An Interview with Janet E. Irvin

Janet E. Irvin boasts quite the resume. She has served as Adjunct Professor of Spanish at Wright State University, in Dayton, Ohio, and chair of the International Language Department at Springboro High School, in Springboro Ohio, where she taught Spanish and English. Her work has picked up the Leo Love Fiction Award at the Taos Writer’s Conference, a Midwest Writers Conference Fellowship, and top prize at the Jeremiah Healey Mystery Fiction Contest at the Key West Mystery Writers Fest. In addition, she’s been published in print and online with several literary magazines. Janet, who publishes novels under the name of J. E. Irvin, would never boast, though, and one of the first things a person might notice about her is her calm, soothing voice and ability to turn even a simple conversation or observation into beautiful prose. I enjoyed both of Irvin’s novels (The Dark End of the Rainbow and The Rules of the Game), and I look forward to reading more from her. I’m also grateful that she made the time to answer several questions.

Christina: You consider both The Dark End of the Rainbow and The Rules of the Game mysteries/thrillers. How did you choose to write in that particular genre? Will you be branching beyond it for any future novels?

Janet: The stories and the characters chose me to tell their tales. I didn’t consciously select a genre, but rather fell into it. The Dark End of the Rainbow began as a literary short story that ended up too dark, according to editors, for public consumption. So, I rethought the plot, expanded it, and followed the bread crumbs that Xandra, Leah and Joe dropped. The story evolved into a mystery early on. The Rules of the Game started with two images, one of a man standing on a hill daring the world to find out who he was and the other of a teacher who would do anything to protect her students. However, there was a precedent established in my earlier pieces, short stories with a darker side that were accepted for publication by two magazines titled after my favorite practitioners of mystery/thriller: Alfred Hitchcock and Sherlock Holmes. I am fascinated by the what-ifs of a story, and the motivation behind our actions.

But mystery/thriller is not the only thing I write. My current manuscript in search of an agent is contemporary women’s literary fiction. I also have a paranormal fantasy in draft stage and a follow-up mystery/thriller waiting to be completed. I have even attempted some poetry recently. Not sure where that’s going!

Christina: Where do you find inspiration for the stories that you write?

Janet: Inspiration incubates everywhere. Recently, at a gathering of poets, one of the writers recounted a story about her neighborhood’s sole abandoned house. Now I have a short story based on her anecdote. The Dark End started with a newspaper article about a real tragedy in Cincinnati. Sometimes it’s a snatch of conversation. In Chicago, I once heard a man talking on the phone who urged the person on the other end “not to take off Carlos’s pants.” Now that got me thinking! Mostly, though, I start with a what-if musing. Frequently, a character will pop up and demand that I tell his/her story. There is always a tale lurking, in even the most unlikely corners of our world.

Christina: Like any profession, writers can always strive to be better and to grow. How do you work on making yourself a better writer?

Janet: Honestly, I never feel like I’m good enough. No matter how many times I revise a piece, I always wonder how much more I have to do to be good. Improvement is a constant goal. To that end, I surround myself with other writers, in writing groups and online, who will challenge me upward. I attend conferences as often as money permits. I read several books a week plus magazine articles and whatever comes across my internet feed that looks like it will help me write better. Most important of all, I write and I re-write.

Christina: You’re a former English and Spanish teacher and understand on multiple levels just how much language and words have power. Have you had an experience that drove that point home for you?

Janet: What a great question! Let me think about a specific experience. In the meantime, let’s talk about the power of language itself. Words always have power, no place more so than in the political arena, where we have witnessed so much abuse of that power over the last several years. The entire anti-bullying movement begins with a consideration of that power, and our ability to choose how to employ it. In my daily life, I actually seek to disseminate more rather than fewer words, and I’ve been teased and bullied for it all my life, considered elite because I love words. A frequent statement directed toward me, even in childhood, is why do you have to use such big words? I refuse to apologize for my usage, for it is language that elevates us, inspires us, redeems tragedy and restores dignity. Perhaps one episode from my teaching career speaks to this power. IT is not a grand event, but rather a quiet one that occurred twice, once during my career at the high school level and again when I taught at Wright State. Although I do not have a PhD., students in my Spanish classes often called me Profesora. One day after school, two of the immigrant students from Venezuela came to see me, to chat in Spanish, to feel at home. When they left, they called out, “Ciao, Profe.” To shorten my formal title was a display of affection and respect. This happened again in a beginning class at the university level. That simple appellation, uttered with genuine joy, touched me then and remains with me now as a grace conferred for what I hope was a job well-done.

Christina: What is your favorite thing to do when (if?) you have spare time?

Janet: I believe that a ‘life well-lived’ is a life that includes family, nature, and service to others. To that end, I spend time with our children and grandchildren as often as I can. I play with the little ones now. Someday I won’t be able to get down on the floor! I walk, outdoors as weather permits (which is also good for inspiration!), canoe, and go to the gym two to three times a week. I also serve on the Park Board and the Bicycling and Pedestrian Advisory Committee for the city of Springboro. My husband and I try to take at least one trip abroad each year, and we visit Charleston, S.C., whenever oysters are in season.

Christina: You are an award-winning author. Many would say that those awards equal success. What does literary success look like to you?

Janet: My awards are small, welcome, treasured, but they do not equal success. For me, success comes from the respect, admiration, and support of my fellow writers and from readers who enjoy my words. Would I like to have a prestigious accolade, a multi-book contract, and more book sales? Most assuredly. But I value more the recognition of my peers, the belief that I am a contributing member of the writing community, and that my stories capture our humanity in a compelling and beautiful way.

Thanks to Janet for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.

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