Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Joan Johnston. Joan is the top ten New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of 57 novels and novellas with more than 15 million copies of her books in print. She’s best known for her Bitter Creek and Hawk’s Way series of books. She has been a director of theatre, drama critic, newspaper editor, college professor, and attorney on her way to becoming a full-time writer. Her novel Shameless will be in stores December 29.
Norm: Good day Joan and thanks for participating in our interview
How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?
Joan: I was a very busy attorney as a single mom, and for escape, I became a voracious reader of romance novels. I wrote my first novel during the wee hours of the night after a full day of working as a lawyer and taking care of my children. Now it's all about the characters. I get really involved in their lives and enjoy crafting happy endings.
Norm: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
Joan: I see aspects of my childhood in my stories. We were really poor when I was a kid and I think that gave me some insight into the struggles between the wealthy Blackthornes and financially strapped Creeds in my Bitter Creek novels. It's been even more fun pitting two wealthy families against each other in my King's Brats books, including Shameless.
Norm: What do you think makes a good story?
Joan: The characters--their struggles and successes. When my characters overcome seemingly impossible odds and the love story has a happy ending, readers vicariously experience that happy ending.
Norm: In your opinion, what is the most difficult part of your writing process? As a follow up, what do you think most characterizes your writing and is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Joan: I'm challenged by the many distractions and interruptions in my life. It's sometimes difficult to just get started on a new book when there are so many other things grabbing my attention. Once I get going, I dig in, and the writing flows.
Norm: Are you a plot or character writer and what helps you focus when you write?
Joan: I love creating complex characters, but I'm also intent on building an intriguing plot--one that is multi-layered and complicated, with lots of characters living out in my sub-plots.
Norm: What did you find most useful in learning to write? What was least useful or most destructive?
Joan: Reading. Endless
reading taught me how to craft a good story. I have a
background in theatre, so I understand conflict, how to write with a
beginning, a middle, and an end, where to put the "dark moment"
(when all seems lost) and how to write the denouement, where
everything turns out happily ever after.
The hardest part of becoming a writer full-time was knowing when to let go of my day job. I left with $1,000 in the back and two kids to support. Needless to say, I had plenty of motivate to sit down and write!
Norm: What are some ways in which you promote your work? Do you find that these add to or detract from your writing time?
send out a monthly enewsletter, and personally respond to all my fan
I'm involved in Romance Writers of America, Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America, and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and have been a speaker at the annual RWA conferences.
Local book signings and other events also take up a lot of my time. Promoting books definitely takes time. I have help though, and delegate many of the details to my assistant and web mistress.
Norm: What do you think is the future of reading/writing?
Joan: I think the "series" will increase in importance. Readers fall in love with the characters and the best authors make them come alive. Life doesn't end with just one adventure, so readers have to come to expect more and want to know what's next! I hope there will always be paper books to buy, but more and more readers are getting their books digitally. I personally do both, and I can see the convenience of having my books available digitally--especially when I travel!
Norm: Is your work improvisational or do you have a set plan?
Joan: I usually write a 20-25 page synopsis before I start, which will turn into a 400-page book. The synopsis is there so I have a guide to where I'm headed. However, once I write it, I never look at it again! I let the characters tell their stories.
Norm: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
Joan: I lived in Wyoming
and Texas, which probably inspired my interest in the American
cowboy, our equivalent to England's "knights in shining armor."
I've also moved around a lot because my dad was in the Air Force and
was stationed all over the world.
We lived in Morocco when I was 14 where I learned to ride on an Arabian stallion (they don't geld their horses). That experience helped me understand the connection between horses and humans, which I feature in a number of my books, including Shameless, where the heroine puts her experience as a horse whisperer to work taming a brutalized stallion named Satan.
Norm: What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?
Joan: Many writers I know, including myself, doubt our writing abilities on a pretty much constant basis. However, to be successful, you need to be disciplined in your commitment. Set aside a certain amount of time each day that's devoted to writing and stick with it. Then ask for honest feedback from those you trust. Always remember, however, It's your book. Feel free to ignore the critics around you and write what you love.
Norm: Can you share a little of your current work with us? As a follow up, how did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book and how did you go about creating the characters?
Joan: I'm currently
writing the fourth book in my Mail-Order Brides series, Blackthorne's
Bride. I love writing historical romance and I was curious about
how women lived in the American West during such a dangerous time.
Originally, my four-book series, Texas Bride, Wyoming Bride,
Montana Bride, and Blackthorne's Bride was going to be about
prostitutes sitting around a coal stove on a cold Chicago evening
trying to figure out how to get to someplace warm.
What else? Become mail-order brides! However, my publisher wasn't sure those characters would work in the midwest, so I ended up writing about a family of orphans.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your books?
Joan: My website is pretty
comprehensive. If you go to my WEBSITE there is a complete
booklist along with descriptions about each book, and links to buying
the print or ebook version, along with blogs and further information
I also post almost daily on my FACEBOOK page
Norm: What is next for Joan Johnston?
Joan: I have more books coming in the King's Brats series, including Surrender, which has an excerpt in the back of Shameless, which is in stores December 29.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Joan: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. It's been an absolute pleasure to meet with you and good luck with Shameless.