Friday, January 11, 2013

How She Does It with Joan Hall Hovey

Haven't met Joan but I have read and enjoyed her books. We're fellow authors at Books We Love, a great place to be.

We all know there are six elements in writing fiction and often fact. Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. I believe the first five lead to the sixth which for me is the plot. What's your take on this?

You're absolutely right, Janet. We do need to answer all those questions for the reader, but I'm an intuitive writer and tend to answer them in large part on a subconscious level as the novel evolves.

My books are generally rooted in childhood. I draw on my life for inspiration and an emotional connection. Then I'm off and running. The seeds for Night Corridor, for example, were planted in my childhood. On Sundays, I went with my grandmother to visit an aunt in the mental institution, once called The Lunatic Asylum. She'd spent much of her life within those walls. They said she was 'melancholy'. Though the sprawling, prison-like building has long since been torn down, the sights, sounds and smells of the place infiltrated the senses of the 12 year old girl I was, and never left. Night Corridor is not about my Aunt Alice, but it was indeed inspired by her. latest novel The Abduction of Mary Rose was inspired by a true story as well. After her adopted mother dies of cancer, Naomi Waters learns from a malicious aunt that she is a child of a brutal rape. Her birth mother, a teenager of MicMac ancestry, lay in a coma for eight months before giving birth to Naomi, and died five days later. Feeling angry and betrayed, but with new purpose in her life, Naomi vows to track down the man responsible and bring him to justice.

1. How do you create your characters? Do you have a specific process?

I think about them for a long time, particularly my main character and let her settle into my imagination. I hear her speak, listen to the nuances, zone in on the gestures she makes, the way she walks. Kind of like getting to know someone in real life. At first they are shadowy figures, gradually taking on more personality and clarity as you come to know them. And like those who become old friends, she tells you her secrets, her passions, her pain, her fears. (Because I’m writing suspense, this is important to me.)

2. Do your characters come before the plot? Do you sketch out your plot or do you let the characters develop the route to the end?

I don't write an actual outline because I want the novel to flow organically as much as possible, but I do make copious notes and do a lot of cerebral outlining.

In the end, I don’t think you can separate character and plot. They are interwoven. With suspense, I am always aware of the thread in my story and I hold it taut, letting it out a little at a time, but never letting the thread go slack. It should grow tighter and tighter until it fairly sings. This is what constitutes a page-turner. It’s a promise I make to my readers and one I take very seriously. Reviews tell me I’ve succeeded for the most part, and that makes me happy.

3. Do you know how the story will end before you begin? In a general way or a specific one?

I do have an idea generally of how the story will end, but only generally. If I’m surprised there’s a good chance my reader will be. A good beginning is one that draws the reader into your story. A good ending is one that has her/him reaching for your next book. Or more often these days, downloading it.

4. Do you choose settings you know or do you have books of settings and plans of houses sitting around?

My novels are set in fictional towns that could be anywhere in New Brunswick or Maine, since the flora and fauna are similar. Although I did set part of Nowhere To Hide (Eppie Award) in New York. I researched the city but I also spent time there. But New Brunswick, which lies on the Bay of Fundy, Canada, is part of my DNA. And the town where I live, whose streets and hills and shops are bred in my bones, is probably in essence where all my novels are set, whatever fictional name I give them. However, I did set my second novel 'Nowhere To Hide' partially in New York city. I'd been there so I had a general idea of The Big Apple, but also picked up a copy of Bantam's New York City.

5. Where do you do your research? On line or from books?

Both. I have several books on psychology and forensics. Two I recently purchased are ‘Police Procedure & Investigation and ‘The Writers Guide to Psychology’ by Carolyn Kaufman, Psy.D. But I’ve always been a student of human behavior, in particular the dark side of humanity, which is probably why I'm drawn to write suspense novels as a way to explore these themes.

I'm also a big fan of Google. Since I tend to research on a need to know basis, sometimes I go straight to the source. For example, when I wanted to know what color bodybags are, I phoned our city morgue. They’re dark green. Or at least they were at the time. I think you can get them now in dark blue, if anyone needed to know that. -:)

6. Are you a draft writer or do you revise as you go along and why?

I write numerous drafts and also revise as I go along. Lots of trial and error. That`s probably why it takes me a long time to finish a novel. But that`s where the challenge is and writing novels isn't a race. In letting the novel evolve as it should, and not forcing anything, you have a chance of writing a good book. At the same time, you must exert some kind of control so you don`t end up all like the guy who `flung himself on his horse and rode madly off in all directions`. I've done that too.

There's a fine line.

Thanks for inviting me today, Janet. I enjoyed being with you.


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Ann Herrick said...

Very interesting interview! I'm impressed with the way Joan takes the inspiration from real life for her books.

Sydell Voeller said...

A nice presentation and interview, Joan! I love your writing.