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Cheaney, J.B. 1950- (Janie B. Cheaney)

Cheaney, J.B. 1950- (Janie B. Cheaney)

PERSONAL:

Born 1950, in Dallas, TX; married, 1971; children: Aquila, Tielman. Education: Attended Abilene Christian College (now Abilene Christian University).

ADDRESSES:

Office—P.O. Box 634, Bolivar, MO 65613.

CAREER:

Writer.

WRITINGS:

The Room, Eldridge (Franklin, OH), 1992.

The Playmaker, Knopf (New York, NY), 2000.

The True Prince, Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.

My Friend the Enemy, Knopf (New York, NY), 2005.

The Middle of Somewhere, Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.

Regular contributor to World magazine.

SIDELIGHTS:

As a teen, J.B. Cheaney had a passion for theater. Because of an illness, she missed a year of public school, and when she entered high school as a freshman, she had trouble making friends. "The next two years were miserable until I found my niche in high school: acting and singing," Cheaney recalled on her home page. In an interview on the Semicolon Blog, she admitted to an even earlier passion for the stage, and one that would eventually fuel her career as a novelist. "I was introduced to Shakespeare in my backyard, age ten," the author explained. "The best way to meet him is NOT by reading him, which can be deadly—the plays were meant to be performed."

Cheaney began writing while her daughter was an infant. After writing four adult novels that remain unpublished, she decided to try writing for a younger audience, and one of her children's novels draws on her love of theater. Set in Elizabethan England, The Playmaker introduces young Richard Malory, an actor who performs plays by "Master Will"—of course, William Shakespeare. "Informed by solid historical and literary scholarship, this well-written adventure novel is a winner," wrote Starr E. Smith in School Library Journal. Noting the "breathless action" and period details in the novel, Gillian Engberg wrote in Booklist that "most compelling are the highly detailed theater scenes, which beautifully articulate a young artist's struggles to master his craft." Mary M. Burns, reviewing The Playmaker for Horn Book, found the tale to be "an engrossing blend of intrigue and insight into the operation of a theater in Shakespeare's day."

Richard's adventures continue in The True Prince, during which a highwayman, appearing as a new incarnation of Robin Hood, threatens the theater's livelihood. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called The True Prince "a fine addition to the growing body of literature about Shakespeare's world." A Publishers Weekly critic concluded that "only the dourest reader would pass up this breathless scramble of 16th-century London."

Leaving Elizabethan England behind, Cheaney has also written a tale set during World War II. My Friend the Enemy was inspired by her son's time working in Japan as well as by the events of 9/11, which she felt echoed the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In the novel, a girl named Hazel befriends fifteen-year-old Japanese-American Sogoji. Orphaned and cut off from his community, Sogoji works secretly on Hazel's neighbor's farm and ponders how to be both American and Japanese when the two nations are enemies. As tensions escalate against Japan in Hazel's community, she must choose to take a stand in defense of her new friend. "This powerful work deftly explores how war affects a community, when the identity of friend, enemy and hero is sometimes difficult to discern," wrote a contributor to Kirkus Reviews in a review of My Friend the Enemy.

The Middle of Somewhere is Cheaney's first contemporary novel. Set in small-town Kansas, it tells the story of Ronnie Sparks, who must take care of her brother as her mother recovers from knee surgery. The task becomes more challenging as Ronnie, her grandfather Pop, and little brother Gee make a road trip together. "The main characters are particularly well drawn and believable, and readers will root for both children as they attempt to overcome the obstacles placed in front of them," wrote Kay Weisman in Booklist. While finding some problems with the story's pacing, a Kirkus Reviews contributor complimented the "crafty, descriptive first-person narrative" Cheaney employs in The Middle of Somewhere.

Describing her writing process in an interview for World Online, Cheaney explained: "I start with a setting (time and place), a handful of characters, and a very vague idea of where I want to end up. The first draft is excruciating; it's like bulldozing a field of rocks uphill. Once the story is in place, I can look back and see a loamy plowed slope, ready to revise. Oh, joy! It's all downhill from there."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, November 1, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of The Playmaker, p. 524; January 1, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of The True Prince, p. 870; May 15, 2005, Carolyn Phelan, review of My Friend the Enemy, p. 1674; March 15, 2007, Kay Weisman, review of The Middle of Somewhere, p. 46.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October, 2000, review of The Playmaker, p. 56; December, 2002, review of The True Prince, p. 149; September, 2007, Karen Coats, review of The Middle of Somewhere, p. 11.

Horn Book, January, 2001, Mary M. Burns, review of The Playmaker, p. 88.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2002, review of The True Prince, p. 1386; June 15, 2005, review of My Friend, the Enemy, p. 679; April 15, 2007, review of The Middle of Somewhere.

Kliatt, November, 2002, Michele Winship, review of The True Prince, p. 6.

Publishers Weekly, August 7, 2000, review of The Playmaker, p. 96; November 4, 2002, review of The True Prince, p. 85.

School Library Journal, December, 2000, Starr E. Smith, review of The Playmaker, p. 142; November, 2002, Starr E. Smith, review of The True Prince, p. 159; November, 2005, Ginny Gustin, review of My Friend the Enemy, p. 130; July, 2007, Miriam Lang Budin, review of The Middle of Somewhere, p. 99.

Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 2005, Melissa Moore, review of My Friend the Enemy, p. 213.

ONLINE

Cynsations Blog,http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/ (March 9, 2008), Cynthia Leitich Smith, interview with Cheaney.

J.B. Cheaney Home Page,http://www.jbcheaney.com (March 5, 2008).

World Online,http://www.worldontheweb.com/ (September 20, 2007), Susan Olasky, interview with Cheaney.

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