Q: JoAnn, you entered the realms of published author relatively later in life. To what do you credit your successful journey to becoming published?
Many forces ally against you as a writer. The first voices said, “You’ve never written a novel. What makes you think you can write one?” After the first manuscript was done, the voices said, “So what? You have a manuscript, but so do thousands of other wannabe authors.” As the years went by and the manuscript didn’t sell—even though I changed it significantly as I learned more about the craft of writing a novel—the voices said, “Give up. You’re too old for this sort of thing. It’s time to put your feet up and relax.”
Through all this you have to keep your belief in yourself. Through all this you must stay focused on your dream.
Now that I’m published, I get, “Whoohoo! Congrats! Next thing you’ll be on t.v. talking about your book and I’ll say ‘I knew her when’.”
This is when you really have to keep your feet on the ground and not get swayed by flattery.
It’s good to taste the flattery. You deserve to experience some warm acceptance after all the rejection. Just remember that you haven’t become a god overnight. Your next novel must keep the high standards of the first one – or better. You must keep proving yourself to publishers and readers. It’s a hard road, but we love it!
Q: In what ways do you think your stories would have been different if you’d been published much earlier?
My stories would not have had the depth of character had I published earlier.
We writers are all different. For me I needed maturity to understand the human race enough to create a fiction world that would benefit my reader.
In my early twenties, I was busy figuring out who I was and not looking much outside my psychological self. This time taught me human motivation.
My late twenties and early thirties were my years to venture out into the physical world. I met people from around the world as a Chief Clerk of a U.S. Senate Subcommittee in D.C. and during a trip around the world. Realizing there are cultures that in no way think and live like we do in the U.S. was eye opening for me. Remember, jet planes were a new phenomenon and most news came via the newspaper. Today, with t.v. news cameras in every tiny corner of the world, this insulation from other cultures is no longer a reality. This time period taught me the strength in diversity.
In my early thirties and forties, I married and had a child. I experienced the joys and the traumas of a family. After divorce and when my son was going into teenage years—and pulling away from me into his own group of friends—I tried to write MATILDA’S SONG. With working and struggling through life’s obstacles, I found I didn’t have the strength and determination to finish it and put it aside after a few chapters. I greatly admire authors who balance writing, jobs and families. This period taught me I had to make choices. My characters are confronted by tough choices, too.
Late forties and fifties, I volunteered in the community. Much of the volunteering was as a parent fulfilling parental obligations for school activities, sports and scouts. But some I did to satisfy myself. I became a president in Isle City Business and Professional Women and learned to be an advocate for women in the workplace. I attended rallies and marched and organized Equal Pay Day exhibits. Community involvement opened a new vista in the experiences.
At fifty, I looked back on where I came from and was pleased with my life. I found a lot of problems had been resolved and no longer pushed my life out of kilter. I found I had the energy and a zest for life that made me look forward to what I could accomplish with the rest of my years. This is when the dream started, but it took a kick from Life to get me on the path to that dream.
By sixty, my son was out of high school and pursuing his own dream of being a boat pilot. I was alone for the first time in almost twenty years. I pulled MATILDA’S SONG out of the drawer and started writing. After getting three chapters done, I showed the work to my friend’s teacher—who is also an agent— along with some short stories. She encouraged me to finish the novel rather than be a short story writer.
That’s how I became a novelist. Her belief in me sustained me through a lot of years. We parted ways shortly before I finished MATILDA’S SONG because her business model changed. She was focusing on young adult novels. Still, I’ve always been grateful that she shared her publishing experiences with me. One thing that stuck that she told me. She said of any four people who read your novel, one will love it, one will hate it and two will be in the middle. So far, I tend to come out closer to the “love it” side, but when I find a reader who hates it, I flash back to her advice and let the criticism roll off my back. After all, you can’t please all the people all the time.
The novel limped slowly along until the dot.com bust. My employer of twenty years went out of business in a day and a half’s time. The shock was shattering. I was near retirement and trying to compete for work as a database administrator in a tough economic environment with workers in their twenties and thirties. To stay sane, I got up early every morning and wrote. Job hunting came later. These times taught me to stay focused and never give up.
This is when the dream solidified and became a passionate force within me. I found a well-paid, six month position that took me back into the corporate world, but I no longer wanted the hustle and bustle of business. I wanted the quiet to write and to experience the joys that come from getting a scene exactly right. I opted for early retirement and have been an author ever since.
The message is: Sometimes your dream develops later in life. Keep looking for it. When you feel passionate about what you are doing, you’ve found your dream.
Q: Courage seems to be a common theme running through your stories. Your characters have to embrace this lesson to find their true happiness in the end. What personal experiences molded that theme for you?
Being a mother and a wife takes courage. When those you love become sick—when finances are stretched past their limits—when a loved one takes on a job that has high risk of physical danger—when we lose our jobs—when our houses are in danger of foreclosure, we each must find the courage to get up the next day and patch things together as best we can.
Finding the strength inside to keep on going no matter what obstacles are thrown our way is courage. Like the fire fighter and the police officer who rush toward the danger, we rush toward the bloody nose, the high fever, and the grocery store bargains to put food on the table. This takes courage. I write about everyday people going about everyday life when suddenly faced with a crisis. They need to draw on all their life experiences to resolve the problem and keep their families safe – just as we do in our lives.
I hate movies where the director has the heroine waiting for the hero to save her. This is not my experience. My experience is that women act. We do what has to be done to survive, including fighting for our loved ones. That’s courage. That’s what I translate into a story.
Q: Imagine yourself as a story character and the plot as your road to publishing. What themes or lessons would run through your personal story?
The themes that run through my personal story are the same themes my protagonists face—never give up, follow your passion to your dream, ignore naysayers, find your own path. I’ve learned that, if you keep at it, you can find a way around or through any obstacle life throws at you.
Q: Favorite foods?
I love vegetables and apples. While I write, I nibble raw veggies and apple slices.
Q: Children? Pets? Day job?
My son is a tugboat pilot. No pets because I’m allergic. My day job is author.
Q: How do you balance family and writing?
My son is grown and working so my balance is between community volunteering and writing. I’ve learned to put writing first and say “no” if volunteering will add too much stress to my writing day.
Q: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
I don’t suffer from writer’s block. I’m a practical person and writing is my business and my livelihood. I approach it like going to the office. There’s work to be done and I do it.
However, I do suffer from “life gets in the way”. More than once, I’ve had plans on how much I would write any given day only to find interruptions and fires to put out. I’ve yet to exercise the control I have over the creative side of writing with the administrative or marketing side. Those unexpectedly gobble up time.
Q: Name a few of your favorite things.
I enjoy going to the symphony, watching a beautiful sunset and romantic comedies.
Q: Something silly you have done.
I was born without a silly bone in my body. I came out of the womb serious.
Despite that, I enjoy life immensely. I love to laugh. I seek out TV shows and movies that are humorous.
Q: What brought you to the typewriter/keyboard—that inspired you to write your first book?
My original goal was financial, but writing quickly turned into a passion.
I am a senior citizen starting a second career to supplement Social Security. Having my education in English started me looking at writing. Little did I know how difficult it is to write a novel and how much I had to learn to be good at it.
My first four years were spent in online classes and rewriting MATILDA’S SONG. After that I got the hang of it and can generally produce a book a year. Online classes continue, however, because of my strong desire to improve my craft.
Even if I never sell another book, I will continue writing because the creative adventure brings great joy.
Q: Do you have a favorite writing style?
In my past, my writing style was more lyrical with much description like in MATILDA’S SONG. I’ve adjusted my style for today’s e-book market. To make the novel easy to read on a screen, I intentionally write in shorter sentences, paragraphs and scenes. I plan in lots of white space to make the text easier on the eye.
These days, I feel a lot like a poet. I must find that one word that takes the place of several words, but will distill the essence needed to push the action forward. It’s a challenge.
Q: Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to grasp?
My characters are self empowered individuals who take control of their lives and responsibility for their actions. The underlying theme is that life is better when you’re in the driver’s seat.