About Janis

sc0017be40Janis Arnold: this is a picture of me, one of my sisters, and my mother . . . I’m the one that Santa had to hang on to to keep me from bolting . . .   A brief bio . . .  I was born in Houston, Texas and grew up on a ranch forty miles outside of Houston near a town of 3,000 people. Our family had a television set, but our ranch was located too far outside of Houston for that television set to pick up any channels, so it was fortunate that, as a child, I enjoyed reading.
I was also lucky that my mother regularly joined new Book of the Month Clubs to get the free tote bags. I began to write books when I was in fourth grade after I had waded through all of the books in our very small school’s library.

My cousin, who was skillful with scotch tape and a stapler, wasn’t a writer, but she did like to sketch and draw, so we combined forces and for years our books were written, edited, illustrated, and published on a weekly basis. That same cousin now believes she was the inspiration for Claire Louise and has, to no avail, consulted several lawyers seeking to sue me for misrepresenting her! She’s wrong, of course. CL and MR (as are all my characters) are composites of the good and not-so-good qualities of some very interesting people I’ve met as I’ve journeyed through life. I attended Katy High School, I gained access to a much larger library and gave up writing and publishing my own books. At that time I also developed a significant interest in cheerleading, social activities, and the opposite sex; to be honest, I don’t believe that I ever read another book just because I wanted to until after I graduated from college with the degree in English that landed me my first minimum wage job as a bank teller. So much for a college education instilling a love of reading and writing into an English major! I now realize that what really turned me off about most of my professors was the manner in which, in order to make themselves feel intelligent and superior, they insisted on demeaning and talking down to their students . . .

By the time my first book was published (Daughters of Memory, 1991), I had taught different subjects in a variety of illogical schools and states, lived in a foreign country, returned to the states where I gave up smoking and drinking, earned a master’s degree, was married with one son, and was in the process of moving to San Antonio, Texas where I would eventually begin to work as an educational diagnostician. My second book (Excuse Me For Asking, 1994) was set in an anonymous small Texas town and relied heavily upon stories about things that I’d never had the nerve to do and/or words that I’d thought about, but had never actually uttered.

One of the questions that I’ve been repeatedly asked by readers is: “Are you ever going to write more about Claire Louise and Macy Rose? Or about Julia and Robin?” Nope! Each book is a standalone novel . . . But I’ve learned that Grandma was right when she counseled, never say never. I’ve just completed a sequel to Daughters of Memory (Shade Island) and am working on the next book in the series (McKenzie Park). In these books, Macy Rose is alive and is getting herself and her friend Nina into serious danger. Claire Louise, who dies in Shade Island, appears in both books as a very active and opinionated earthbound ghost. Macy’s beloved grandmother is also a ghost, but not nearly as interactive a one as Claire Louise! In Shade Island, Macy Rose is almost shot while trying uncover the identity of her sister’s killer before she herself is arrested for the crime. In McKenzie Park, Macy Rose (who has greatly benefited from my years of experience in evaluating children suspected to possess serious educational, emotional, and/or sociological disabilities), again comes close to death when she tries to rescue a little boy that she is in the processing of evaluating for the local school district. And In Cypress Springs, the third book planned for the Macy Porter series, Julia and Robin of Excuse Me for Asking fame reappear!

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill published Daughters of Memory in 1991 and reissued D of M as a Front Porch Paperback in 1993. It was reviewed in over one hundred publications, and continues to be available today. Although I believed that I was through writing about the characters living on the Richards Ranch, that has turned out to be not the case. In recent years, I’ve traveled back into the past, to a place that I had vowed never to revisit. In all honesty, the trip hasn’t been an unmitigated pleasure, but I’ve learned some amazing things along the way. I now believe that coming of age isn’t a one-time adventure for writers or their characters. One of my big life lessons has been that there will be consequences to all of my actions. Some of the consequences of what a person says, or does, or, in my case, writes, won’t become apparent for many years. Ultimately though, as the saying goes, ‘our chickens do come home to roost’. It turns out that both Macy Rose and Claire Louise had, and have, more lessons to learn and both have complicated and convoluted stories to tell.

Reviews of Daughters of Memory

Daughters of Memory is a memorable and haunting book about female feuding and bonding between two sisters. You won’t want to put it down as the plot probes beyond sisterly jealousy into intimate family relationships . . . Sally Falk, Indianapolis Star

There are no villains here, and no victims: just an assortment of strong human beings trying to keep sane in the face of monstrosity. I don’t want to know how Janis Arnold knows what she knows, but she has shown genius in the way she has fabricated this novel . . . Carolyn See, Los Angeles Times

Daughters of Memory is an amazing exploration of family dynamics and the sometimes indistinguishable line between pain and anger . . . Leigh White, Macon Magazine Jan/Feb 1994

Booklist: an amazing achievement . . .

Asheville Citizen-Times: a masterpiece of insight . . .

 

3 Responses to About Janis

  1. Belle Yang says:

    Dear Ms. Arnold:

    I read your book some twenty years ago when I was first venturing into publication. After reading a friend’s copy of DAUGHTERS OF MEMORY, I purchased my own, because 1) it was a great read 2) I thought I may one day need to pull apart it’s structure to learn its architectural secrets.

    So I am doing 2) after my agent Al Zuckerman suggested I work on a new graphic memoir (I am a writer & artist) using a single POV per chapter. Each chapter would be seen by the character with the greatest stake in the outcome of that scene.

    So, I just Googled your name and I am thrilled to find this website where I can learn more about an author I’ve admired and who deserves a huge readership.

    I may write you with questions about D of M. I hope it won’t be an imposition. I do have one question now: how did you decide on the alternating single POV when writing D of M?

    I will tell my girlfriend you’ve got other books out! And I will read them after I’ve been riffled the pages of D of M till they fall apart like flakes of snow.

    Sincerely,

    Belle Yang

    • Janis Arnold Janis Arnold says:

      Dear Belle,
      I was amazed to read your email this morning when I sat down at my computer. Thank you so much for your kind words about DAUGHTERS OF MEMORY. I’m gratified that you believe you can learn something about writing from reading and rereading it.

      To answer your questions:

      I had been working on DAUGHTERS OF MEMORY from a single POV, but was in the process of realizing that a single POV made it difficult to create sympathetic and interesting characters. Macy, left alone, whined and complained entirely too much and Claire Louise, when I stayed solely in her head, actually did the same. At about the point where I understood that both women were victims, and that their competitiveness evolved from a fear that there wasn’t enough love to go around in their family, my mother came for a visit to Winston-Salem, N.C. where I was living in 1990. Mother and I were sitting on the living room couch in my house as she was regaling me with stories about my aunt (her sister). During that conversation, I had a vivid image of my cousin Sandy, sitting on her living room couch back in Houston with her mother seated beside her. Just as Mother was doing with me, Auntie was giving Sandy chapter and verse about the sins of my mother, her sister. Eureka, I thought! So I allowed Macy and Claire Louise to play a very vindictive ping pong game with each other for the course of DAUGHTERS OF MEMORY’s 367 pages! Once the POV/structure came together for me, I wrote the book in about 6 weeks. That was twenty years ago, and I’m sure that writing the first draft wasn’t as effortless as I now recall it to have been, but figuring out the motivation of each of my characters does seem to have been key to writing a compelling story.

      In response to your agent’s suggestion about utilizing a single POV, versus multiple POV’s, I think it depends very much upon how many characters in your story have ‘skin in the game’. In EXCUSE ME FOR ASKING, I used multiple firsts, I believe there were 7 narrators. The prologue to that book skims through all of the characters’ heads in paragraphs, as an intro to the format. In EXCUSE ME, I simply let the story flow, and narrated each chapter through the eyes of the character who had the best insight (and whose ‘take’ I wanted to utilize). In other words, I didn’t use the ‘she said, she said’, alternating POVs because the story was more narrative (more of a timeline/sequence of events) and less argumentative (if that makes any sense). To be completely honest, EXCUSE ME also got some very good reviews, but the conflict in that story wasn’t nearly as intense, perhaps in part because it was filtered through so many POVs, but also likely because the characters weren’t as well-developed.

      At the moment I’m reading SUSPECT, Robert Crais’ new book, and he’s pretty much 3rd person close with his protagonist, but some chapters (or scenes) are written in the POV of the German Shepherd. Clyde Edgerton, who also uses multiple firsts, told several chapters from the point of view of a wisteria vine in a cemetery in THE FLOATPLANE NOTEBOOKS! Although I like Robert Crais as a writer, if I’d known that I was going to be listening to a dog talk to me for some pages, doubtful I’d have picked up the book, but I’m enjoying it so much that I’m beginning to fantasize about getting a German Shepherd myself! And I still remember a children’s book that I read to my son years ago that was told from the POV of a donkey who turned into a rock!

      Please do contact me with questions at any time, but only if you’ll allow me to do the same with you! (I Googled your name as well and am in awe of someone with your artistic and writing talent!). The reason that I was ‘amazed’ at your message today, is that (once again) I am in the process of taking a favorite author’s works apart in order to internalize the plotting and characterization methods. Back when I first started publishing, I was reading and rereading Anne Tyler’s books. Over the past 20 years, I’ve worked as an educational diagnostician and I’ve learned to write case studies and educational treatment plans that actually get read and utilized. Today, I’m using what I’ve learned from those very different genres, as well as the non-fiction I write for commercial real estate and marketing publications, and the occasional newspaper article or column, to develop my skills as a mystery writer. I am reading and rereading and listening to recorded books, primarily James Lee Burke’s work. I think that he is an amazing writer. I love the fact that, in his books, all of the characters are multi-dimensional and even his worst villains become people for whom the reader develops sympathetic feelings. I’ve got two mysteries mostly written, SHADE ISLAND and MCKENZIE PARK, but recently decided that neither is ‘rich enough’ and am combining them into one book. Basically, it involves adding two more story lines, and more depth to all of the characters. I’m still playing with POV, but don’t think that I’ll do multiple firsts. Although, as I’m sure you understand, the way the writing process evolves, if the characters head off in that direction, I’ll eat my words and go along for the ride!

      Thanks again for contacting me! I look forward to getting and reading your books! And I wish I could paint!

      Janis Arnold

  2. Belle Yang says:

    Thank you for the treasure trove of a response. I need to digest this slowly.

    I have to say your prologue from Claire Louise’s POV was brilliant. So much was said BANG in the opening to setup what would come. You did not waste time. Her exorbitant fear of revealing fear, the elongated teeth of her father. The sneaky humor that made the hideous bearable. When the reader does come to the sordid details, the events feel like the setting off the buried mines. Bomblets and bombs.

    I’m only just a handful of chapters into the reread. I have forgotten just about everything that had happened to the characters, so the book remains surprising.

    I’m ashamed it’s taken me decades to fall in love with structure, but I am also proud I am learning fast and furiously at age 53.

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