Sunday, June 4, 2017

Europolitan Mentor Interviews Part 2: Janet Fox

by Patti Buff

Welcome to our interview series with the Europolitan Mentors! The Europolitan Mentorship program pairs qualified, inspirational mentors with aspiring authors and illustrators, who write in English, to help bring them closer to publication, or to publication at a higher level. Each mentor will select one mentee from all applicants.

This six-month online one-on-one program provides mentees the opportunity to work personally with and learn from a successful professional with teaching experience and a proven track record in children’s literature.

In this series of articles, you will get a closer look at the 2017 mentors; who they are, their writing journey and what potential mentees should know about them. For more information about the program and how to apply, visit the website. 

Our next interview is with Janet Fox. Janet Fox is mentoring fiction and non-fiction for middle grade and young adult.

Janet Fox writes award-winning fiction and non-fiction for children of all ages. Her published works include the non-fiction middle grade book GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT (Free Spirit, 2006), and three YA historical romances: FAITHFUL (Speak/Penguin Group, 2010), FORGIVEN (Penguin, 2011), and SIRENS (Penguin, 2012). Janet's debut middle grade novel THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE (Viking, 2016) received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Shelf Awareness, is a Junior Library Guild selection, a 2016 Indies Next pick, and an ALA Notable Books nominee. Her next novel, the middle grade THE LAST TRUE KNIGHT (Viking, 2018) is a tale of alternative facts and gender identity set in a magical Elizabethan England. Future projects include a non-fiction picture book, a contemporary YA novel set in Montana, and a middle grade fantasy set in a future Pacific Northwest.

Janet is a 2010 graduate of the MFA/Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is a former high school teacher. She lives in Bozeman, Montana with her husband and their rambunctious yellow lab. She's been involved with SCBWI for almost 15 years and is currently assistant Regional Advisor in the Montana region. She's represented by Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency, and you can also find her at

Welcome Janet and thank you so much for being a Europolitan mentor! I always like to know about how people became writers so could you share with us your path to writing. Was this something you’d always done or did you pick it up along the way?

Janet's workspace

I've been "writing" since I was about five years old. When I was in third grade, my teacher, Mrs. Weber, sent one of my poems to the town paper, and it was published. I can still remember the excitement I felt when I saw my name in print for the first time.

I majored in English in college, wrote poetry and short stories, wrote a novel, even won a couple of contests with my poetry and short fiction...and then I went on to study geology and get my master's in marine geology. And then...I studied architecture and landscape architecture. I became a mom. We moved. I moved - away from writing fiction, fiddling with all these other interests and distractions.

But when my son was five, it became clear he was dyslexic, and I began making up stories to try and teach him to read. At about the same time, my mom passed away, and I found a stack of children's books among her things, and I hadn't known she was writing. These two things combined to make me wonder what stories for children were like today, as opposed to the ones I read when I was a child. Could I find a publisher for my mom's stories, or for the ones I was inventing for my son?

In a turn of great good fortune, we had moved to College Station, Texas. Kathi Appelt lives there, and while I searched for answers to my writing questions I met Kathi, one of the most generous people on the planet. She became a friend and a mentor, encouraged me to join SCBWI, encouraged my writing, and encouraged me to attend Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Everyone's path is unique, and there's no such thing as "too late."

How great that first your mom and then you wrote for children! Since writing and publishing are two different beasts, could you share with us how you first became published and what you’ve learned over the years about publishing?

SCBWI is absolutely critical to my success. I met my critique partners through SCBWI, attended conferences and writing workshops, and learned about both craft and industry through SCBWI.

It was at an SCBWI conference that I met my first agent during a 10-page critique, so I would whole-heartedly encourage everyone to sign up for those critiques. And no, it was not my first - I'd had several before, and they were nerve wracking and discouraging, until I learned the craft skills and wrote something that caught someone's eye.

I'll add that I also met my current agent through SCBWI, at a very early critique, before I was ready as a writer, so those circuitous paths often have meaning only in hindsight.

As a writer, your goal should be to write the best novel/picture book/story you can write. Hone your craft skills and understand the market. Publishing should not be a writer's goal, because publishing is an industry that sails in changeable winds. But if you pursue craft with determination, you will be published.

And for me, having the support of my agent and agency, and my editor and publishing house, has made a huge difference. I've been fortunate to find myself in a supportive community of writers - through SCBWI, Vermont College of Fine Arts, and my agency - who are there for me when times are tough and also when they are good.

What role did mentors, critique groups or an MFA program play in your creative career? 

Janet and her dog
I've already mentioned Kathi Appelt. There were others in the SCBWI writing community in Texas who also encouraged me at every step. In fact, I can say firmly that I've never met a children's writer who was not wonderful, and I mean that. The kidlit community is awesome.

I've had a couple of critique groups through the years, and I've been so lucky there, too. My first group met weekly. We were all published by the time I moved away from Texas. Here in Montana I have an equally supportive and talented group.

I will say that my Vermont College MFA is one of the crucial aspects of my development. The faculty are the best in the industry. The students are talented, every one. The college curriculum is designed to push writers to hone their craft skills to a fine point. And the connections through the college can help make a writer's career. Plus, it was a ton of fun. If I could do it again, I would in a heartbeat.

What excites you most about being a mentor for the SCBWI Europolitan Mentor Program?
I love helping other writers hone their craft. And I love sharing what I've learned through many years, now, of practice and study. I taught English to 8th and 9th graders for several years just before my first book came out, and I love to teach - to watch someone develop a skill, to see them light up with the "aha!" moment of understanding.

More importantly, so many people have had a hand in my success that I love the idea of giving back - of helping a writer find their voice and their place in the community. That's certainly what Kathi did for me, and I would love to do for someone who is just beginning their journey.

What else should potential mentees know about you?

Just that I will be thorough and fair and that if I weren't a writer, I'd be an editor. That's what I'll give to a mentee - a serious edit that will hopefully help him or her take their work to the next level.

Some of Janet's Books

Viking, 2016
“Keep calm and carry on.”

That’s what Katherine Bateson’s father told her, and that’s what she’s trying to do: when her father goes off to the war, when her mother sends Kat and her brother and sister away from London to escape the incessant bombing, even when the children arrive at Rookskill Castle, an ancient, crumbling manor on the misty Scottish highlands.

But it’s hard to keep calm in the strange castle that seems haunted by ghosts or worse. What’s making those terrifying screeches and groans at night? Why do the castle’s walls seem to have a mind of their own? And why do people seem to mysteriously appear and disappear?

Kat believes she knows the answer: Lady Eleanor, who rules Rookskill Castle, is harboring a Nazi spy. But when her classmates begin to vanish, one by one, Kat must uncover the truth about what the castle actually harbors—and who Lady Eleanor really is—before it’s too late.

Receiver of four starred reviews (Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, Booklist, Shelf Awareness) 

Other awards/honorable mentions include:

  • 2016 Junior Library Guild selection
  • Spring 2016 Indies Next pick
  • ALA Notable Books Nominee 2016
  • 2017 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Shortlist Honor Book
  • 2017 Texas SPOT (Spirit of Texas Award) selection
  • 2017 Wisconsin State Reading Association selection
  • 2017 Maine Student Book Awards list
  • Booklist Top 10 Books For Youth Fantasy/Horror 2016
  • Brightly Best Books 2016
  • Bank Street Best Children’s Books 2016

Speak/Penguin Group, 2012
Josephine Winter, seventeen, is sent to live with relatives in New York City after her bootlegging father receives a threat, but bookish Jo harbors her own secrets. She finds friendship with lively Louise O’Keefe and romance with sweet jazz musician Charlie. But haunted by the spirit of her missing brother, Jo uncovers a nest of family lies that threaten everyone she loves, and Lou, in the thrall of the dangerous, seductive gangster Daniel Connor, is both Jo’s best friend and potential enemy. As Jo unlocks dark mysteries and Lou’s eyes are opened, the girls’ treacherous paths intertwine. Jo and Lou together will have to stand up to Connor in order to find their hearts and hang onto their souls in the “decade of decadence.”

Kirkus review: “Yes, there’s a mystery here. It involves Jo’s supposedly dead brother, Lou’s gangster boyfriend, bootlegging, a bombing, missing pages from a journal, and more than a few Dark Secrets. All of which was quite fun, though it’s not why Sirens was a stand-out for me….Sirensis a celebration of girl power, sisterhood, and hope for the future.”

Speak/Penguin Group, 2010
In 1904 Margaret Bennet has it all – money, position, and an elegant family home in Newport, Rhode Island. But just as she is to enter society, her mother ruins everything, first with public displays, and then by disappearing. Maggie’s confusion and loss are compounded when her father drags her to Yellowstone National Park, where he informs her that they will remain. At first Maggie’s only desire is to return to Newport. But the mystical beauty of the Yellowstone landscape, and the presence of young Tom Rowland, a boy unlike the others she has known, conspire to change Maggie from a spoiled girl willing to be constrained by society to a free-thinking and brave young woman living in a romantic landscape at the threshold of a new century.

Amelia Bloomer List Selection for 2011

YALSA 2011 Nominee: Best Fiction for Young Adults

Booklist: “Fox combines mystery, romance, and a young girl’s coming-of-age in this satisfying historical tale.”

School Library Journal: “The wilderness of Yellowstone…is lovingly and beautifully depicted…the gradual revelation of the truth about Maggie’s mother, the developing relationship between Maggie and Tom, and the thrilling episodes sprinkled throughout will engage readers.”

No comments:

Post a Comment