Janet Rebhan: “Encouraged and open”

I hope readers are entertained at the same time that they are encouraged to open themselves up to other perspectives on the nature of reality. I also hope they are encouraged to understand and value the true depths of our interconnectedness. As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know […]

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I hope readers are entertained at the same time that they are encouraged to open themselves up to other perspectives on the nature of reality. I also hope they are encouraged to understand and value the true depths of our interconnectedness.

As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Janet Rebhan.

Janet Rebhan is an American author, novelist, and inspirational speaker. Her latest novel, Rachael’s Return (June 2020, She Writes Press), weaves magical realism in a domestic thriller that explores the concepts of soulmates, the afterlife and reincarnation. She resides in Los Angeles.

Thank you so much for joining us Janet! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

I’ve always been a voracious reader. As a kid growing up in Texas, it was a good day when my mom took me to the library to get “free” books. I loved the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

In school, I excelled in language and literature. My freshman English teacher took me aside one day after reading what I had written in my class journal and told me I should major in creative writing when I went off to college. While I never forgot this advice, I did not heed it for many years.

The summer I turned sixteen, my father was transferred by his company to Los Angeles. His office was in downtown Hollywood. It was total culture shock for me. I had spent the first sixteen years of my life in a small West Texas town. Now I found myself on the West Coast in sunny L.A. at a very impressionable age. I spent my junior and senior high school years enrolled in acting classes, singing in girls’ glee, and going to the beach with friends.

After graduating, I got involved in modeling and acting, primarily in print media and commercials. I met and married a cinematographer, who as it turned out, ended up working on the Little House on the Prairie television series for a time, which was a fun coincidence for me since I loved those books so much.

I gave birth to two daughters and devoted myself to being a mom. Yet it wasn’t until both of my daughters were out of high school and I had remarried that I returned to school to study creative writing. My first published piece was a short story in a college review.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

I find it interesting how much courage it takes to write from the heart. When I completed my first blog post years ago, I got very emotional after I clicked the “publish” button because I had shared some very personal thoughts and feelings. Just knowing that anyone, anywhere in the world could now see into my heart and soul and possibly criticize me was very intimidating; it still is at times. But it’s gotten easier as I’ve learned to trust myself and stay true to my calling.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

The biggest challenge for me was sitting still long enough to get anything written! I would get restless and bored too easily. I also fought an inner critical voice that would tell me I was wasting valuable time and that I could and should be doing something more productive. I was so conditioned to think I had to stay busy all the time. It was hard for me at first to equate stillness with being productive. Yet, over time, as I persisted, I learned to sit for longer and longer periods. Then the big challenge became having the confidence that I had anything worth saying. I overcame both of these obstacles after going through what I can only call a dark night of the soul which lead to a kind of spiritual breakthrough.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

While taking creative writing courses at UCLA, I took a short story class. There were students of all ages from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and lifestyles. At the end of the eight week class, we took turns reading our stories aloud to everyone else. We had to make copies of what we’d written and pass one out to everyone else so they could follow along. I was fascinated by the ideas everyone came up with for their stories.

When it was my turn to read, I was very nervous. My story was dramatic and suspenseful with an ambiguous ending that left people hanging. When I finished reading aloud, and the instructor had given his feedback, everyone passed their copies back to me with little notes scribbled in the margins saying things like “good job” and “very interesting.” But one girl in the class took it upon herself to continue my story where I had left off. The copy she passed back to me had another two to three paragraphs written with a definite ending, one that was hysterical, and one I never would have fabricated.

I can’t say this is an example of a mistake, just one of the funnier stories. It definitely taught me to keep a sense of humor about my work and not take myself too seriously. I also saw just how varied the reactions to one’s writing can be. Every person in that class viewed my story from a different perspective and had unique responses to it. That was when I knew writing was going to be the vehicle for me–the particular creative outlet that would transport me from one frame of reference to the next, challenging and changing me from the inside out along with way.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am very excited to be releasing my second novel, Rachel’s Return, this June through She Writes Press. It takes place in Los Angeles and explores the concepts of soulmates, the afterlife, guardian angels and reincarnation. In it, a woman bonds with a baby girl she rescues from an automobile accident only to become convinced the baby is the incarnation of the infant daughter she unintentionally aborted.

Can you share the most interesting story from your book?

I think the most interesting aspect of the novel is its supernatural component because that part came to me unexpectedly. With my first draft, I always write intuitively and never censor myself. I had this idea for a story about mother-daughter soulmates and began to write it. I got a little ways into it when out of nowhere a couple of irreverent otherworldly guides just came on scene and began having a conversation. I wasn’t sure I would leave it in at first, but then it started to unfold before me so I just went with it. What I ended up with is a story grounded in reality as we know it, juxtaposed against the sheer buoyancy of the afterlife. It is filled with drama but also cheeky humor.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

I hope readers are entertained at the same time that they are encouraged to open themselves up to other perspectives on the nature of reality. I also hope they are encouraged to understand and value the true depths of our interconnectedness.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Independence. Virginia Woolf wrote, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” For me, Ms. Woolf’s advice goes beyond the obvious need of carving out time for yourself were you can be free from distractions, interruptions and responsibilities. And it goes beyond creating a special space where you can write in peace and quiet, surrounded by the things that inspire you. It’s about the freedom to make your own decisions and think your own thoughts. So guard your independence because it’s connected to your truth.

2. Training. While getting an MFA in creative writing is certainly a plus and it will give you a head start, it’s obviously not a requirement, nor does it guarantee success. You can learn a lot by reading and studying on your own. Definitely learn language, composition and literary terms. Know your craft. In addition to classes and book learning, seek out some mentors. Most of all, embrace your own life experience. When you apply what you learn through your studies to what you experiencethrough living your life, you get wisdom. This wisdom enhances your writer’s voice.

3. Persistence. Writing is still work and you will never complete a book without first making a commitment to yourself. Commitment then leads to persistence. Persisting does not mean you have to write every day, although writing on a daily basis will make you more prolific. It’s more important to persevere over the long haul. If you have to put your project off for the time being, it doesn’t mean you have to abandon it altogether. Sometimes you have to take a break because life gets in the way. But life is what makes you interesting. So long as you come back to a project, you will eventually complete it.

4. Reverie. Years ago, I read a book by Julia Cameron called The Artist’s Way. I found it very inspirational and it helped me tap into some of the deeper levels of creative expression. A couple of takeaways from the book that I remember utilizing were (1) going on “artist’s dates” where you allow your inner child to come out and express playfully, and (2) writing “morning papers,” a stream-of-consciousness style writing practice that helps you tap into that creative level of consciousness, ultimately lending more truthfulness to your writing. I have since formed my own practices, one of which involves paying close attention to nature which is filled with metaphors for inspirational living. Within nature you will witness again and again the ongoing process of rebirth and renewal.

5. Self-Awareness. Similar to reverie, becoming self-aware is different in that it is about having a contemplative practice. You’ll want to clear all obstacles that get between you and your connection to the Infinite where you will find the heart of creative expression. You do not have to be particularly religious or spiritual. And everyone’s “practice” will be different. It has to do with becoming psychologically healthy, mindful and tuned in to your inner voice. Writing from this voice will produce distinctive work that only you can offer.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study). Can you share a story or example?

All of the above! But primarily, for me, a consistent and ongoing contemplative practice. It leads to self-awareness and opens the channel to the creative source. This, in turn, imbues your writing with genuineness and originality.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I’ve read a variety of fiction, psychology, philosophy and spiritual texts, and I have been influenced by a number of authors over the years: C. S. Lewis, Ursula K. LeGuin, Virginia Woolf, Margaret Atwood, Harper Lee, Carl Jung, Ralph Waldo Emerson, M. Scott Peck and Pema Chodron come to mind. While writing Rachael’s Return, I also drew inspiration from the works of Dr. Raymond L. Moody, Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Dr. Brian L. Weiss, and Dr. Michael Newton, as well as from The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would start a stillness movement, although I’d say it’s already begun. It’s a total oxymoron, but that’s perfect because the kind of stillness I’m referring to is paradoxical. It’s the inner stillness that leads to the transformation of consciousness.

Indira Gandhi said, “You must learn to be still in the midst of activity and vibrantly alive in repose.” Only good can come from people everywhere learning to still themselves long enough to discover the truth that resides deep within, beneath the clutter of their thoughts and beyond the limits of their conditioning.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/janetrebhan/?ref=badge

Twitter: https://twitter.com/janetrebhan

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JanetRebhanAuthor/

Website: https://janetrebhan.com/

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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