NR: Be sure to leave Jo a comment and be entered in a drawing for an autographed copy of her debut novel. Continental U.S. residents only, please. Winner will be announced on NR's Facebook page.
Jo, you've published a number of co-authored non-fiction books, short stories and articles. How long did it take you to get a full-length fiction contract?
My novel, That Summer, began percolating in my mind in the late 1990s. From 2001-2008 I had health problems that prevented me from writing, by hand or computer. After that I put my story on paper and began to try to get an agent to help me get the book published. As you know, agents rarely take a chance on a first-time novelist. On my own I began to query the smaller publishers on the ACFW recognized list. I received my contract in September 2012.
Was there a specific 'what if' moment to spark this story?
That Summer is set in the Southern Appalachians of East Tennessee where I and my ancestors were raised. I’ve listened to their stories. My novel is fiction but hearing about my ancestors’ lives helped me with the setting. When I thought about writing a novel, my thoughts went to what if I told the story of where they were brought up.
Do you have a full or part time day job? If so, how do you balance your writing time with family and work?
I don’t have a full or part time day job. My children are out on their own and my husband supports my writing and the eccentric habits of a writer.
Did anything unusual or funny happen while researching or writing this book?
My book is a Southern historical novel and moves from 1928-1950s. Once I got into the 1950s I didn’t need to do much research because I had lived through that era. The funny thing is that my editor questioned something I had written about in the 1950s, not believing it could have been a reality.
Do you consider yourself a visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use?
A visual writer? Hmmm. Perhaps I am. If so, all the visuals are in my mind and my remembrances.
Are you a plotter, a pantster, or somewhere in between?
I’m totally a panster. I don’t put anything on paper in the way of an outline or a sketch of my story. My stories and characters start in my mind and simmer there for a good while. When I begin writing the story, I know my basic plots and characters. I don’t always know the ending or how I’ll get there but I know the places I want my characters to go between the beginning and end. The characters always come up with ways to get to the ending. They really do, they take over their scenes, and push the story forward.
Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?
I write at a desk, which I’ve used since high school, in the corner of a spare bedroom.
Have you discovered some secret that has helped your process for writing?
No, I haven’t discovered a secret to process my writing. At some future time my panster methods may fail me and I might have to look for a secret.
What are your thoughts on critique partners?
I’ve never been in a critique group. A writer-friend and I have bounced things off one another by email. Getting another’s viewpoint of my work is helpful. I’ve entered contests and get comments there that also help me to see my story from an outsider’s view.
Do you ever pound your computer over writer's block? If so, how did you overcome it?
Thankfully, I’ve never had writer’s block. I do, however, get frustrated with my computer when it does what I tell it to do and it’s not at all close to what I wanted. Sometimes I get somewhere in my computer I don’t want to be and because I don’t know how I got there I can’t get out. Then is when I’ve thought of throwing my computer out of the nearby window. Haven’t yet.
Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole with implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What's the most difficult part of writing for you?
POV. I never see POV changes in a scene when writing my first draft. Only when I go through the first draft do I sometimes detect them. Sometimes I never detect them unless an editor points them out to me. Big as life right there in front of me and I didn’t see them.
What's your strength in writing?
In That Summer, Caney Creek is a setting but just as much a character in the story as any supporting character. So this time around I suppose my strength was having setting as a supporting character.
Did this book give you any problems? If not, how did you avoid them?
Of course. All writing gives problems until we work them out to what they’re supposed to be. As I said above POV is a big problem for me and that “rule” Show Don’t Tell gets in my way when I get into description. I just try to stay alert when going through that lousy first draft.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?
Don’t quit if you feel equipped by God to do this crazy thing called writing.
Do you have any parting words of advice?
If you’re writing for publication, build up those patience muscles because you’re going to need them.
Thank you, Ane, for having me as your guest on Novel Rocket. I’ve enjoyed sharing time with you and your readers. They can visit with me at http://www.johuddleston.com.
A Southern historical novel
The Great Depression brings devastation to
The Southern Appalachians but love’s triangle survives.
To escape his poppa’s physical abuse and their dirt-poor farm life, Jim flees to an imagined prosperous city life where he can make his own choices, ignoring God patiently knocking on his heart’s door. Settled in town, Jim strays from God and the way of faith his momma taught him.
He meets a girl and loses his heart … and meets another girl and loses his willpower. Jim wrestles with social and moral dilemmas as he makes a choice beside Caney Creek that will alter the lives of five people.