A COUPLE OF years ago I was called by a writer friend and asked to join a group of traditionally published authors, which I did. One of the members of that group was Jan Blazanin, who has just had her second young adult novel, A & L Do Summer, released last week. Jan is a former middle school teacher who grew up in a converted railroad depot near Des Moines, Iowa. Her first YA novel, Fairest of Them All, about a beauty queen who develops alopecia, debuted in April 2009.
She has degrees from Grand View University, Iowa State, and Drake University. She studied writing at the Institute of Children's Literature and the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and teaches creative writing for adults and teens. She currently lives on 11 acres in Waukee, Iowa, with her life partner Mike, her dogs and cat, and a flock of guinea fowl. When she’s not writing, you’ll find Jan reading, running, pulling weeds, walking the dogs, or chasing uninvited wildlife out of the house.
Mike: Welcome Jan and congratulations on your new release, A & L Do Summer, can you give us a short synopsis of it?
Jan: There’s not much to do in Cottonwood Creek, Iowa, but sixteen-year-old Aspen and her friend Laurel plan to do something spectacular the summer before their senior year. Things take a hilarious turn when the town bullies set their sights on making Laurel and Aspen miserable, and the two girls find themselves in a heap of trouble, including a few run-ins with the police. Will the girls be able to survive the summer without a criminal record, and will they be able to pick up boyfriends along the way?
M: Sounds interesting, but I won’t ask you to give away the ending here. Besides A & L, can you give us a short synopsis of Fairest of Them All?
J: Oribella Bettencourt is living a teenage girl’s dream. At fifteen, she’s a beauty queen, a model, and a breath away from her life-long goal of acting in a major motion picture. She and her mother are more than partners; they’re best friends. When Oribella is diagnosed with alopecia, she believes that losing her hair means the end of her career. While she struggles to cope with that loss, the strain shatters the special bond she and her mother have always shared. Without friends, family, or a direction in life, Ori feels like a discarded doll. As she struggles to put her life back together, Ori wonders if she can build a future worth living for.
M: Would it be fair to say that your books are aimed at teen aged girls?
J: Honestly, I don’t picture many teen boys being drawn to Fairest of Them All. The beauty pageant, modeling, and acting aspects of the plot probably put them off. That’s not to say that guys haven’t read and enjoyed it, but I had a female audience in mind when I wrote it.
Even though the two main characters in A & L Do Summer are girls, the story has a lot to offer male readers. First, it’s funny, and humor has a universal appeal. A & L also prominently features several male characters in critical roles—Aspen’s brother Manny, his best friend Clay, rookie policeman Miguel Sierra, and Buttferk, the trio of bad guys. And the story is loaded with action, which makes it a fast, guy-friendly read.
M: I’m always interested in how writers got started writing so let me pose the question to you: What started you writing? And in particular, what started you writing Young Adult?
J: I began writing while I was teaching reading to sixth graders in the 1990s. I made it a habit to preview all the middle grade and young adult novels before I put them into our class library. Soon I was reading the books for entertainment rather than out of a sense of obligation. I’ve loved writing since elementary school, and finding all those wonderful stories rekindled my interest. I wrote my first middle grade manuscript in 1993.
M: I should point out that my First Monday columnist, Robyn Gioia also writes YA and is a Fifth grade teacher. Anyway, can you tell me what your writing habits are? In other words, do you write each day, morning, evening, etc.?
J: My goal is to write every day, and I come close to doing that. My preferred time to write is in the morning after I finish running and working out at the gym. Some of my best ideas come when I’m exercising, and I like to get them on paper before they slip away. I figure all the oxygen and endorphins swimming around in my brain can’t hurt, either.
If for some reason I can’t write in the morning, I try to squeeze in an hour or two in the afternoon. I prefer to have a large block of writing time, but sometimes I focus better when I know I have to condense my creativity into a short period of time.
M: I notice you work with a small writing group, how does that help your writing?
|The group: Eileen, Jan, Rebecca & Sharelle|
J: I am lucky to have the best writing group in the galaxy. Without their support, I doubt that I’d be published now. When Fairest of Them All was in its earliest incarnation Sharelle Byars Moranville (Over the River, A Higher Geometry, The Purple Ribbon, The Snows) and Eileen Boggess (The Mia Fullerton Series) lovingly bullied me into submitting the first page at a writing conference. That page caught the interest of Rosemary Stimola who later became my agent. Shortly after that conference, talented picture book author Rebecca Janni (Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse, Every Cowgirl Needs Dancin’ Boots) joined our group.
Although nearly three decades separate our youngest and oldest members (I’m not going to tell you who’s who!), we have terrific personal and writing chemistry. Each of us brings unique perspectives and insights to the group. I can count on Sharelle, Eileen, and Becky for honest feedback and wholehearted support. To me they’re indispensible.
M: As we all know, writing is a very competitive business. How did you first get published?
J: I worked on my craft for about fifteen years before I was published. During that time I wrote six middle grade and young adult novel manuscripts and collected stacks of rejections. I attended SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conferences and writing workshops, completed three courses from the Institute of Children’s Literature, and read dozens of how-to books.
My break came at a 2005 SCBWI writing conference in Des Moines when agent Rosemary Stimola saw the first page of Fairest of Them All. She’d never heard of alopecia, and she expressed an interest in the premise of the story. When I finished the manuscript two years later I queried her. She asked to see the manuscript, signed me as a client, and I was finally on my way.
M: Any hobbies, etc. for spare time?
J: I love running and working out in general, and I’ve just taken up biking again after more than twenty years. Last Saturday was my first ride. Riding in a straight line was challenging; turning corners was a disaster. But it will come back to me—I hope!
Watching wildlife and being outdoors are important parts of my life. We have five bird feeders on our deck that attract a wide variety of birds. The guinea fowl running around our acreage eat the bugs and provide constant entertainment. I enjoy digging in my flower gardens. And I can’t imagine life without my dogs and cat to keep me company.
M: How can readers contact you? Webpage – Facebook, links, etc.?
J: My website is www.janblazanin.com. You can find me on Facebook and Twitter, and I’m a Goodreads and Shelfari author. Both Fairest of Them All and A&L Do Summer are available in paperback Kindle editions. You can buy them at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and Borders.com. Readers who live in the Des Moines area can also find both books at Beaverdale Books.
M: Jan, thank you for your time today, and best of luck with A& L.
J: Thank you.