This past weekend was the NoVa Teen Book Festival and I had the opportunity to sit down with the lovely Janet B. Taylor, author of debut novel Into The Dim. We chatted about writing, time travel, and some amazing books.
When fragile, sixteen-year-old Hope Walton loses her mom to an earthquake overseas, her secluded world crumbles. Agreeing to spend the summer in Scotland, Hope discovers that her mother was more than a brilliant academic, but also a member of a secret society of time travelers. Trapped in the twelfth century in the age of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Hope has seventy-two hours to rescue her mother and get back to their own time. Along the way, her path collides with that of a mysterious boy who could be vital to her mission . . . or the key to Hope’s undoing. (Goodreads)
What inspired you to write Into The Dim?
Initially, the whole idea of writing just came to me… I had written when I was a kid, in high school and stuff like that, and you get busy with life and having children and all that. When my kids went to college, I had more time on my hands. I had a shower epiphany… you know, one of those brilliant ideas in the shower. It was a Saturday morning and I got out of the shower, got dressed, walked in the living room, and said to my husband, “I’m gonna write a book,” and he said, “All right. What can I do to help?” and now here we are!
I had read Outlander and it was my favorite book, obviously, twenty years ago when it came out. Forever ago. I just always thought that time travel was the neatest, coolest thing ever so it started twenty years ago thinking, I want to write my own time travel story at some point. I was originally just trying to write historical fiction for adults. This was back before I knew what YA was. I was working with a really great historical fiction author and she called me one day and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t think you’re ever going to be able to do this. I don’t think you can write historical fiction. I need to tell you more but I’ve gotta go.” She had something she had to do. So for two days, I’m destroyed. I’m devastated. Then she calls me back and goes, “I realized after we got off the phone that that didn’t sound exactly the way I wanted it to sound. I think you’re a great writer. I think your voice is too YA to work for straight adult historical fiction.” And I was like, “Thank you!” because I had been ripped to pieces.
So I thought, I want to write historical fiction and she thinks my voice sounds too modern and YA for that to work, I’ve always loved time travel – I’ll just try time travel. And that’s how it happened!
What was your favorite part of writing this novel? What was most challenging?
My favorite part of writing at all is dialogue. That’s natural to me. I just hear the conversations in my head so I really don’t have to think much about it. Descriptions are the toughest for me because I want to describe every blade of grass, every cloud, every leaf, the threads on people’s clothing and I initially do. I’m a cutter in editing. I write way too much and then in editing two-thirds of it goes away. I have to make one sentence work where two paragraphs worked before, so I think for me struggling to keep the descriptions to a bare minimum is the hardest part.
Do you consider yourself a pantser or a plotter? How did that affect your process while writing Into The Dim?
With Into the Dim, which is my first book ever, I mean the first book I’ve ever written, I was a pantser. I didn’t even know what that meant. I knew nothing. I just sat down to write a book and then wrote it.
I wrote it, and then I heard about agents. Didn’t know what that was. So I studied how to do a query, wrote some query letters, sent them off, and then just waited for the agents to call. And when they didn’t, I didn’t really know what that was all about. I was scared to go to the bathroom without my phone because I was expecting it to blow up with agents.
So two and a half years later, after I’ve learned a little bit, discovered I was a doofus for sending that off, took a million craft classes, and studied, and seminars – my degree is in biology so it’s nothing to do with writing at all – I learned a lot. That’s when I finally got an agent and when it all worked out. I was a panster. I am no longer a pantser.
I’m working on book two of this series and I’m not intricately plotting it because I think that takes a lot of the spontaneity out of it, but I know what points I need to hit along the way and I do that while giving myself freedom within the scene. I just kind of flow with it. It’s a quasi pantser-plotter thing but more plotter now. I learned my lesson.
As a debut author, what has surprised you the most about the process of publishing Into the Dim? Is there a moment that stands out to you as most special or enjoyable?
I think how long it takes – that’s very surprising. We sold Into The Dim at auction in two weeks once it went on submission. It happened very quickly. That was in October of 2014, so it’s been a year and a half. I can’t even believe it’s here. For three or four months I had to tell people, “My book’s coming out year after next.” And I remember last New Years thinking, At least I can tell people it comes out next year! Time does fly and you’re busy but that was very surprising.
The community is amazing – The Sweet Sixteens. We have a great group, really supportive. They’re some of my dearest friends now. I think having a peer group like that is essential for writers because at each stage of your journey, having friends around you that are going through the same thing, no one else can understand that. Your family can’t understand it. So how important the peer group would end up becoming to me was a surprise.
The moment that stood out the most for me was getting the blurb from Diana Gabaldon. That was a good day! You could hear the screams in Arkansas all the way to New York, because the New York people were screaming and I was screaming. It was crazy. That was the best day ever.
If you could have lunch with a character from Into The Dim, who would it be and why?
Oh, that’s easy: Eleanor [of Aquitaine]. Eleanor is at the top of my list for the dinner table with anyone from history. Of the modern clique of people, I think Phoebe would be a lot of fun – she’d want to go have a pint or something. I think Collum would get on my nerves – he wouldn’t talk. Bran would be fun, he would always be fun to be around. Aunt Lucinda – she’s a little too stuck up. I think Moira and Mac would both be a lot of fun. And I love Sister Hectare. She was one of my favorite characters to write and she appeared out of nowhere; I didn’t plan her. I had no plans for any companions or anything. In fact, that’s probably my very favorite thing about writing when you’re going along and these characters just pop into existence full-blown without any plans. They’re just there. It’s like [when you’re typing], “What is this? It’s magic!” and I really like her a lot too. She’s a neat character.
Since Into The Dim involves time travel, I have to ask… if you had the ability to time travel, where would you go?
I’d love to meet Eleanor but that’s been done now so I would really like to go to Versailles pre-revolution and see the glitz and glamour of that court. I would love to go to the early years of King Henry VIII’s reign when he was married to Catherine of Aragon and they were happy together. There was so much turmoil between Eleanor and Henry over the years so I wanted to go when they were young, which is why I went to that time period during Into The Dim. I think it would be really cool to see Ancient Egypt.
In the book I’m working on now, they’re going to be in the Gilded Age of New York, 1895, the Vanderbilt’s and all that, so I think that would be a neat time to visit too.
Hope travels back to the 12th century. Did you have to do a lot of research?
Tons of research. I’ve always been a history buff. I’m one of those American Anglophiles who loves royals, Will and Kate and all that, but mainly the historical royals. I’ve always studied a lot about royals and European history.
The best part of research for sure is the traveling. I’ve done a lot of traveling. I’ve been to Europe a bunch of times and I even got to stay at Fontevraud Abbey in the south of France where Eleanor is buried, and she and Henry and Richard the Lionheart are all in the tomb there. She stayed there the last eight years of her life and died there. We got to stay in what used to be the leper hospital and spend the night and I was all alone with Eleanor for hours. They shut it down to visitors and no one was there but the nuns and they let me stay. It was very neat. So traveling is the best part.
I need to touch the stone, you know? I need to smell it and feel everything. I got in trouble one time for touching a wall I wasn’t supposed to. My mom and I travel together, we go on the tours, and I’ll get in trouble because I wander off to look at the places they aren’t showing you so I’ve been yelled at a lot.
What was your favorite book when you were a young adult?
Pre-teen – my favorite book was Where the Red Fern Grows. I loved Down A Dark Hall by Lois Duncan. I loved books like The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. A Wrinkle in Time is my number one all-time absolute favorite non-adult book. I’ve probably read it thirty times.
Did any of those authors influence your own writing?
I think everyone does. Definitely, definitely A Wrinkle in Time. I think every book you read that you love you take a little piece of it inside of you as a writer.
My husband and I listen to audiobooks every day on our commute and I’ll pause it and email a line to myself that I love because some writers just have this breathtaking prose and it’s just so amazing. I think everything influences you just a little bit.
Do you read differently since you’ve gone through the writing process?
I did for a while. When I was first really learning and struggling how to edit, I had a hard time reading for pleasure. Now I can. If it’s a really good book, I can forget all about that and read as just a fan.
What are some of the books you’ve read lately that have been your favorites or memorable?
I’m on the third book, Morning Star, of the Red Rising trilogy. I’m not a huge space-kind of person but they’re amazing. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I’m reading The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine – very awesome. And of course I’ve spent a lot of time lately reading my Sweet Sixteen reads, which are amazing. Shannon Parker’s The Girl Who Fell is phenomenal. Burning Glass; Underwater by Marissa Reichardt is fantastic. Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows – I am entranced by her work.
What are you looking forward to being part of the NoVa Teen Book Festival?
I can’t wait to meet people who – well my book just came out Tuesday so I don’t expect a lot of people to have read it yet, but for the ones who have, you dream about this as an author, for people to actually talk to you about your book. It’s still very surreal to me, none of this seems real. I’ve already met so many people who’ve read it and liked it and it’s kind of like “Really?” You know, my mom likes it, I like it. I know how deeply I feel about characters in books and to think that there’s just one or two people that feel that for my book, I don’t even know how to feel about that. I can’t wait to see the faces of people who ask me questions and love this or that or the other from my book. I am so excited about the kids.
Thank you so much to Janet for taking the time to chat with me. Make sure you check out her awesome novel, Into The Dim! It’s a high-stakes time travel story with fantastic characters and thought-provoking historical settings. Definitely recommend it – I’m already dying for book two!