Kindle Author Interview: Janet Oakley

Janet Oakley, author of Tree Soldier, discusses her book, her journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about Tree Soldier?

JANET OAKLEY: Tree Soldier is set in the Pacific Northwest during the Great Depression at a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. It is a story of love and redemption and how this New Deal program changed the lives of young men, in particular my MC Park Hardesty. Here is the summary of the novel.

One mistake can ruin a life. One mistake can transform it. A government forestry camp set deep in the mountainous forests of the Pacific Northwest might not seem the likely place to find redemption, but in 1935, Park Hardesty hopes for just that. Blaming himself for the fiery accident that caused his brother’s disfigurement and the death of the bootlegging woman he loved, planting trees, building bridges and mentoring tough, homesick New Jersey boys brings him both penitence and the renewal of his own self-worth. When he wins the love of Kate Alford, a local naturalist who envisions joining the Forest Service, which allows only men, he also captures the ire of a camp officer who refuses to let her go. Just when he is ready to seek his brother’s forgiveness, he is falsely accused of rape. Every aspect of his life he has tried to rebuild is put in jeopardy. In the end, the only way he can defend himself is to tell the truth about his brother, but he risks being kicked out of the camp. Worse, he could lose Kate’s love forever.

DAVID WISEHART: What historical research did you do for the book?

JANET OAKLEY: I had heard stories of CCC boys from my mom who grew up in Idaho. There was a camp just up the creek from her uncle’s ranch in Lowman. As my story took shape about an Easterner coming out West to find himself and win his brother’s forgiveness, I began a general research of the Great Depression and in particular, the CCC’s. There were several government issued books and materials at my local university that helped to bring understanding to the set up of the camps, operations and projects. Local newspapers provided timelines for the formation of the ones in my areas of Western Washington.

A dear friend, Hank Reasoner, a retired forester, gave me some insight to his encounters with the camps and led me to the most wonderful part of my research, interviews with the real boys, some in their 70s and 80s. To a “t”, they all were surprised and pleased at my interest. They were part of the Greatest Generation too, but no one had asked about their life in the CCC’s and how it saved their families and gave them life-long skills during terrible times. While working on the novel, I had enough material to publish an article for a local history journal and gave a talk to the public on local camps. On that night, 125 showed up to hear my talk. In attendance were 18 “boys.” They were given a standing ovation. Additional discoveries came later.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

JANET OAKLEY: For all of the historical novels I have written, my stories usual start with a scene or an idea and who is in that scene will drive the development of the main character. Once they begin to come into focus, I’ll start collecting facts about them. I learned an excellent technique of building characters from a workshop I took from writers Robert J Ray and Jack Remick a few years. Using a chart system, some interesting categories are created beyond the usual color of the protag’s hair, etc such Role (meaning protag, antag or helper), Secret, Wound, Desire, Obstacle, Object Associated with Character, Link to Protagonist. I found the object the most interesting idea. What would my character carry with him or her? What would it mean? I was sitting in their class when I came to me that Park Hardesty in Tree Soldier would have his CCC medal of honor with him. It means a lot to have been given it, but sometimes, he feels that he doesn’t deserve it.

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

JANET OAKLEY: I hope Tree Soldier will appeal to all kinds of readers, fans of historical fiction, people interested in the Great Depression. Already I have responses from seniors who lived the life of a tree soldier in the Civilian Conservation Corps, but I’ve also had requests from the children and grandchildren of CCC boys as well the workers in the national parks and forest service.

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

JANET OAKLEY: Like a lot of writers, I first started sending out little stories in response to local newspaper’s call for entries. I got published. Somewhere in the process I decided that I would write a novel and spent three researching and writing about Norway in WW II. I went to writer conferences and began to submit to their lit contests. I finaled. I took workshops and finally enrolled in a summer intensive writing program at the University of Washington. The fiction course didn’t go, but I was encouraged to join the literary non-fiction program. It was one of the best of decisions I ever made. It taught me to write in all forms and as a historian, this was important. In 2002, I submitted an essay to Cup of Comfort. It was accepted and published. Four more of these memoir essays were published in the Cup of Comfort series. One, Drywall in the Time of Grief, prior to publication won the top prize in non-fiction at Surrey International Writers in 2006. Currently, I’m a writer for and am getting a novel ready for an agent.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

JANET OAKLEY: Well, for one, I write every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s fifteen minutes. I sit down and write, usually in a certain noisy Starbucks. And I write by hand. In the past 8 months since I lost my job, this has led to getting up and writing in the morning there then start the rest of my day. And I write in pencil. I always carry a folder with lined paper in it or the last couple of pages of whatever I was typing on the computer. I’ll put it into the computer later in the day. Somehow the writing just flows this way. I might stop to do some research in books or on-line, work on a timeline of the story and character’s movements.

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

JANET OAKLEY: A lot of what I love about books began when I was a kid. I was inspired by the authors of the books My childhood authors wereI belong to a book group so I get exposed to a lot of different books and writers. We’ve read The Book Thief, Sea Biscuit, Time Traveler’s Wife, Water for Elephants.

DAVID WISEHART: How did you create your cover?

JANET OAKLEY: I originally found the photo for my cover on the internet. It was very striking. The CCC boy seems to be looking out for something just like my MC Park Hardesty. I knew that it was government issued which gave me a chuckle. A pin up guy. It’s from the 1940s. I hired a wonderful graphic artist Jeff Fielder to create the cover for the Kindle addition and the book from when it comes out.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

JANET OAKLEY: I’m waiting on the book version which will be ready by the second week in January (I hope). Then I’ll go all out. So far it’s introducing myself on the Kindle and writer’s threads, my blog, Historyweaver, writer friends on Facebook and Twitter. Those who have read it, I encourage honest reviews of the novel. I’ve contacted my local independent book store for some book talks.

DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?

JANET OAKLEY: I initially did this as an experiment for this particular novel which was a finalist at the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference. It received very good feedback, but never got traction with an agent. Yet I’ve have always felt a strong interest in the CCC’s when I’ve given talks on the subject or written about different camps in the Northwest. Someone had a dad or uncle in the organization or they had stayed at a campground or lodge built by the Three C’s. I wanted my story to get out. Since publishing on Kindle, I see that this is a very effective to get my book readers.

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

JANET OAKLEY: Be sure that you have it edited. Then get some technical help. I’m not a techie, but read all the threads about publishing on Kindle. And I know that I can go backI see that Createspace now offers a package now for converting a book version to Kindle, but as a standalone publication I think is a very good way to publish.

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books:


Janet Oakley grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, listening to her mother's stories of life in early 20th century Idaho. Several of them were about the boys from "New Joisey" occupying a side camp up the creek from her uncle's ranch. Desperate boys from back East, they were members of the Civilian Conservation Corps doing reclamation projects in the rugged area of the Salmon River.

A long time resident of Bellingham, Washington, Oakley's award-winning essays have appeared in the Cup of Comfort series. Her historical writings have appeared in various magazines, anthologies, and other media including, a "cyberpedia of Washington State history." She writes and presents historical talks and workshops on 19th century folkways and in 2006 was the project coordinator for a History Channel grant. That same year, she won the top non-fiction prize at the Surrey International Writers Conference in Surrey, B.C..

Tree Soldier, set in 1930s in the North Cascades Mountains of Washington State, is based on her mother's stories and the personal interviews with "CC" boys. It was a Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest finalist.

Read her blog.

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