An Interview with Janna G. Noelle

Hello and welcome to the next interview of 2021! To read past interviews, click here. Today’s spotlight is on historical fiction writer Janna G. Noelle. Let’s dive in.

When did you realize your love for historical fiction? Was it gradual, over time, or did it “bam, hit you, like lightning?

It did kind of hit me like lightning. I started off writing epic high fantasy because that’s what I grew up reading. But I found myself doing so much research in order to create historically-influenced secondary worlds, eventually I said to myself, “Why not just write straight-up historical fiction instead?”

This was a good change for me for two reasons: 1) because having to still make up the fantasy aspects of epic fantasy on top of historical research is more work than I actually want to do. And 2) because it was never the fantasy elements of epic fantasy (magic, creatures, etc.) that interested me to begin with, but rather the political landscape, strife, and push toward change that drove the characters, and history is already full of this.

I always say that one doesn’t choose historical fiction, it chooses you. And from the moment I answered that call I’ve never looked back.

What’s one of the most difficult things for you about historical fiction? Writing, reading, etc? Write the real history, some say. Do you think today’s authors are working towards that?

For me, the most difficult thing is figuring out what exactly I want to write. When developing a story, I don’t start with a particular character or story complication; rather, it’s usually a specific time and place in history that catches my interest. As I mentioned above, I’m drawn by the political climate, as well as the customs and ethos of a specific locale as a whole. But none of that is an actual story.

To find the story, I mine the research itself. This means lots of reading to figure out what sort of historically-inspired characters and plot will best convey what it is about the political landscape I want to illuminate. But unfortunately I’m not a particularly fast reader. And I like to go deep into the subject matter.

Writing the real history is important to me. I don’t like to take a lot of liberties if I don’t have to. At the same time, I think both writers and readers have become more critical of accepted history, doing more to question the biases (both intentional and unintentional) of sources, as well as asking whose stories and perspectives have been excluded or erased from history.

This is a good thing. New historical scholarship is being produced all the time and we can no longer just accept facts at face value without also examining the political context in which they’re produced. Even though it took place in the past, history still evolves in the present.

You recently pitched your MS in the quarterly Twitter #PitMad event. What was that experience like? Overwhelming? Exhilarating? Frightening? Relieving? Affirming?

I really enjoyed it! #PitMad has become so huge from its origins that it can be hard for one’s tweets to stand out. However the March session coincided with the start of my querying journey so I figured it couldn’t hurt to try, especially since I’d watched past #PitMads since at least 2018 to try to learn how to write an effective pitch. I don’t talk much about my WIPs on social media so I felt ready to finally put myself out there!

It was a busy day on Twitter with LOTS of people pitching, and lots of people boosting other people’s pitches. My pitches received some agent likes, as well as comments and retweets from people showing their support, for which I was grateful (although I had to laugh because while I’d been drafting pitches since 2018, the one that performed the best was the one I dashed off two days before).

I also commented on and retweeted a lot of pitches myself. Connecting with people and reading about their projects was really exciting. There are pitches I recall seeing years ago that are now books about to be published, so #PitMad really can be a way to help writers make the agent connection (although of course it’s not the only way)

What inspired #HFChitChat ? How did your involvement with it come about? What’s been the most rewarding part of it so far?

#HFChitChat was the brainchild of Sydney Young, who I first met online and then in person at the 2019 Historical Novel Society conference. Syd felt that historical fiction writers needed an online space in order to have the sorts of craft and storytelling discussions that took place at the conference; something inclusive for those who can’t attend a conference, and also more frequent since HNS conferences are only every two years.

She thus set upon the valiant task of convincing me to help her create this community (it’s not that I didn’t like the idea; I was just reluctant for it to be me who had to do the work of helping bring it to fruition). Obviously she succeeded, and the two of us plus our other co-host Gabriella Saab held the first anniversary celebration of #HFChitChat back in August

The most rewarding part has been the opportunity to talk histfic with other writers every month, just as Sydney envisioned. I’ve personally connected with so many people, and #HFChitChat has also connected people to each other, all while celebrating and promoting historical fiction as a genre to both read and write.

We have a good time with our monthly Twitter chats and occasional livestreams, and I encourage all writers of histfic and its subgenres to come join us!

What are your thoughts on crossing other genres with historical fiction? Do you think that adding, say, elements of fantasy or a little science fiction helps or hinders #histfic?

Historical fiction often has the reputation of being boring or school-like. Genre mashups can thus be a great way to make historical fiction more relevant and interesting to those who don’t consider themselves fans. It’s also one way to branch out from the types of historical stories commonly told, a chance to offer up something different.

Every genre exists on a spectrum, which at any point can be injected into the past. Using your example, the fantasy elements added to a historical story could be as subtle as an old woman who’s good with herbs and around whom problems seem to just work themselves out, or as overt as a self-proclaimed witch speaking the words of a magical spell. The storytelling possibilities are endless.

And now for some fun! Answer the first thing that pops in your head with these either/or questions:

Land or Sea: Land (ideally land by the sea)
Seafood or Vegetables: Both (I’m a vegetarian but I’m also a Meritimer, so I’m not going to say no if someone offers me some delicious fish) 
Venice or Miami: Venice
Froyo or Ice Cream: Ice Cream
Milkshake or Frappuccino: Milkshake
Fall or Winter: Winter
Spring or Summer: Summer
Real Plants or Fake Plants: Real Plants
Cats or Dogs: Cats
DeWalt or Makita: Makita (like father, like daughter!)

I hope everyone is having fun with all the questions this year! Many thanks once again to Janna G. Noelle for participating in this year’s interview series. Check back next Wednesday, April 7th to meet author Rivka Begun!

Let’s hang out

ABOUT Janna G. Noelle

Janna G. Noelle is a writer and lover of historical fiction from
Vancouver, British Columbia. She co-founded and co-hosts
@HFChitChat, a Twitter community for historical fiction authors, writers, and readers that hosts monthly chats, livestreams, and an
annual historical fiction reading challenge. Connect with her via her
personal Twitter account, her blog, or on Goodreads.

Make good friends with the revision process because good writing really is rewriting. Spend as much if not more time studying how to revise as any other aspect of writing craft. And remember that revising and editing are not the same thing, so get in there and be willing to reconceptualize everything.

Janna’s advice for fellow writers