WG: Welcome Joanne, and thank you for allowing me to feature you as my spotlight author for March. To get started, please tell us a little about yourself.
JR: These days I live in the Adirondack region of upstate NY with my husband and three sons and have found that writing romance is the best cure for long-winter blues. I work hard from fall to spring and then take a nice long, lazy summer to enjoy the beauty of the mountains and nearby Lake Champlain. Although I'm a native of upstate New York, I grew up near Albany, which is two and a half hours south of where I now call home. We are close enough to the Canadian border for day trips and my husband is still mourning the loss of the Montreal Expos that brought Major League baseball close to home.
I met my husband as an undergraduate at a small college in Albany and then he brought me on a life of adventure for the next decade as we explored the country and lived in six states in ten years. Our Virgo (me) / Aries (him) dynamic has made for interesting times as a married couple and has given me plenty of fodder for internal conflict for my characters. But in the long run, I like to think that we balance one another the same way story couples do-- he's full of boundless energy and enthusiasm and I'm the one who makes sure we have roots. Somehow it all works!
WG: Let’s talk about your own personal road to publication: Is there some individual, group or event that you can point to as the catalyst/impetus that set you on the road to becoming a writer? Explain.
JR: I decided to write a romance novel after reading an Elizabeth Lowell novel while stuck in an airport in Newark for seven hours. I didn't even care about the flight delays with a wonderful book in my hands and it occurred to me that creating something so wonderful it could alleviate the frustrations of flying was a really worthwhile endeavor!
WG: Tell us about your journey.
JR: Writing a book is not as easy as it looks. This may sound obvious, but it was a newsflash to me midway through my first attempt to write a romance. Wonderful writers make storytelling seem so fluid and simple, kind of like when you see an Olympian ice skater and her moves seem so effortless. I had great faith in my skill as a writer, but I quickly discovered that there's an art to telling a story outside from the writing process-- what to leave in, what to leave out, how to build suspense, how to control pace... The list of things you need to know is endless and I slowly realized I could only learn so much with each book. I just brought what I could to the pages each time and let each book teach me new lessons as I wrote. It was a long and challenging discovery process, but it was also really exciting to crack the million little mysteries involved in telling a good story. I'm still learning, and I still think it's a thrill.
WG: How many books did you complete before you sold your first? Have all/any of them sold since?
JR: I completed six books before I sold one. I've since sold all but that first book, which I still love but which would require too much detangling to iron it into a good story. I like to leave this manuscript alone and simply remember it with fondness because in a lot of ways, writing that first story is the most exciting since you don't yet realize all that you don't know
WG: What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about being a writer. What do you struggle the most with?
JR: I love the sense of accomplishment that comes with having written a book. I can point to so many books I love and think how grateful I am that an author took time to craft a story that completely engrossed me. It is humbling to think that every now and then I provide that same experience for a reader-- an absorbing journey that takes them far, far away from real life concerns. I would say I struggle most with the isolation of this kind of career. Because I don't work in an office with others, I miss the coffee break chats that can ease you through your work day.
WG: What changed most about your life as a direct result of joining the ranks of published authors?
JR: My life got very busy after I made my first sale. I'd struggled for years to sell that first book and when the sale finally came, I was determined to wow my publisher with my dedication to producing great books. I wrote and wrote and wrote, which was wonderful, but you can only move along at that breakneck pace for so long! I started to pay more attention to time management so I could accomplish all my goals in a day, a change that has forced me impose more structure on my days.
WG: You’ve been a published author for a number of years now and have quite a few releases under your belt. Let’s talk about that part of your journey: How is your family handling your fame?
JR: My family is very proud of me, but as in any family, perhaps they are the ones who least appreciate the extent of what I do! My kids are certainly more happy about me driving them to basketball games three nights a week than they are about me writing an award-winning book. To their credit, however, they always applaud my accomplishments when I preface my news with comments like, "this is a big deal!"
WG: Anything about living the life of a published author that surprised you?
JR: I think the most surprising aspect of being a published author is that you aren't really any more confident in yourself and your skills than you were before you sold. Before we sell our first books, I think many authors are convinced a sale will be an ongoing source of affirmation and validation. I know I did! The truth is, you have the same worries and self-doubts you had to start with and the writing process remains just as challenging.
WG: Do you look for something different from writers’ conferences and writers’ groups now than before you were published?
JR: Before I sold, I went into writers' conferences with an action plan and a list of goals. Now, I take a few goals with me, but mostly I try to make up for all the coffee breaks I missed out on by choosing an isolated profession and I make it a mission to visit with as many other writers as possible. Part of maintaining a career is indulging the aspects you love most wherever possible and conferences fulfill that need for connection with others.
WG: What about your writing process: Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?
JR: I do schedule my writing time, but the schedules tend to change often depending on where I am in the course of a book and what time of year it is (translation: how much my family needs me!). I have three sons involved in sports and after-school activities, and when they are especially busy, I have to be very strict with myself to write during the few windows I have for working. It's easier for me when I can be a little less disciplined. I like to write for an hour or two in the morning and then a couple of hours at night, but if I'm working hard and fast toward a deadline, I'll fit in a third creative burst in the afternoon and lengthen the other times I'm at the computer.
WG: Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start, or do you just dive in?
JR: I don't like to over-plot my stories up front because I usually change a lot as I write and get to know the characters better. Half the time, my stories won't stick to my original vision because the characters take over the book. I think it's best to be true to your characters and let them behave authentically, so I always follow wherever they lead me.
WG: Do you normally start with storyline or with character or with some combination of the two?
JR: I'll start with a different scrap of story each time I begin a new book. I'll have a particular character in mind, or a particular couple with a conflict that I can already hear. Sometimes I'll start with a setting and wonder what kind of story would unfold there. I've also enjoyed writing to a theme. Harlequin has a sub series called "The Wrong Bed" that lets authors write stories with this sexy premise in mind and I loved coming up with ideas that would somehow put characters in the wrong bed. But then, I really enjoy variety in my writing process, so I guess it makes sense that I would seek out different facets of a book to draw me in for various stories.
WG: Has anything about the way you work changed since you became a published author?
JR: Almost everything about my process has changed in one way or another, and that was another surprise that came with making writing a career. Creativity demands new outlets and new approaches, so I think changing the way you work can jumpstart a story sometimes. One of the most fundamental changes for me has been working on a small word processor-- an AlphaSmart-- so that I can work wherever I want instead of being tied to my main computer all day. It's nice to sit on the couch and put my feet up to write, plus the simplistic design of the AlphaSmart only lets me see a few lines of text at a time which helps shut down my internal editor and the need to tweak every word.
WG: Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?
JR: As someone who really studied the business, the market and the craft of storytelling before I sold, I have lots of advice to share! Speaking at workshops is always a treat for me because I love to offer whatever insights I can to help other writers achieve their dreams of publication. The bottom line is persistence and patience if you're serious about a career in writing, but for more tips, see my articles page on my website.
WG: I like to collect quotes that make me smile or that inspire or motivate me. Do you have a personal favorite you’d like to share.
JR: Winnie, I adore quotes too. I've had this one from Nelson Mandela's inaugural speech pinned on my computer for years, "We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world." This is a favorite because it gives us permission to strive, to dream big and be ambitious.
WG: Please tell us about your current project.
JR: March brings the release of a "Wrong Bed" Blaze, UP ALL NIGHT. The heroine is agoraphobic and an insomniac and she forces herself out of the house for a conference on phobias in an attempt to conquer her personal fears. Because she's determined to make the most of her weekend of adventure, she hopes to have a fling with a man she's met on the Internet, but her invitation ends up in the wrong man's inbox. Hence the Wrong Bed! I loved following the heroine's journey as she learns to appreciate her strengths and manage her fears more effectively. Part of the ongoing theme is that our imperfections are what make us unique and individual.
WG: Tell us about plans for future books.
JR: Right now I'm working on a pair of Blazes that will be out in early 2007, I think. The stories are sexy and suspenseful and will be linked by a mystery that threads through both books. I'm excited about these stories because they are connected to my West Side Confidential series set in New York City. I love the glitz and glamour of the city, and I'm intrigued by the darker, more dangerous side, too. It's a wonderful backdrop for the kinds of stories I want to tell this time out. Before that, I will have a time travel story in the Blaze miniseries. HIDDEN OBSESSION will be out in June 2006 as part of the "Perfect Timing" miniseries and I absolutely loved writing a time travel. I write medieval historicals for HQ Historicals, but having a contemporary cop hero go back to the Middle Ages was a unique twist for me since it let me combine two subgenres I enjoy. In August, THE KNIGHT'S COURTSHIP will be available from HQ Historicals, and it's my earliest set medieval yet-- 1174. My heroine is a troubadour in Eleanor of Aquitaine's court
WG: And how can your fans get in touch with you?
JR: I love to hear from readers -- I always allow myself a coffee break to read and reply to letters!-- and can be reached at email@example.com or at P.O. Box 323, Peru NY 12972. Anyone interested in learning more about my books is invited to visit my website at http://www.joannerock.com/. Thank you so much for the chance to chat!
WG: Thanks, Joanne, for offering us this peak into your writing life. And I’m looking forward to all of those yummy-sounding books you have coming out in the next several months.