Jane Tesh had the great good fortune to be born on the very last day of 1949 into a wonderful Southern family whose idea of a good time was to gather on the front porch and tell jokes and stories. She was also blessed with a detailed fantasy life and a host of imaginary friends who developed into characters for her books.
For thirty years, her day job was elementary school librarian in the small town of Mt. Airy, North Carolina, Andy Griffith’s home town, (the real life Mayberry) where she still enjoys playing the piano for the local community theater. At age thirty-four, she had success with plays for children, and then, at age 55, two months after she retired, finally achieved her lifelong goal of publishing a book, the first of the Madeline Maclin mysteries. These were followed by the Grace Street series, and now, Butterfly Waltz, the first of what she hopes will be many fantasy novels.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Butterfly Waltz. When did you start writing and what got you into fantasy?
I’ve been writing all my life. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing little poems, stories, and plays to entertain my younger sister and brother. I learned to read at age four, so I was allowed to go to the library with the first graders. The first book I chose was The Funny Thing, a book about a dragon who ate so many cheeses, his tail grew all the way down and around the mountain. I was pretty much hooked on fantasy after that.
Des Fairweather is an aspiring young concert pianist who desperately needs an audition with the Parkland Symphony. His friend, Jake Banner, a brash tabloid reporter, has Symphony connections, but he won’t help Des unless Des comes to Christine Snowden’s country estate to investigate reports of talking flowers. If there’s anything paranormal in the neighborhood, Jake will drag Des along to see about it.
Des reluctantly agrees because he doesn’t want to mess with anything magic. He’s afraid he may have the same terrible power that killed his parents, a mystery Jake wishes he could solve. At Christine’s, Des meets Kalida, a beautiful young woman who says she is magic. He’ll have to face his greatest fear and rescue her from her people, the Cavernborn, who want Kalida to return to their world, even though she has renounced their evil ways.
How do you keep your narrative exciting?
This may sound obvious, but things have to keep happening. Too much backstory and description, especially at the beginning, can get readers bogged down in too many details. I have to find the right balance between important events—Des and Jake go to Snowden Manor to check out the report of talking flowers, Jake falls for Christine Snowden, Des sees Kalida for the first time—and additional material: what the characters look like, descriptions of the flowers, how Des feels when he sees this beautiful young woman, how Kalida feels when she hears his music.
Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?
I like to get up at 6:30 every morning and take a walk in my neighborhood to start my day. This also gets my exercise out of the way. I’m usually in my office and working by 8 and work until 11:30 or 12. Then it’s time for lunch with my Chihuahua, Pearl, who has been sleeping in her box upstairs. After lunch, I work until 3. Snack time! If the work is going well, I’ll write a little more, but morning is the best time for me. I am disciplined, but I love working in my office, so it’s not really difficult to get to it every day. I look forward to it.
What was your publishing process like?
I started sending out manuscripts and queries when I was 18. This was in 1968, when you typed your book on a typewriter, hoping you wouldn’t make too many mistakes that had to be fixed with Wite-Out or Correcto-Tape. (Ten points to those of you out there who remember that!) Then you found the right size box and mailed your book to New York. When it came back, you sent it to the next publisher or agent on your list. Self-publishing was very expensive and the product did not look as good as it does today. That was not the route for me. When computers arrived, I switched over to emailing manuscripts and queries. I finally found the right publisher in 2004 and was published in 2005.
How do you celebrate the completion of a book?
Music is an important element in all of my books. Usually a certain piece of music is the inspiration for a story. For Butterfly Waltz, I found a wonderfully evocative tune by ragtime composer and historian, Max Morath, titled “One For Amelia.” When I received my copies of Butterfly Waltz in the mail, I celebrated by playing this piece on the piano. Then I signed and dated the first copy I took out of the box and put it on a shelf in my library with my other published books. I also wrote Mr. Morath to tell him how much his music meant to me and sent him a copy of Butterfly Waltz.
What do you love most about the writer’s life?
I can’t control my real life. I can’t control what will happen, what people will say or do, or end any of the horrible things going on in the news. But I’m in complete control of my fantasy world, and in that world, I can make things right.
Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about your work?
George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Comments?
Writing has never been a horrible, exhausting struggle for me, nor do I feel I’m driven by some demon, however, the creative process is something that I can’t resist or understand. I can’t explain where my characters come from. They are imaginary friends who never left me. I can’t explain why I feel compelled to create stories out of the air, or how I can look up from my keyboard and hours have disappeared. It’s wonderful and scary and delightful, and I hope it never leaves me.
What has writing taught you?
Writing taught me how much I was willing to compromise on my dream. An agent once told me she could sell my work if I changed my male lead to a woman. I couldn’t do that because it would’ve changed all the characters’ relationships in my mystery series. At the time I felt I might be making a huge mistake, but I stayed true to those characters and eventually they found a home with all their genders intact.
Writing has taught me patience and perseverance. I was going to keep trying to get published even if I lived to be a hundred, dictating the same sentence to a sympathetic little nurse in the rest home.
Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
If you’re lucky enough to find that one thing that gives your life meaning and purpose, that one thing that gets you up every morning, eager to face the day, the one thing that no matter what discouraging or painful event happens, you can say, “I still have this for solace,” then you have achieved success. My one thing is writing, and I was fortunate to realize early in life I had this gift. I hope all of you can realize your gift, whatever it is, and if it’s writing, then it’s the best![amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00ZQAD1TG]