Janet Gurtler Answers Nine Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by choosing which questions, and how many questions, they want to answer! Janet Gurtler was gracious enough to answer nine questions.  Over the weekend, I read her latest novel, If I Tell, in just a few hours and enjoyed the unique storyline of a girl who has caught her best friend with her mother’s boyfriend. Here is what Janet had to say about reading, writing and sucking at titles!

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

My name is Janet Gurtler.   I started writing fiction when I was first at home with my son when he was a baby. It was kind of a bucket list thing before I knew what a bucket list was. Write a book before I die. Check. My son is turning eleven soon, so that’s how long I have been writing novels. Before that I was always in love with the written  word.  I wrote journals through my teen years and into my twenties.  I took a Creative Communications diploma at college after high school and worked as a copywriter before being lured over to sales.

I love to write contemporary fiction. Makes sense since I love to read it the most as well. Contemporary young adult is my favourite genre, though I have dabbled in romance and I have also written paranormal books.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

First of all, I must say I totally understand and approve of reading as a means of escape and comfort. I have used it like that all my life!  As for routines etc. that help me get through the writing process, the best thing for me in my first drafting of books is to set daily goals.  For example- 500 words or 1000 words a day.  I have to use more self-discipline to get myself to write that first draft.  There will be times when I am totally into a story or scene and I will go way beyond that, but to just get it done, daily goals work.  I am the writer who is less about intensive outlining. My books tend to be character driven and I will take time from daily word goals to figure out who these people I’m writing about are.  I often use WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maas to figure out my story and characters.

Once I’m into the revising phase, which I actually prefer, I can get completely lost in my work. I will burn grilled cheese sandwiches,   forget house work and meals that require actual cooking and barely get my son to and from school and his extracurricular activities as I burn though pages. My husband will stare longingly at me sometimes, but I’ll barely notice.

I also need coffee.  And protein bars. I have a weird addiction to protein bars.

People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time?  What impact did telling this story have on your life?  Did you find that it had changed you?

I wanted to write about Jaz. Part black and part white.  A daughter I never had. When I was in my twenties I was desperately in love with a black boy.  He was wrong for me and we ended up just being friends but for a couple years I wanted to have a child with him and imagined what her challenges would have been and to me Jaz is kind of that child we never had.

I also wanted to write about people who make mistakes that hurt other people. Simon and Lacey and even Jaz’s mother make mistakes that may seem unforgiveable in IF I TELL, but I wanted to show that mistakes don’t always make people bad.  Most of us do some pretty horrible things and yet on the other hand we are also good people who do wonderful things as well.  Lacey was very loosely modelled after a younger version of me. I was a horrible binge drinker and did really things I was deeply ashamed of when I drank (but no I didn’t make out with anyone’s mom’s boyfriend)  So, I wanted to show a good side of Lacey as well. She volunteered and in the end she overcame her drinking addiction. But she still did what she did.  And to me, it was okay for Jaz not to forgive her for that.  Okay for both of them.

And then there was her mother, who in the end suffered from Postpartum Depression. I did and I try not to pretend it never happened. It happens to a lot of women and it’ important for me to show that.  I didn’t want the story to be about that, but I wanted to show it happening.  My hope is that young girls who read it will kind of file that information away. That PPD happens.  That it doesn’t make someone bad nor is it shameful as many mental illnesses are made out to be. I know that teens are not supposed to understand it or even totally empathize with it at this stage in their lives, but most of the teens who read this book will someday be mom’s and I really, really wanted to plant this seed for possible reference later.  And that makes me happy.  To share that with young girls.

What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?  Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?

I am always reading. No surprise there! I love deep, emotionally edgy books.  If a book makes me weep, I am in love.  I bawled like a baby when I read Before I Die.  I love Sarah Ockler’s books and Sara Zarr makes me insanely jealous but with deep admiration for her skill!

I love contemporary YA fiction. That is not to say I don’t appreciate the occasional Dystopian or Paranormal novel, but contemp is what I crave.  I am absolutely in love with A.S. King.  I find her characters so darn quirky and so different than what I write, but adore and admire her work. Similar to quirky, interesting characters John Greene writes  imo.

I do read with a different eye now. I’ll notice how the author is setting a story up. How she is showing her characters, developing them how she tells her story. Sometimes I’ll just bathe in the glorious turn of phrases. It’s so interesting to see how other writer’s do what they do.  It also helps me understand my own strengths and weaknesses a little better too, I think.

 Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be?  How involved were in choosing the name of the book?

I suck at titles. Truly. I’M NOT HER was not my title idea. It was subbed as The Weight of Bones. Originally I called it Dance Big Sister. Ha ha!

IF I TELL stared out as Faded Genes. Groan. I know. I subbed it as All About Jaz.  Groan.

My third book with Sourcebooks is currently called JUST BREATHE. Yeah. It won’t be keeping that title although it’s better than my working title– The Peanut Butter Book. Giggle!

Sourcebooks was great about letting me down gently on all my titles. They asked for my input and I sent suggestions and looked at their final picks. In the end, the titles weren’t always the one I originally picked, but they are the ones that suited the book best and I LOVE them now!!

Do you ever look back at your early work? How do you feel your writing style or approach to writing has evolved since you first began?

Occasionally I’ll look over something I wrote earlier. Things that weren’t published. Surprisingly sometimes I’ll think, oh, that wasn’t THAT bad.  But I can definitely see now what I couldn’t see then.  Why the books didn’t sell. What they were lacking etc. I don’t think I ever understood story. I still write character driven books, but realized there had to be a story to go with it. Plot as you were. Hee!  I read a lot of craft books and did enough critique exchanges that I began to see what worked and what didn’t work.

Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?

My favourite character to write in IF I TELL was hands down Jaz.  I really love her and her insecurities and anger and have a lot of faith that she is going to turn into a really decent adult. In her fictional world of course. Hee hee.  I mentioned before, she’s kind of a daughter I never had.

Where do you most love to write? Are there places where it comes to you easier than others?

I write on my living room couch. With a footstool under my legs. Bad posture.  I also like to write in coffee shops sometimes, but mostly I’m too lazy to actually have a shower and put on clothes that are presentable just to go write, so I usually do it at home.

What’s next?

The Peanut Butter Book.  This is of course, not what the book is going to be called.

Janet Gurtler’s JUST BREATHE, in which a girl struggles with boy problems and serious regret after accidentally killing a boy she barely knows when she kisses him after consuming a peanut butter sandwich, not aware he has a deathly allergy to peanuts.

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