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Janet McGuire Hendershot says she was first bitten by the writing bug in high school when she won a prize for an essay on what it means to be American, a theme that would shape much of what she wrote about for the rest of her life.
Hendershot, a 73-year-old resident of Old Town since 1989, grew up in North Miami in the 1950s. It was a different time in America, she says.
“You didn’t lock your house up, and you could go anywhere on a bus. It was safe back in those days.”
In 1957, at age 19, she married her high school sweetheart, Ivan Hendershot. The two left the Miami area, eventually settling in Sarasota where Ivan started a business installing sprinkler systems, and she stayed at home and raised five children.
“I’ve always been a housewife,” Hendershot says, giggling behind eyeglasses and a blue and purple flower print dress. “I’m kind of conservative in my personal beliefs. I believe in family values. I’m a 50s woman, which is why I never went to school.”
She never planned on a career, she says, but that didn’t keep her from picking up a pen at age 25, at home with her first daughter, and writing by hand her first novel, “The Remnant.”
“I didn’t get a nibble,” she says, holding her hands about a foot apart to show the thickness of the handwritten manuscript repeatedly rejected by publishing companies. Ivan even rented her a typewriter to make the novel more presentable, but to no avail. Her efforts, for years, continued to yield nothing more than rejection letters from uninterested publishers.
“I wrote 10 novels that I burned,” Hendershot admits. But she kept at it, working in the mystery genre she loves and steering clear of the sex and profanity she says is so attractive to today’s publishing companies, yet so out of line with her own values.
It takes her about a year to write a book, working from plotted scenes on index cards from about 1-3 p.m. every day except Saturday, the Sabbath. “I charge right through,” she says. “I always know where I’m going.” She doesn’t pay attention to grammar or punctuation until the end, when she goes back to edit.
In 2006, Hendershot finally scored with a book titled “Backyard Burial.” The book, a who-done –it about a woman trying to prove her love’s innocence in a murder case, was published by Publish America. Sales were pretty good, she says, though she wound up doing the marketing for the book herself.
In January, Hendershot’s book, “Clandestine Cargo,” was published by a different company and was only released as an e-book. Hendershot says the editing process was brutal. The first five chapters were thrown out, and she was tempted to give up on the project.
The book deals with a group of women who are Cuban spies and up to no good on a south Florida river. “It’s fast moving,” she says, comparing it to an episode of “24.”
Part of her inspiration for the book came from her and Ivan’s trip to Czechoslovakia a few years ago, an experience both say made them glad to live in America.
“If I have a theme in my books,” she says,” it’s appreciate America.”
Another source of inspiration, for a character named Anna, was based on an Acquaintance from Hendershot’s past.
“Anna’s real thin and frail,” she said smiling. “I knew one woman who was thin and frail, and she was the Wicked Witch of the West. I patterned it on her.”
Her latest accomplishment, finished just recently, is a book called “Turbulent Times.” Hendershot says she is in the process of acquiring an agent for the book, which is a sequel to her last, because she wants to get published with a different company. “Now, you have to have an agent,” she says, explaining that most publishing companies don’t even look at manuscripts solicited without an agent.
“I am going to make it in this,” she says, though she admits it’s tough finding people interested in her conservative approach. Publishers either want sex and profanity, she explained, or they want a story based in a particular religion. Hendershot describes herself as religious but says she doesn’t want her books to be.
“I feel that religion is a personal thing,” she says. “I don’t put guidelines out there for people. Sitting in a church doesn’t make you any more Christian than sitting in a hen house makes you a chicken.”
Still, challenges aside, Hendershot says she loves to write. “I’m addicted to it,” she says. “Rejections don’t stop me.” Aspiring writers, according to Hendershot, need to consider several things. First, writers need to read, a lot. And they need to read in the genre they hoped to get published in. Also, aspiring writers need to get a critiquing partner, someone writes and who will show “no mercy.” And, perhaps most importantly, writers have to have a thick skin and “be prepared to get a thousand rejections.”
Hendershot’s books can be found online at HYPERLINK "http://www.publishamerica.com" www.publishamerica.com, www. sapphirebluepublishing.com and at www.amazon.com.