Monday, July 11, 2011

Janie Franz Talks About Music and Writing

Thank you, Penny, for hosting me today. I wanted to let everyone know about my new book, Sugar Magnolia, that came out Friday from Muse It Up Publishing. I’m very proud of this one because it really took a lifetime to write. Let me explain. I wrote the first draft probably forty years ago but never could make it work. I wrote several endings and reworked characters, but it still seemed to be sort of fan fiction in a way. That was because I had no real clue about the music business, except for the fact that I had friends who were folk performers or who played in unknown bands.

Marrying a musician (a singer/songwriter) and raising a very musically precocious son gave me some insight into the whole songwriting, rehearsing, and performing world. But it was booking shows and doing publicity for my son’s touring band that showed me the grind of touring and what it took to make enough for gas to get the band to the next gig and hope I could sweet talk some venue owner into feeding them spaghetti or chili or putting them up for the night. I learned to wheel and deal—but with gentleness and honesty---and I could swear right along with the roughest bar owner if I had to. It was up to the band to show up and play the shows and sell what CDs they could and garner any tips.

It wasn’t a glamorous life, but it was an honorable one for working musicians.

Over a dozen years ago, I wrote my first in-depth band profile—of a local band—and it made a two-page spread in a regional entertainment weekly. Through them, I got more interviews, first of other local bands and eventually to major touring bands that came through the Northern Plains. I wrote for them, for the city daily on occasion, and eventually for a variety of national and international print and digital publications. I was offered more interviews because I not only got the story but I got a different side of a performer than most did and I wasn’t intimidated by a musician’s clout.

I started getting on publicists’, musicians’, and record companies’ rolodexes and email lists. I began to get flooded with review CDs and being offered interviews. No longer was I having an editor send me contact info to arrange an interview, I was getting them directly from industry sources who were seeking me out to do stories on their artists. I now had the choice of who to pitch my interview to since I was writing for different publications.

When a publicist brought me word about the10,000 Lakes Festival in Minnesota in 2003, I jumped on it. It would allow me to actually cover a jam festival first hand. And, frankly, at that time, no one locally knew who the bands were, but I did because of my experience booking my son’s band and I knew some of them from stages that they had shared with them. I brought that festival to local new media and became the point person for the festival for North Dakota, plus I offered them national coverage through the media outlets I wrote for.

Then in 2009, I started my own online music publication, Refrain Magazine ( and I began a dedicated column at called Music Up Close with Janie. So now publicists were calling me for digital ink about their artists for my own publications.

I have done phone interviews and have met many, many artists. And they treat me as a journalist who understands the music business and what musicians deal with every day. We talk about the road, about the songwriting process, about changes in band personnel, about their spirituality or their love life. I’ve had people tell me things I can’t print because it just comes up in the conversation.

I remember interviewing blues harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite. After we’d been on the phone for an hour and a half (an uncommonly long interview), he said, “This was an interview? I thought we were just sitting and talking.” And I got some great stories to share in that article!

I’ve had people like Matt Puedas, the frontman from the White Iron Band, tell me after I wrote a review of his rock-suite Devil’s Sweet Revenge, “You were the only journalist who got it!” And that’s been said before others.

I’ve established relationships within the music industry that are deep and personal. Chris O’Brien, principal songwriter and frontman of Enchanted Ape, a band in Minneapolis, wrote the soundtracks for the book trailers for the first three books in my Bowdancer Saga. He brought in electric cello player Matt Probst to help write cello tracks to complement his guitar work.

So all of this experience informed my reworking of Sugar Magnolia last year. My approach to the story was different and took an interesting turn. The interviews and references mentioned in the book about music journalist/artist Shivaun Corbin’s work came from my experience. I have interviewed everyone Shivaun is supposed to have done. What’s been said about some of the musicians mentioned, such as Derek Trucks and Ralph Stanley, are real remembrances and reactions.

Even the special cameo appearances of LA hip-hop artist Deploi and New Orleans legend Dr. John were based on interviews and personal interactions I had with them. I’m honored that both musicians gave their permission for inclusion in my book.

So, dive into the steamy South and see what music journalist/artist Shivaun Corbin discovers while on assignment at charismatic rocker Daniel Madux’s Sugar Magnolia. The book’s sexual content places it in the Muse It Hot! division.

Music journalist and artist Shivaun Corbin is on assignment at Sugar Magnolia, the Mississippi home of classic rocker Daniel Madux. She has been charged with creating a retro cover for Daniel’s latest album, a comeback CD that incorporates a more modern sound with his 70s rock. When she enters the household on this sprawling plantation, she encounters an odd assortment of characters with secrets of their own while she works hard to avoid being another of Daniel Madux’s conquests. Young instrumental protégé Connor is determined to protect Shivaun from Daniel’s pursuit. Shivaun is distracted by Connor’s attentions and those of one of the female backup singers as more secrets are revealed and the past comes rushing into the present. Sugar Magnolia offers an inside look at the music industry and one woman’s place in it.


  1. Fascinating subject matter. I would have given my eye-teeth to follow along. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Joylene, you and me both. It sounds fascinating.

  3. Joylene and Penny, The journey is still going on. Now that I'm settling into New Mexico, I'll be reviving that music journalism career for my column and my own publication....But remember, musicians, like well-known authors, are just people--they have to brush their teeth like the rest of us.

  4. Janie, good to hear. The reminder is a good one. I actually hung out with a lot of musicians in the 70s, but no one who made it to the "big time."

  5. I can't wait to read the book, because I have seen Dr. John in person and he is incredibly awesome as a performer and musician. Also he was on Treme a TV show about New Orleans after Katrina and to think he has said he will let you use his interview shows me this book is totally authentic. It's wonderful that someone has written a real account of the life of a musician on the road. So cool!!!!

  6. Wonderful post. enjoyed the insight. I agree, some of the best interviews are the ones where you just feel like you're visiting. The best stories come from those. Thanks for sharing.
    C.K. Volnek

  7. Congrats on the release of Sugar Magnolia, Janie. It sounds like after so many years, your story finally decided you had what it needed and let you finish it! I hope you enjoy New Mexico as much as my daughter and son-in-law, who live in Taos, a lovely part of the world. All the best with your various gigs!

  8. Barbara, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Janie wrote a story which rings true to life. I hope you do get a chance to read it.

  9. Charlie and Pat, nice to have you stop by and I'm glad you enjoyed the interview. Hope you get an opportunity to read Janie's books.