Writing Superheroes: Janet Oakley

A superhero in petticoats! Read on and find out more…

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What kind of training do you do to keep your superpowers in world saving form? How do you insure they are used only for good?

Training, hmm. I was trained as a historian so knowing how to research, take notes, and pay attention helps me in my hunt for facts that are the background to my historical novels, but I also found it very useful in a recent jump into writing a mystery for the launch of an upcoming Kindle World. Writing historical fiction, which is the main genre I write in, can help save the world (if researched and written well) by bringing to light a time, an historical event, and or lessons on how people coped. I wrote about the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the most popular programs from the New Deal and the Great Depression in TREE SOLDIER. It’s so wonderful to be able to open up a conversation about the lasting legacy of the program, the environment and helping readers find family history in the remaining structures around the USA.

Moi at PNWA best cropped


Granted, you probably don’t get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?

I tend to wear petticoats. I love demonstrating and teaching history hands-on, especially about mid 19th century settlers. I have done it for over 33 years.


What is your kryptonite? What are the biggest challenges faced with in your writing?

Sheepish grin here. I’m probably spending too much time on social media, though Facebook is a way I connect with other writers and Twitter is just too awesome to find helpful articles on writing, publishing trends and help, updates on writerly friends’ work. I also follow gardening and historical tweets. I try to do social media first thing in the morning, then write, but it’s a temptation to check in. As for challenges, making sure I can balance the discipline of writing every day with family, work and friends.


What was the supervillian that threatened to stop your latest project and how did you vanquish it?

Well, it was the most excellent supervillian. I was working on the edits on my WWII in Norway novel, THE JOSSING AFFAIR, and my WIP, THATCH’s WAR, a novel set in the Pacific Northwest during the Civil War, when I got an incredible invite to be part of the launch of a new Kindle World . Best selling author Toby Neal’s Lei Crime Kindle World will go live on April 7. It was a chance for me to write in a whole different genre– mystery, but I had to drop everything for a deadline of April 1– a scant 5 weeks of writing. SADDLE ROAD is done and by this writing, out to the public along with seven other writers. It was challenging to write so quickly, but I did it.  Now back to normal.


What important lessons have you learned along the way?

First lesson, networking and sharing writing journeys with other writers, is one of the most powerful things I have learned. I first took the plunge putting my work up on-line at Authonomy (some time around 2005-6), at the time part of Harper Collins UK. I made friends and got good advice on my novels. Then I began submitting the same novel into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. Again, made many friends. We’ve all ended up on Facebook and other social media sites, all supporting each other. We share everything from publishing, writing sources, technology and family photos and recipes. It’s so much fun to meet a friend in person.

Second lesson, don’t be afraid to ask for help in the various aspects of publication. You can’t do it all.


What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?

My novel, TREE SOLDIER, is set in a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in the Pacific NW during the Great Depression . The novel has led to very rewarding speaking gigs, first as a Humanities WA speaker, and presently as a guest speaker at preservation gatherings. The CCCs are responsible for a vast majority of our public state parks and nationals parks for these projects were the focus for many of the out of work boys. They also built trails, fire lookouts and planted three billion trees. It is a great joy to meet real CCC boys now in their nineties or their children, grandchildren and young men and women of the modern day  


If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change?

It’s funny, but  when I started writing over twenty years ago, there was no social media or ways for a writer to get published without having a pile of books in the garage. The internet, Amazon, thoughtful small presses and POD changed all that. Yet, I would have changed little on how I went about it. I went to writing conferences not long after I started writing.


What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why.

Write every day. Many writers have said that writing is like a muscle. You have to use it and gain strength. I write every day, usually at a coffeehouse starting around 7:30. I write until 9:00 when the parking meter comes on, then go home. I’ll pick up any extra time throughout the rest of the day. Before I retired, I carried a folder with writing paper and stole any free time at work to write. I still carry the folder because I can write standing in line.


Tell us about your new book and why we need to drop everything and get it now.

TIMBER ROSE is the prequel to TREE SOLDIER. Set in 1907, the novel is about gilded society, thugs and big timber meeting the newly formed Forest Service, mountaineering clubs and a young woman’s desire to make her own way in a changing world. It has already received a “highly recommended” from the Historical Novel Society.

Caroline Symington has also struck a chord in the outdoors community as she represents the amazing women who didn’t let convention in clothing in the eary 1900s hold them back and dared to hike and climb mountains Here is the blurb:

  1. Women climbing mountains in skirts. Loggers fighting for the eight hour day. The forests and mountains of the North Cascades are alive with  progress, but not everyone is on board.

Caroline Symington comes from a prominent family in Portland, Oregon. Much to her family’s dismay, she’s more interested in hiking outdoors and exploring the freedoms of a 1907’s New Woman than fancy parties and money. She plans to marry on her own terms, not her parents. When she falls in love with Bob Alford, an enterprising working-class man who loves the outdoors as much as she, little does she know how sorely her theories will be tested. Betrayed by her jealous sister, Caroline elopes, a decision that causes her father to disown her.

The young couple moves to a rugged village in the North Cascade Mountains where Caroline begins a new life as the wife of a forest ranger. Though she loves her life in the mountains as a wife and mother, her isolation and the loss of her family is a challenge. As she searches for meaning among nature, she’s ushered along by a group of like-minded women and a mysterious, mountain man with a tragic past.

Eventually, her relationship with her mother and sister improves and things seem to be taking a turn for the better. That relationship is tested again when her uncle and her sister’s ruthless ex-husband muscle their way into the national forest, threatening the nature she loves, and more importantly, the man she loves. Though Caroline desires to reconcile with her family, she knows she must take a stand. 


What’s in store for you in the future? Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?

I’m finally back to edits on The Jossing Affair and hope to have it published in August. It is my first novel and has won awards as a manuscript and received whole reads from agents who loved it, but never could get it published. It’s set in WW II in Norway. Another novel is getting a work over. I haven’t decided about the WIP because I have to admit I love writing about Hawaii where I once lived and have another story idea for the Lei Crime Kindle World.

Other things? I’m excited about going to Historical Novel Society’s conference in Denver this June. I’m going to be with 400 other writers of the genre. What fun! 




 You can find Janet Oakley at:

Website~Amazon~Facebook~Twitter @joakley  

1 comment

  1. Great interview Janet. Write everyday is my mantra too.
    Nice to learn more about you!


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