Jan Rider Newman was born and raised in south central Louisiana, in the heart of Cajun country. Her family members were farmers and oilfield workers, most of whom spoke Cajun French as a first language, English as a second -- if at all.
Later in life, she moved to a larger town in southwest Louisiana, attended university, and earned three degrees, including a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing. She has published short stories, poetry, and nonfiction, and has earned prizes for her work as well as grants from the Louisiana Council of the Arts.
1) How did you develop an interest in writing? I didn't. It developed an interest in me. I started pretending and acting out stories as a small child. My mom taught me to read at four, and I could never get enough—still can't. We got a TV around the time I was nine, and that further fired my imagination, though not always in a good way. I sometimes think I've spent my writing life overcoming some very bad TV influences. I wrote my first story at eleven or twelve. Writing has never been a conscious choice.
2) Please tell me a little about your blog and website. My website is recent and something I gave a lot of thought to before launching: http://janridernewman.com/. The final product pleases me, and I hope it will be well received in general. I'm a country girl to the core, but I have been to college and live in town now. I hope the website and blog speak well for both experiences. I've blogged at Beyond Acadia: Reading, Writing & Living Well http://janridernewman.blogspot.com/ since 2009. I write about experiences, books, writing, and gripes. My approach was scattershot—still is to some extent—and not always successful. I've taken a hiatus or two but never given up altogether. Lately, I've focused more on books, publishing, and writing. But there is more to living well, and I try to get into that by posting things I'm passionate about or find odd or funny or worth caring about.
3) I see you are working on a MS - please tell me a little about it. The End of All Roads is complete! It's a fantasy/paranormal novel of about 70,000 words set in 16th century Hungary and Transylvania—there are no vampires in it! The two regions at the time were under Ottoman rule, though Transylvania had more autonomy. It's a fascinating time in history, a very bad time to be a nobody. So naturally my heroine and her family are nobodies caught in forces and conflicts beyond their depth. I got the idea, a whole scene really, in a dream. I dreamed a scene. At the time I was writing a historical literary novel about the 1755 Acadian expulsion from Nova Scotia, something I've gone back to now that TEOAR is complete and out looking for an agent. The fantasy novel intruded and demanded to be written—it was pretty obnoxious, really.
4) What other styles/genres do you write? Short stories, poetry, book reviews, and other nonfiction. If you look up my CV either on the blog or the website, you'll see some of the places where I've published.
5) What authors do you admire? Got a couple of days? Lori Roy, Margaret Mazzantini, Sarah Dunant, Ann Patchett, Reginald Hill (who recently died), Elizabeth George, Joseph O'Connor, Oscar Wilde, William Trevor, Frank O'Connor, and W. B. Yeats (as long as we're on an Irish roll!), Ray Bradbury, Charlaine Harris, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, John Crowe Ransom, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Leslie Schultz, Barbara Kingsolver, C. S. Lewis, Louisa May Alcott, the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen—and are you bored now?
6) What music, places, people inspire you? The rural/small town landscapes and people where I grew up: the south central Louisiana prairies where rice fields, Cajun music, families, churches, and honky tonks thrive. You can see so much sky in the country, but the horizon is limited by trees. I have always loved the sounds of blackbirds and remember ribbons and ribbons of them migrating, miles of blackbirds. My fingers start itching for a pencil when I think about those days, that birdsong, and those people—so, so many of them gone now.
7) Have you ever attended a writer's conference? I've attended several of the Bayou Writers' conferences. In 2009 I went to the NOLA-STARS RWA conference in Shreveport—really terrific. When USL, now UL-Lafayette, had conferences I went to several of those and won/placed in three of their contests. I've attended Writers Guild of Acadiana conferences, and I went to the Santa Fe Writers' Conference once—fell in love, love, love with Santa Fe and New Mexico and also met a poet who's still a friend. The biggest, and longest, conference I've attended is the one at the University of the South at Sewanee, TN, where I fell in love with Sewanee, TN, and met some great writers, one of whom is still a friend. When the Golden Triangle Writers Guild had big, big conferences, I attended a few of those. I recommend writers conferences to beginners and those with a finished book to shop around. Conferences can be fun and helpful for anyone, of course, but I think those two classes of writers benefit from them most. Also look for conferences with contests. If the fees aren't too high, enter, enter, enter.
8) When working on your current MS did you complete an outline first or did you just start writing? I can't outline my way out of a grocery list. I'm a pantster.
9) What are you reading now? The Last of the Mohicans, that classic I've been meaning to read. As an exercise in patience, it's terrific. (My advice: see the Daniel Day Lewis and Madeleine Stowe movie.) Seriously, the book is better than I expected. The guy just goes onnnnn. Tell me what happens next, already.
10) If you could subscribe to only one literary journal or magazine, which would it be? The Missouri Review is the best literary journal for the kind of writing to which I aspire. I believe in reading better work than I've written, which isn't all that hard. It inspires me, goads me, to do better. Always do better, or what's the point?