Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with short story and cosy mystery author Joan H Young. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Joan. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Joan: Hi, Morgen. I grew up in upstate New York, but have lived in Michigan for over 40 years. I’ve been writing since I was a child, and spent many frustrating years submitting to magazines and publishers, collecting rejection letters. I’m older now, and impatient, so I’ve begun self-publishing.
Morgen: <laughs> I know that feeling although my timeframe was much shorter and I’ve only had 29 rejectons because I’ve not submitted much (which doesn’t help in getting published!). What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Joan: I used to write only non-fiction and some poetry, but in the past few years I’ve been writing more and more fiction, including short stories and cozy mysteries.
Morgen: Cozy mysteries are one of the most popular genres. My stories usually have a body in it, although I’ve grown less ‘cozy’ over the past few months. What have you had published to-date?
Joan: I created my own publishing company, Books Leaving Footprints, and currently have a total of 11 books for sale. I’ve also had several short stories accepted by Twin Trinity Media, but so far only one of them is available.
Morgen: Please tell us more about your books.
Joan: My first full-length book, North Country Cache http://wwwbooksleavingfootprints.com, is a collection of essays about hiking the North Country National Scenic Trail. I knew it would be difficult to have it accepted by a traditional publisher, and I wanted it to be available for the 25th anniversary of the trail association. So I published the book myself. It is enjoyed by both hikers and non-hikers, being much more than a trail journal.
Morgen: These days with health being such a major issue worldwide, hiking (I think anyway) has never been so popular. It’s a great way of finding out about our local (or not so local) area. Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Joan: All of my fiction, and some shorter non-fiction is in eBook format. It’s so fast and simple, and the prices are affordable for most readers. I love eBooks. I do read them, but will always enjoy paper books. I love books! Who cares what the delivery method is?
Morgen: I certainly don’t. I love both. Do you have a favourite of your books?
Joan: North Country Cache is my “baby.” I poured so much effort into the hikes, and completing the book; it was a real challenge that I embraced. And I love hearing from readers who feel that I’ve taken them along with me, and not just told them the temperature and what we ate for breakfast. One reader said, “Partway through the book, you almost start thinking you could do it, too.” The Anastasia Raven mysteries are light fun. I like Ana, although she is not a projection of me. I think I have managed to invent a protagonist I can sustain over a series of books.
Morgen: That’s really important. I’ve only written the first draft (which itself isn’t complete) of the first book in a crime series and it’s mostly about the characters at the moment so needs more plot but it’s been fun building up the goodies and baddies. 🙂 Which author(s) would you compare your writing to?
Joan: My mysteries are most like Lilian Jackson Braun, J.S. Borthwick, or Julia Spencer-Fleming. The mysteries are set in rural small towns like their books. I’m hoping my plotting and writing skills will measure up to some of these top sellers!
Morgen: I must admit I’ve not heard of them (perhaps because I’m in the UK?) but we’d all love to be top sellers, wouldn’t we. 🙂 Did you choose the titles / covers of your books?
Joan: I completely chose the titles and did the cover art for all but Paddy Plays in Dead Mule Swamp. I had that one done professionally by Farah Evers http://www.farahevers.com, because I couldn’t make it look the way I wanted. She also helped me unify the look of the mystery series, and I’m very happy with it.
Morgen: I really like the one you’ve sent me. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Joan: I’m writing book four in the Anastasia Raven series. It’s called Bury the Hatchet in Dead Mule Swamp. I’m also writing the sequel to North Country Cache, to tell the rest of the stories of the hike. It is titled North Country Quest.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Joan: I’ve had to take a couple of part time jobs to pay bills – reality is all too real! I don’t manage to write every day, but I belong to a writers’ support group, and they expect regular installments. That helps.
Morgen: I’m lucky that I don’t ‘work’ any more (although blogging is a full-time job, and then some) but I rent out two rooms in my house so I manage. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Joan: I need to do a lot of plotting before I begin, although occasionally a character will surprise me with a twist somewhere along the line.
Morgen: I love it when they do that. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Joan: I edit as I go. Some people say not to, but I have to do it or it makes me nuts. Reading pages after several days will reveal errors, and at the end, even if I think the manuscript is quite clean, I use editors. Everyone needs some editing.
Morgen: Writers do work differently. I’m very fortunate that the ideas flow so I tend just to write but if I need to look something up I either do it there and then or I put ‘MORE HERE’ or ‘CHECK’ then go back to those parts, although if I know I’m waffling I cross out the sections I’m probably going to lose and see what I think of them when I go back later. Do you have to do much research?
Joan: The non-fiction essays require the adventures on which they are based. I do a fair amount of research to get background information and history to fill-out some of those. The mysteries haven’t required much, so far. I did contact a policeman for info about drugs. I purposely created fictional characters that would not require me to be constantly digging up technical experts to consult.
Morgen: The good thing about cozy mysteries is that it’s not going to go into as much detail as, for example, Patricia Cornwell’s in-depth procedurals. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Joan: The Anastasia Raven books are first person. So far, I’m liking that, although there are some limitations in using it. A number of my short stories are also first person, but there is more freedom in writing in third person. I haven’t tried second person.
Morgen: Second person’s great for shorter pieces but tough for longer. I’ve never got to the end of Jay McInerney’s ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ yet I’m a big fan of that point of view (plus it’s a tiny book!). Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Joan: I do write poetry, quite a bit, actually. I have a poem accepted in Elements of Life http://www.amazon.com/Elements-Life-Birth-Short-Story-Anthology/dp/0984209573, which will be available soon.
Morgen: Congratulations. You mentioned earlier that you’ve received numerous rejections, how do you deal with them?
Joan: Rejections are simply part of writing. They never feel good, but you have to become philosophical. You can try to learn from them. Were they looking for something other than what you sent? Were there actual problems with your writing which you could improve? Were you being trite? Was this the right venue for your piece?
Morgen: It’s often just about finding the right place for the right thing (at the right time!). Do you enter competitions?
Joan: I have entered a few. That’s how I became involved with Twin Trinity Media. I entered several short story contests there and a number of my stories placed. I haven’t won any others… yet!
Morgen: I’ve had mixed success with competitions but found the good thing about themed ones was that I’d write something specifically for it, which I then still had to use elsewhere if I didn’t get anywhere. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Joan: With self-publishing, you must do all your own marketing. That’s the hardest thing for me. But I try to do something toward that end almost every day.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Joan: Write, get people to critique what you write (not your family), accept editing (get over your own ego), and keep writing.
Morgen: I agree with all of those except my mother’s one of my harshest critics! Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Joan: I write a monthly column for our local newspaper on quiet outdoor recreation. I also give media programs about my experiences on the North Country Trail, hiking, and outdoor skills. I belong to a local writers’ group, and I would encourage every writer to find a group they can share their efforts with, for encouragement and critiques.
Morgen: Absolutely. I run or belong to four local groups (and run five online writing groups!). What do you do when you’re not writing?
Joan: Hike! (Unless I have to work.)
Morgen: 🙂 Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Joan: I highly recommend the Accentuate Writers forum. You will find friendly support, and honest critique, but without nastiness. http://accentuatewriters.com.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Joan: With eBooks and self-publishing changing the book world, there are lots more titles available. The quality of writing has slipped significantly, and readers don’t seem to care very much. This worries me. I wish more writers would take the time to have their works edited by someone, anyone. There is a lot of really poor writing being sold, and it hurts everyone.
Morgen: Everyone should have (at least) a second opinion. It’s mainly why I set up the online groups, especially because many in-person groups struggle for time; 15 minutes a month isn’t enough for anyone. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgen: Thank you very much, Joan. Great to chat with you today.
I then invited Joan to include an extract of her writing and this is from News from Dead Mule Swamp…
I should have been working on the roof, but I wasn’t, and I’ll tell you why. The old house actually has an indoor bathroom, upstairs, near the room I’m making into my bedroom, but the plumbing isn’t exactly new either. When I figured out that the damp and flaking corner of the living room ceiling was directly beneath the toilet, I covered the floor and the furniture, and started pulling down the old plaster. I soon revealed an oozing soil pipe. After that, I just couldn’t stop ripping.
The rubble was starting to pile up, and my nose was getting stuffy from the dust. I hauled a couple of wheelbarrow loads of the mess out to the driveway, figuring it would help to fill some ruts. I could burn the wood later. My destructive binge had nearly taken me to floor level on one side of the room. I pried loose a couple more pieces of lath board, and as I pulled them away from the wall a brown newspaper fell forward onto the heap of rotten plaster.
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