We had the good fortune of connecting with Janie Havemeyer and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Janie, other than deciding to work for yourself, what was the single most important decision you made that contributed to your success?
A big part of my success has been the connections I have made in the children’s publishing industry. It’s very tough getting published. So many writers spend years researching and writing manuscripts that never get acquired. Early on, I began attending workshops and publishing conferences, not only to grow as a writer but to learn the current trends and topics in the world of children’s books. In this way, I have made invaluable connections that led to further introductions, which helped me to get my work in front of the eyes of editors who might want to hire me or buy my manuscripts. Staying actively involved and investing time in my professional community has been invaluable in moving forward.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I have always loved reading and writing, but I have not always been a children’s author. I started out working as a teacher, first in art museums and then later in elementary schools. As it turns out this was a great training ground for telling stories and seeing what interests kids. In 2005, I turned my attention to writing stories for children. I’ve always been fascinated with true stories and there is plenty of material if you are a history enthusiast like me. It took a lot of practice and time spent on professional development to develop my voice and style. I gravitated towards writing biographies, especially stories about strong female protagonists and trailblazers who have been erased in history. The rewards have always been writing my stories, and my challenges have been selling my work. As a writer, one inevitably gets many rejections from editors. The key is perseverance. If you have the drive and a good product, the odds multiply that’s someone will like your work and want to publish it, if you keep at it. My mantra is that I write because I love it too much to stop. When a story I have written gets acquired, it is as if I have won the lottery.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Since I love history, my itinerary will have a historical flavor. First we would go on a hike along the trials of The Presidio. This was once military reservation, established in 1776, but is now a 1,500-acre park and part of the National Park Service. As we stroll along the trails, it is easy to learn about the people who once lived there and the stories of how they interacted with places around the Presidio and the world. From there, I would make sure we ended up at The Palace of Fine Arts. This is the only remaining structure from the San Francisco World’s Fair of 1915 and part of the National Register of Historic Places. It is a huge, open-air rotunda next to a tranquil lagoon. It is not hard to imagine being an excited fairgoer at the turn of the century, as you stroll under this monumental ruin. I wrote a novel that takes place at the fair, so it would be fun to tell some of my own stories from the fair too. By now I am sure my visitor is famished. So we would head over to one of my favorite restaurants, a celebrated San Francisco mainstay, called Greens. Greens is a vegetarian restaurant with an unparalleled view of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. The restaurant was founded by the San Francisco Zen Center and uses fresh produce from the organic Zen Center farm to create delicious and creative dishes. After that, we would have to visit some of San Francisco’s independent bookstores. There are so many, but one of my favorites is Book Passage. If we are lucky we might be able to arrive in time for an author event or to attend a class or workshop. The sun is about ready to set on this busy day. But there is one last thing we can do before heading home for dinner. We’d start at Lombard street and climb up to the top of the Lyon Street Steps. We’d get to walk by some of the most beautiful mansions in the city and to smell the cherry blossoms as we go. At the top we’d get another amazing, panoramic view of the blue San Francisco Bay and of Alcatraz Island.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
These people have given me mentorship and support throughout my writing journey. Author and editors Amy Novesky and Shirin Yim Leos. Writing colleagues, always willing to provide feedback, Gretchen Maurer, Natasha Yim, Jessica DeHart and Rebecca Randall. Emma Walton Hamilton and the other children book mentors and writers at the State University of New York Children’s Literature Fellows Program.
author photo by Di Starr