Search - List of Books by Janis Owens
Janis Owens is a native of North Florida, born a few miles south of the Alabama/Georgia border in Marianna, in 1960; the last child and only daughter of an Assembly of God preacher and his wife, Roy and Martha Johnson. Her Daddy actually had a church in a little settlement south of Marianna called Page Pond, where she was conceived, but they moved into town before Janis was born, because her Mama was homesick for the West End of Marianna, where her extended family: mother, uncles, cousins and kin, all lived. Shortly after they moved to town, her Daddy took a day-job as an insurance salesman for The Independent Life Insurance Company, with a debit that spanned the Apalachicola National Forest.
Total Books: 8
When just a toddler, Janis's Daddy gave up the ministry and became a full-fledged insurance salesman, or policy man, as he was known in the south. From Marianna, the family moved to New Orleans, then Hattiesburg, Mississippi, then to finally back to North Florida, where they eventually ended up in Ocala in Marion County, which is close to ground zero of Cracker Florida (which is to say: Scrambletown, which is about ten miles east, on the border of the Ocala National Forest, and part of her Daddy’s Ocala debit.)
The Owens children, brothers, Jay and Jeff, and Janis grew up there, from elementary school upwards, on sermons and story-telling in the finest Cracker tradition. The best stories were those of maternal grandmother, Eula Roberts Rice, a native of Cuba, Alabama. She was widowed the month before Janis was born, and for part of her childhood, she was fortunate to share a bed and bedroom with her. Janis was a fearful, shy little bird of a kid, and every night before going to sleep, Grannie would tell a story to settle her down; Bible stories as a rule, though she also told Aesop’s fables and southern folk tales and family stories. Through her eyes and memory, Janis was introduced to life at the turn of the century in the rural South, and came to know her own grandfather - a Civil War vet who was too old to be soldier, even by 1860’s standard, but went to town to buy goods for the farm in 1862, and was so moved by a brass band’s rendition of Dixie that he joined the Confederate Army on the spot. Fortunately for him, he was captured scouting Sherman’s camp before the Battle of Atlanta and didn’t die in the bloody days to come, but sent to Rock Island, Illinois, where the greatest insult he endured was having to walk home to Alabama when the war was over. Grannie was his oldest grandchild and pet, and he used to buy her candy with his pension, and tell her campfire stories of how nervous they were before battle; how awful the war had been. Grannie’s marriage to James Isaac Rice, was a happy one, and Janis's childhood was filled with his memories.
Shortly graduation from high school, Janis met and married a Gainseville, FL graduate student who originally hailed from Arkansas -- Wendel Owens.
In 1983, after the birth of her first daughter, Owens graduated from the University of Florida English Department, under the exclusive Harry Crews and Smith Kirkpatrick writing program. At that time she set about to write her first novel set in Marianna, Florida. She claims to have 'finished in due time, and sent around to NY, where it was received well enough, considering it was a first novel and I was a twenty-four year old half-wit at the time.' The story stalled and Owens was toying with it (and a sequel) when her grandmother's only sister died in her house in the west end of Marianna and Owens traveled to the funeral. It was there that Owens' mother related one of her old Magnolia Hill stories, of a neighborhood child -red haired and pretty - who died next door to them on the Hill, the victim of incest and a self-induced abortion. The haunting story planted itself in her head and Owens felt compelled to give this tragic real-life ending a fictional triumph over evil and thus wrote the first draft of 'My Brother Michael'.
In the process of writing My Brother Michael, Owens realized that one of the main characters had at least as compelling a story and decided to tell the woman’s side of the story producing 'Myra Sims'. 'The Schooling of Claybird Catts' brings the story back to full circle and carries it into the next generation.
The Cracker Kitchen, A Cookbook in Celebration of Cornbread-Fed Downhome Family Stories and Cuisine will be available February 2009.
Another Owens' project is the 'Cracker Roadshow' which she describes:
In the past ten years, when traveling and speaking about my books, I would occasionally describe myself as a "Southerner of the Cracker persuasion" to the great amusement of my audience, especially if I said it outside the South. They found the word deprecating and na´ve and inevitably, someone would ask why I’d so proudly associate myself with a word that had such a loaded historic connotation. To them, it was clear that Cracker equaled: ignorant, racist, toothless and base. To me, it meant a whole different thing, and in time, re-educating my audience over the roots and true heritage of the word became an interesting side line .