Janete Scobie is a lover of language and passionate about great storytelling and writing. She was born on the Caribbean island of Dominica. Along with her family, she migrated to the United States and grew up in New York City. Janete graduated from Cornell University and, longing to experience life overseas, traveled to Paris, France where she spent nearly a decade. During that time, she received her graduate degrees at the Sorbonne.
Her travels eventually led her back to New York City where opportunities in the publishing industry provided an ideal environment to nurture her writing and knowledge about the inner workings of the business. Eventually, she branched out on her own and became a freelance editor, providing editorial support to emerging authors as well as helping them to connect with essential information to achieve success in the publishing business. Currently, she is focusing on her freelance writing career.
She divides her time between New York City and France. The Seeds of Green Mangoes is her first novel.
- How does it feel to be a first-time novelist? What can you tell us about what led you to write The Seeds of Green Mangoes?
It’s a good feeling to finally see one’s work in print. There are many stages that a writer goes through before arriving at that point. From the moment you actually start to write a book to its publication, it feels like an interminable road.
When I decided to write a novel, I started out with another story idea. I got to page 50, but I couldn’t continue. It was like a brick wall and I kept hitting it day after day as I stared at a blank page. I finally had to let it go and, when I did, instantly another story started to take form, the characters, the conflicts, the setting. It was the story that needed to be told first. They say the first book is a gift from childhood. I can believe that!
- Tell us about your career as an editor. Did it hone your writing skills? Did it help to confirm what you wanted to write?
Working in the publishing industry was the ideal setting to not only nurture my writing, but also to learn the ins and outs about the business of publishing books. It was the best arena to be in as a writer. You learn all facets of the business that are as important as the editorial side. When you write the first draft of a novel, there’s an energy, a certain euphoria . It’s spontaneous, the words, at times, spilling from your imagination. I don’t pay too much attention to structure at that point. The second draft is more of a dissection, a slower process, your story becoming a structure, parts making up a whole, which is the narrative arc. After writing a passage, a section, or a chapter, my editor’s eye switches on. At that point I edit, I reread, and I try to see what’s working like plot and characterization, if I could make the narrative or the scene stronger, if I need to “prune” to make the story flow better. Every time I reread any part of my story, my editor’s eye is wide open.
- After reading a number of books as an editor, what leaves a lasting impression on you? The author’s style? The story? The characters?
There are many things that stay with me after reading a manuscript or a book. I love how writers can create entire worlds from a story idea. How a reader is transported from their own reality into a different time and place, a setting so far away from the one presently in. A great book gives you so much – a style and voice that draw you in, a story so powerful that it alters your way of thinking or makes you better, or a character that remains unforgettable. That’s why books leave a lasting impression on our lives.
- What and who do you read? What’s on your bookshelves?
I love the work of many authors and it is very important, as writers, to read as much as we can. To name some favorites: Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, George Lamming, Jamaica Kincaid, Khaled Hosseini, Paulo Coelho, Jhumpa Lahiri, W. Somerset Maugham, Jane Austen, Edwidge Danticat, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Zadie Smith. The list continues … I also love reading French authors. You can check out my blog, Novel Chronicles, at http://janete-scobie.blogspot.com to get a list of books in my Library.
- For The Seeds of Green Mangoes, did you use your personal experiences to shape and plan the story? What does the title refer to?
Memories of my childhood did provide some inspiration for the book. I am originally from the Caribbean, the island of Dominica, and it was quite natural for me to start with this setting and populate my story with strong female characters that inspired me with their own stories, their joy and pain. When the idea for the story came to me, it was a strong current, pulling me in so many directions. At times, I couldn’t type fast enough. I was just a channel. Where does that come from, the urgent need to get words on a page that tell a story? Writing can be so magical.
The title is dear to me. Green mangoes are considered unripe. To the pallet, they are sour and sting the tongue. They’re young mangoes, not having fully reached maturity. The symbolism was fitting for the main character and the women to whom she owes her existence. They were all green mangoes, each woman a seed of another green mango, conflicted and stuck in their journey, desperately yearning for fulfillment and love. Unlike her mother and grandmother, Creola eventually breaks the cycle and becomes the woman her “mothers” could never be. She has become ripe in many ways and has evolved tremendously from her starting point.
- How long did it take you to write The Seeds of Green Mangoes?
I wrote the first draft in about 7-8 months. It was quite intense, juggling a full-time job and writing. But it didn’t end there. I did two more drafts before I settled on the final version for publication.
- With your background, getting your story edited, reviewed, and published should have been relatively straightforward. Was it?
No, it was not straightforward at all. The publishing industry has changed tremendously and good writing does not automatically guarantee a publishing deal. The industry has reached a critical point and many talented authors are rejected every day by mainstream publishers and agents because their work is not “commercial” enough or lacks ‘bestseller” potential. Good manuscripts are rejected all the time because they do not meet rather narrow criteria regarding what is interesting or marketable. It’s tough, more challenging than ever for writers to get published today. The goal is to persevere and keep writing and, more importantly, educate yourself about the publishing business.
- Have you done many booksignings and readings? Any special passages that you share? What has been the reaction to your story?
I’ve done some local readings and will have my first book signing at the Hue-Man Bookstore & Cafe in Harlem on March 18, 2009. I always read the prologue of my book because it came from a special place. I had been experiencing a serious case of writer’s block and went away to France for a change of scenery. When the words finally came, they funneled through me onto the page. I wrote the prologue in one sitting. I was so inspired and to this day, it remains one of my favorite parts of my book.
- Are you planning to continue the story of Creola?
Never say never, but I think Creola’s story has ended. I never intended it as a sequel. Although one’s journey never ends, Creola’s has evolved enough from the beginning to the end of the story for me to feel that she can go on without revisiting the character.
- What are you future plans as a writer?
I want to challenge myself and explore other genres, other kinds of writing. Creativity is never within bounds and I have many stories in my head that don’t fit in just one category. I want to write more, push my creativity and see where it takes me. The journey is just beginning.