Welcome to Readers Write to Know! I asked you, my readers, what questions they would ask their favorite authors if given the chance, and the authors visiting my blog answered them! This week, I am so happy to bring you Jo Ann Brown. I am in awe of her writing accomplishments and teaching resume. She is certainly someone to inspire writers around her! I hope you enjoy her interview as much as I did. She’s giving away two copies of her latest release, so read on to see how you can enter to win!
Tell us a little bit about yourself. I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember. My favorite treat when going with my mom to the grocery store was a picture book. Later, I discovered chapter books and all other sorts of books. I was one of those kids who, if I didn’t have anything else to read, would read the boxes in the pantry. My yearning to write began in middle school, and I began writing for publication over thirty years ago. Since then, I have had more than 100 books published as well as novellas, short stories and nonfiction. I’m thrilled that my books have found a place on several different best-selling lists, most recently Publishers Weekly’s mass market list. I’ve taught creative writing at Brown University and was awarded an Arts Lottery Grant to teach creative writing in Massachusetts. My husband and I have three children and enjoy photography, traveling and going to thrift stores…sometimes all three at the same time.
Tell us about your current release. An Amish Christmas Promise is the first book in a four-book mini-series called Green Mountain Blessings. It was a December 2019 release from Love Inspired. It’s the story of plain volunteers who come to help a small Vermont town after a devastating flood in the wake of a hurricane. Of course, it’s a romance, so there are all sorts of complications awaiting those who work under the auspices of Amish Helping Hands. This first book is the story of an Amish woman who has given up her Amish life to hide her niece and nephew from their abusive father. It’s a secret she can’t share with anyone, even the man who touches her heart.
With all those characters in your head screaming to get out how do you write fast enough to get it all down? The quick and silly answer is that, as the mother of three, I’m used to having multiple people putting demands on my time all at once. But, seriously, having characters “shouting” for attention is always a problem. I find the characters from the next book trying to get my mind on them instead of the ones I’m working with, especially when I’m in the middle of the work-in-progress. It’s easy to get distracted because their story—so new and exciting—promises to be so much more fun than the scene I’m working on. I learned early on that I can only work on one project at a time. Otherwise, I’ll quickly lose interest in both or get them confused. This lesson was driven home when I had in an early draft the heroine of one book marrying the hero from another one. At that point, I knew I needed to focus on one story at a time. I have learned to give the future characters some time in my mind as I’m going to sleep, so they get their “attention.” Otherwise, they just have to wait and believe I’ll get to them as soon as I finish the current project. So far, they’ve mostly cooperated.
What is your personal, most effective way to get past writer’s block? Oh, I can answer this one. (See me holding up my hand and waving it wildly to catch the teacher’s eye.) My most effective way to get past writer’s block is to skip around in the book and write the scenes I do know. I may do two pages on a scene in Chapter 2, then jump to a scene in Chapter 10. That way, I always stay excited and involved with what I’m working on. It helps me discover how my hero and heroine act and react in various emotional situations, so I gain more insight into them. Also, it saves me from trying to come up with the best possible answer to a devastating question that the rest of the book will hang upon…when I don’t have any idea what that answer will be. Because it relieves the pressure of having to know it NOW, I can let it stew in my mind until something comes that I like. Many of my writer friends cringe at the idea of writing like this, but it works for me. If none of the above works, however, I depend on my last resort. I tell myself if I walk away from the computer, then I’m going to have to clean the toilets. Inspiration almost always comes at that moment!
What inspired you to start writing, or did you always want to write? The first story I wrote in 6th grade was because I was supposed to be doing an essay on immigrants coming to the North American colonies in the 18th century. I really didn’t want to write yet another paper for that class, and I let my imagination draw me into a scene of a young girl (my age!) who was traveling on a ship and didn’t want to be there either. Instantly scents of the sea and the roll of the ship were as real to me as the dining room table where I sat. I began writing, and I was hooked. I gave it to my mom to read. She told me she liked it, but I still needed to write the essay. I did, but I also completed a five page story of that girl. As soon as it was finished, I couldn’t wait to begin another story. It’s been that way since then.
Where’s the strangest place you’ve ever had a great writing idea? The Big Apple Circus. I was acting as a chaperone for an elementary class. I was there only a short time before something triggered an idea for the project I was working on. Searching my purse, I couldn’t find anything to write on, so I bought a program just so I could jot down my thoughts. Since then, I try never to go anywhere without a way to take notes.
Who were some of your favorite authors as a child? I started with the usual: Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, but then I branched out. My favorite childhood book is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I love the timeless message of family and friendship and that it’s okay to be your own authentic self. I went on to read all the books in the series, and I still read them every few years. Another favorite was The Foreigner by Gladys Malvern, a fictionalized version of the Book of Ruth. I read it at least once a year when I was in high school and finally found a copy a few years ago. I read it again, and I enjoyed it still.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers? Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Realize that everything in your life and the lives of the people around you are fodder for your work. Read the best in your genre and read the debut books. Both will show you what the market is looking for at the moment. As far as writing, whether you write the same scene over and over until you are happy with it or whether you just keep going through a whole book (or maybe more than one), keep writing and honing your craft. Make your work the very best you can at that time, but never expect it to be perfect. If you spend all your time trying to make it perfect, you’re never going to reach that goal. None of us are. Give your work to people who are knowledgeable about writing and who will give you honest, constructive critique. Don’t worry about publication until you have something you feel is worthy of being published. Then go back to my first suggestion and read, read, read and learn about your market. And if you decide to go the traditional publishing route, don’t get discouraged by rejections, especially form ones. It’s your dream to publish a book, so don’t let someone else take it away from you.
Here is where you can find Jo Ann online:
Jo Ann is giving away two books to lucky readers (US only)! See below how to enter to win:a Rafflecopter giveaway