What has been your most rewarding moment as an author?
There have been many rewarding moments! Realizing through the writing of my memoir how lucky I am to be where I am today. Feeling the peace that comes with telling my story and knowing it was as honest as I could make it. Recognizing that breaking my silence about the traumatic effects of having a mentally ill parent gives others with similarly difficult experiences permission to tell their stories. At book events, I feel honored to hear the stories they tell, because of the connections it forms between us. This is the greatest reward of writing for me.
What kind of research goes into writing your novels and how much time does it take?
I don’t write fiction (not for lack of trying!), but narrative nonfiction shares many of the same elements of fiction, including a good story arc and realistic characters and setting. There’s a misconception that a memoir writer doesn’t need to research, that she just pulls memories out of a hypothetical memory bank and spills them on paper. In fact, memoir requires a great deal of research into the life the writer has lived (photos, journals, interviews) and into the historical context of the world in which the events took place. Much of my memoir and personal essay writing depends on relevant research, which I estimate takes about twenty percent of my writing time.
If you could offer one piece of writing advice to a novice author, what would it be?
Find a good writing group. I’ve had a couple of wonderful long-time writing groups where members have encouraged me, shared my frustrations, and helped me grow as a writer. Group members expose me to a variety of perspectives and help me to think about my writing in new ways. Seeking out other writers via classes or professional writing organizations is a great way to form a group.
How often do you write, and do you have a strict routine and writing plan?
I try to write a couple of hours every weekday, but that “writing” time often includes research, revision, outlining, sorting relevant photos, etc. Between drafts, though, I take a bit of time off to clear my head so I can edit what I’ve written with fresh eyes. And sometimes life just gets complicated. I give myself permission to tend to other priorities from time to time, like family visits, household emergencies or illness. As long as I’m making good progress each week, I’m satisfied.
Do you have your books edited, critiqued, and/or beta-reviewed? If so, what is your usual procedure?
Yes, I have my work edited, critiqued, and beta reviewed. I frequently take classes that provide helpful feedback from an instructor and peer review from class members. I paid for a manuscript review for the draft of my recently published memoir while I was undergoing revision and got a lot of great suggestions for improving the structure. My publisher’s editors improved the manuscript even more. Writing groups, both in person and virtual, have been instrumental as well. Before asking for feedback, though, I like to know that the reviewer appreciates the category of writing I do and understands what I hope to communicate.
What genres appeal most to you as a writer?
Most of my life, I’ve read fiction—in particular, mystery and literary fiction. A few years ago, I got an excellent piece of advice from a memoir writing instructor: “If you’re going to write memoir, you need to read memoir.” I’d read some, but then I made a point of reading a wide variety of memoirs by people I would’ve otherwise known nothing about. I was delighted to learn so much about different cultures and perspectives. It has been tremendously enriching. I also read a good bit of nonfiction in researching what I write, but I still enjoy a good murder mystery in between serious reads!
My memoir, Mother of My Invention: A Motherless Daughter Memoir, won the 2021 Minerva Rising Memoir Contest.
Janice Airhart has been a medical technologist, biomedical research tech, freelance writer and editor, science teacher to pregnant teens, bioscience program representative and adjunct English professor. An avid volunteer, Airhart coordinates a literacy program and reads with elementary children at an underperforming school, works with community nonprofits such as Jail to Jobs for youthful offenders, and participates in programs presented by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Her essays and articles have appeared in The Sun, The Science Teacher, Lutheran Woman Today, Concho River Review, Story Circle Network’s Real Women Write 2019 and 2021 anthologies, and One Woman’s Day blog. Airhart is currently working on a memoir about her years teaching science to teen moms.