Janet Gurtler is an author from Calgary, Alberta, whose debut novel I'm Not Her focuses on Tess, whose older sister Kristina—the "pretty" sister—has been diagnosed with bone cancer. The novel follows what Tess and her family goes through during the diagnosis and treatment, and is a title that readers of Sarah Dessen and Jodi Picoult should definitely check out.
I'm Not Her isn't the kind of story that I'd normally seek out, but Janet contacted us earlier this year and Crystal Allen of Raincoast was kind enough to send me an ARC. Despite that this isn't what I usually read, I found I'm Not Her to be heart-wrenching. However, it was Tess and her interesting sense of humor that pulled me through the novel.Indigo Teen Blog: I’m Not Her is a very emotional read. Was it difficult to write a novel about cancer?
Janet Gurtler: Well, first of all, thank you for saying it’s an emotional read, because it was certainly emotional to write! That said, I love books that make me feel things. Good and bad. I also admit a few tears may have slipped out when I was writing parts of I’M NOT HER. And that felt oddly good.
Writing about cancer though was difficult because cancer is such an invasive and horrible disease, especially when it happens to someone young.
As I was writing I’M NOT HER, I was fortunate to connect with a young woman who had gone through bone cancer and she helped me by sharing some of the medical and psychological effects it had on her. To me, I’M NOT HER, is less about the girl who has cancer and more about how cancer affects the whole family. Cancer certainly drives the events of the book and the development of the characters.
ITB: Do you see yourself as more like Tess or Kristina?
JG: I am definitely more like Tess, the quiet bookish sister. Kristina is gorgeous and sporty with many admirers both female and male. She’s an extrovert, but we learn through the story that she’s not as strong and put together as Tess thinks she is. Most people we think have it all, usually don’t feel the same way.
Tess is more introverted and lives in the shadow of her sister (and is mostly okay with being there.) I was quite shy as a teenager, and though not into art like Tess, I had a passion for reading and writing and could easily lose myself in both. Like Tess, I’m not overly fond of being the centre of attention, and like Tess I have a wee bit of an odd sense of humour once you get to know me.
ITB: One of the things I admired about Tess is her connection with her art. Her struggle against her family’s attitude toward her art is so heartbreaking. Do you ever feel like people don’t understand how important it is for you to write? How can teens push through that kind of adversity?
JG: Oh my GOSH that is a good observation! I had to read it aloud to my husband and he gave me a somewhat sheepish grin in return. Side note: My husband is a sweet and wonderful man, but he just does not understand what writing means to me. I can’t really expect him to as it is not his passion but I *may* have poured some of my angst at not being understood into Tess. Actually there is a passage in the book where Tess’s mom compares her love of art to her hobby of scrapbooking and Tess kind of loses it. You may assume I have felt those same feelings.
I think pushing through adversity takes a strong sense of believing in yourself. It’s not always easy to do, but I think gut instincts are pretty good things to follow. If your gut is telling you something, like you can become a contestant on Canadian Idol or run a triathlon or become the [next] female Prime Minister—whatever it is that you’re passionate about—chances are it’s something to pursue. Even it’s something others around you may not see the worth of (like a connection to art) staying true to who you are and what you want is crucial. Assuming of course it’s a healthy and productive yearning.
ITB: Is there a difference in telling a story for Canadian teens versus telling a story for American teens? Would you set one of your YA novels in Canada?
I don’t think there’s a difference in what Canadian teens and American teens like to read (for the most part). I have three teen nieces and they seem to love the same popular YA fiction that American teens do. I see the same YA books at Indigo that I see in bookstores in the USA.
I think, in general, Young Adult fiction is easier to write for the American market, because the Canadian market tends to publish more literary fiction. My books are rather commercial, and therefore more attractive to American publishers. I have an American agent and she pitches the books to US publishers. That said, I hope I have just as many Canadian teens reading my books as American teens!!
I usually have a Canadian character in my books. Actually, I’M NOT HER doesn’t, but my next book coming out in October, IF I TELL, features a hot boy from Canada who moves to the main character’s US home town. I also have an unsold YA novel set in Calgary (and featuring a boy who does Parkour).
ITB: What is the best part of being a published author? What is the most difficult?
JG: There are many bests to being a published author but I think the very best is getting first copies of the finished book. Okay, another close best is seeing books on the shelves in bookstores. I CAN’T WAIT to see I’M NOT HER at my local Indigo store!!!
There are also many difficult parts about being an author. The most difficult is learning to deal with rejection. It comes in many forms, first when you’re unpublished and waiting for someone to say the magical words, “We Want to Publish your book.” It’s hard to hear no. Often over and over. It takes a lot of perseverance and good old fashioned stubbornness to keep going sometimes. And it’s important to try not to compare your journey to someone else’s. Because someone else is always going to get published faster or better!
ITB: Can you tell us about what you’re working on next?
JG: Of course! Right now I’m working on a couple of books. The first is a re-write of the Parkour story I mentioned earlier, adding a female POV to enrich the story for female readers. I’m also close to finishing a paranormal novel called INSTINCT.
INSTINCT is about an adopted teen, Liv, who comes out of a coma from a car accident, able to “see” the memories and the future of people who touch her. She soon finds out she’s a VOYANT and her developing powers means an equally sudden change in a boy she must avoid, called a CAZADOR, a boy who has the instinct to strip her powers and destroy her. The problem is, she’s already met him. And fallen in love with him.
Thanks so much for having me and for great questions!