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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Finding your Writing Voice: An interview with Joan Bannan

What made you decide to write your first novel? Was there any particular author you read that made you think, I could write like that?
From an early age, I was avid reader devouring at least one Nancy Drew mystery per week. As I matured, I was in a continual search of great stories. Some of my favorites are Mary Stewart’s novels. I would name her as the most inspiring author. I would not be so bold to say, “I could write like that,” but rather, “I aspire to write like her.” For years, I reread Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy annually. As soon as my children were old enough, I read the Chronicles of Narnia aloud to them. The older children read along silently from their own copy.

How did you get started writing? 
My high school English teacher was the first to say I should consider being a writer. However, I did not heed her advice right away. I went to work in corporate America, married, and then stayed home to raise three children for the next twenty years. When I was approaching forty, I achieved a Bachelor’s degree. I began that journey at a junior college.

Because I was older than most of the students, I became friends with my English teacher. His name was Bob. I used to stop by his office occasionally to say, “Hi.” The college had a proficiency-writing exam that was graded subjectively. Each student’s essay was passed to each of the staff members in the English department to read and score. The scores were then combined.

I stopped by Bob’s desk a few days after I had taken the test. The amazed look on his face caused me to ask, “What?” He said my essay had the highest score that had ever been achieved in the history of that college. Because of that score, I decided to write my first book. It was a non-fiction work, which lead me to five more non-fiction works. But storytelling was still my passion.

When I started my first novel, I realized I was poorly equipped. I love the quote from one of many how-to-write books, “Just because you have listened to numerous symphonies, doesn’t mean you know how to write one.” So,  I embarked on a mission to learn from writer’s retreats, writer’s workshops, Writer’s Digest Magazine, and books, books, books.

Are you active with any writing critique groups? 
I was active in critique-oriented creative writing classes in college and had some peer critiquing experience at writer’s workshops, but I have never joined a formal, writing critique group.

What made you decide to indie-publish?
I decided to Indie publish my first novel after attending a self-publishing session at a writer’s workshop. In addition, I wanted to write wholesome books that my own family members wanted to read and were hard to find.

I am certain of my purpose and my passion but have a realistic assessment of what generates colossal sales. My novels are unlikely to “knock the socks off” the literary marketplace that reveres books with religious controversy, fantasy, or hot, steamy sex. The last I heard, Dan Brown’s da Vinci Code was only outsold by the Bible in the past couple of decades, but I think perhaps Harry Potter or Fifty Shades of Grey may have surpassed it.

What do you wish you'd known sooner about marketing?
I’ve learned a lot about publishing and now, after three novels, I sort of “have that down,” but marketing is still a bit of a mystery. You found me on Goodreads. I see this as the best avenue on which my future fans will find me. I’m considering doing some advertising to libraries through IngramSpark, the publisher who prints and distributes my large print, hardcover, and paperback books. When it comes to marketing, however, I’m “Indiana Joan,” making this up as a go.”

What does your editor remind you to do most often? 

I rely heavily on three content editors. They each offer a different evaluation. One doesn’t read “my kind of novels,” so I appreciate his fresh perspective each time he reads a first draft. He recommends I condense sections that might bog readers down and often suggests that I expand a section or short story that is within the larger story. Another editor keeps me in check so I don’t use “Christianese.”

My third editor has an incredible ability to decipher the character of my characters as well as the situation they are in. She will say things like; I don’t think this character would reveal that much personal information. Or perhaps, this vocabulary is too mature for this character. I value all corrections and suggestions that draw me out of my fictive bubble long enough to see the characters or story, as my readers will.

What is the encouragement you’ve received for your writing?
The best encouragement I’ve had is from the acquisition editor for three of my non-fiction books. She worked at Random House to acquire two of my books and courted me for a third when she joined Addison Westley. Each time I release a new novel, she is always the first to order a copy, read it, and then submit a compressive review.

She only knows me as a writer and she is unbiased in a couple of other ways. I’m pretty sure she does not have the same faith as I do and I know my novels are not her favorite genre. I was I little discouraged at one point and contacted her through Facebook to tell her I was considering quitting. She said, “Absolutely not!” She said my books filled an important niche and encouraged me to keep writing.

We have all experienced rejection. Give me an example of one you’ve had, and how you learned to write past it.
The discouragement I experienced was a rejection of my writing by a family member, not a literary agent. It got into my head and unfortunately, I let it rule there for far too long. I learned to write past it by remembering who I was and why I was doing what has always been my passion. Other help came from a writing course called, “The Creative Way,” offered by Ted Dekker. He reminded me of my purpose as a writer and warned not to let negative thoughts thwart or defeat me. I was trying to please one person and I’d lost sight of being obedient to the One who inspires me to write.

What do you know now about writing that you wished you had known sooner? What is some of the best writing advice that you’ve received or could give?
I suppose the answer to both of those questions is the same: Apologies to Nike, but “Just Do It!” Over the past twenty years, I cannot count how many people have told me they were going to write a book. Only one of those has actually written one.

I have been reminded in each how-to-write book to, “Write, write, write.” “Write a little every day.” “Don’t give up.” “Keep writing.” Added to that, for writing fiction, the other great advice I have received, is “Read, read, read.” When I first starting writing novels, I found myself more often reading how-to-write nonfiction than novels, and yet my inspiration comes from reading good stories written by great writers. Writing good fiction requires great imagination and stirring emotions in your reader.

Could you tell me about your current work in process and give me a short synopsis?
The working title of my next novel is Gypsy Grace. The protagonist, Grace, is a courageous young woman who has always known she was called to make a positive difference in the world. Grace and her sister, Uny, leave all that they know and love to break free from the cultic traditions of their Irish Travelers heritage. Grace’s situation forces her to forsake her love interest, Zane. Both women feel the loss of home, particularly of their “mamai.” Ironically, the safe haven to which their mamai sends them is fraught with danger and evil. The theme of this book is from guilt to grace.

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts about writing with me. If you would like to know more about Joan’s writing, here are some links to get you started.

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