Janis 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 . . .
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.
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!
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.
So great to meet you today Janis! I just ordered your novel and I’m excited to read it!
It was great to meet you also Heidi . . . I’d love to know what you think of the characters after you’ve finished reading D of M . . . assuming you ordered Daughters of Memory, Claire and Macy are the characters that I’m writing a sequel about . . .the first draft of Shade Island didn’t wow my editor . . .it doesn’t wow me either after several years have elapsed, so I’m back to the drawing board . . .thirty years later is a long time . . . if you have any trouble getting D of M (technically still in print by Algonquin but actually they don’t ever ship) let me know, I’ve got copies here . . .
Dear Ms. Arnold,
I discovered Excuse Me for Asking as a freshman at Alief Hastings High School (1999), and it has lived rent free in my head ever since. As a kid who aspired to be an author, then editor, but ended up being a teacher and stay-at-home-mom-turned-independent editor, Excuse Me has still holds space in my “most influential books” memory bank and lives rent-free in my head. Oddly, I went to tell someone about the book years after I read and and completely blanked on both the title and the author. I could describe the plot in detail (the shower curtain scene with Robin…to this day, I check shower curtains by swatting them!), the setting (I live in Cypress now), the cover art, everything. Do you know how difficult finding a book is when you google “Texas native female author, small town, character Robin” and other various details? But, I succeeded!
Today, on my Facebook memories, was my status update of being able to remember everything about Excuse Me except the vitals, so it’s only appropriate that I let you know how big of an influence your book had on me. I vaguely remember reading Daughters of Memory, but Excuse Me left me begging for more of your words. I have recently started my own fledgling editing business after a phenomenal author let me edit a short story for her and said I should consider editing ‘for real’. Little did she know, that was what I sat in classes dreaming of doing so long ago. (If you ever need something brilliant to read for fun, check out Rhodi Hawk… you won’t come up for air until you close the last page!)
I would love to reread Daughters of Memory, and if I could buy an autographed copy from you, well, I’d probably explode with book-nerd happiness. Thank you for your books, and if you ever publish more, I assure you, I will snatch them up!
I will always be,
a huge fan,
Hello Elizabeth Crook of No Filter Editing.com . . . Thanks for the kind words about Daughters of Memory and Excuse Me for Asking!! I would love to send you autographed copies of both books . . . please send me a mailing address.
And now I have a question for you–are you Elizabeth Crook, author of 4 books yourself? If so, I think I might have attended a book talk you gave in San Antonio many years ago. I still travel to the Houston area pretty frequently and am wondering if, since you now live in Cypress, we might coordinate a meeting time out in Brookshire and exchange autographed copies of both of our books!
I’ll be visiting at Brookwood, located on the ranch where I grew up, later this month. As you might be able to tell from my very infrequent website posts of recent years, my writing has been more or less restricted to non-fiction as I’ve battled for the unmet educational needs of special education students in Texas public schools. I (the educational diagnostician–team chair), as well as most of the remaining members of my early childhood play-based assessment team, resigned our District jobs in protest against district wide denial of instructional and related services for handicapped children in 2013.
I now know that this statewide denial of services began in 2004 (research TEA 8.5% mandated cap on school district’s special education population). I had begun working as an educational diagnostician in Bexar County School in 1996; by 2013, the extraordinary teachers, nurses, and therapists at the early childhood center where I worked were being ordered to deny services to special needs students under the guise of “all children have to have the same public education program”. IEP team members were also required to lie to parents about the implications of their children’s educational and non-educational needs NOT being met in a timely fashion as well as to obfuscate and mislead parents about the services that handicapped children were actually being provided with during the school day.
I’d lost several Transdisciplinary Play-Based Assessment Team members in previous years but kept myself way too busy to pay attention to, or talk about, the deterioration of our once exemplary program–think proverbial frog swimming in the pot of water on an increasingly hot stove. Neither my colleagues nor I understood how the ground beneath our feet was shifting and changing, we simply had become increasingly aware that what we were doing was no longer actually working very well for any of us, our students, or their parents.
Summer 2013: For the first time in many years, I wasn’t going to be at my campus for half of June and all of July doing summer testing; I had three days remaining on my 2013-2014 contract and the only people left on my campus were the cleaning crew, the Principal and the School Secretary. For at least the last ten years, my early childhood assessment team had tested about one hundred 3-6 year olds per year; we typically knocked out at least 20 of those evaluations during Summer Testing. In 2013, nobody in my district was doing summer testing. I’d been ordered to forward all my referrals to elementary schools in the district where the staff there would “take care of them”. I knew this was wrong, but also that the situation was one hundred percent out of my control. Let it go, I told myself.
Nothing in my personal experience has felt emptier than a school building with all the teaching materials packed up in boxes, the teachers and children nowhere to be found, and the only sounds to be heard those of floor polishing equipment. During my last week, I felt as hollowed out as the building did, but I for sure wasn’t allowing myself to think about that either.
With three days to run on my contract, I left work late one on Monday in a rush to attend the first session of a Beth Moore Bible Study Class at Trinity Baptist Church. I raced inside the classroom, late as usual, whereupon the first words I heard were Beth Moore opening the lesson asking this question: “Ladies, have you ever stayed in one place too long?”. It seemed to me as if the woman was speaking directly to me. That night, I wrote up my letter of resignation and turned it in at Central Office before ten AM the next morning.
On my last day, by now early afternoon, Arthur, the school custodian who was helping me take boxes to my car, asked, “Ms. Arnold, are you going to be okay? All year long, when we’ve been cleaning their offices, we’ve been hearing the Principal and the Special Education Facilitator (no names here for obvious reasons) talking about how to get rid of you, they act like we don’t have ears!” To this day, I can’t comprehend that I had failed to notice that the administrators on my campus wanted to get rid of me; usually I’m not completely oblivious to the fact that a person or several people don’t like me, likely one more think I decided not to think about or even notice.
Driving away from work for the last time, I consoled myself that out of every ending comes a new beginning and anticipated that I was going to be able to quit writing all non-fiction (mostly psychoeducational reports and articles for REDNews, a commercial real estate publication, at that point) and get back into fiction. The drive home for the last time took me, as usual, about 30 minutes. By the time I had unloaded my car, I had planned out how I’d go straight into my office, open up my computer and find, dust off, and rewrite the last draft of Shade Island, sequel to Daughters of Memory, the plan being that I could send it to Robert Rubin by the end of summer! That obviously has NOT happened in the intervening almost 9 years. . .
Your comment reminded me how much I love and miss writing fiction, but I’m still not writing and submitting fiction–at least I’m not writing fiction again YET. I began doing pro bono TPBA assessments in 2015 with several of my previous assessment team members. Testing kids and writing up reports and then sending parents off to ARD meetings to ask for services seemed a viable option until we actually tried it. I then learned that me going to ARDs with great assessment reports for kiddos also wasn’t enough to compel IEP teams to provide handicapped children with badly needed specially designed instructional services. I don’t consider myself to be particularly naive or gullible, and, in my own defense, back in 2015, I had no idea that TEA was capping the number of special education students who could get specially designed instruction by denying funds to districts that put over 8.5% of their likely 14.5% handicapped students into District special education programs. Sadly, the problem that drove me out of my south side San Antonio school district appears to have become pretty much a statewide problem.
It took me until 2020 to understand that if a parent is going to have ANY chance of getting meaningful services, the parent has to be willing (and able) to file a TEA complaint or due process hearing request at the first denial of the child’s rights. This has not been easy learning for me. I wasted a lot of time coming and going to meetings while District Lawyers ran out Texas’ one year statute of limitations for parents to even file a request for appropriate services! It has taken me almost 5 years to figure out what statute of limitations is and why it matters! I had to force myself to pay attention to the legal system rather than do what comes naturally to me when I read legal language: glaze over completely!
For the last couple of years, I have forced myself to read almost nothing other than educational case law in order to learn how to write legal briefs (think jailhouse lawyer here). Today I can write motions and responses to motions and ARD Addendums, etc. I can organize evidence and discern whether it is interesting AND legally significant or just really good stuff that has to be left out of my case. I’m working on becoming better than competent at organizing supporting evidence for parents’ claims of denial of Free Appropriate Educational Services based upon Student’s individual needs. I’m studying up on how to get my evidence submitted (over the protests of District Lawyers); this is necessary in order to have the Student’s Individual Educational Needs that are generated by Specific Medical and/or Educational Disabilities considered by TEA Hearing Officers. Sadly, I’ve also learned that the Texas Education Agency created this problem of denial of special education services through their policies. In essence, at this point in time, despite numerous legal findings going all the way up to the Supreme Court that children are being denied services, TEA continues to conspire with Texas Public School Districts to to refuse services to handicapped children. Sad fact: Most TEA Hearing Officers have NEVER ruled in favor of the parent.
And here we are almost at the end of 2022. I’d love to be writing and talking fiction, and I’d adore NOT to be writing motions and ARD Addendums and reports analyzing educational progress based upon previous and current present levels of performance for parents who can’t afford lawyers OR the Academic, Occupational, Physical, and/or Speech Therapy that their kids need to achieve functional independence as adults! To be sure, I’ve still got at least two cases to finish up, ergo, this genre switch isn’t happening immediately, but I continue to believe that that I will write and publish more literary novels! (and hopefully some wonderful readers like you will read them) Thanks again, Elizabeth Crook, for contacting me and reminding me about my neglected stories . . .