Interview with Jan on Santa Barbara Teen Sports Radio
Here is the interview
Calamity Jan on PBS!
Watch for an interview by Herb Larson on PBS! PBS "Off Hand" interview September 27, 2006 at 10:30 pm on KNPB Channel 5 Reno-Tahoe. The National PBS airing will be announced at a later date.
The Chronicle (Centralia, Chehalis, Lewis County) March 7, 2003
Pupils get a glimpse into writer's life
by Julie M. Graham
Winlock -- Young writers from Winlock Miller Elementary School, Toledo Middle School and Morton Junior-Senior High School heard pages from a professional author's book Thursday.
A former Lewis County resident who wrote her first children's series while living in Chehalis, Jan Pierson spent the day at the Winlock school library working with more than 30 grade school and middle school pupils through a highly capable program sponsored by Educational Service District 113.
Pierson discussed the process of writing through publication, four key elements fiction authors need to remember, shared her own experiences and how she found ideas, answered questions from the young writers, and encouraged the boys and girls to keep going and improving their work.
Some people, prefer penning fiction, others non-fiction, Pierson told the pupils.
"But no matter what you write," she said, "you need to use creative ideas."
The secret is to create word pictures to take the reader inside the story or character, rather than just words, she said.
"If you can get all the five senses into your stories-if you can make your readers see the colors, smell the smells and feel the sand between their toes-you can create word pictures," she continued.
Storytellers of fiction need to remember four writing rules: stay with the viewpoint of one main character; provide a problem or conflict; use the structure of hooking readers into the story at the beginning, build tension during the middle and solve the problems at the end; and show descriptions, don't tell them, Pierson said.
For the last, she offered the example of saying Meggie, a character from the Ghostowners stories, "is 12 years old. She has long straight blonde hair and blue eyes. She went to Bodie, a ghost town with falling-down shacks. . ."
To show description, an author might instead write: "Meggie walked into the ghost town, her bare feet burning in the hot sand. Her wide blue eyes stared at the crumbling down shacks of Bodie. . ."
The grade school and middle school pupils, crowded around tables, leaned forward intently as Pierson read the opening chapter of her story, "Goodbye God, I'm Going to Bodie."
They responded with an enthusiastic "yes" when she asked if they wanted her to keep reading. She asked what kind of descriptive writing she used before going onto the second chapter.
"It's fun," fourth-grader Katie Larson said of the workshop. "It's kind of interesting, too, some of the stuff she talked about."
The Winlock pupil said she liked the descriptions of Pierson's books, because she enjoys reading mysteries; she was interested in reading the first Ghostowner book.
Toni Bertucci, a sixth-grader at Morton Junior-Senior High, agreed with Katie's comments about the workshop.
"Pretty much just Jan because she seems like an interesting person-the stories she tells about the places she's been and the things she's done," she said of what had caught and kept her attention.
During the lunch break, she said she had thought more writing would be involved, but she was having fun.
"I like creating stuff the best. I liked being able to make up people and animals, and have them do stuff I've wanted to do but haven't been able to," she said.
Angel Sanchez, a Winlock sixth-grader, said the visit made him consider a new possible career.
"At first I didn't really think it was very fun, but now that I've heard her talk about it, I think that I would like to become an author," he said, specifying children's fiction as what he'd like to write.
"Writing for me is like a hobby sometimes, like when I'm bored or stressed. It helps me out," he said.
Katie said she likes to write stories, especially ones for young children.
"I mostly like to read and write because my mom, she likes to write stuff and read," she added.
Toledo sixth-grader Taylor Hancuff said he appreciated Pierson's descriptions of the order in which she does her work.
He and classmate Andrew Blair said they were surprised how long it can take to write a book-Pierson gave one example of spending five years, they said..
"I've learned to take it easy and try not to rush things," Taylor said.
Sometimes he does rush in his writing, wanting to finish sooner than it actually comes, or not wanting to keep working on it, he said.
Andrew said he learned about the importance of hooking people into what they're reading: an author should try to get the problem stated early so readers want to find out how the characters find a solution.
A mother and grandmother who now lives in Olympia, Pierson said she loves working with children and the opportunity to challenge them. She always tells them to "go for the gold" in developing their gifts, or treasures.
"They are unique and only they have these special treasures. And it is their responsibility to mine these treasures," she said.
"I love kids. I get ideas, they inspire me. I need to keep connecting in order to write for kids and relate to them," she said.
Used by permission: The Chronicle, Centralia/Chehalis, Washington
The Bellingham Herald, November 13, 2003
Interview of Jan Pierson by Margaret Bikman of The Bellingham Herald: Bellingham, Washington. November 13, 2003
Books: Family basis for book's characters
Margaret Bikman interviews Bellingham native Jan Crook Pierson reads from her series of
books for middle-schoolers about a pair of young sleuths who enjoy tracking down suspicious goings-on in ghost towns of the West Coast.
Q: Do you base your characters on real people?
A: I blend characters, and it simply flows from who
I was as a girl, my own children and my 14 grandchildren. My children were the
characters in my first series, the "Carson Kids" mysteries, set in the San
Juan Islands. In this latest series, Meggie and Paige are two of my
"Meggie glanced down at the diary in her hands, then across the dusty
terrain with the fallen bones of a town that had finally died. "From "Goodbye,
God, I'm Going to Bodie."
Sometimes, however, I create a character around a student I meet when I do
young-author presentations in schools. Some of them jump right into my heart and
onto the pages of my next book, and they don't even know it.
Q: How do you
research the history of the ghost towns as settings for your books?
A: I travel
there, preparing the way by reading books and historical records in advance.
My most important contacts, however, are with the locals. Local residents can
give a writer valuable information. In the ghost town of Nighthawk, Wash., one
of the locals who owned the Nighthawk Hotel personally escorted me into the
town to protect me from an old timer, now deceased, who used his shotgun to send
any and all visitors away.
Q: Were you a tomboy/explorer type of kid growing
up in Bellingham?
A: Definitely a tomboy, but also a storyteller with a wild
imagination. My stories were so spooky that sometimes I scared my cousins and
friends half to death. Adults simply raised eyebrows and said that one day my
imagination would get the best of me. Happily, it did.
Q: What was your
A: I attended Sunnyland (Elementary) School. My friends Lynene,
Murretta and I headed up the Humboldt-Iron-Franklin Street Hoodlums, holding
backyard carnivals, complete with a chicken-coop haunted house. Mrs. Lund made us
stop when some of the kids came out bleeding. We didn't think crawling over
holly bush stickers was so terrible, but some of the parents complained. One of
our carnivals in the late 1940s gained The Bellingham Herald's attention with a
photograph and article, probably because I called them and offered our
proceeds (about $5 as I recall) to a worthy cause.
Q: What about your music lessons,
fostered by your mother?
A: My mom, Ethel Crook, a retired music teacher who
is now 93 years old, introduced her four children to music, giving me the
opportunity to study violin, piano, coronet and voice - all with some of
Bellingham's finest teachers. Much to her dismay, I chose cheerleading. Thankfully,
though, her encouragement (and patience) left me with an appreciation of fine
music and my children and grandchildren carry on her wonderful musical interest
Q: Anything else exciting in your life?
A: A nice added piece of
news for me: A connection with a local resident in the town of Gold Hill, Nev.,
has opened the door to a movie option offer with a Los Angeles filmmaker. The
filmmaker was filming a PBS special on the wild mustangs of Nevada, which of
course is the theme for my fourth book. She's called me twice, loves the Bodie
book, and I'm waiting for the official option contract on the book and
hopefully the series.
Children: July/August 2003
5-Heart (top rating) Review
Title: Ghost Town Mystery Series: Goodbye God, I'm going to Bodie, Ghost of Nighthawk and Shadow of Shaniko
A great new mystery series that kids are going to enjoy. Watch out Nancy
Drew, Hardy Boys and even Scooby-Doo, this series actually includes some history.
What more could you ask for? Join Meggie and Paige as they explore ghost
towns across the western USA and always find a mystery lingering after all these
years. This series gets 5 hearts for each book.
Bookmonger: Syndicated Newspaper Book Reviews: 7/6/03
"Shadow of Shaniko" Olympia author Jan Pierson aka Calamity Jan has hit upon
a nifty idea with her Ghostowners historical mystery series. Now the third
book in the series has been published. In "Shadow of Shaniko," Meggie and
Paige travel with their aunt to an almost-abandoned town in north-central Oregon,
where they uncover a mystery and reunite a family in 104 spine-tingling pages.
The ghost town series as a whole is inspired, as it kindles the imagination
and encourages adventure. Using both suspense and humor, Calamity Jan
introduces children to the rewards and the ethics of archaeology and helps them think
about the history of the American West in exciting new ways.
Gotta Write Network
An Interview with Children's Author Jan Pierson
Richelle: It is my pleasure to introduce Jan Pierson to everyone. Jan,
before I start the formal interview, please give us some personal history, where
you're from, your family, and what you enjoy in your leisure time.
Jan: Thank you for this chance to share, Richelle. I was born on the edge
of San Juan Islands in northern Washington State, spending my summers in our
cabin on Lummi Island, hiking beaches, climbing rocks and exploring caves. The
child in me never really wanted to leave those marvelous serendipity days, and
becoming a writer for children undoubtedly let that happen. I had three brothers
and sisters and my parents were both educators, so from my earliest days I was
encouraged to read and write. I married and had three children, spending the
next 30 years raising a family and writing books in those beloved San Juan
Islands. After an unexpected divorce, I reshaped my life and entered college,
getting my BA in Psychology and Criminal Justice. By this time my children were
beginning to have children, all inspiring me to continue writing with the
grandchildren now as grist for my writing mill. I taught writing for nearly 6
years, then entered yet another exciting phase of my life: I married a Russian
which gave Calamity Jan even more grist for that writing mill. It's another
book, but this time it's not for children.
Richelle: I just finished reading, Goodbye God, I'm Going to Bodie, and
especially loved how you started your first page with the entry to Anna Louise
Lockmoor's diary, "Goodbye God, I'm going to Bodie." From your opening
remarks, it's clear a little girl from Bodie actually penned those very words.
Could you give us some background on that experience?
Jan: It's a well-known legend of the West, but especially in Bodie. I
read those words in the California State Parks Brochure at Bodie the first day I
walked into the town once known as the wildest mining camp in the West. When I
read those words and saw the girl's picture in the museum, I knew I had a story
to write. It was almost inspired, staying with me until the final, surprising
ending. Fiction laced with fact brings an unknown girl and a frightening gold
mining town to life, and in the process, captures young readers and shows them a
life they can scarcely imagine. Being forced by cruel parents to eat broccoli is
going to pale as the main characters come to know a girl who struggles to
survive with her hard-earned seeds and tiny garden in the barren desert of her
Richelle: Meggie and Paige are delightful girls and good friends, so real
in their imperfections, yet they grew tremendously in the 100 pages, leaving the
readers with much to ponder. Did these characters materialize in your mind, or
did you concoct them from girls you knew?
Jan: These characters are a combination of my own granddaughters, and of
course, a little bit of myself as is so often what we writers of fiction get to
do! Maybe we can't not do it.
Richelle: You do very well at keeping the reader wondering from page to
page what happened to young Anna. Your other Carson Kid Series are mysteries as
well. Have you always written mysteries? Are they your favorite genre?
Jan: I suppose I love mysteries most of all, and because of that, it's
what I write best. This latest Bodie book was a bit of history laced with
mystery, but the Carson Kids Series was too. The Carson Kids Series was set in
the San Juan Islands and the central character was, of course, a bit of me. My
son was the central character, Blake, and my two daughters were also characters
in the series. The San Juan Islands are filled with early Spanish history
including sunken galleons, and some legends of Russian gold hidden well, so I
had a lot of fun bringing these facts of history to life for the readers in
sneaky contemporary ways so that they wouldn't know they were getting such an
education. The series was first published by a religious publisher for 9 years
and later came back in print as an Author's Guild Back-In-Print series with
iUniverse.com. I take middle grade readers (ages 9-13) on a wild adventure
through the islands I came to love as a girl, so in this way I still get to keep
my memories alive.
Richelle: Tell us about the research that went into Goodbye God, I'm
Going to Bodie, and the time it took before you felt comfortable with
description and historical authenticity. And please, if you will, guide our
readers in some of the Dos and Don'ts you have learned in researching a writing
project. I know in writing Fallout, I spent hours upon hours on research even
though it was fiction. Was that the case with Bodie?
Jan: Yes, there is a lot of research that must go into historical fiction
especially, as was the case with Goodbye God, I'm Going to Bodie. Museums,
books, walking through the town again and again, stomping through the crumbling
cemetery, the mine and mill, but for me, being there was probably the single
most important thing that had to happen to make this story real--to make it come
to life. It has to be real and alive in the author's heart if it's going to
happen for the reader. And Anna came to life almost from the first moment I
walked past the tombstone of the 11-year-old girl, then read the words from the
diary, then saw the photograph of the 'unknown' girl in the museum. From that
moment, she was no longer an unknown girl. Anna Louise Lockmoor captured my
heart and was going to live in the hearts of children if I had my way. I could
hardly wait to get home to my computer and begin writing. My notebook (take one
everywhere, writers!) was filled with notes, facts, thoughts, ideas. A story was
born in a barren ghost town. Life from ruins. Hope and beauty from despair. Fun
and adventure in crumbling ruins. It's a lot like life, and children, like
adults, understand and reach toward these dreams in spite of obstacles so
writers need to keep the facts and mystery alive, but also learn how to get
inside hearts where the child really lives. My Carson Kids Series came out of my
life experiences as a child, but you are right, even fiction requires research
and hard work in order to make it authentic and real. I also had a great deal to
learn in those first days with that first book manuscript, in fact it took me
five years of rejections and subsequent workshops and reading to learn how to
pull it all together. Getting published wasn't quite as easy as I had thought.
It was a blow to realize that all the New York editors weren't fighting over my
manuscript, and worse yet to realize it probably hadn't even gotten past the
first reader. (She's the one who throws them on the slush pile faster than a
Richelle: I will say this, the great twist at the ending of Bodie, really
surprised me, but I'll stop there. I certainly don't want to give that away.
Readers, you'll have to find that one out on your own. Tell us about some of
your favorite authors that have inspired your writing.
Jan: I loved Gladys Malvern who wrote my favorite book of all time;
"Jonica's Island." I lost it as a girl and spent the next 40 years
searching for it. Only last month I found it on e-bay, bidding foolishly for my
lost book of memories and dreams. I got it (for a disgusting price) but shall
cling tightly from this day forward. After all these years, it's still a
beautiful work of historical fiction and tender emotion. The combination is a
treasure indeed, and I hope to discover some of this author's 'secrets' by
reading and rereading this book. Writers, read read read your favorite books
again and stay in the genres you want to write about. Find what captures you,
and see how the author does it. Think about how he/she creates those believable
scenes without being overly descriptive and boring. Learn the secrets of
"Showing" (visual word pictures) versus dull, tiresome
"Telling." Watch how the author crawls inside the skin of the
character and lets you believe it's really you!
Richelle: Jan, I know you write for adults as well, but do you find
writing for children gives you more, less, or the same fulfillment than writing
Jan: I haven't done any books (yet) for adults, because there's just too
much "kid" running around inside my skin and somehow I still know how
to communicate to the younger readers. In real life I'm the 'fun' Grandma,
telling stories instead of baking cookies. But there are kids running around in
adults too, and one day I want to sneak up and write a well-camouflaged story of
my own life. Possibly Hysterical Fiction, which may have trouble getting a
publisher, but which my friends and family most probably will love as long as
they don't know it's me. I will probably start with "Calamity Jan and the
Richelle: You were an instructor of the Institute of Children's
Literature. Did you enjoy the experience and do you feel writing courses are
beneficial to writers?
Jan: Definitely. Reading books about writing, writers courses, critique
groups, hands-on research trips; it's all part of what will round out the writer
and prepare her or him for the real (and terribly competitive) world of
publishing. The emergence of online courses and information for writers such as
this very web site, is so important and gives writers a jump start over those of
us who came up through the ranks with our electric typewriters. And of course,
there are endless publishing possibilities (and pitfalls) in cyberspace, but if
the writer stays close to others who have 'been there, done that,' they're
probably ten jumps ahead. Watch for one-day or week-long seminars. They are a
great way to rub elbows with other writers and gain firsthand information from
authors. I loved teaching adults one day crash courses in getting published
which I called my "Saturday Seminar for Beginning Writers." Although
one day doesn't 'do it all,' it will challenge and motivate aspiring writers to
move in a clear direction, giving them those important guidelines for writing
fiction and nonfiction (the craft), and then getting it out there to that
Richelle: As a children's author, have school visits been advantageous to
you and can you tell us how you approach learning institutions, and what
students and faculty can expect from your presentation?
Jan: I love going into classrooms and also doing Young Author workshops,
because it keeps those kid-connections alive. I watch and listen and take mental
notes as I share with children, perhaps learning more from them than they may be
from me! If writers for children don't keep mingling with them, they may lose
the ability to understand how they look, talk, respond, and think. I must send
out brochures to schools if I expect to get an invitation, so this, with a cover
letter showing my credentials and gift book for their school library often gets
a response. I take youngsters through a hands-on process of the book, from the
first rough draft right on through to the finished manuscript, contract,
galleys, and finally, the hard copy book itself. My presentation includes a few
teaching tips on writing fiction and nonfiction and of course reading the first
chapter of one of my books so that they can observe if I've accomplished what
I've told them they, too, must do. It's fun watching them watch and listen for
that opening "hook," find the central character, etc., and even more
fun when they get so excited about the story they don't want to take any more
mental or physical notes! It's then I know that I've captured them! It's what
writers are born to do!
Richelle: Do you have future books in mind for the Carson series or even
another series perhaps? I'm sure there are more ghost towns. Have you thought
about a series with Meggie, Paige, and her Aunt Abby?
Jan: I have one more finished manuscript/book in the Carson Kids series
(The Mystery of Sasquatch Island) which I hope to get to iUniverse soon, but I
haven't got around to that yet because I am working on a ghost town series with
Meggie, Paige and Aunt Abby! Yes, there are so many more ghost towns in the
Western United States and plots are spinning around like dust devils in my head.
The possibilities are endless. My projected ghost town series will kick off with
Goodbye God, I'm Going to Bodie. The Bodie book had previously been published by
a most unsatisfactory publisher, and I have only recently gotten my rights back.
Writers, do your research on publishers as scrupulously as you do with your
books! A bad publisher can keep your nightmares alive and your book dead for
years! A noted regional publisher is now considering my series.
Richelle: Jan, I could go on and on, but I'll stop here. It's been a
delight and I wish you all the success in the world for your books, both
children and adult. We'll look forward to seeing many more from you on the
Jan: Thank you Richelle. It's been a pleasure talking with you and other
writers. I wish you all the very best and leave you all with one of my favorite
sayings by Langston Hughes; "Hold fast your dreams, for if dreams
die...life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly."
Back in Print!
THE CARSON KIDS MYSTERIES Juvenile Fiction Author's Guild Back-in-Print Editions
- Jan Pierson - e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jan Pierson - website: http://www.calamityjan.com
I would personally encourage everyone to read Goodbye God, I'm Going to Bodie.
It's a wonderful book, filled with western history.
Richelle Putnam, Editor of Children's and Young Adult Genre for GWN
Regional Representative for National Association for Women Writers (NAWW)
Author of Fallout, a Middle-Grade Fiction,
available at www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com
Paperbacks: amazon.com or this website.
eBooks: amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com