An interview with Novel Ideas
Jana Petken is an author. Not just an author of any old kind of fiction– an author of high quality historically accurate writings that will entertain, interest and provide you with something a little… special for your reading pleasure. “The Guardian of Secrets” is the first Jana Petken novel and it’s one you will read and read and… read again! Enjoy this interview!
How would describe “The Guardian of Secrets?” The Guardian of Secrets is a dark, fast paced saga and adventure. It is a fictional account of a family’s struggles, which are often heartbreaking, yet heartwarming and uplifting at times. It is historical fiction, a genre that fascinates me and one I feel comfortable in, as far as writing is concerned. My new, upcoming novel is also historical fiction, and I guess the following ones will be too, although I do have a completed factual manuscript on spirituality based on my own personal experiences. I believe that any reader who has read The Guardian of Secrets can expect the same style of storytelling from me but with a completely different subject, of course.
How long have you been writing? How long did it take to write your book? And what motivated you to write it? I began writing song lyrics in my early twenties and recorded the songs. I started writing in earnest ten years ago when the first sentence of The Guardian of Secrets was put down on paper. It took me seven years to write the book after many drafts and breaks in between because of paralysis in my arms. At first I was motivated to write it, in part, due to ongoing physiotherapy treatment. Typing helped me to regain feeling in my hands after I was severely injured in an aircraft accident. When the story actually began to take shape I became more passionate about it.
Is it a stand-alone novel or part of a series? This novel stands alone. It is a large, 714-page book and has three parts amalgamated into one family saga. I toyed with the idea of a trilogy but decided that had I gone down that route, I would be in danger of losing the characters’ fluidity.
If it is a stand-alone book, would you consider making it a series? Why or why not? As I mentioned, this is a family saga. The characters have their own stories to tell, separately and together. The prologue is in the present, and looks back at the previous 100 years. When the last page is read there are no unanswered questions about the characters or about what happened to them. Therefore, I saw no need to continue the saga.
Who are your main characters in the story and how would you describe them? In her dying days, Maria recites her family’s turbulent past to her granddaughter, with the aid of journals. She begins with her mother, Celia, and Celia’s husband, Joseph Dobbs. Both of these characters play a pivotal role throughout the book. Later, the story focuses on Maria and her siblings, who have their own separate stories to tell, although the family element remains immensely important. I would have to say that all the major characters are of equal importance. They all have unique personalities, some the reader will love, hate, laugh with, and cry for.
Is there any symbolism in your book that you’d care to share with potential readers? From my point of view, this book symbolizes all that is good and all that is evil in mankind. It relishes in the fact that weakness and lack of courage can be overcome because of love and determination to survive, in order to hold on to all that is precious. It also symbolizes that evil may be victorious in life’s battles; but in the end, it will inevitably be defeated by love and unity.
Do any of the characters resemble you? How about friends or relatives? It pains me to say it but, yes, two of the main characters do remind me of a couple of close relatives who are no longer in my life. I will say no more and leave it up to the reader to determine which characters I may be referring to.
What is the worst thing reviewers or critics have said about your book? Fingers crossed! Great book reviews across the board so far. A well known book critic did say that some of the violent scenes were graphic and rather disturbing, but I actually saw that as a compliment – or maybe I have a warped mind!
What is the best thing reviewers or critics have said about your book? When my publishing house editor wrote an internal letter to colleagues, saying that my book was one of the best manuscripts she had ever read in her entire career and the only one to make her shed a tear.
Have you tried submitting your book to publishers? If so, how many? Did they provide any feedback? Would you still want to work with a traditional publisher now that you have self-published? Yes, I submitted the book to five or six trade publishers. Two provided feedback: “Not at this time.” and “Not suitable for our lists.” One publishing house accepted the book, but I did not feel they were right for it, due to their small outreach. The book is being exhibited at the London Book Fair in April, 2014 under the AuthorHouse banner. I would still love to work with a traditional publisher in the hope that my book would one day sit on bookshelves in an actual bookshop.
What has been the most difficult part of your writing experience? I found it difficult and felt awkward saying “no” to the self publishing company when they continually tried to sell me more and more packages. I am also finding it difficult to get people to write reviews. Saying they loved it is not enough. I crave reviews, preferably honest and constructive ones.
Do any of your characters have secrets you can share with our readers? The book is titled “The Guardian of Secrets,” so no, sorry, I’m saying nothing. What I will say is that there are many twists and turns on the pages.
In this book I researched a war. I interviewed war eyewitnesses over breakfast. They were a group of very old men. I piled on the wine and beer and got some great facts for which I will be eternally grateful for.
If you were to be offered a movie deal, who would you like to see play the main characters? Meryl Streep as the strong-minded Aunt Marie Osborne. That is a definite yes. The main female characters are in their early twenties and beautiful, as are their male counterparts. There are many great, attractive and young stars coming up the ranks in Hollywood to choose from. As there are both English and Spanish heritage here, some of the main characters would have dark Mediterranean looks, whilst others would be fair. Either way, I see the characters in my mind’s eye and would love to be in the casting team. Because of the aging process of some of the main characters, good makeup would be needed to age them from their twenties to their mid-forties.
Describe your writing process. Do you outline, create rough synopses, do detailed biographies of the characters before starting to write? I do none of the above, I’m afraid. I think about a rough story, put down the first chapter and then just allow it all to unfold before my very eyes. Even I don’t know what the characters are going to do next, and in this book they simply took over and surprised me, as though they had taken on a life of their own, changing and growing with the story. I can’t explain it any other way. I do not do a synopsis or outline because I am as changeable as the wind and so is my storytelling.
How much research do you do before starting to write? Where do you find most of your background materials? How do you fact check? In this book I researched a war. It had to be correct in facts and dates. I interviewed war eyewitnesses over breakfast. They were a group of very old men. I piled on the wine and beer and got some great information and facts from some Spanish Civil War survivors and will be eternally grateful to them. I had no Internet at the time. I read reference books and spent a lot of time at the library. But the actual family and their stories are purely fictional.
What didn’t you mention in the synopsis that you can reveal here? I would like the readers to know that the book is about many colourful characters whose stories began and unfolded long before war came. This is not simply a war novel. It is a menagerie of characters with many personal experiences.
If you had to do the experience of writing your work over, would you still write it? Would you change it? How? I would make it longer. I was forced to cut some pages. I may have killed one other person!
How did you choose the story you wrote? The family saga just grew out of nowhere. The first 350 pages were pure imagination on a day to day basis. The Spanish Civil War was the backdrop in part three. Fictional situations for all the characters but factual in historical terms.
How did you choose the title? The Guardian of Secrets was my first title, and I was sure about it. I was then persuaded to change it as some people thought it said nothing about the book. I gave it another title but was never really happy with it. For four years it was called “Ghosts in the Rainbow,” until one day I decided to give it its original title back because, for me, it said everything about the book. I should not have listened to others; instead I should have gone with my gut and stuck with it.
How did you decide on the cover and did you design it or did you use a professional designer? I saw the picture on the Internet, loved it and then designed the colour and size of lettering myself.