Jamaica Beach author draws on history and geography to weave stories of good and evil
Author Janet Shawgo uses her many experiences as a police officer, homicide investigator and traveling nurse to produce a series of award-winning novels. Since she began writing a decade ago, she has produced a handful of short stories and six novels, including one being released this month.
Shawgo, who lives in Jamaica Beach and writes at her kitchen table, spent most of her working career as a nurse. She studied nursing in college but was lured away from the medical field to become a police officer in her hometown of Amarillo. She spent several years on the beat, moving up to homicide and special crimes, when she decided to go back to school, finish her degree and do what she really loved — nursing and healing.
“When my parents died in 1995, I decided to become a traveling nurse,” she said.
Her job took her to various cities for short-term assignments where help was needed. She moved to Galveston and the University of Texas Medical Branch in July 2003 for a stint and fell in love with the city and the Gulf of Mexico, she said.
She bought her beach house and made the island her permanent home as she continued to work and travel. When she retired from nursing, she refocused her energies and began to write.
“As I got older, I decided what was important in life,” Shawgo said. “I loved what I was doing, but it was time for a change. I miss not being able to help people or deliver a baby or comfort patients, but what I wanted to do now with my life was write.”
Her books are fiction, with heroes and anti-heroes who are complex characters, often drawn from her experiences in law enforcement or patients she cared for as a nurse.
“There are evil people out there and they make for interesting characters,” she said. “I’ve met psychopaths and sociopaths that when you look into their eyes, you realize there is nothing behind them. They have no conscience, which makes it easy for them to kill or do bad things. But that’s what makes for a good read.”
Shawgo conducts extensive research for each book, focusing on the Civil War, World War II or other military events. She weaves stories about good versus evil as her tales unwind.
“I get caught up in their lives,” she said.
Shawgo writes almost every day — sometimes for just three hours, other days are marathon 12-hour stints, she said. She describes her style as a “pantser,” one who writes “by the seat of my pants,” rather than follow long, detailed outlines or notes to tell her story.
She lets her characters lead her, she said.
“I can see what is going on — it is almost like watching a movie,” she said.
She markets her books at festivals and public events, and sometimes draws attention to herself and her booth by dressing in period costumes, including a World War II nurse’s uniform decked out with medals and insignias true to the era as depicted in the book “Wait for Me.” She also has a flowing gingham and rose floral dress reminiscent of the Civil War era, and mentioned in the book “Look for Me.”
Her latest book, “Legacy of Lies,” is an unplanned sequel to the popular “Archidamus,” a chilling tale of someone who is not what he appears to be.
“So many readers said they wanted to know more about this story and these characters,” she said. “I had several loose ends to tie up.”
And because successful writers know it’s wise to write about what they know, she makes it a point to include in every book a Galveston notation or destination.
“This area has such a rich history and was a military location as well,” she said.
Because some of her books are mysteries, she adds a bit of intrigue to their distribution by dropping clues on her Instagram page about where she has hidden free copies of her books.
“If they follow the clues, they will find the books,” she said. “Everyone likes a scavenger hunt and it’s a bit of fun.”
Shawgo’s future plans include more books and short stories.
“Let’s see where these characters take me next,” she said.