loved developing their personalities, physical characteristics, lifestyles, their daily lives. I would be in a department store and see clothes they would wear. I’d be in church and could picture the couple interacting. They came to life, and to realize I had given birth to them was an awesome feeling.

After the book was published, were you changed?
That may be a question for my friends and family. I don’t think I have, except for the whole marketing aspect that has changed my every day activities. While I was thrilled to find a publisher and go through the publishing experience like other authors, the thrill wore off when the marketing job took charge.

One thing that caught me by surprise was I gained a few “groupies” who think I’m famous: high school classmates, reviewers, friends of friends. But I don’t feel famous because I’m not famous. I was in the local newspapers and had a book-signing in my hometown, but that attention was fleeting, to my relief. I’m not one to demand attention, which probably isn’t a good quality in an author.

Have you received any awards for your book(s)?
No

Are you working on a new book at the moment?
I have the sequel 90 percent done and my publisher wants to look at it. But I’m not confident enough yet. It needs a good edit and I feel the plot isn’t where it should be. However, a critique partner says it’s better than “Embracing Hope.” Go figure! The sequel is about the bad boy of “Embracing Hope” who is redeemed and sets off to make a new life. It’s not as romantic as the first, which I worry about, but it has a strong faith message. A third book is about 50 percent done. Two others are twinkles in my eyes. They’re all part of a series.

Do you have any book giveaways, contests or events coming up?
I'll do an ebook giveaway

What gets in the way of your creativity?
My day job is a freelance writer and editor so work takes precedence when there’s a paycheck involved. I have to put aside the creativity to edit annual reports and grant applications. I flip the switch on the technical writer in me to write about data cabling and AV system standards. Holding back the creativity is like Ebenezer Scrooge trying to douse the light of the Ghost of Christmas Past.

What strategies do you use to deal with criticism?
First, I cry, pout or mentally defend myself (usually when I’m alone). Then I dry my tears, evaluate the situation, make any changes as needed, square my shoulders and move on. Usually the criticism is warranted, which is humbling and can be embarrassing. I prefer to make corrections or deal with criticism quickly to get it over with and lessen the pain—kind of like getting a flu shot.

What is your favorite/worst childhood memory?
My teenage older brother was in our small farmhouse kitchen boiling hotdogs after school one October day (before microwaves) because he always came home hungry. He turned from the stove toward the sink to pour out the pan of water. But he collided with me spilling the water all over my left upper arm. Mom rushed me to the doctor, who applied burn salve, wrapped my arm in gauze and bandages, and sent me home. That night was the Halloween party at church, but I was so embarrassed by the bandages that I didn’t want to go. Mom insisted, probably to keep my mind off of it. I had a slight scar for a few years that I’d show off for sympathy. My brother felt bad, but I don’t think he remembers anymore.

Do you have a favorite quote?
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

What is your favorite show on TV?
The Middle

Favorite movie?
1995 BBC mini-series version of “Pride and Prejudice” (the one with Colin Firth in the wet shirt!)

Favorite book?
That’s a difficult question as I have many and my favorite varies by mood and life’s present circumstances. Currently, it’s “The Isaac Project” by Sarah Monzon.

Who would you want to meet if you could? Dead or alive.
Jane Austen

Is there a talent you wish you had?
Playing the violin. I love the sound of an orchestra. Instead, my mom made me play the saxophone.

What’s something about you that would surprise us?
My hair is naturally curly. Without mousse or styling gel it would resemble Roseanne Roseannadanna’s do. (Saturday Night Live)

Describe yourself in 3 words!
God’s gracious gift (The meaning of my name; I was born 10 months after my older sister was killed in a farm accident.)