Monday, November 18, 2013

Q&A with SYTYCW Finalist Jan Schliesman

I was thrilled to be asked to mentor Harlequin's 2013 So You Think You Can Write finalist Jan Schliesman. Jan is the only finalist writing romantic suspense -- the subgenre nearest and dearest to my heart. Every writer has a journey, right? I invited Jan to the Hot Seat to talk about hers.

Welcome, Jan! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Thanks for having me on your blog, Natalie.  I’m originally from eastern Iowa and currently reside in Wichita, Kansas.  I believe in love at first sight because I met my future husband, Tim, while working as a bank teller.  One look and I knew he was the one. He, on the other hand, waited several months before asking me out. We’ve been married for twenty-five years and have three kids: Jalynn, Tanner and Karlee. I worked for five years as a police dispatcher, which sent me back to college. I earned my criminal justice degree in 2012 and really thought I’d get another chance to dispatch but the crazy hours aren’t conducive to a family life.  I currently work at a jewelry store and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be my last day job;)

Can you tell us about your manuscript, Kira's Keeper?

Kira’s Keeper is a romantic suspense story.  My heroine, Kira Kincaid, works as an insurance investigator and has always believed in playing by the rules and doing the right thing. Then she’s arrested for embezzling from the government’s Medicare program after a large sum of money is found in an old bank account.  Her almost ex-husband, Joshua Kincaid, swore the account had been closed right after their marriage and now she needs to track him down.  Without his help to clear her name, she’ll end up in prison.

Dalton Matthews, CEO for Buckshot’s Coffee, has been hiding out in the woods for over a year. After his wife’s suicide, the overzealous paparazzi are fighting for any picture of him in exile. When Kira arrives at his cabin, he’s certain she’s motivated by dollar signs. Then an attempt is made on her life and he’s forced into action. But his plan to turn her over to the police is derailed when she insists she’s married to his brother…his dead brother. The last thing his family needs is another headline.

But when a second attempt is made on her life he’s torn. Should he walk away from the woman who’s succeeded in dredging up a few family secrets? Or should he believe the danger surrounding her is real and remain Kira’s Keeper?

Every writer's journey has ups and downs. What has yours been like so far?

I started writing in 1997. I got a subscription to Writer’s Digest magazine and purchased several books on writing. I found a nearby writer’s group, Heart of Iowa Fiction Authors. To show how determined I was, I drove seventy miles (one way) on a Thursday night to attend a meeting!  My kids were little and it required a lot of planning.  But the gals I met were all very enthusiastic and welcoming. I brought along part of the story I had started and no one laughed at me, even though it was single spaced on lavender paperJ  I tried to learn as much as I could and attended my first RWA national conference in Chicago in 1999. Although determination was high, I was also dealing with a child with autism and his needs frequently outweighed anything else.  In 2003, I attended the New York conference and came home with a new attitude. I could do this!  Discipline was all I needed.  Tanner had his first seizure three weeks later while I was working as a police dispatcher.  I still get chills thinking about the 911 call from my husband.  Our family relocated to Iowa City to be closer to a hospital that could treat him.  As you can guess, writing was the furthest thing from my mind.  It was the fall of 2008 before I really got serious about writing again. I entered chapter contests and won my first award in 2009---I got an email while sitting in a Laundromat in Wichita, a week after my husband took a promotion. The next year I took second place in the Daphne’s, along with a request for my full manuscript. It took me six months, but I got it polished and sent in. I started writing a new story and entering contests again, but as any parent of a special needs child can tell you, working outside the home is sometimes your only salvation. I also wanted to finish my degree, and everything seemed to be vying for my attention. I returned to college full-time, took a job as a 911 call taker, and then received a revision request on Kira’s Keeper.  Three more months and I sent the revisions.  In May 2012, I graduated from college and received a second revision request, this one telling me that the romantic suspense line had increased to 70,000 words.  More writing and revising before I stumbled upon a writer’s loop that turned out to be my ultimate support.  And I don’t know if I’d call it a total rewrite (nods headJ), but I finally got it finished last spring and started a new story.  Evidently I’m getting a little better at this writing thing because my second book won the Sheila contest in August and is a finalist in the Golden Pen.  I had this brilliant plan to enter my new story in the SYTYCW contest, when another author suggested I stick with Kira’s Keeper.  Really?  I stalled a bit before entering and was so disappointed when I didn’t make the Top 50.  Yes, you read that correctly…I didn’t make the Top 50!  It took me a week to get over the disappointment, and then the next day I received an email stating another spot had opened up and requesting my book by Friday. I made that deadline with the support of my Texas ladies: Angi Morgan, Jen FitzGerald and Sarah Cannon.  I also started calling myself Magic #51!  Because someone in the initial 50 hadn’t been able to meet their deadline, I was granted another chance.  Imagine my shock when I made it into the Top 10!  So, there’s my story.  Sixteen years of writing brought me to this point, along with some amazing highs and bottomless lows.  I have a bulletin board above my desk with lots of important phrases written on index cards.  My favorite: Determination Trumps Talent.

In addition to being a writer, you're a wife and a mother. How do you find balance?

Balance?  That’s a tough question.  For many years I didn’t feel like I balanced things very well.  Other writers made it look easy and I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. But when you have kids, especially one with special needs, they have to come first. Everyone has a different path and different challenges.  Feeling like a real author was a big turning point for me.  When our youngest moved to the college dorms, I took over one of the bedrooms for my office.  My hubby painted the walls red and I have an official “wall of fame”.  I’ve gotten used to interruptions but I’ve also learned to ignore a lot of things.  I am never going to have a perfect life so I don’t know why I ever thought that my writing world had to be perfect or I couldn’t function. Sometimes I’m in my office and if the words aren’t flowing, I move to another room and switch to my laptop. I also say no a lot now.  I have to write.  No one else is going to do it for me.  No one else has invested what I’ve invested.  There are still days where everything doesn’t work out the way I wish it would, but tomorrow is another chance to get it right.

Where do you find inspiration?

I got a lot of great story ideas while working for the police department and through my college classes.  Sometimes a single line of dialogue will pop into my head and it’s enough to write an entire scene. If my day is going well, I might get a few pages down where my heroine is overcoming an obstacle. If nothing is going right in my real world, I’ll escape to my current story and write an emotional scene. If I’m angry…I’m gonna have to kill somebody off! I’ve also gotten many ideas from brainstorming with other authors.

You can check out Jan's entry, Kira's Keeper, right here. Don't forget to vote for your favorite entry! Voting closes November 25.


  1. HELLO JAN !!
    Waving from Texas!
    Thanks for the shout out and congratulations on the TOP 10 !!

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Angi. It's been great having my own Texas cheering section, too!

  3. Can't wait to party when you get that contract, Jan!!

  4. You are SUCH a terrific writer Your stories keep us laughing through our tears and biting our nails with each page we turn. We are gonna have such a GREAT celetration when you sign your name to the dotted line and become one of the top authors at Harlequin!!! Can. Not. Wait!!!!

  5. Thanks, Jen! I'm so grateful for your ability to crack the whip and keep everyone motivated in chatzy! Plus, you're an awesome friend:)

  6. Thanks so much, Lauren! It seems like we've known each other longer than three years, but look how far we've come! Thanks for being an awesome critique partner and all-around GREAT friend!!