Thursday, July 2, 2009

Author Interview: Janis Herbert

Today I had the opportunity to sit down with author Janis Herbert. This was quite a treat for me, because most of the authors I review and interview live across the country from me! However, Janis lives right here in my town and we had the most delightful conversation. Her eyes genuinely sparkle when she talks about her passions—it is truly inspiring!

Books by Janis Herbert

Although this was the first of Janis’s books I have read, she actually has seven. Her “For Kids” series includes The Civil War, The American Revolution, Leonardo da Vinci, Lewis and Clark and Marco Polo in addition to Abraham Lincoln (reviewed below).

Her first book, however, came quite by accident. She was the booking manager for Honeyboy Edwards, and during her travels with him, he told her some amazing stories of his life. She decided that someone needed to write a book about him, and who else to do it but her? And so, The World Don't Owe Me Nothing: The Life and Times of Delta Bluesman Honeyboy Edwards was born.

She spent hours researching the right publishers to send her work to and sent each an eight page letter detailing her book and her marketing plan for it. She received three offers and settled on the Chicago Review Press.

“I felt they had the same heart for it,” she said.

She was in the process of finishing the Honeyboy book when her editor suggested she write a book for children about Leonardo da Vinci.

“In my ignorance, I said yes,” she quipped, but the idea took off and she has been quite happy with the series. She has chosen all of the subjects in the series since the first one.

“The Civil War has always been my passion,” she said, “but all of them have brought something…not expected.”

Lincoln, however, was her hero and she greatly enjoyed writing about him. “I love, love, love Abraham Lincoln,” she said. “I miss writing about him.”

Janis is undecided about her next project. She is hoping to work on some fiction this summer, but she is likely to revisit the For Kids series soon.


Each of the books in Janis Herbert’s For Kids series required a great deal of research, which provided the opportunity for Janis to visit many of the sites she wrote about. She and her husband camped at many places along the Lewis & Clark Trail and visited many of the sites in Lincoln’s life and the Civil War.

“Standing on those historic sites was amazing,” she said.

Some of the photographs in the books were taken by Janis and her husband, while others came from museums. She also came up with all of the activities in the books. In addition to visiting historical sites, Janis also spoke to a lot of experts and read a lot of books. Each book took one to two years to research and write.

Janis Herbert, the Woman

Janis lived in Chicago for most of her life, but recently moved to Folsom, California (near Sacramento). She lives a quiet life, working as a library assistant at the nearby Cameron Park Library. She loves to read, to which she attributes her writing ability since she does not have a high school diploma or college degree. She reads a lot of histories (“Grown up ones,” she pointed out) and adores Mark Twain. This summer, she is dedicating herself to reading all of the Newberry Award winners.

Janis also loves to camp, hike and birdwatch—anything that lets her spend time out in nature. Her husband, Jeff shares her passions and accompanies her on her research trips.

About Being Published

“I never set out to be an author,” Janis said. However, once she became one, she loved it and would never turn back. She likes working with her editor and the staff at Chicago Review Press. They take care of the media contacts for her and assister her in setting up events like book signings and a summer camp she conducted for kids at a book store. They also give their authors a very useful packet that teaches them about book promotion.

Although she does not live off of her royalty income, it is a nice supplement. Although it’s conceivable that her books could support her at some point, she likes to work and thinks she will always have a job in addition to writing—even if it is very part time.

As for her advice to would-be authors? “No one should ever lose hope. Just write your heart out and find your way in the world. If I can do it, you can do it!”

Janis’s recommended reading: Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowell. Visit the sites of presidential assassinations…with a hilarious flare!

Thanks again to Janis Herbert for allowing me to review her book and get to know her a little better!

1 comment:

  1. What a great interview! I'll be checking out Janis and her work. She sounds like a talented writer and down-to-earth lady.