Author Janet McGiffin lives in Tacoma, WA, just down the hill from her son and daughter-in-law and two grandchildren, after living some time in Lakewood, WA, Greece, and New York City. She used to work for the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Health Department, was a press officer for the Washington State Senate in Olympia, and worked in New York City at Berlitz where she taught Business English to foreign business executives. Right now, she spends every waking moment writing the next book in the series that is being published by Scotland Street Press in Edinburgh, “The Empress Irini Series.” Janet’s father was the publisher of the Ellensburg Daily Record (WA), where her second paying job was filling in for the reporters during summer break during college. Her first books were published by Fawcett in New York in the 1990s. They were a light-hearted mystery series set in Milwaukee. Janet McGiffin used to be a member of Mystery Writers of America. When Janet isn’t writing, she loves to work in her tiny flower garden and her daughter-in-law’s flowers in her much larger garden. She and her two cousins also go to England once a year, where they hike for eight days from village to village staying in pub lodging.
Which genres do you cover?
Janet McGiffin: The Empress Irini series is being marketed by the publisher as Young Adult (YA)/historical fiction. Their reasoning for YA was that the heroine is 17 when the story begins in book one, but she is in her 70s when the series ends. I personally think it is historical fiction. There is also something of a mystery involved. The previous books I wrote were mysteries. My magazine articles are travel articles about hiking in Greece.
Which is the latest book you had published, and what is about?
Janet McGiffin: “Betrothal & Betrayal” and “Poison is A Woman’s Weapon” were published in August 2023 at the same time. They are the first two books of a four-book series. Book 3 of the series, “Seizing Power,” will be released in February 2024 and “The Price of Eyes” in October 2024. They are the historically accurate story of the Byzantine Empress Irini of Athens who lived from 750 AD – 803 AD and was one of only two Byzantine empresses who held the throne in Constantinople in their own right. There is very little information about Irini because the emperor who deposed and exiled her destroyed the official records (Can’t have a woman going down in history!); so, I filled in the blanks using the time-honored method of historical fiction by making stuff up. But every character in the book with the exception of two, are based on real people I found in historical references. I spent eleven years researching and writing the book. The publisher accepted it and said that it was four.
At which book events can readers find you?
Janet McGiffin: I will be having book signings at Barnes & Noble in Olympia on April 13 (12-5 p.m.), at Barnes & Noble in Silverdale on April 20 (12-5 p.m.), in Bremerton at Ballast Books on June 7 at their Art Walk. There are possibly book signings in Kingston and at other Barnes & Nobles nearer Seattle.
Which book event connecting you with readers is your favorite and why?
Janet McGiffin: I love book signings. I sit in front of the book display, and when people look interested, I ask if they read historical fiction. Everyone does–some kind of historical fiction. Then we chat about which period of history they like and they ask about the Byzantines and before you know it, they’re carrying off a book.
Do(es) your book(s) have any specific messages to your readers and, if so, which are they?
Janet McGiffin: I don’t want to push my philosophy onto readers. But I’m telling the story of a woman who had great courage and determination and who refused to give up. She lived in a harsh man’s world and despite the deadly opposition to a woman on the throne, she survived longer than some of the emperors who followed her. So, my message, I guess, is that to really live means to have courage and determination and not to give up. The narrator of the story is the abbess of the convent where Irini went to get away from the pressures of the Great Palace. This abbess swore her loyalty to the empress, which was common in those days, but still happens today, just not in so many words. People are loyal to many things and a lot can go wrong because of misplaced loyalty, as happens in these books. So, I guess that’s another message, what loyalty means.
Which writer(s) keep(s) inspiring you and why?
Janet McGiffin: When I’m writing something, I try not to read something that will influence my writing, which good writers do. So, I read non-fiction like Harper’s Magazine or newspapers online. Right now, I’m reading a book of essays by Umberto Eco and a book of essays by Rachel Kushner, who writes a column for Harper’s Magazine, and a book of essays by Lydia Davis about her work translating books into English. I like to read about people thinking. As for fiction, some time ago, I read all of the Japanese writer Banana Yoshimoto, who is considered Young Adult and I think is wonderful. And another Japanese writer called Keigo Higashino, “The Devotion of Suspect X.” I like to read Alain de Botton essays. I loved the Thursday Murder Club Mysteries and The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt.
Do you have any specific writing habits?
Janet McGiffin: Once when I was completely stuck and couldn’t write a word, I complained to my son, who has a degree in philosophy. I thought he would give me some sort of deep philosophical thought. Here is what he said: “Place rear on chair. Remain there.” So that’s what I do. I rarely take a day off because it’s important to keep the mental ball rolling. When I’m working on something, I write something every day, maybe just write down notes in a notebook I carry around. I love doing research because it’s a great excuse for not writing, but I have to put a limit on it. As my editor and publisher wrote during the editing process, “More story, less history!”
What are you currently working on?
Janet McGiffin: The last book in the series is at the copyreader now and will come back with a lot of embarrassing notes pointing out mistakes. So, that’s off my desk but soon to return. In the meantime, I am thinking about and taking notes for a mystery series that I started before I happened upon the fascinating Irini of Athens. It is set in the same time period as Irini but in small convents around the Byzantine Empire, which is what is now Greece and Turkey. So, I have reference books scattered around the house about medicines and poisons used by the Byzantines.
Which book are you currently reading simply for entertainment?
Janet McGiffin: Oh, this is embarrassing. I try not to read anything that will influence me as far as writing style. So, I’m reading old British mysteries set in the 1920s, which couldn’t be farther from what I’m doing. Or thrillers, like Inspector Rubus. Or “Dublin Murder Squad” by Tana French.
What advice would you give any aspiring author?
Janet McGiffin: Write about something you really like, because it comes through to the reader. So, if you like mysteries, set it in a place you really like and model some of the characters after people you like. Don’t give your work to anyone you know to read: either they will tell you what you want to hear or they will say things that make you feel inadequate. Really think about what you are writing. What is the book really about? Describe it in one sentence and see if you like that. When you are happy with that, describe it in one sentence to a friend, and write down what they say, especially if you don’t like it.
You can find Janet McGiffin’s books as eBooks only on her publisher’s website scotlandstreetpress.com and as print editions at bookstores, on her website janmcgiffin.com, and on https://www.amazon.com/stores/Janet-McGiffin/author/B0034PZARG.