Today, I’m delighted to welcome Jana Petken to Virtual Book Club, an interview series in which I put questions to authors about their latest releases. If you would like to pose a question, you’ll have the opportunity to do so at the end.
The award winning,The Guardian of Secrets was Jana’s first major work of historical fiction. That was followed by, Dark Shadows (The Mercy Carver Series Book 1) Blood Moon (The Mercy Carver Series Book 2), and her latest release, The Errant Flock, is a historical thriller set during The Spanish Inquisition.
At this point I would normally provide a brief biography of the author, but Jana’a story is so extraordinary that I suggest you read it in her own words on her website.
Q: Welcome, Jana. That’s some journey! You’ve already explained what led you to writing, but can I ask what your first recognition/success as an author was?
I should say my recent Readers’ Favorite award, but actually I felt I had achieved success as an author on the day the first Kindle copy was downloaded by a reader. I’ve always had my feet on the ground. I know I have a long way to go before real recognition catapults me into the stratosphere, and I am on the cover of the New York Times, but every day I meet new readers, buying my books, and every month I see an increase in exposure, thanks to people blogging about my work. I’m grateful to every new reader, who takes the time to discover my titles.
Q: You generally write in the genre of historical fiction. What can readers expect?
I’ve been called many things but I’m most frequently called ‘gritty,’ as far as my writing style is concerned. I tackle some pretty difficult subjects and I believe that I am honest and willing to risk being described as a tad graphic in order to bring a fictional story that has a feeling of reality. Readers can expect to go on a journey into the past and remain there from the beginning of the book until the final page. My mantra: Don’t just read history, live in it.
The key trick in writing historical fiction is transporting readers to another time and place without overloading them with historical information. So how much detail is too much?
I think there are differing viewpoints on this question. My take is that some historical fiction authors seem to feel that they are duty bound to infuse vast amounts of dates, events, and documented accuracies in great detail, to give the story authenticity. This practice however, can produce an adverse effect on the tale itself. A reader should be able to take the journey into history, become a witness to the events, and have an emotional link to the characters, and the situations they are involved in, without being bogged down by facts. Yes, they are important, as is plot consistency. The feel of the period and dialogue between characters are also crucial elements in maintaining the reader’s belief. I believe that a perfect balance between fact and fiction can make the difference between success and failure.
The ambitions of four men merge and collide in a deadly game of intrigue.
“Sweeping, ambitious and dark.”
Click here to Look Inside or buy (Free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers)
Q: If you were trying to describe your writing to someone who hasn’t read anything by you before, what would you say?
I write in a straightforward manner with an engaging tone. My characters are colourful, flawed, and diverse. There are no perfect heroes, or heroines, or consistent saints or sinners. I am not a virtuoso academic, penning a myriad of mind-blowing prose on every page, but I have been told that I am a great storyteller. In my opinion, that is the greatest compliment an author can receive from readers.
Q: Has setting a novel in a place that is well known to you changed the way that you feel about that place?
Yes. In my latest book, The Errant Flock, I delve into medieval Spain around the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Only an hour from where I live is a hilltop medieval town, with its heart relatively untouched since the 1400s. Although it is surrounded by modern buildings and roads, I was able to visualise my middle ages era through my eyes, and not just my imagination. It was a rare gift to be able to write about cobbled streets, Jewish quarters, castles, and battlements, whilst standing right in front of them all. It certainly added to the authenticity of the story. This town will always be close to my heart because it gave me my story.
Q: At what point in writing the book did you come up with its title?
Touch wood, I haven’t had to struggle to find a title, yet. I don’t really worry too much about that when I begin a new book. Forcing a title can add added pressure and encroach on time better spent trying to find the story. My titles have all come during the writing process, either from a phrase I’ve written, or random words, which have struck a chord with me. I do my very best to come up with a durable, and effective title. The thought of getting it wrong, terrifies me.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A historical fiction, family saga, set against the backdrops of the Easter Uprising in Dublin, Ireland, and the First World War. As with all my books, the tale will be gritty and dark. I don’t believe in sugar coating difficult plots, especially when they involve conflicts. I’m very much a realist, and I think that my stories reflect that. Facing ruin, both financially and personally, my fictitious family are certainly put through their paces. They live during a tumultuous period in history, but it the family members’ political aspirations and excessive bouts of pride that rip their lives apart. This is the story of how they learn to live with the consequences of their actions, whilst being embroiled in the Great War.
Q: As a reader, what would tempt you outside your comfort zone?
I’m comfortable in most genres that entertain me. I’m not a fan but I will read contemporary biographies and memoirs, which are deep and touching. I greatly admire people who inspire and connect with readers, by sharing their life stories. Having said that, I usually stick to books written about historical personages, and won’t read the life story of a twenty-five year old celebrity. I have also been known to read an erotica book or two on request, but, and I don’t mean to sound arrogant, I am not a fan.
Q: What do you think the future holds for writers?
There’s no doubt about it, the publishing industry, both traditional and independent, is in flux. Pessimistic forecasts of failure, for most Indie authors, have lowered expectations of success down to a level, where authors are announcing to the world that they are ‘Best Sellers’ on free download lists. That tells me that the future of the author community will be in the hands of those with staying power and real talent, who strongly believe that they should be paid for their books. Patience will be required and a willingness, or lack thereof, to invest in self promotion and marketing without reasonable prospect of recuperating money spent on campaigns, will eventually weed out the herd. There has been a 58% rise in e-Books this year. Next year, that number may grow or, as I humbly predict, Amazon will put gatekeepers in place to vet the books going onto their site, thus staving off an even greater flooded market.
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