All, that is, about her new Desert Breeze release VOICE OF INNOCENCE. I wanted her to interview here and tell something about how the germ of an idea became the story it is today. And a horking good one, too.
Deb: You’ve always called this book your “400 lb. gorilla.” What made you fall in love with this story?
Janet: Interestingly enough, the thread that made this the “book of my heart” isn’t even in the book now: it was the first scene I envisioned, one that takes place before the book begins. In this scene a young woman, in unrequited love with her older professor, is getting ready to leave a party at his house. She’s in the bedroom, about to pick up her coat, when she pauses and gazes longingly at his wife’s things on the dresser—you know, the hand mirror, the elegant brushes and perfume bottles—and thinks to herself that she’s just a fool, “a fool in a cheap little jacket,” longing for things she can’t have. I knew once I met that young woman, I needed to write this story, as much as the characters seemed to need it told.
Deb: Eeeenteresting! Lachlan is a multi-dimensional character with a heavy load of baggage. How did you make him so appealing?
Janet: Lachlan has always been a polarizing character: people either loved him or they hated him. He was stiffer, more pompous, in previous versions of the book; I’ve loosened him up considerably so we see more of his humor, more of the brightness that wants to come to the surface. He’s actually a fun guy, once he’s past all his troubles. But one thing has never changed with him: at the core, he is a mystic, a poet, and a romantic. What’s not to love?
Deb: Amanda’s struggling under a heavy load as well. How did you make her seem so sane when she was hearing voices almost from the first page?
Janet: I had to give Amanda a much firmer personality to deal with the voices, which did her a big favor. In earlier writing, she was much like Lachlan—more sensitive, more reticent, etc. Then I realized I had two people whose personalities were too much alike. So Amanda and I sat down and talked about it, and she told me she really didn’t have much time for nonsense; she has three brothers, so she had to be practical (and quick, to get her share at the dinner table). You’ll notice that she’s both pragmatic and decisive when confronted with the voices. She resists the urge to fly off into “what ifs” of the type Lachlan would be more prone to, and she’s feisty enough to tell off a (very unwelcome) ghost. Three brothers’ll bring that out of a girl.
Deb: I’ll say they would! And another matter – Carlyle College almost takes on the life of another “character” in VOI. What techniques make this fictional setting come real?
Janet: This is especially flattering to hear, since my intent was to write a very Gothic-toned story with VOI, and one of the keys to good Gothic literature is that the setting becomes a pseudo-character in itself. If Carlyle College, with its red brick and flower beds and manicured green, speaks to you…that’s exactly what it’s supposed to do. It’s supposed to evoke “traditional ivy-covered halls” in the imagination…while hiding deadly secrets and mysteries beneath its surface. Carlyle plays such an important part in the story as well because it represents so many things to so many people: it’s Amanda’s beginning, her first big break; it’s Lachlan’s last chance, the only thing that means anything to him; it represents status and solidity to other characters; and so on. I thought it the best backdrop to my characters’ drama, and in the process, it became the linchpin. (Besides, I love academic settings!)
Deb: I’d love to try one, too, but I’ve never dared. My memories of college are -- shall we say -- a bit misty by now. But how early in the writing of the book did you sense it needed to be a romantic suspense?
Janet: From the get-go. It started out as a “revenge” story in its earliest form—a young woman going to confront the man she thinks responsible for her sister’s death (with all the possibilities for danger that that implies), only to fall in love with him at the end. It morphed through various other plotlines, various other scenarios, but there was always an underlying mystery, a budding and somewhat forbidden romance, and the threat of danger to the heroine. Only recently did it become more fully developed romantic suspense with the additional “woo-woo” element that incorporates elements of danger and attraction for both Lachlan and Amanda. But it was always a “whodunit” with the underlying theme, “Nothing is what it seems to be on the surface.”
Deb: I’ll say you had to “go deep” with this one. During the writing, was the identity of the villain in chief a surprise to you, or did you know it was that person beforehand?
Janet: My VIC (villain in chief)’s identity has changed dramatically from the original! The plot originally had a totally different character involved with Lachlan in the beginning of the book, a letter that explained everything (and which a character brought out at a crucial moment), and even a confrontation between Amanda and the first Mrs. MacAndrews which was rather…interesting, to say the least. It wasn’t until this latest version that I realized who had the most to lose if the hero and heroine win…and why…and what that person would do to stop that from taking place. Then, I had a real villain in chief with a scenario that would make perfect, psychopathic sense (to them). Most of all, I’m thrilled when people have read this in manuscript and said they were surprised at who the “nasty” was; that’s another touchstone of Gothic fiction that I tried hard to get right. I hope I did!
Deb: In spades! Janet, thanks for shedding light on your creative process. Readers, go and get this book – you’ll enjoy the journey as much as I did.