Career Builder: Janet Tashjian

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

What memories of your debut author experience stand out?

When Tru Confessions came out fifteen years ago, I had my very first book signing at a Borders Bookstore in Cranston, Rhode Island.

(A moment of silence for Borders, RIP.)

Lots of friends and family came, but I was utterly shocked to see my tenth grade English teacher, Mrs. Harrower, there. I hadn’t seen her since I graduated from high school and I don’t know how she found out about the signing, but I just about burst into tears when I saw her. She was a truly great teacher; to this day, I remember all the figures of speech I learned in her class.

She passed away a few years later, but the photo of the two of us at that book signing sits on the desk where I work today.

Do you have a publishing strategy?

Henry Holt, 2012

I wish I had a publishing strategy! I find myself instead getting dragged along by my story ideas.

I’m the kind of writer who has a lot of ideas all vying for my attention so it’s a constant struggle to decide which stories to tell next. I envy writers with a clear cut game plan–fortunately or unfortunately, that’s never been me.

Would you describe your career as a hike up a mountain, a winding
road, a path of hills and valleys or hop-scotching from rock to rock
across the rapids? Why?

I think of the Myth of Sisyphus all the time–with Sisyphus pushing that boulder up the mountain just to watch it roll back down at the end of the day. So he gets up the next day and rolls it back up the hill again…and again and again.

I’ve been writing for so long and have so many notebooks full of pages and pages from all my books–it feels like I’ve spent my life writing words, crossing them out, then writing different words–over and over again.

But don’t think I believe that being a writer is a futile, frustrating, or thankless job–there’s something comforting about spending your time doing something tangible and predictable. I agree with Camus’ conclusion that “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Have you made an affirmative decision to alter your focus?

When my son Jake started having a difficult time reading and when so many teachers and librarians began asking me on school visits to talk about reluctant readers, I shifted my focus from YA books–mostly my Larry books–and decided to go back to the world of middle grade readers for awhile.

I wanted to write about how reading might be hard for lots of kids–many of them boys–but that stories were still important. Jake had been drawing his vocabulary words for years – he’s a visual learner and that’s how he studied them – so it made perfect sense for him to do the novels’ illustrations.

I’m incredibly proud of My Life as a Book (2010), My Life as a Stuntboy (2011) and the upcoming My Life as a Cartoonist (all Henry Holt and/or Square Fish) because I not only got to collaborate with my son but have reached so many kids like him who really need visual support when they read. It was never done as a career move, just purely to help kids like Jake.

That being said, my new book, For What It’s Worth (Henry Holt, 2012), is a return to YA, a rock-and-roll book for all the music nerds.

Cynsational Notes

The Career Builders series
offers insights from children’s-YA authors who written and published
books for a decade or more. The focus includes their approach to both
the craft of writing and navigating the ever-changing business landscape
of trade publishing.

3 thoughts on “Career Builder: Janet Tashjian

  1. Thanks for a great interview! I love the way Janet says she is subject to the whims of her ideas. Having a publishing strategy is something I'm only just starting to consider. It's tough, but it's great that she is able to refocus on something that she's passionate about in the reluctant readers. My son has ADHD and had a really hard time reading until he discovered Harry Potter. My daughter also has a learning disability that made it hard for her to learn to read. She read, but it wasn't until she discovered Tantalize and Just Listen that the love of reading kicked in for her. Books make such a huge difference to kids. Thanks so much, Janet, for addressing this important issue!



  2. I'm so glad to add more books to my list for my son who falls into the "reluctant reader" category, unless there is a visual aspect to the story. Thanks for the great interview.

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