Please welcome Historical Mystery Author, Janet Kellough.
I was fortunate to meet Janet at a book signing event in September and happy she agreed to participate in my interview.
Janet has written several historical mystery novels in the Thaddeus Lewis Mystery series. The most recent of this series, The Untoward Assassin, released in March of this year. The great cover is sure to draw your attention to this book.
I hope you enjoy learning about this Canadian author.
About Writing/Books/Being an Author
1. Do you remember the first book you read that had an impact on you – in what way and what was the name of that book?
It sounds so trite now, but I found Anne of Green Gables stunning because it was set in Canada. Everything I’d read prior to that was British or American. Canada was a place that nobody seemed to write about, but it was so refreshing to have a story set in a familiar geography.
2. When did you first realize you wanted to write?
I grew up in a time when little girls always got dolls for Christmas. I’d play “orphanage” with mine and make up stories about what happened to their families, so I think that was the beginning for me. I just had to learn how to write it all down. Interestingly enough, most dolls in those days were female, so it may well have been my first feminist work.
3. Who is/are your favourite author(s)?
This changes all the time. My current favourite author is Carlos Ruiz Zafon who writes these incredible gothic mystery sagas set in Barcelona during the Franco regime. Think Robert Louis Stevenson, but with a lot more sex and violence. He breaks any number of “rules” in his writing, but I can’t put his books down. But I’ll have a new favourite author any moment now.
4. What is your favourite thing about writing? What is your least favourite thing about writing?
I do a lot of research for my books, and I love doing it. I’m also unusual in that I quite enjoy editing and revising. The difficult part for me is to get it out of my head and down on paper as a first draft. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s a first draft and I can write the big scenes without worrying how to stitch it all together on the first go. I’ve now been writing long enough to know that at some point the story will start to take a shape, and from then on, I can relax and enjoy the process, but it was nerve-wracking at first.
5. Where do your ideas come from?
A huge amount of my stuff is historically-based, and historical incident has always served as a starting point. The question I ask is how the big, external events impacted average people – what did they think about it, how did they react, were there other things going on at the same time that influenced their attitudes? That puts you inside the story and makes the history real. In terms of other writing, oftentimes it’s a juxtaposition of two or three things that on the surface of it don’t seem to be related, but if you turn them around and inside out suddenly they fit together and you have the beginnings of a plot. There are times, though, when ideas just seem to drop down out of the sky. I thank the universe and run with those.
6. I’ve often found that creative people have more than one talent, what is yours?
I spent a lot of years as a performance storyteller and worked mostly with musicians. I was telling historically-based stories that were interwoven with related folk-based music. Sometimes I got to sing back-up. I was good at telling stories. Singing, not so much.
7. If you could jump inside a book for one day (as an observer) what book would it be?
One of my own LOL. I wrote the speculative fiction thriller The Bathwater Conspiracy because I wanted to write a book about women interacting with each other outside of the male gaze. The publisher billed it as “dystopian”, but it isn’t really. Neither is it utopian. It’s just really, really interesting and I’d love to spend some real time in it.
8. When you create characters, are they completely made up or do they resemble or remind you of people you know?
I think every author borrows from real life and tries to create characters that readers can identify with, so you take a mannerism from here, and an attitude from there and a physical trait from somewhere else, and combine them in a way that creates somebody new, but relatable. I know of only one author who openly admits that he based a character (the bad guy!) on a real person and I’m surprised that he hasn’t been sued yet.
9. Have you ever created a character “out of thin air” only to run into someone in real life that reminds you of that character either in personality or their features?
No, but a funny thing happened with the first novel I wrote. The Palace of the Moon revolved around a “bad boy” who grew up to be a successful but slightly unscrupulous businessman. A lot of people in Prince Edward County were convinced that I had written about a real person, but every time they hazarded a guess about who it might be, they’d offer up a different name. All that told me was that I got the characterization right, but there are still people who insist that someday I’ll have to fill them in on who it “really” was.
10. How do you come up with titles for your books?
Some of them are easy – the title is sitting right there in the body of the work. The Burying Ground plot involved the old Toronto Strangers’ Burying Ground, so it was a no-brainer. The Heart Balm Tort wove a story of murder that began as a suit for seduction, so that was straight- forward. Others are a lot more elusive, and I have to sit down with a piece of paper and a pen and just start spitballing. I’m still not sure about some of the titles I came up with, but my husband says he likes them all, and he’s smart, so I’ll take his word for it.
11. What are you working on now and can you tell us about it?
I currently have a manuscript out for consideration, so I may have to move that to the front burner soon, but at the moment I’m working on a story based on my own family history. It moves from restoration England to South Carolina to New York, and covers a very early period of colonial settlement. There’s lots of interesting stuff happening in that period, and a lot of it hasn’t been written about as extensively as other eras. It’s a huge project because the research is so intense. I may try to work on other things concurrently, including another Thaddeus Lewis, but it’s something I’d really like to see completed.
12. Have you won any awards for your writing/books and if so what?
I haven’t won, but I’ve been short-listed for a couple of fairly prestigious awards. The fifth Thaddeus Lewis book Wishful Seeing was nominated for a Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel in 2017. And The Bathwater Conspiracy was recently short-listed for an Alberta Book Publishing Award. The Arthur Ellis was particularly sweet because it’s an award that’s juried by other writers in the field.
A Little More Personal
13. What is one thing you haven’t done but would like to do?
Go back in time. I’d love to be twenty years old again, but know what I know now.
14. Are you superstitious? Do you have any rituals for good luck?
I have two little elephants, one jade and one ivory, that came from my mother-in-law’s charm bracelet. I put them on a chain, and whenever I wear them as a necklace I seem to have good luck. I also have a bad luck ritual. If I wear something new and I have a crappy day, I have a great deal of difficulty with ever wearing that article of clothing again – and that’s a superstition I’ve had ever since I was a small child.
15. What is the strangest thing you have ever eaten?
Tripe. It’s considered a delicacy in Panama and is often on the menu. I tried it when we were there a few years ago. It’s actually kind of bland and needs a lot of garlicky something with it.
16. Do you have a favourite vacation spot? Where?
I don’t have one place that I keep returning to, but one of the best vacations I ever had was Northern Ireland. We carried everything in backpacks and bought unlimited transportation passes, so we could get everywhere by bus. We’d stand in a bus station, close our eyes and point at the map, then go wherever we happened to point. Awesomely friendly people – they’d strike up conversations with us while we were standing at bus stops. Also, great beer!
17. What makes you happy?
Writing, dogs and Blue Jays games.
18. If you aren’t writing (or doing anything associated with writing), what are you doing?
Walking dogs or watching Blue Jays baseball.
19. Have you ever met anyone famous – who?
I’ve met a lot of fairly high-profile writers – Maureen Jennings, Gail Bowen, Joy Fielding spring to mind. Best-selling author Vicki Delany is a good friend. I’ve known sci-fi/fantasy writer Tanya Huff for a long time. I may have met other famous people, but I’m so clueless I probably didn’t realize they were famous.
Janet Kellough is the author of seven books in the Thaddeus Lewis historical mystery series – On the Head of a Pin, Sowing Poison, 47 Sorrows, The Burying Ground, Wishful Seeing, The Heart Balm Tort, and The Untoward Assassin. She has also written two contemporary novels The Palace of the Moon and The Pear Shaped Woman, and the speculative fiction thriller The Bathwater Conspiracy. Also a storyteller, she has written and performed in stage works such as Fowke Tales, Exile: The United Empire Loyalist Story; Tales from the Wellington Dump; Survivors of War; and many more. Janet has released two CD’s – a compendium of favourite tales called Swear On My Mother’s Grave, and Fowke Tales: Live at Lang, recorded live at Lang Pioneer Village near Peterborough. She lives in an unfashionable part of Prince Edward County.
Facebook: Thaddeus Lewis Mysteries Janet Kellough