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Writing for children: Janice Fosse interview

Janice Fosse is a children’s playwright and writer. Here Stephanie Cox interviews Janice about her love of writing, the difficulties of writing for children and her optimism in the face of a very difficult publishing market.

1. Please tell me a little bit about yourself and your career.

I have been telling stories my whole life. From organizing make-believe on the playground to circulating stories in serial format to devoted readers in high school via spiral notebooks, I mistakenly thought my love of telling stories translated into a love of performing, and for many years my educational focus was on acting, with writing stories nothing more than a diversionary hobby.

After completing the requirements for a BFA in Acting from Augustana College in Rock Island, IL, I found myself with one more year of school to go, and decided to pursue a second BA in English with a creative writing concentration. I finished the degree in one year, and found that writing had been the underlying passion all along. While performing is fun, you are always saying someone else’s words. It turned out that I wanted to be the one to make the words, the worlds, and the rules. You could call it creative megalomania, I suppose!

Upon graduation I secured a job in the public access department of a small-town cable company as a producer. I wrote scripts for commercials, did voiceover work, produced television shows, and even helped create and was chief question writer for a local-access game show that gained modest popularity. Writing was always there in the background though.

After eleven years at the cable company I became an asset, which led to me being liquidated when the cable company sought to purchase a larger media outlet. With eleven weeks of severance pay, I found myself with the free time I needed to finally write a book from beginning to end. I managed it in eleven weeks, completely hated every word and abandoned the work without revising it. During that time I also organized an improvisational comedy troupe and skated with the local roller derby league, where for a time I led the league in ejections for poor sportsmanship. Still, writing was there. By this time I had created the basis of a fantasy realm called Ethia, to which my current series of novels refers. With eleven years of dabbling, I’ve managed to come up with a rich history and mythology for Ethia, which has been an invaluable resource from which to draw. I hope someday to novelize some of the incomplete snippets I’ve written about Ethia’s history into some sort of cohesive work.

2. There are now far more writers than there are places for them in the market. What made you realise that your writing might be commercially successful one day?

A friend of mine sent some of my unpolished science fiction to an editor for critique without my knowledge, and the editor was impressed enough to suggest that, with some tweaking, my story could be quite successful. I’ve been working on that story for the last couple of years (with a rather large hiatus due to the birth of my daughter), and have one novel in the series in revision, and a second over halfway through the first draft.

3. How did you get into the theatre industry and what is the biggest challenge in writing for children?

I met the owner of Stars of Tomorrow, a company that teaches acting and play production to school-age children, through my work with the improv comedy troupe. I became one of their senior instructors, thanks to my theatre degree, and began writing plays for the classes. To date I have had over a dozen plays performed by students in classes throughout the Northern Illinois area, which have been extremely well-received by their audiences.

For the most part, when children are performing a play the audience is going to be largely comprised of parents and other adult family members. The trick is writing a play that the children can understand and appreciate, while still providing something that will be entertaining for the parents to watch. I write comedies, and I try to find that tricky place where the humor is appropriate and entertaining for both adults and children. Many of the characters I write in my plays are wryly self-aware, and the whole play comes off as a little bit cheeky, which usually fits the bill for all parties involved.

4. Why do you enjoy writing for children?

I enjoy the opportunity to be silly, to stretch my imagination and sense of humor without having to cater to the inherent cynicism of adulthood. It’s also important to write things for children without pandering to them. Kids will rise to the intellectual level with which they are presented, and I enjoy the opportunity to teach, through writing paired with instruction, various aspects of comedic theory, so that they know why what they’re saying is funny.

5. Why is it so important for writers and publishers to engage in social media now?

With the current market saturation and the ease of creating an online presence, writers and publishers must engage in social media if they are going to get anywhere with promotion and publicity.

Unfortunately, one of the things I’ve noticed happening, particularly with Twitter, is that some authors misunderstand the difference between using social media to build an online following and simply spamming adverts about their book every few hours. Social media is an absolute necessity for writers and publishers because there is no freer and more easily accessible marketplace for your book than the Internet, but it should be used wisely. Sharing blog posts, thoughts about writing, and anything else gives what would otherwise be nothing more than a faceless advertising machine a human feel and more of a sense of connection with potential readers.

To read more of the interview, head over to Stephanie’s blog: Words are my Craft.

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