About Janice Strubbe Wittenberg & William Strubbe:
William Strubbe is mostly known as Bill, and less often as, Trogg, to old college friends. As a writer and journalist, he has four books of fiction and two of non-fiction under his belt. His articles have appeared in over 100 publications, including The New York Times, National Geographic Adventure, Essence, Cigar Aficionado, and The Boston Globe. Additionally, two of his plays have been produced.
With the bulk of each year spent on an Israeli kibbutz, he’s often called upon to put his considerable organizing skills to good use. He coordinates, directs, choreographs, and creates stage sets for numerous community events. His paintings and other works of art are also interspersed throughout the grounds.
While he still periodically declutters and organizes friends’ and clients’ homes, his forthcoming novel, The Diary of Annelies Marie Levenson: If Anne Frank had Lived, revolves on the premise that Anne Frank survived WWII, and on her 30th birthday begins writing her diaries anew.
Co-author and sibling, Janice Strubbe Wittenberg is a registered nurse who formerly worked as crisis outreach specialist for Santa Cruz County Mental Health. During her seventeen year tenure on the job, she came in frequent contact with hoarders. Intrigued by the complex challenges inherent in the debility, her award winning novel, The Worship of Walker Judson includes a former nun who hoards.
Her first book, The Rebellious Body: Reclaim Your Life from Environmental Illness or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, is a comprehensive self-help health book that offers myriad details as to how one recovers from chronic illness.
Janice resides in Aptos, California with her husband, John, two cats and beloved covey of chickens. When one of the newly hatched chicks was rejected by its mom, Janice carried it about in her pocket, then taught it to preen, scratch and feed itself, along with imparting assorted other bird basics. Her flock provides inspiration for her forthcoming novel, The Fluster Clucker, about a rooster who aspires to be human.
What inspires you to write?
My favorite childhood book was Madeleine L’Engel’s, A Wrinkle in Time. First published in 1963, the tale revolves around a young girl whose father, a scientist, has gone missing after working on a project called a tesseract. A tesseract is a “wrinkle in space and time, and it is through this wrinkle that the girl and her companions travel through the fifth dimension in search of her dad.
The fact that L’Engel spoke of subtle energy excited me immensely, for she managed to give a name to something I often experienced as a child. Previous to this, I’d sensed that unseen and subtle forces existed, but couldn’t find anyone who would validate it. In fact, when I spoke of such experiences with my mom, it seemed to scare her and she told me not to speak of it.
Subtle energies being something seen and felt by sensitive individuals, in quantum physics, it’s described as electromagnetic wavelengths, rates of vibration or plusings. Children commonly notice such things, yet tend to receive little validation that such subtle, intangible things exist,. As a result, they block if from awareness, until experiences disappear altogether.
As soon as I read this book, I picked up pen and began to write my own, way too similar tale. I was so excited, so enamored by the experience that I insisted on sharing my work with my fourth grade class. I don’t think I cared that nobody seemed impressed, the process satisfied some sort of longing, I guess.
I didn’t keep a journal. Never again wrote another story, and for the most part found the process of writing to be a totally uninspired drag. It wasn’t until years later, after facing several health challenges, that I took up writing in earnest again. In that process, I can honestly say that I wrote myself back to health.
Tell us about your writing process.
And easier issue to answer, how my brother and I worked in collaboration with each other, is as follows:
For many years I worked in mental health as a crisis outreach nurse and came across many hoarders. Most of these clients were highly intelligent, interesting people; had I not seen them in the context of their homes, I would have taken them to be perfectly normal.
Over time, as I regaled my family with tales of theses folks, my brother, Bill took particular note. Then, at some point, he began work as a professional organizer and then decided to write about about his experiences. It’s been a long time so my recall is fuzzy, but I think that I chimed in to suggest we write the book together.
Rather swiftly, Bill dashed off several chapters regarding his adventures as a de-clutterer and then chimed in with the clinical details. Specifically, I added chapters about how a hoarder becomes one, and included scientific research and treatment.
Our project, however, languished for several years as we both attended to family matters. During this time, the topic came into public awareness in the form of several televised reality shows and through a general increase in media attention.
At some point, possibly twenty years after the book’s inception, I got an itch to complete the project.
By that time, Bill was living in Israel and wasn’t terribly motivated to pursue the project, but we agreed that I would take the lead to finish it. This was the perfect arrangement for me, as Bill and I are both rather bossy and controlling, and I’m not certain that the book would have moved forward to completion had we both been deeply invested in the process. As a result, I’ve mostly had free editorial range to develop the book further and it’s been a lot of fun to do so. I must say that I’ve also continued to run important details past Bill to make certain we’re in agreement.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
In my novel, The Worship of Walker Judson, I was unable to force the writing and gestation process. The characters, as they emerged, were the result of personal growth, my perceptions of individuals whom I met that were then folded into the story, and the needs of the story as it changed and shaped itself. Try as I might, I was unable to push the process along; characters revealed and shaped themselves at will, not as a result of my need to tidy up loose ends. As a result, the book took over twenty years to finish.
What advice would you give other writers?
Do not focus on the end result. Do not write under the assumption that it will bring wealth or fame. Write because you simply must do so.
I must admit I once envisioned adulation, success, and financial remuneration from my writing. And furthermore, I’d hoped to be seen as highly evolved, or at least seen as massively creative. As years have passed, that original mindset seems so naively wrong-headed.
So, given that fortune or acclaim hasn’t happened, why not give up?
At 65 years of age, I’ve found a deep love and appreciation for the mere process of putting pen to paper. Writing enables my mind to stay agile. It fuels my inherent curiosity about this world we live in. Being a bit of a hermit, it requires that I interact. Yet, I’m also inherently a busy-body; curious about the inner workings and sensibilities of my fellow humans. As a result of this push-pull, writing propels me into the world to quest for answers and to bear witness, and then I get to to withdraw and go inward in an attempt to make sense of whatever comes up.
Oh, and another big issue: Do not give up!
As one who has no innate writing talent, early on I received a whole lot of discouraging feedback, and I still do in the present. However, I love and loved the process of writing, probably because it’s so hard for me.
It requires that I engage my highest, wisest self and merge it with every smidgen of creativity that I possess. So, when I receive critical input, it inspires me to buckle down and persevere that much harder. To that end, I thank my tenacity, or downright stubbornness as to one of my biggest gifts.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I wrote my first book, The Rebellious Body in search of answers to an illness that confounds many in the medical field. In the process of experimenting on myself and by interviewing others, I lucked out and managed to find a degree of health that I hope to share with my fellow sufferers.
After two years of search, I lucked upon a literary agent, Laurie Harper, who was willing to take me on. Two more years passed and she got me a contract with Plenum, then Perseus Publishing, which is a pretty large company. No idea what I was doing, but placing trust in the hands of my agent, I agreed to crank out an entire, completed book within a looming, six month deadline.
Mind you, I worked full time as a nurse and had no idea how I might accomplish this. Yet, when finished the first book printing was 5000 copies, and I received a small advance, which all seemed quite thrilling!
Yet, I had no notion at that point that the only way my books were going to sell was solely through my efforts.
These were the days before social media, so there were no blogs, nor did Instagram, Facebook, or even Amazon, as well as other book sales sources that are so common today even exist. To improve my ability to speak in front of audiences, I took classes, some involved filming then paying images of myself back, and I taught myself self-hypnosis and how to use the breath in order to relax. Despite massive efforts, I remained an awkward public speaker, and soon discovered that selling was far more labor intensive that the actual writing.
To hawk my book, I arranged book signings, public speaking engagements, attended conferences, gave lectures, wrote informative articles for magazines, and other health-related newsletters. I even set up a press tour, traveling the West Coast a bit on my own dime. Locally, I taught classes on chronic fatigue and environmental illness, and submitted informative articles to health magazines and to niche newsletters, repeatedly pestering every query made with follow-up. My estimate, after two years of intensive effort, one out of every hundred contact I made produced a positive result.
What I learned along the way; any expectation I had of easy sales or of a positive response was solely up to me. And if I didn’t like how that was, I could quit or keep at it. Nowadays, I write for the love of the process and have little-to no expectation that it will be well received.
Furthermore, I learned that I do not do well when I have a specific deadline, as I did when I signed on with Perseus. I do not want or relish any looming deadlines in my future endeavors. So the next book, The Worship of Walker Judson, took somewhere in the arena of 25 years to finish to my satisfaction. Our current book, My Husband’s Under Here Somewhere, spanned a twenty year interval, if I’m not mistaken.
During that time, I worked full time, handled several family crisis, including the death of my mother, and my own serious health challenges. I don’t think it’s possible for me to write, using sheer force of will, to construct a book with a timeline. At least, I am no longer willing to do so.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
My guess, books will mostly be digital. Personally, I prefer to hold a book, to feel the texture of the pages, and to flip back and forth at will. But, time marches on without attention to our small wishes, and the world is rapidly moving away from hard-copy.
Getting published and selling those books is already enormously confounding, and I think it will only become more complex. As one who is not so tech-savvy, the process of selling my books is head-spinning. I've experimented with many book distribution sites and joined blogs, requested reviews, done interviews on radio, television and in print media, have put out Twitter feeds, done Instagram posts, participated in freebies, attended conferences, entered contests, and giveaways — all requiring a great deal of time and effort, yet the returns are next to nothing.
Eventually, I hope to become more adept at knowing what endeavors offer dividends and save myself a whole lot of frustration and time.
What do you use?: Co-writer, Professional Editor
What genres do you write?: literary fiction, narrative non-fiction, spiritual, paranormal, health and healing
What formats are your books in?: Both eBook and Print
All information in this post is presented “as is” supplied by the author. We don’t edit to allow you the reader to hear the author in their own voice.