Home > Writing and Poetry > Wednesday’s Interview: Janis Fields

Wednesday’s Interview: Janis Fields

We’re here today with Janis Fields. 

Claudsy: Hello, Jan. Thank you so much for participating in this interview series. Jan, you’re one busy lady. You are part of the administrative staff of (Institute of Children’s Literature) ICL, a full-time writer, instructor, wife and mother. Tell me, which of these roles present the most problems for you in terms of time? 

Jan: Probably instructor. I tend to put a lot of time into students and sometimes I think I can be a little “over” helpful… looking up markets, checking for better sources, and writing long, long tutorials on specific issues. Those things take time and I want to meet the needs of all my students but sometimes at the end of the day, I think — really, I could have gotten done a little faster if I didn’t “overhelp.” 

Claudsy: Do yo find your writing time being shooed to the side more often than your other responsibilities? If not, how do you manage to keep up with your assignment projects? 

Jan: Well, I triage a lot. Which has the closest deadline? Which is going to take the most time? Stuff like that. So that writing I *want* to do but doesn’t come with a sure paycheck and a deadline gets pushed aside a lot. But I don’t miss deadlines on work and I’m constantly mentally reviewing what needs to be done. I don’t write lists much (because I lost them) but I do have a brain full of neural post-it notes. 

Claudsy: How long have you been with the ICL and approximately how many writing credits did you have under your belt before you joined them? 

Jan: I started late in 2001. At the time, I had been teaching professional writing at the community college level and designed my own classes but then I got married and started a family… I needed to do my teaching in my house. So I looked into the Institute. I was pretty heavily published in magazines and had done some stray stuff: books for a toy company, come curriculum work. My writing has always been a bit varied. — I’m always looking for leads and I take on anything that comes along. It keeps it from getting dull for me. 

Claudsy: Jan, if you had to point fingers, what would you say influences your writing the most, at least on a personal freelance project? 

Jan: Well, I read a lot and I also tend to look at how (a) story works in a variety of forms. If I watch cartoons with my daughter, I’m thinking about how they structured the story. If I read a comic book, I’m looking at how they structured the story. If I listen to someone telling me what happened to them that day, my brain is whirring in the background about how it works in terms of story. So I get inspiration from all over — what I read, for sure, but in a lot of others places, too. Of course, that really tends to make me look a little absent-minded and befuddled because a part of my attention is almost always off somewhere else making up a story. 

Claudsy: I know that feeling. But, you write instructional manuals for new writers, instruct, and administer the ICL Writer’s Retreat website. As a result, how much do you learn from your students and other writers that you encounter every day? 

Jan: My students teach me something every day. I see patterns in the common problems we all face and as I look for new and novel ways for THEM to tackle the problems, I’m also creating new ways for ME to tackle the problems. I also have learned so much (totally outside of writing) from interesting things people write about. This year alone, I learned about neuroplasticity, computers you can wear around your neck that project information on walls, how soft drink machines can be more energy-efficient, and that wood frogs can freeze completely solid (to where you can shatter them) and in the spring they’ll thaw and be perfectly healthy. Cool, huh? 

Claudsy: You have that right. You must get a lot of that since you have children still at home. Do you find yourself using them and their friends as models for stories or as a catalyst for articles? 

Jan: Not normally, though my husband and I did lead a team in a creative problem solving competition. And I thought that would be a great background for a book. An editor agreed with me, but I haven’t been able to come up with a related plot. I don’t know if I ever will. Most of my ideas come from weird places and events — often totally unrelated to kids at all. 

Claudsy: Todays world is so fast paced and frenetic that everyone seems conflicted over something. Do you also feel that tug which writing deadlines supersede family desires: 

Jan: I did more when my daughter was younger. Right now, my husband is looking for a job (the economy killed the company he worked for) so my income is the income. As a result, I’m working a lot of hours and I do worry that I’m missing stuff with my daughter. But I know this moment, right now, is temporary and it’s giving my husband a chance to really do more connecting with our daughter so ultimately — it’s all good. I’m just really glad to be at a place in my career where I can bring in enough to comfortably take care of a family of three. 

Claudsy: I can appreciate that, Jan. But given all that you do now each day, could you ever give up writing and why? Or why not? 

Jan: Sometimes I tell people that I would quit writing today if I just knew how. I love writing — totally love it. But I cannot do it unless it brings in money. I just don’t have time for such a time-consuming hobby. That means I get frustrated fast if I’m writing books (of my own) and then trying to sell them. Marketing book work is hard and time-consuming and more than a little depressing. It’s a little like writers are on an eternal job search and constantly meeting rejection — it’s hard to face that with an endlessly good attitude. So I’m torn — I would like to do more of my own stuff, but I just don’t have time to sell it and (frankly) find I get bummed out quick. So I’m very grateful for all the work for hire stuff. 

Claudsy: What’s the one plum job or project that you’d really like to get your hands on in the writing arena? 

Jan: I would like to sell my picture book. I had a terrific agent for a while and some nice responses but it never placed. I would like to finish one of my work-in-progress novels and sell it. That would really feel great. But in the meanwhile, I would like to do a bunch of novels for the work for hire fantasy series I started — I love the characters. 

Claudsy: What projects are you working on right now that we can look forward to seeing in the future? 

Jan: I’m finishing up the last of my 2009 contracts by adapting and abridging a novel for ABDO. I really like that kind of work. I should have eight of those coming out some time in 2010. And I’m hoping to do more on the fantasy series — but the company is kind of iffy about it. We’ll see. A lot of my work doesn’t end up in conventional bookstores because it’s marketed differently, so I’m kind of hard to look up. But I got a fan letter yesterday from the fantasy novel (they come in now and then) and that always makes me happy. 

Claudsy: That’s always uplifting for a writer. Now, one last question that I ask everyone. When you started writing, what was your primary goal for doing so? And, did you achieve it or did it change to something else? Sorry, that’s two, but they’re closely related. 

Jan: I wanted to make a living doing something creative. And now I do. I never had a bit “write the great American novel” goal. I mostly just wanted to find a job that I could enjoy where I was in control of my own workload. And this works perfectly for me. Sure, there are things in writing I would still like to do. I would like to write a fantasy novel that really captures the imagination of a lot of readers. One where I can go into a store, pick up my book and just feel the “mine-ness.” I’ll get there. 

Claudsy: Sounds like you have a lot planned for this coming year if you’re to make this new goal. I’d like to thank you again, Jan, for being so generous with your time and talent.  

Short Personal Biography: 

Jan Fields is the creator of Kid Magazine Writers, the electronic magazine for the red-headed stepchild of children’s writing. She teaches for the Institute of Children’s Literature and edits their free newsletter: The Children’s Writer’s eNews. She has written and published short fiction, poetry, crafts, articles, book reviews, Children’s Church curriculum, books for a toy company, and a number of work-for-hire books. She’s also the stunned mother of a tiny girl who turned into a tween. 

Jan’s work can be viewed at: http://www.janfields.com/ or http://www.kidmagwirters.com/  Feel free to stop by and see what she has going in her spare time. 

Please stayed tuned tomorrow for a short commentary on things discussed in today’s interview. Hope to see you there. 

A bientot, 


Categories: Writing and Poetry
  1. Marie Elena
    January 6, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    As a student of Jan’s, I can vouch for the fact that she spends considerable time and energy on her students. Her feedback is thorough, encouraging, honest, humorous, and enormously helpful. Thanks for the interview, ladies.

    This is a truly professional and interesting blog site. EXCELLENT.

    Looking forward now to the interview with Kate Wilson.

  2. January 7, 2010 at 1:13 am

    Hi Clauds,

    Another excellent interview. You are off to a great start.


    You are one busy person and the fact that you reconcile all the mental post it notes… all I can say is “WOW”.

  3. January 10, 2010 at 3:35 am


    I’ve learned quite a bit that I didn’t know about Jan. I knew she was very busy and I thought I knew why, but I had no idea how many hats she really wore. Great job on the interview. You go, girl.


    I don’t know how you do it all, but I’ve gotta’ say, I’m really impressed. If I had that many sticky notes in my head, though, I suspect all my little brain pieces would get stuck together. hmmmmm. Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea, after all? Maybe if they were stuck together, ideas would connect a little better, ya’ s’pose? Awesome interview, but I couldn’t find any information to blackmail you with.

    Word Designer

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