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Member Spotlight: Janine P Holc

author Janine Holc and an image of her book The Weavers of Trautenau

Why is writing important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world? This is a hard question for me because I just am a writer. It is part of me and opens up new worlds for me. I feel that writing is a connection. I love being on public transit or in a cafe and seeing people reading–probably reading someone from an entirely different place or time period. There are many book authors I have never met who I think of as my friends–or at least my companions. It is such a generous act, to take the risk of putting your writing on the page for someone else to read. I feel it is a giving-and-receiving dynamic that is crucial given all the isolation, violence, and pain in the world today.

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer’s block? I’m so glad you asked! I do a reverse-pomodoro method. I sit down and put a timer on my phone for only 15 minutes. I tell myself that when it goes off, I can do all my non-writing things, like unload the dishwasher and answer e-mail. This calms me down and gets me in a place where I can feel safe using time to write. I don’t feel like I am neglecting all the people and things I have to take care of. Somehow that feeling of safety helps me start writing. If I can, I do this multiple times a day. Sometimes I set the timer for 30 minutes. Another way I address writer’s block is to read an author who inspires me. It’s usually an author writing about something very different from my topic. I know the conventional wisdom is to avoid reading others so that you are not overly influenced, but I just don’t feel that way. I feel as if I am in a back-and-forth with the author and reading them just makes me want to write myself.

What is your favorite time to write? No question, morning. With coffee. And no one needing anything from me. Most of us have jobs other than our writing, so this can be a rare experience, but it sets the tone for the day. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers? Audience, audience, audience. As a young person, I was enthralled with the idea that writing was self-expression. I wanted to put my vision and all of my ideas on the page. But now, having published, I appreciate this advice that I was given: writing is a relationship between the author and the reader. I had to learn to add what readers needed to follow my story along, and leave out what confused or frustrated them. That meant cutting out some of my favorite turns of phrase. Another piece of advice I really learned from is specific to writers like me who want to anchor their work in a certain historical time period or in a particular place or involving some kind of activity that is specialized, be it crocheting or nuclear warfare. My reader needs to believe me! I need credibility and to inspire confidence with the details. So this means research–not just for research’s sake, or for my sake, but enough material and the right kind of material so that my words are believable. In fact, the material might not even make it into the book. But my author’s voice will reflect what I learned and it will come through on the page.

What excites you most about being a writer in today’s age? I was dragged kicking and screaming into the social media world, and I love it now. I asked a young person in my life to help me make a TikTok for my book recently. It was a lot of fun, but also a lot of work. I had to re-do my recordings many times. I had to make all kinds of decisions on voice, tone, music, lighting–it was like making a movie. I have new respect for people who are successful on social media. But now when I sit at a red light or in line somewhere, I imagine my next TikTok. BookTok is wonderful and you can see young people getting excited about reading books and then sharing their reactions online. Books can spread by word of mouth so quickly–almost instantly. It is kind of nerve-wracking but also exciting. These young people are our future!

Janine P. Holc’s The Weavers of Trautenau: Jewish Female Forced Labor in the Holocaust is out now with Brandeis University Press.