Jan Lister Caldwell Interview Published on: 24, Jun 2020

Where were you born? Where have you spent most of your childhood?

I was born in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, which is a small town on the border with Maine. I grew up in a little village called Upper Mills, just a few miles from where I was born, also within site of Maine with a river for a border, a very rural setting.

What did you like to do when you were a child? Were you more of a reader or a writer?

I loved anything nature and loved to learn about everything and spent my time outside as much as possible. I was an avid reader and a writer as a child. I loved to write poetry and stories as well as draw from a very early age.

How did you get into journalism?

I was always interested in it, having thought of pursuing it as a career for a time. Many years ago I was in contact with publishers of a couple of province-wide papers to get a review when I had a middle reader novel out and contacted one with a story idea for their weekly magazine, for someone else to write. I felt my friend and neighbor was an interesting story subject and I thought getting her some exposure would help her. I was surprised to be asked go write it myself and submit photos. Before that came out, I had some other ideas which I ended up pitching to another publisher, who asked me to write only for them. I ended up writing for their human interest magazine and their business magazine and had one article in their main paper. I did that, writing for our local area, for about six years.

Having published several works, including science-fiction novels, children's verse, which genre do you enjoy writing in the most?

I enjoy all types and though my adventure series is science-fiction, that aspect is really only a vehicle to drive my characters. I guess if I had to pick, it would be that genre, though.

What did you learn about writing while working as a free-lance journalist?

I knew I had to keep things brief and to the point beforehand and I was lucky to have few changes to my stories, but keeping to deadlines and coming up with ideas when I only had requests for something to fit a certain magazine really made me disciplined and taxed my imagination to look for story ideas. It also pushed me to go beyond my own shyness and to ask 'nosey' questions. Both were hard to do. Growing up, we were taught not to ask personal questions out of politeness.

How has been your experience of writing feature articles with photos for The Daily Gleaner?

I was very fortunate to have been asked at a time when they were looking for a local writer and not asking for a college degree in journalism. I did the human interest pieces, nothing controversial, and I was grateful for the chance. I was proud to have had all four cover stories in the Saturday magazine one month, and enjoyed the photography end of the job, too. I got calls from four different editors looking for pieces and it was great for discipline, as mentioned, but also it was great for a writer's ego and helped build my confidence for my fiction writing.

Why did you decide to test the market and contact reviewers while publishing an adventure series?

I thought seeing if I had something worthwhile was the smart thing to do. I asked local teachers and relatives who taught to try them and they were glad to do it. It helped me understand my market and get much needed feedback. I was able to get one book out and after talking to the local printer, he suggested I get the four I had written out and send to reviewers and see what happened. He gave me financial advice he thought was sound and led me to believe he would print them as we got orders but it didn't work out that way. I won't go into it but after getting a 'highly recommended' in an annual review and potential buyers, as well as a distributor who would carry them, I found things were not as I had thought and on top of it all, I also had a diagnosis of ,among other things, Lupus. I did have enough of one book printed to try for the schools and it was accepted in the resource catalogue for my province for a few years.

I just pulled back and after a while started looking into finding a publisher that might be interested. As it turns out, three years later my Lupus diagnosis was incorrect, as I was only allergic to arthritis meds. After getting as healthy as possible, I started reworking the books and got them out with an on-demand publisher.

Did you expect the Canadian Book Review Annual to give your series a 'Highly Recommended'?

I had hoped they would like it, as teachers and students as well as friends really loved them, but I was really happy to see that review.

How did you feel when you had to put all but the actual writing on hold until you recovered?

It was hard getting a diagnosis of Lupus, Inflammatory Bone Disease, and Fibromyalgia before 40. We still had our son at home and I was the kind of a person who likes to do everything, from cooking from scratch, carrying for our animals, including ducks and geese back then, and sewing clothing, even helping to get our wood for heating. I pushed myself but often, it was too much. I hate to waste time and still push, but have learned to pace myself, usually. What I had was allergic reactions to medications, which amounts to poisoning really, and after over three years of meds to knock back my immune system and taking the meds I was allergic to, I have damage to my bones, my entire body, but I am still alive and kicking, 'vertical and above the turf', as I say when asked, so I guess I am very blessed really. It made me more determined about things, if that is possible

How did you come up with the idea of your book, "Time-Travel Runaway"?

That story has gone through so many changes since its inception but I wrote it for our son, who loved dinosaurs. I wanted a way for a child to meet them and grow up emotionally learning to survive, and our move from town to the homestead farm gave me some ideas. Once I started, it took on a life of its own, so to speak. I am working on the second novel now, and will rework the entire series of four, making them better . . . I hope:)

Who inspired the character of ten year old Bill in "Time-Travel Runaway"?

Bill is a combination of a lot of people so no one in particular, and perhaps since I am the writer, a part of myself.

Which habits do you think are important for being a successful writer and how do you develop them?

Gosh , I don't think I could be defined as being successful since I don't live off my books or even have them widely available , such as on the shelves of bookstores. But if you only count as having a dream to write and seeing the book in print, and having people tell you they love them, are touched by them, and that is by far the best compliment, then I would say you have to be determined, never give up, listen to constructive criticism and learn from it, have a thick skin, which isn't easy, and work at it, making each sentence the best it can be without writing more than necessary to get your image across. You have to keep the reader's interest and not bore them with unnecessary details. You need to learn to pace your story. Reading your work out loud is a good way to see how it flows.

What are the challenges involved while writing a children's book?

I once had someone ask me if I ever intended to write a book for adults, as if I had to 'work up to it'. I had to laugh. You need to consider a lot writing for kids. Is the language above the target age? It is good to help them reach, especially if they can guess the meaning in the context, but you will lose them if you forget their age. Is the storyline appropriate? Will it teach them something about themselves or others? Will it 'touch them' in a way some books touched me when I was a child, staying with me my entire life? The books kids read can stay with them all their lives and it is an honor to write for them and if I can help put a positive spin on anything, give them some understanding about something, show them a positive role model, then what is better? Kids are the most important resource the world has.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Stick to it, work harder, and don't get discouraged. I gave up on writing for a long time until I started telling my son stories he liked better than the books. That kind of woke me up

How has your experience with AllAuthor been?

Your services has been better than I could have imagined. I am very happy to have joined!

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