JHH: All my characters are in part, me. They have to be because I have only my own emotions and experiences on which to draw. On
the other hand, I can enter a killer's mind because I understand extremes. I
have some insight into the twisted ways of thinking, warped responses to
life's challenges. We all have experienced similar emotions - we all know
joy, hate, jealousy, envy ... it's all a matter of degree.
An interview with Joan Hall Hovey, WICKED COMPANY'S own Mistress of Suspense.
Listen to the Shadows and Nowhere To Hide by Joan Hall Hovey
DL - Welcome, Joan! Tell us a little about your writing background.
JHH - I began to write almost as soon as I could read, coming up with stories no doubt derived from the fairy tales I read about princesses and frogs, and such. Some were pretty gruesome as I remember. I seemed drawn to the dark side even then. I also liked to draw, and in the first grade I remember showing my teacher, Miss Vanwart, one of my renderings – a snake crawling out of a bathtub and a man with a gun about to shoot it. My teacher’s exact words were, “I don’t know what’s going to become to you.” I like to relate this anecdote because it points out to me the direction my writing would ultimately take.
I’ve always considered myself a storyteller. I loved making up stories to entertain classmates. If I could scare them so much the better. In some ways, I was shy and insecure, so maybe this was my way of gaining approval. I also liked being the center of attention. It’s a power trip to keep your peers on the edge of their collective seats.
DL - You've been published before, Joan. Why did you choose to go with iUniverse?
JHH - As a member of the Authors Guild, I was eligible to have my books brought back into print by their backinprint.com program. Since the books were out of print for some time, It was an opportunity I was thrilled to have. I felt terrible every time I had to tell someone who hadn’t yet read ‘Listen To The Shadows’ or ‘Nowhere To Hide’ and wanted to know where they could get a copy, to try the library or maybe a used book store. Now my books will never go out of print, which is wonderful.
DL - What do you aspire to in your writing?
JHH - Well, I think the first job of any novelist is to entertain. Since I write suspense novels, it’s an absolutely must. But I also want readers to care about my characters, because only then will they invest any emotion in what happens to them. I want my books have substance and depth, to impart some universal truth about the human condition. But first and foremost, they should keep the readers turning those pages, riveted to the story until the very last sentence. That is what I aspire to do in my writing. I like to think I’ve achieved some success in that regard. Reviewers and readers alike tell me I have. But there is such a long way to go. You’re never there. Maybe that’s why we write that next book.
DL - Do you have a character that is most like you?
JHH - All my characters are in part, me. They have to be because I have only my own emotions and experiences on which to draw. On the other hand, I can enter a killer’s mind because I understand extremes. I have some insight into the twisted ways of thinking, warped responses to life’s challenges. We all have experienced similar emotions - we all know joy, hate, jealousy, envy … it’s all a matter of degree.
DL - What is your greatest challenge as a writer?
JHH - My greatest challenge as a writer is trying to stay out of my own way. Sometime those demons sit on your shoulders and taunt you: “You can’t write. Who ever said you could write? Who would want to read this drivel? If I let the words (the demon (s)) settle into my consciousness, my words become stilted, the characters flat. My creative powers crippled. It’s all about overcoming fear to do what you know how to do when all cylinders are firing. I’ve told my students, and I tell myself: “It takes courage to be a writer, putting your work (yourself) out there, never knowing if it will be praised or ridiculed. Writing is a precarious business, not for the faint of heart. There are no guarantees for any of us. So I must rise above the fear and focus on the work at hand. There is no other way.
DL - I can certainly relate to that. What have you done personally to promote and market your books? How successful do you feel you’ve been?
JHH - I’ve been moderately successful considering I didn’t promote other than locally. Even so, the books sold over 40,000 copies in Canada and the U.S. Everyone was wonderfully responsive to my books. I got lots of press. Great reviews.
Recently, because the books have been re-released, and because I want to spend my time finishing up the new suspense novel, I hired a promoter. In a business where scams are commonplace – oh, yes, the ‘literary’ waters are alive with sharks – it’s nice to have someone working on your behalf in whom you have trust.
DL - Wow! 40,000 books would hit about mid-list with most traditional publishing houses. That's incredible. Congratulations. Joan, what books/authors most influenced you growing up?
JHH - Among those writers who first planted in me the seed to write are, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, Shirley Jackson, Phyllis Whitney, Ruth Rendell, Stephen King and so many more fine writers to whom I owe a debt of gratitude, too many to list here.
My all-time favorite romantic suspense novel is Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I have a particular fondness for Victorian novels. The atmosphere, (the attics, the hidden passages, the moors…) the gentility that is evident even amidst the sometimes brutality of the times.
DL - How do you work out your plotting? How much revision do you do?
JHH - Other than a very loose idea of my story – I plot as I go along. What’s happened before will suggest to my subconscious (If I’m paying attention) what should come next. I try to relax and let the story ‘come to me’. That’s not easy. I also struggle and sometimes despair. I also have a grand time. It all goes with the territory.
The best ideas come while taking a walk or soaking in a bath. I revise a lot – a lot - until I just can’t stand to rewrite one more word, and to do so would not really make a noticable difference, and may even be counter-productive. Then I go through looking for typos and inconsistencies. Then I send it off and hope for the best.
DL - What are you working on right now?
JHH - I’m working on my new suspense novel with the title, “CHILL WATERS ”. It’s in the final edit stage.
DL - Great title. Do you have an agent? Do you think an agent is necessary in this business?
JHH - I sort of have an agent for the new novel, but it’s not a definite yet. I think an agent is probably more necessary now than it ever was before if you want to publish with a traditional publisher. But only a good agent. They’re out there, I’m sure. A bad agent is worse than none. They can really hurt an author. They can even damage your soul. I sold my first book, ‘ Listen To The Shadows’ on my own. For ‘ Nowhere To Hide’ I had an agent do the negotiations but I had already sold the book to Zebra based on an outline. I later dropped that agent. Money is, of course, a big consideration in this business, but it shouldn’t be the only consideration. There should be a love of good books, and a mutual respect between author and agent.
DL - What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
JHH - My best advice would be, “Read! Read! Read! Everything and anything you can get your hands on, but especially in the genre you want to write in. Then write. Write every day. As a housebuilder must practise his craft, so must the writer. I’ve read the advice many time: “Write about what you know.” I’d modify that somewhat by saying, “Write about what you care about. Go where the pain, the passion is. Finally, and most important: Believe in yourself.
DL - What do you think is your best work so far?
JHH - I consider my best work so far the book I’m presently writing. A cliché answer, but that’s because it’s true . I’m totally immersed in my characters and their story right now. The stories I’ve already published belong to my readers. But both my books are my babies, and I love them equally, although for different reasons. I hope readers will too.
DL - If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
JHH - If I weren’t a writer, I would be an actress. Acting is my second passion and I have been involved in community theatre for most of my life. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been cast in wonderful roles in a number of plays, among them ‘Same Time Next Year’ and ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’. (See photo on my site – http://www.joanhallhovey.com/author.html )
You can learn a great deal about writing from a good play – pacing, economy of words, dialogue, dramatic irony…
One of the things I love about acting is that the response of the audience is immediate, while with a book you have to wait for a year or more to know how it’s fared with the public.
DL - Thanks so much, Joan! I can't wait to read CHILL WATERS.
JHH - Wonderful to spend time with you! Thanks for listening.