Hey Joelle! Tell us a little about yourself as a writer—night owl, or morning bird? Does your writing have a set process, or does it evolve from book to book?
I’m more of a morning person, but not too early. I like to ease into my day, waking up around seven or eight, drinking tea (delivered by my wonderful husband) in bed while I write in my journal, eating breakfast…. Then, after I’ve procrastinated for a while, I go out to my cabin and put on some music and dance around to loosen my body up and free my mind. This is not something anyone ever needs to see! After that, I finally block the internet and get to work, writing at my treadmill desk. I generally walk about two miles per hour while I write. It takes me about four hours to do two hours of work though because I have to take lots of breaks for more food and general goofing around! Blocking the internet does help me stay focused though.
What was your process writing The Right & The Real? What did you have trouble with, and what inspired you?
I actually wrote R&R so long ago, I don’t remember my process! I think I did the first draft in 2009. It was completely edited and finished by February of 2011, so you’re asking a lot of me to stretch my memory back that far. Haha. I do remember that when writing Restoring Harmony, I had a tendency to make everything too easy on Molly, so I tried really, really hard to make things difficult for Jamie in The Right & the Real. My editor actually had to tell me several times that she didn’t like some of the other characters because they were so mean! I had to humanize the ones who were hurting Jamie so the reader could see why they did the things they did, and not think they were pure evil and mean spirited. I mean, I wasn’t writing Voldemort here! That was a challenge, especially with Jamie’s boyfriend, Josh.
The premise of The Right & The Real struck me as being deeply controversial, but at the same time, something everyone could probably relate to—whether they were on the religious side, or the pessimistic side. What drew you to explore those themes? (Did personal experience have anything to do with it?)
I never set out to debate any church or religion, and I intentionally made The Right & the Real church cult-like so no one would think I was picking on a particular group of people. It’s true that the members consider themselves Christians, but I think most Christians would have a hard time identifying with them. The thing I discovered as I researched cults was that it’s not about religion, it’s all about power, but people who are searching for happiness or the meaning of life are often easily sucked in by extreme religions, and cults are born.
I don’t have any personal experiences with it, but I am drawn to stories that put characters in unusual circumstances. With The R&R, I wondered how might a normal, middle class girl end up homeless and the story grew from there.
Ooh, way to nail it on the head. I would have to agree with you on both points--I'm a Christian, and even from reading the blurb, I can definitely say that's not how the genuine Christian church works.
Your debut novel, Restoring Harmony, came out two years ago—yay—which makes The Right & The Real your second published novel—double yay! I’m going to bet you know a bit more about the publishing industry now than when you were starting out. So what surprised you, and what do you wish you’d known sooner?
I think the biggest shock to debut authors is that having a book out changes everything and changes nothing at the same time. Unless you have a “big” book, with a huge publicity budget, you and your family are probably the most excited people out there regarding your book. I don’t mean that this is a bad thing, I just think that no matter how much you read authors saying this, you never quite believe it until you experience it. Authors roll their eyes at people who say, “You should get on Stephen Colbert,” but honestly, we’re all waiting for the call, even if it’s on a very deeply hidden level, and when it doesn’t come, it can be a bit of a downer.
The thing to remember about publishing is that you have to just keep plugging along. Having a book out is a beautiful thing, and I don’t want to diminish it in any way, but it’s not a career. It can be the first step toward a career, but if you mistake it for “making it,” you’ll probably be disappointed.
So…I just carried on and now I have two books out! Yay. Or as you said, Double Yay!
Great answer. Given all that, what did it take to get The Right & The Real on bookshelves?
My editor really loved the book from the first fifty pages, so I guess I would say it was her enthusiasm. And my agent’s. I did the work, but you can write and write and write, and if you don’t have an excellent team like that in your corner, it can be really difficult to succeed. So while I’ll take credit for doing my part, it would not be on the shelf without them.
Tell us something about your book that we wouldn’t know just by reading the blurb, hearing the hype, or looking at the cover.
You wouldn’t know that one of my favourite lines I stole directly from my father. When my husband and I were first together we went to a barbecue at my parents’ house and after we’d eaten, he and I went to serve up the dessert – ice cream. My husband is the kind of dessert eater that just likes a couple of bites to finish off his meal, not a big old slab of cake or a bucket of ice cream, and when he dished up my dad’s tiny scoop, I looked at it doubtfully, because my dad really loves ice cream, but I didn’t say anything. My husband handed the bowl to him, and Dad looked at it and said…
Oh, wait! I can’t tell you, it will spoil the book! But the character of LaVon does use a version of it when Jamie asks him if he wants whipped cream on his hot chocolate.
That cracked me up. Reminds me of my own family, and now, I must admit, terribly curious to know what your dad said!
Today’s writing culture has a pretty big obsession with rules. What’s your stand on this? Are there any particular rules you write by?
Oh, I’m a big rule follower by nature, which makes me fit in very well here in Canada. In Tennessee, where my husband is from, he says, “Darlin’, rules are just guidelines.” He also says that about the law! As for rules about writing? I don’t have a lot, but I try not to use adverbs. And I try to remove the word “that” whenever I have it and don’t really need it. And I really try hard not to use the same word twice in a paragraph, or even on a page. If it’s an unusual word, I might only use it once in the entire book.
An example might be that I would never say: Being a senior is the saddest part of high school because your senior year is all about endings. I would change it to: Being a senior is the saddest part of high school because twelfth grade is all about endings.
Actually, I would never use either of those lame sentences, but you get the idea. After I’ve written a book, I comb it carefully for things like this and it drives me crazy when the ARC comes and I see I’ve missed some!
If you knew you a teenager who aspired to be a novelist, what would you say to them?
I actually know quite a few teens who aspire to be writers because I am the writer in residence at our local school. I always tell them to keep practicing and to read a lot. But the most important thing I try to stress is to never apologize for your writing. It’s true that you’ll write some stuff that might not be that great, and next year, it might even embarrass you. But if it does, that’s because you’ve learned something! It took me seventeen years to sell my first book (I have about seven or eight finished, unpublishable manuscripts I wrote before Restoring Harmony), so just keep writing and try not to be too hard on yourself. Everything you write will teach you something, even if no one ever reads it.
I love hearing stories like that--it's proof that all this time spent developing my craft isn't a waste. That's it's a process. So what was yours? How have you grown as a writer, and how do you hope to see yourself grow in the future?
I think I’m having more fun. Before RH came out, I had a certain amount of desperation to get published, which caused me to rush things. Now I go slower. And I savour the writing. I try not to hurry, and I’m easier on myself. I take weekends off and if I try writing and it’s just not a good day, I cut my losses and do something else. There are times you have to push yourself (deadlines come to mind!), but there are also times you have to ease up, and I was never good at that before. Now I’m better.
What’s next for Joelle Anthony?
I’m working on what I hope will be my third book right now. It’s still untitled and I don’t have anything to share yet, but I’m close to finishing a first draft. Last year, my best friend died suddenly, and so it was not a good year for writing. This year is a good one. That’s what I mean about being easy on myself sometimes. I’ve learned that ebb and flow is natural and you can’t fight it.
I’ve also got my writing cabin now, which is so exciting and such a luxury that sometimes, I find myself standing in it and just laughing at how lucky I am to have such a great place to write.
Can I just say, that sounds amazing? And thank you much for sharing all this. It's been great having you here a second time and seeing how things are developing for you.
Thank you so much for having me on your blog!