Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with children’s author, Flash Fiction Fridays contributor and spotlightee Joe Means. 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, Joe. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Joe: Hello Morgen, My name is Joe Means and I currently live in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I am from the United States and grew up on a farm in western Ohio, where I worked in our family garden and tended our animals and did chores. It was a great time in my life and as much as it seems there is always work to be done, there is plenty of time to relax and enjoy a good book.
At the time of my early years, the space program was full bore and every boy wanted to be an astronaut. Television was full of the mysteries of space and Science Fiction writers in full bloom. My heroes were John Glenn, and all the astronauts. Also my love for reading brought me into contact with wonderful timeless writes like; Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clark and all the others. I was rarely seen without a paperback in my back pocket.
From these books, the imagination of a small town country boy grew. I needed an outlet to let some of the ideas running freely in my head, and short stories and letters (yes, we actually wrote letters and posted them snail mail back then).
Eventually, the invention from Science Fiction to Science Fact emerged and we have the modern day computer. TaDa! I wrote many stories (some good, some not so good), but the NEED to write never diminished.
Finally, I wrote my first story that my wife said needed to be published. The second book flowed quickly onto the paper, followed by a third. I hope to finally quit my job and continue writing full time within the near future.
Morgen: I love that you say you ‘need’ to write. I feel exactly the same. You write children’s books, was there a reason to choose this genre?
Joe: Morgen, I think there are two reasons for writing children’s book: first to capture their attention and make reading enjoyable, while at the same time, challenge their vocabulary and intellectual capacity. I don’t use small words to convey my ideas, but challenge them to figure out what their meaning is in context and to enjoy the story even more for having the capacity to understand complex ideas.
Morgen: It’s often said that you shouldn’t ‘dumb down’ to children and, although I don’t write children’s books or have children (the latter is probably the reason for the former), they should be challenged, and they do love that. You mentioned three books – what have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Joe: I guess you could call it a pseudonym, my writing name is J. D. Means, and I have published three young adult books:
- The first is ‘Millie and Honey: The Incredible Instantaneous Interplanetary Adventure – Volume I – CATATONIA’. I called it Volume I as I all ready had an idea on more stories to ties in and continue the first. I was going to write a full fledged novel, as the book are basically chapter sized, but then I figured they would make perfect children’s books.
- The second, ‘Millie and Honey: APPLEOPOLIS’
- And the third volume is entitled ‘Millie and Honey: The Blue Angel Planet’.
All the adults that have read my books love them and are ready for more. The stories are good, captivating, and easy to read, yet challenging enough to make the reader think.
Morgen: I recognise ‘The Blue Angel Planet’ from the short story of the same name (http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/2012/10/26/flash-fiction-friday-058-blue-angel-planet-by-j-d-means). You mentioned ‘young adult’ – what age group do you write for?
Joe: When I first wrote Catatonia, I thought it would be for 10-15 year olds, but after having my 6, 14 and 16 year old granddaughters over for Christmas, I have had to reassess this. The 14 and 16 year olds were taken with the story but immediately went back to their iPad and Phone as soon as the story was completed. I was surprised by my 6 year old as she took my manuscript with her everywhere, reading it at every opportunity. At 6 I was just learning my ABCs.
Morgen: What a great response though, that they were all taken with them. I do think it’s harder to captivate teenagers ongoing with so many gadgets around, but then maybe you’d inspired them so much that they were reading. 🙂 We’ve talked about ‘dumming down’, do you think it’s easier writing for children than adults?
Joe: I think it is easier as children have less of a problem immersing themselves into the story and actually being there. As adults, our imagination seems to wane as reality sets in. It is harder to relate to non-real events as an adult sometimes.
Morgen: Perhaps less so if you’re a writer. 🙂 I agree, though, we do have more distractions… called ‘life’. Many of the (700+) authors I’ve spoken to have said they’ve had gaps in their writing life (myself included) because life took over. That’s why I love things like NaNoWriMo because I have to write 50,000 (and I do… have done five times). Do you get a second opinion on your stories before they’re published – if so from adults, children or both?
Joe: Many times a third and fifty. I share my stories with friend and in blogs and ask endlessly what the reader thinks of the story. I get some good feedback and actually modify the story to clarify certain points.
Morgen: Feedback is so important and a lot of writers don’t have that support, which is why I started http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/feedback and http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/online-writing-groups. Do you have any tips for anyone thinking about writing for children?
Joe: Yes! Let that hidden child loose and open your imagination to all possibilities. Look at the world through the eyes of a child. The wonderful never ending surprises of everyday things. What we take for granted in normal adult life, are amazing events to children.
Morgen: We’re all just children in adult bodies, aren’t we? You’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Joe: When you let others take charge of any part of your life, you lose control. I wanted my works to look and feel how my mind designed them. It is hard to describe that to someone else.
Morgen: It is. Many authors have been pleased with what their publishers have done but it’s soul-destroying marketing something you’re not completely happy with. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Joe: Yes, my books are available as eBooks. I was somewhat involved in the process, but after my first book, I was more involved with the second book, I’m publishing all the other books I write myself. Because it’s so hard, if not impossible, to convey a thought in your mind to others, it is very hard for most people to even put into words correctly the ideas you have, so that other people can understand.
Morgen: Your books are titled ‘Millie and Honey’. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, whom would you have as the leading actor/s?
Joe: I absolutely love all my characters, but Millie has to be my favourite. She is with me all the time, whispering new ideas and places to visit. She creates new stories and adventures that are waiting to be written.
I have actually had some 3d animations created and they’re on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/user/MrFalcon757/videos?view=0&flow=grid).
Morgen: They’re great. I’ve always loved animations (I have drawn some cartoons). I love the Eiffel Town in the Catatonia amusement park. Did you choose the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Joe: Absolutely. I have created all the titles for my books, and the book covers are created by a friend here in Dubai, Romar Lipana. I think they are extremely important! I don’t know how many books I have bought, literally thousands, and most of them were because of the title and / or the cover. Amy Tan’s book, “Saving Fish from Drowning” is one example. I thought the title was AWESOME! I really liked the book as I have travelled a fare amount in my work and understand the need to be sensitive to the local cultures.
Morgen: I love quirky titles and try to have them myself. I’m a big Kate Atkinson fan and she brought out ‘Started Early, Took the Dog’ on my birthday in 2011. She’s doing a book signing an hour from me on the 18th March so I’ll finally get to meet her. You are clearly passionate about writing, do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Joe: I never suffer from “writer’s block” as there are always tons of information flashing through my neurons. The problem is finding the time to put them all into a coherent form in that part of my brain that organizes things. Then I sit down and just let the words pour out through my fingers on the keyboard.
Morgen: Ah yes, I know all about lack of time. I used to wake up working out how much time I had to do everything I have to do but now I just think I’ll do what I can in the time I have, and get on with it. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Joe: Some of both. When I wrote the first book, I got up in the middle of the night and a flash of inspiration created: Millie and Honey – the Incredible Instantaneous Interplanetary Adventure. I sat down to the computer and just began to write. A couple of hours later, it was completed.
On the second book, I worked on it for weeks, before writing it. I would talk about it with my wonderful and understanding wife and she would give me feedback. Sometimes, I would even talk about it to a co-worker and listen to their response.
Them, once again, I got up in the middle of the night and wrote most of the second book. I worked on it for a week or two and then finished it.
The third book, I worked on in my head for a few months. I wrote a few thousand words and then stopped to work on the rest of the book. I never write out an outline or any of my thoughts. I just organize them and when I am ready, I sit down and type. The book writes itself, the problem comes later, when the logical part of me has to edit and correct the typing mistakes.
Morgen: A couple of hours for a whole book? Wow. The most I’ve done is my 2009 NaNo novel (The Serial Dater’s Shopping List) which was 117,540 in the month, but as most writers find, and as you say, the hard work starts once the first draft is done. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Joe: For the most part, I use my animals. Honey is our dog. We got her from an Amish family in Dayton, Ohio when we lived there. She was a wonderful puppy and a great adult dog. She is beautiful and very intelligent. Thomas, chose me as his family when he was tossed from a car near Lowes (where I was working). He came into the store and started playing with my jacket. When we moved to Dubai, a friend gave me Rags. Later on, Archie was introduced to my wife and I from a friend at work. They found him abandoned in a house, when they moved in.
Morgen: My dog is a rescue dog and I’m sure they’re more loving, especially those (like mine) who was badly treated. He stops me swearing because whenever I do, his head goes down and his big brown eyes make me feel very guilty. Of course you can’t make them understand that it’s the computer (or whatever) that you’re swearing at, not them so I try to avoid it now, or certainly the tone; I make it light and fluffy, and he understands a light and fluffy tone. We mentioned editing a moment ago, do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Joe: Mostly for the mistakes my fat fingers make. I read and re-read the manuscript a thousand times to catch any obvious flaws. Then I get a professional editor to check my many grammatical errors and point out my lack of attention in High School English class.
Morgen: I like to think my grammar and spelling are pretty good but there will always be things I miss. Do you have to do much research?
Joe: Most of my work is fiction, but I do research things like places that I have never been, or things that I have little knowledge of, like Cinnamon. I did not know much about how the spice was grown or processed, so I read as much as I could find on the internet and then thought about all the information for a while and tried to put it into the story line with as much correctness as possible.
I believe reading has many aspects; first and foremost, it should be fun! But after that, it should be informative (even fiction) and it should challenge your vocabulary. You should learn something from everything you read.
Morgen: Absolutely. Learn and be entertained. What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Joe: I always like to look as my work from my reader’s point of view. If I like reading it, to myself or out loud to my wife and animals, then I feel comfortable that others will like it.
Morgen: Reading out loud often highlights flaws too, which is really useful. You’ve contributed a flash fiction piece to my blog (thank you very much!) so you write short stories – do you write any other forms, poetry perhaps?
Joe: I love to write short stories and some poetry. I have always told fantastic stories to my children when they were growing up. I have just recently begun writing them down. Once, I told my daughter the story about “Purple Passion” for 3 hours, while we painted a room. When it was over, unfortunately, the hero died. I thought they would kill me. But they never once complained about the hard work of painting.
Morgen: What a great idea to make a ‘chore’ (although I love painting) enjoyable. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Joe: Alas, there are some dark corners in the library in my mind. I work in aviation and I have always seen people using the incorrect tool for a job. When doing so, I would comment that they must have read my book, “Any Tool, When Used Correctly, can be a Hammer.” We would always laugh about it, but I have an outline (an exception for me), but this is a highly technical book that I WILL write. It is what I call “A Homeowner Companion” as it will list all the common problems and emergencies that homeowners come across and step-by-step instructions that will help them solve the issues and be “Dad or Mom – THE HERO”.
Morgen: We can never have too much advice. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Joe: In life? OH HECK YES! Lol! But as a writer, no. Basically, I see things like Captain Kirk does. I try to control the situation to my advantage. Why let someone else tell me it is not good enough. My son is a newspaper owner in Atlanta and he once told me to stick with my day job and tore apart a story I wrote. I was devastated as I thought it was a great story and well written. I have learned to be my own worst critic, so if it passes the “Joe Means” test, it is pretty good.
Morgen: I had the same thing with a poem I read out at the first ever writing class. The tutor (who I’m still in contact with) tore it to shreds and it nearly put me off, but I vowed to do better and here I am, eight years later. 🙂 Do you enter competitions?
Joe: I once had a poem published in Reader’s Digest. Is that a competition? Currently, I have my first book out to several competitions. None of them are currently finished, so I do not know how I placed. I am sure that all of them are good. But if I win any, I will make sure that everyone knows which one is the best. 🙂
Morgen: Good luck! Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Joe: Not at present. It would probably not be a good thing for me as I would pester them to death. Just ask my wife. I seem to think of things and research them and find more things to think about. I would probably go broke on phone bills calling to tell them with more ideas I have on how they can do their job better.
Morgen: <laughs> I have a feeling I’d probably be the same. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Joe: My wife hasn’t had a decent conversation with me since my books came out. I live on my computer, working on my site, finding new sites to promote my book (look, I found you :)). I am working on looking at game platforms for the “Millie and Honey” game. I have contacted stores, bookstores, distributors and every other venue to promote my books. And in my spare time, I work 8 hours a day and drive 2 ½ hours to and from work.
Morgen: Ouch. Your poor wife, although it sounds like she’s very supportive which we all need. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Joe: Since I really got into writing and set my goal to retire by 2015, this aspect of my life is still taking form. I love creating new ideas in my head, working them from all angles, walking around the scenes and characters. I get into the thought of each character and view life from their perspective. I love that as it gives something for my idle mind periods to dwell upon.
Least favourite aspect? I think not knowing the process of writing and marketing books. It has never been a subject that I have ever delved into, so it is all a new aspect for me. I love to learn and to read, which is good, as I have read tons of articles and books on the subject and am getting smarter about the whole process. Unfortunately, it has not increased the correctness of my typing.
Morgen: Mine are the same; creativity vs marketing, something we share with most of the authors I’ve spoken to. We’re writers, we should be writing. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Joe: Make a decision that this is what I do. If you truly enjoy writing, do everything in your life to make it better. Anything you do in life gets better and easier, if you focus on it and make it the center of your existence. Only when you live, eat and breathe what you love, can you reap the full benefits of you are.
One of my favourite quotes is, “Do or Don’t do. There is NO TRY! ONLY DO!” by Yoda (Star Wars).
No one ever tries to fail. But those who win, never thought there was any other option. Failures are just part of the learning process of how to WIN.
Morgen: The harder you have to push to succeed, the more rewarding it is. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Joe: Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. After spending the day at the airport where I work, showing Jules a helicopter, and Ferrari World, just for me. 🙂 We would sit in the back year and have grilled steaks and baked potatoes and talk about writing. Oh! (Raising my hand) can I invite Michelangelo? (yeah, I am that guy. I always have to be different.) We would talk about our muse’s. How were are / were inspired and our take on time, space, and life in general.
Morgen: Well, if you’re going to have four then maybe I should gate-crash. 🙂 I love steaks, baked potatoes and can always talk about writing. You’ve just given us a great quote from Yoda. Are there any other words, phrases or quotes you like?
Joe: Another of my favourites is by an unknown artist: On the plains of hesitation, lie the bleached white bones of those, who on the verge of success, sat down to wait. And while they waited, they died.
Morgen: I love that. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Joe: I enjoy spending time with my lovely bride and our three dogs and our cat (Odd Thomas). If I have time and it is not too hot (we have two seasons here: Summer and Sauna), unlike my life in Minnesota, which also has two seasons (Winter and Construction.)
Morgen: I’m based in the UK and we have very cold and cool but do get the occasional scorcher… but then to non-UKers it’s probably still cold. 🙂 Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Joe: I love the Author’s Den: http://www.authorsden.com it allows you a nice space where you can list your work.
Also Wattpad: http://www.wattpad.com as they allow you to write stories and publish them for others to enjoy.
Morgen: I’ve just joined Wattpad. I am on Author’s Den too but not done anything with it (see earlier reference to ‘time’). Are you on any networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Joe: I have a Facebook and Twitter account. I am still trying to figure out how to use them. So they have not been too useful to me so far.
Morgen: They’re very time-consuming so I’m not surprised you’re still finding your feet with them. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Joe: As long as there is hope in the human heart, wonder in the mortal soul, or questions that lie unanswered in the conscious and unconscious mind, there will always be someone there to fill these voids; either in spoken, or written word. Someday, when all the answers in the known and unknown universes are discovered, there will still be a reason for writers, artists and song writers to exist, if nothing more than to chronicle all that is known and to ponder all the “ifs” in the between these lines. Everything is conveyed on this plane of existence through our senses and these mediums are requisite for a fuller explanation of these realities.
Morgen: I love technology and am always in awe of new inventions. It’s very easy to think that no-one can invent anything new but then someone does. Explorers are still finding places we didn’t know existed so perhaps we will never know everything. But yes, I do believe there will always be a place for writers. I hope so, anyway. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Joe: I have a website at: Http://www.millieandhoney.com and also Author’s Den and Wattpad.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Joe: Yes, I would like to thank you for this wonderful opportunity to express my views on writing to you and others who love reading.
Morgen: You’re so welcome, Joe. I’m delighted you could join me again today. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Joe: What has prompted you to create a website for authors?
Morgen: I’d heard a blog was a great way to get noticed and I’d already had a blogspot website which was doing nothing so I set up http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com and put a few posts that interested me then after being invited to be a guest interviewee on another site I saw its potential and everything blossomed from there. Thank you, Joe.
I then invited Joe to include an extract of his writing…
Millie promised her dog Honey and her litters – Salazar, Jasmine, Burt and Blinky a day of fun and picnic at the lake. She kept her word, and they set out trekking at the edge of the forest. As they were getting near the lake, Salazar found an egg-shaped, silvery shining vehicle, which, to their surprise, would take them on a journey beyond their imagination.
Join Millie and the gang as they ride the Instant Traveling Machine and explore CATATONIA, a planet of felines, beautiful scenery, and one extraordinary amusement park.
And a synopsis…
His wings beat softly and they lifted from the ground, rising higher with every stroke of his huge wings. Above the top of the trees they flew ever higher into the bright sunlight. Higher and higher they went with each stroke of the angel’s powerful wings until the beautiful mountains were visible above the tall trees. The mist of the early morning was heavy in the valleys between the mountains. The mountains were blue with a twinge of marshmallow white clouds between them as they soared ever higher.
She could feel the angel’s strong arms around her as she stared at the awesome sight. Her feet dangling, she could do nothing but stare at the wonderful sight below. Oh, this is beyond anything I have ever seen before, she thought. It is far more beautiful than I could have dreamed possible!
Joe Means was born in Youngstown, Ohio (September, 1956) and was raised on a farm, where he did chores and grew a vegetable garden. He spent a lot of time reading in his early years and grew up with authors such as: Arthur C. Clark, Isaac Asimov, Jules Verne, Ray Bradbury, and even Douglas Adams. They filled his mind with wonderful far off places, where danger and wonderous discoveries lurked around every corner.
During his youth, NASA launched missions into space and even landed on the moon. At that time, it was the childhood dream of most children, to become an astronaut and explore the farthest reaches of space and time. TV shows like; Lost in Space, Star Trek, The Outer Limits, Night Gallery, and My Favorite Martian, flooded air waves and every young boy stayed tuned in to the never ending supply of new adventures.
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