Interview With Janna McMahan


Janna McMahanJanna McMahan is a writer who currently lives in South Carolina with her husband and 12-year-old daughter.  Her novel "Calling Home" was published this past spring and Ms. McMahan traveled to Atlanta this weekend to participate in the Decatur Book Festival.

I was very fortunate to be able to interview Ms. McMahan for Women's Book Reviews.

Hello, Janna!  How did the Decatur Book Festival go?

I had the best time in Decatur! I'll definitely be back next year. It was one of the best stops on my book tour.

Janna, please tell me a little about yourself. Where did you grow up and where did you go to school?

I'm from a small town in Central Kentucky much like the town of Falling Rock in "Calling Home." I grew up a country girl and I feel such a true connection to nature that it tends to be an important part of my writing.

I received a BA in mass communications from the University of Kentucky and an MA in the same from the University of South Carolina. South Carolina is where I've lived for the past twenty-one years. My next novel is set on the Carolina coast. I feel most fortunate to have two places that I truly call home.

At what point did you realize that you wanted to pursue a career in writing? What did you do professionally before you became a writer?

I've always wanted to be a writer, but I didn't seriously pursue it until I was in my thirties. I've been in PR and marketing for a couple of decades now and that involved a lot of writing. I've also had a pretty healthy freelance career. I've published many dozen articles about visual and literary art in a variety of magazines.

Can you give a brief synopsis of "Calling Home" and explain where the idea for the story came from?

Calling HomeThe question of where stories come from always stumps me because story ideas are something I can't turn off. They pop up in my head like hunger in my body. I just hope that I'm in a place where I can write them down. I have ideas jotted on napkins and sticky notes and of course, in my computer. My husband always says, "Is this trash? Can I throw this away?" and I'll snatch a scrap of paper from him and say, "No! That' s a novel!"

"Calling Home" is set in the late 1970s. One reviewer called it "Sex and the Country," which is true to a certain extent. "Calling Home" is placed in a time when the women's rights movement was just beginning to get some play in rural areas. It is the story of a family struggling to come to terms with these societal changes. The late '70s were a time of sexual freedom and rock 'n roll and a time when young women were beginning to realize they had options different than the ones their mothers had. In the country women were expected to take on traditional roles, although those roles were generally devalued. The daughter in the story recognizes this and fights against what she sees limiting and demeaning traditions. The mother tries to help her accomplish her goals of going to college and having a career, but she's got her own battles that keep her from being the supportive parent she needs to be.

Your story is about a family and the relationships within the family unit. The mother and daughter bond appears to be central to the novel. Is there specific type of message you wanted to relay to your readers about this mother-daughter interaction?

I think any mother will agree that the love you feel for your child far surpasses any other type of love. The main characters in "Calling Home" are all struggling to find their own paths to happiness, but Virginia, the mother, is so miserable that she can't parent in a positive way. Virginia isn't good at giving or receiving love and she's difficult at times causing a strain on her relationship with her daughter. Still, in the end she makes the most loving sacrifice of anyone in the family. That's what mothers tend to do. The mother-daughter connection can be the most intimate relationship of someone's life or it can be the most hostile and painful. I wanted the story to be honest and raw and achingly real.

Was it difficult getting “Calling Home” published? How long did it take for you to find a publisher that was willing to take and promote your book?

Once I found my agent, she sold "Calling Home" in a matter of weeks. All writers need the support of an enthusiastic agent. They make your life much easier.

What is your plan for the next book? Will the genre be the same?

My next novel, "The Ocean Inside," will be available from Kensington in April 2009. It is set in present day along the South Carolina coast and the beautiful city of Charleston. The story is about people much more educated and affluent than those in "Calling Home." While "The Ocean Inside" is also about family dynamics with the voices of each character breathing life into their own chapters, that's really where similarities end. Early readers are enthusiastic about it so I'm hopeful I'll have another book people find entertaining.

When you are not writing books, what other activities are you involved in?

I still have a job. I work for an entertainment marketing firm called Post No Bills. It's lots of fun, so I have a hard time carving out time to write fiction. And also I'm a pretty involved parent to a twelve-year-old daughter, so that takes quite a bit of time. My only real time to myself is when I run. I love to run. No phones. No questions to answer. Nothing to clean. Just me and my thoughts.

Is there any message you would like to leave with my readers?

Only that if they like my books I hope they will tell others. Word of mouth is the best way for a book to catch on. Oh, and please visit my website: I've been trying to find time to change up the content, so I guess you could say that's another "activity" I'm involved in. I wish there were more hours in each day.

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