Joanne Macgregor Interview on Book Divas™ by Lisa Loucks-Christenson
Published: October 29, 2015
Interview by Lisa Loucks-Christenson
WIN AN EBOOK OF SCARRED: E-mail your name, e-mail address, and write "Scarred" in the subject line and send to: Lisa@BookDivas.com, on or by 11/30/15 at 11:59 (CST) to enter the "Scarred" book giveaway.
Rules: Must be 13 or older to enter. One winner will receive an Amazon Gift E-Book from Joanne. Entrants understand they are receiving an E-Book from Amazon and should have a device or e-reader that can read the file, Amazon has a free reader for computers, if entrant doesn't have a Kindle. Winners agree to have their first name and country listed as a winner, if they win.
BOOK DIVAS™ INTERVIEW WITH JOANNE MACGREGOR
Author of Scarred
Seventeen year-old Sloane Munster is funny, feisty, and scarred.
Trying to reboot her life after a serious auto accident, she starts her senior year at a new school and immediately has a scar-to-face encounter with the caramel-haired, hazel-eyed Luke Naughton, whom she once (almost) met on the competitive swimming circuit. Sloane is attracted. Luke, unfortunately, seems disgusted and revolted. But the chemistry between them sparks a growing connection set against a background of guilt, secrets, and mounting tensions at a school where bullying is rife and Sloane is not the most deeply scarred person.
Life leaves you scarred, love can make you beautiful.
Excerpt: Chapter One
...The teacher looks like a wannabe intellectual refugee from some hipster university. He has thinning hair, a neatly clipped goatee beard, round John Lennon type spectacles, and he wears a worn, corduroy jacket with leather patches at the elbows.
“Aah,” he says, quickly looking away from my face and staring down at the registration form like it’s the one sheet of paper that might save humankind.
“We have a new student starting with us today.”
I tilt my head slightly and look sideways at the class with my left eye. I take in many things at a glance. One wall of the classroom consists mostly of big windows which open onto grassy lawns just outside. Curl-cornered posters of Byron, Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson and Mark Twain are stuck on the back wall, and the floor is red and green checkered linoleum. There are about twenty students in the room, and all of them are turning to look at me. But my eyes have snapped to just one face.
It’s him! Luke Naughton – from swimming meets, from before. All caramel hair and hazel eyes in the middle of the second row. And he sees me, recognizes me. Time stretches out slowly and sweetly like a piece of soft toffee. I can feel a smile beginning to curl my lips, see one sneaking up lopsidedly onto his, when Mr. Perkel introduces me.
“This is –” he checks the paper again, and my moment to go full-frontal has arrived. I turn to face him, the class and the world as Mr. Perkel says, “Sloane Munster”.
All eyes flick to my right cheek – I know it, I can feel my response in the heat rising up from my neck – but I see only him. His eyes move to my scar. He actually turns his head to take it in, the smile stillborn on his face. His lips twist, but in a sneer, not a smile. Then he looks back into my eyes and this time his are full of deep revulsion.
When not writing books, Joanne Macgregor is a Counselling Psychologist in private practice in South Africa, where she deals mainly with victims of crime and trauma. It's tough work and to combat creeping burnout, she started writing fiction several years ago. Now she consults and writes on alternate days, and in completely different head-spaces and physical environments.
She started her professional life as a high school English Teacher, but has also worked as an IT trainer, a theatre dogsbody, management consultant, waitress, an in-store frozen vegetable demonstrator and a make-up artist.
Although she lives in the frenetic adrenaline-rush of the big city, Joanne has always been in love with nature, and escapes into the wilds whenever she can. She's a pretty good cook, grows her own vegetables, and is addicted to chilies, bulletproof coffee and Harry Potter.
Author website: www.joannemacgregor.com
Facebook: Joanne Macgregor
BD: Book Divas Interview by Lisa Loucks-Christenson
Author: Joanne Macgregor
BD: Do you remember the first story you ever read? If so, what was it, and what pulled you into it?
No, I don’t remember the first story – it sometimes seems like I was born reading! I do have an early reading epiphany memory, though.
I was very young and stuck at home with tonsillitis, and my mother went to the library to borrow some books for me to read in my sick bed. At the time, I was addicted to Enid Blyton, the British writer of the Famous Five and Secret Seven stories. I issued my mother with strict instruction to get Enid Blytons only, but whether on purpose or by accident, she came home with books by authors I’d never tried. I was furious, but I was also bored, so I read them and BOOM! my entire reading experience exploded! The world was full of amazing stories, by thousands of authors, and they were all different and wonderful and could take me into the most incredible adventures! I think that’s when my reading journey really began. Thanks, mom
BD: What challenges have you faced writing from South Africa and selling books in the USA?
AUTHOR: Traditionally, Americans haven’t been big readers of books set in South Africa. (I hope this will change as readers discover how fascinating our country, culture and stories are.)
As a result, many of our authors have started writing books set in the States in the hope of breaking into that market, which is so much more massive than our own. It’s been really challenging, because our version of English is probably closer to what is spoken in the UK than the US. And it’s not just a case of switching to American spelling, or of changing “pavement” to “sidewalk” and “biscuit” to “cookie”. Your expressions in the States are often different – for example, we throw a spanner (not a wrench) in the works, and in South Africa, it’s probably more acceptable for teens to use curse words than expressions such as “Oh my God” or “Jesus Christ”, which many here consider blasphemy – whereas it seems to work the other way around in the States! I was recently at a restaurant in Charleston, and in conversation I said, “What the hell?” and earned myself several disapproving stares. In South Africa, that wouldn’t even be considered swearing. Your schooling system is completely different, too – so there are lots of ways in which a foreign writer can trip up there.
Luckily, I have a sister who lives in Atlanta plus a couple of American beta-readers who help me “translate” many of the cultural and language specifics.
BD: What could you share with other would-be writers, who want to write a story like yours, but don't because they aren't sure they would be acceptable, or fear ridicule from family, friends, peers?
AUTHOR: As far as we know, we only get one shot at life, which means it’s simply too short to spend living up (or down!) to other people’s expectations and limits. Do what makes you happy and don’t let fear hold you back. Yes, writing and finishing a book, getting it published, and exposing it to the world’s critics is hard, but staying unpublished and unread with all those stories stuck inside you is hard, too. Pick your hard.
Although, if you’re writing dino-erotica, you may also want to pick a pen-name!
BD: What is the easiest part about writing for you?
AUTHOR: For me, none of this is easy. It’s often fun, always interesting and challenging, occasionally terrifying, but easy? Nope.
BD: When did you first decide you wanted to write a book, and what led you to the decision to write in this genre?
AUTHOR: The first book I wrote was not published. I was asked, by his parents, to write a biography of the sole survivor of the so-called Sizzlers’ massacre, which happened in Cape Town in 2003. The book received favourable reports from publishers, but they also said it probably wouldn’t sell because the young man in question wasn’t a famous celebrity or household name. But I had discovered that I could actually write a book, and that I loved writing. I haven’t stopped writing since then.
I set about writing my first published book, Turtle Walk, because at that time there were so few books for tweens and teens set in South Africa. Most books were from American and English writers, many were fantasies (not my favourite genre), and almost all had male protagonists. I wanted to write the kind of books I wanted my daughter to read – ones with clever, strong, resourceful female protagonists who rescue themselves (and occasionally save the boys!) and engage with meaningful themes.
Although I have also written for adults and younger children, I love writing YA best. I enjoy the energy, the pace, the raw emotion and freedom of the genre, and I truly respect and admire teens as a species, so it’s a privilege to write for them.
BD: Do you write in any other genres? If so, which ones?
AUTHOR: I’ve written a psychological thriller for adults called Dark Whispers, and two fun books for younger children – Jemima Jones and the Great Bear Adventure and Jemima Jones and the Revolving Door of Doom.
BD: Which comes first for you, the plot or the characters?
AUTHOR: It varies with each book. Sometimes I’ll hear or read something that sparks an idea, at other times (as with the manuscript I’m currently writing), there’ll be an aspect of personality I’m keen to explore. With Scarred, the image of a girl with a severe facial scar standing in front of a class of teens, one of whom was glaring back, literally popped into my head in the middle of the night. It wasn’t in a dream – I was jetlagged and lying wide awake in the still of the night, so I could begin exploring that scene – who was that girl and how had she gotten the scar? Why did she think the boy was glowering at her? Was that his real reason? And the story grew from there.
BD: When you are all wrapped up in the story, do you write the chapters in order, or do you jump around as you get ideas for each section?
AUTHOR: I tend to write in order, but sometimes I’ll be daydreaming and a scene or some great dialogue will “download” into my mind, and I’ll quickly capture it on my phone’s voice recorder before it disappears. Then I’ll incorporate that later in the book. But those are more in the nature of notes and ideas, the actual writing happens chapter by chapter.
BD: Do you write every day, or what kind of a schedule do you have? Do you write full-time, or do you have a “day job”?
AUTHOR: No, I don’t believe the “rule” about writers having to write every day. By profession, I’m a Psychologist, and so I write and do therapy on separate days, in separate geographical places and in very different headspaces. I find that after a day in my psych practice, I don’t have the energy or creativity to write, so that has to happen on other days. I think being a psychologist helps my writing by deepening my understanding of human behaviour and character, but I certainly don’t “get ideas” from my clients or use their experiences as a field from which to harvest stories as that would be unethical. What my clients tell me is strictly confidential and goes into a bottomless well in one part of my brain, while my story and character ideas emerge from another, different part of me.
BD: Other than your writing, what do you enjoy doing? What is the most important thing to you in your day-to-day life?
AUTHOR: I’m kept pretty busy between my parallel careers and my two children, but I try to make time to indulge my love of reading. I also enjoy growing my own organic vegetables, and I’m a pretty good cook who’s always experimenting with something new – making my own sourdough bread, for example, or fermenting Korean Kimchi.
BD: Who are your favorite authors? Do you try to emulate them, or their techniques in your own writing?
AUTHOR: I tremendously respect the work of John Steinbeck, and periodically reread him to remind myself that huge concepts, complicated themes and the depths of the human soul are best described in simple, pared-down language. In general, though, becoming a writer somewhat spoils the pure joy of reading because a part of you is always standing back, noting the tricks of the writing trade – “Oh, that’s a neat way of inserting a flashback,” or “Golly, a back-story-dump like this is so boring, I must remember never to do that in my writing.”
BD: In your present book, is this part of a series, or is it a standalone book?
AUTHOR: I wrote Scarred as a standalone. We’ll see if there’s a demand for a sequel.
BD: If you are doing a series, do you see an end to it sometime, or do you plan to go on for several years with it?
AUTHOR: I’ve just finished the third in my South African teen series, and that might go on for another two books. I’m also two books into a dystopian trilogy set in the States, and have a couple of standalone YA romances in the pipeline. I like writing series, but would hate to be bound to writing about the same characters in the same genre forever. I think that can get formulaic and boring, for both the reader and the writer.
BD: Do your characters ever drive you a bit crazy by going off in their own direction? If so, how do you rein them in, or do you just let them run off on their own?
AUTHOR: Yup, characters have a mind and a will of their own. Part of the joy of writing is seeing the characters emerge as the story develops. I often have the experience where a minor character walks onto the pages and upstages everyone else – most recently, this happened with a parrot! – and that’s always enormous fun. Mostly I allow characters do their own thing, but at the same time I try to ensure consistency in character, so sometimes this means rewrites.
BD: Do you pattern your protagonists/antagonists after yourself or someone you know? If so, do you let that person know they were your “pattern”?
AUTHOR: I have included some personality traits from the teachers and pupils of my own school days into characters I’ve written, but they’re always a blend of different aspects. No one character is based on a real person. Having said that, the appearance of the hero in my current work-in-progress is based on Jensen Ackles (of Supernatural fame), because he’s just gorgeous. So in one of my upcoming books there will be a protagonist with bandy legs, a crooked nose, freckles, and smiling crinkles at the corners of his khaki-green eyes. The hero’s character is nothing like Dean Winchester though, which is probably a good thing – planet earth can handle only one of those!
BD: How long did it take you to get published? How many rejections did you have to suffer through first? Were you ever tempted to give up? What made you decide to become your own publisher?
AUTHOR: I’ve received scores of rejections from both agents and publishers, and it took years for my first book to find a home. Every writer, I think, goes through those patches when you’re punch-drunk from all the rejections, you wonder whether your writing is just worthless and you consider chucking in the towel. To survive in this business (traditional or Indie) you’ve got to grow a really thick skin, believe in your work, and make sure you have as much determination as you have talent.
I’m a hybrid author – I’ve have four books published by traditional publishers (the fifth will be out early next year) and I’ve self-published three others. I simply find I can write much quicker than traditional publishers can keep up with, even if they’re keen to publish all my books which, sometimes, they aren’t. I also like to experiment with different styles and genres, which may not fit their list or expectations. It kills me to have a good story lie unread in my PC, so it’s wonderful that there’s now another avenue to give those books a shot at life.
BD: Do you ever attend any conferences? If so, which ones?
AUTHOR: Living on the other end of the world, it’s very difficult and terrifically expensive to attend conferences in the US or UK, but I do attend literary fairs in South Africa.
BD: Do you have to promote your own work, or does your publisher do that for you?
AUTHOR: Many unpublished writers believe traditional is the way to go because then the publishers will take care of marketing, but the truth is that every author these days, whether indie or traditionally-published, has to do most of their own promotion, and do it on their own dime. Unless you’re already famous or a best-seller, publishers just don’t have the budget or staff to market you comprehensively enough. It can get expensive, and so we’re always grateful for the opportunities provided by bloggers such as Book Divas to introduce our books to readers.
BD: If you have to do marketing, what methods have worked the best for you?
AUTHOR: I’m still experimenting with different methods, but I use social media (Twitter and Facebook), my website, book giveaways for reviews, Goodreads Giveaways, printing business cards with book covers, doing author talks at schools, and reviews and interviews on book-blogging sites, volunteering or accepting invitations to be a member on a panel at book fairs and events, and starting an email newsletter. I may give Facebook ads a pop soon, too.
BD: Do you have any idea how your book is selling?
AUTHOR: Amazon’s KDP allows you to track your daily sales – which is wonderful, and allows you to monitor which promotions are working. Traditional publishers give you a royalty report only twice a year! I’m still in the first month of selling Scarred and it’s going well – in fact, I’ve earned more for this book already than I received in my last royalty payment from my traditional publishers (which was for four books, over a six-month period)! I haven’t yet recouped my costs in investing in a great cover, editing and formatting and it’s not (yet) a best-seller, but I’m sure that will change once all the magnificent readers on BookDivas read about it, lol!
BD: What has been the best review you have gotten, and why?
AUTHOR: The reviews I enjoy best are those that come from young readers who tell me how my writing moved them to tears or laughter, or – best of all – how they normally never read books, but my book has changed their mind. I love those! I wish more readers would reach out to authors and tell us what they feel or like about our writing. On school visits, I usually do a reading to the assembled students, and when they all suck in their breaths or giggle excitedly, that’s the best and most immediate kind of review.
Recently, a newspaper review of my adult psychological thriller, Dark Whispers, said I was the South African Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), and that was pretty cool, too.
BD: Have you won any awards, either as an author or for your books? Please tell us about them.
AUTHOR: Not yet, but never say die!
BD: Is there any one certain thing that a reader has written to you that made you just want to jump up and shout “Yes!!!!”?
AUTHOR: I have lots of those moments, so it’s hard to choose just one.
When I studied English literature at school and university, we students often argued with the teachers or lecturers. “No way did the poet put all of this hidden meaning into these lines,” we’d say, or “You’re reading far too much into this, the author didn’t intend that, I’m sure!” Now, as a writer, I know that the author intends and includes and hints at wayyyy more than is picked up by most readers. I choose language so carefully, layer in themes in details of image and dialogue, include little nuggets for the observant readers in character and place names, and thread metaphors throughout my books. So my YES!!! moments come when an observant or sensitive reader picks up on those, and tells me so.
BD: What is your next project, and when will it be out?
AUTHOR: My next book to be published is Fault Lines, which is due out in March next year. It’s the third in my South African teen series and deals with the contentious topic of fracking – both as an environmental issue, and also in the metaphorical sense of how girls’ body concepts, self-esteem and confidence is cracked and undermined by peer pressure, media images of unattainable perfection, and bullying.
I’m currently busy writing a YA romance where the protagonist is a really tall girl (I’m over 5’9”, so I’ll be channelling some of me into her experiences), and hope to finish the first draft in November’s NaNoWriMo. I won’t tell you the title, because I’m superstitious about jinxing it!
BD: If you could write anything at all, ignoring what editors and publishers say they want, what would it be?
AUTHOR: You know, I honestly do already write what I like. I write ideas that fascinate me or characters I’d like to explore, and I write them in my own voice. I can’t imagine writing “writing to market” – such a slippery and changeable concept anyway, especially when the gatekeepers don’t really know what they want until they read it. I write what I like to read, and what my inner teen likes to read, and I can only hope that there are lots of other readers in the world who like my stories and my style of writing.
BD: Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring romance authors, male or female?
AUTHOR: Practice a thousand ways of describing a kiss, haha! Seriously - I sometimes have to check my previous books to ensure I haven’t used a particular phrase before.
In general, do include specific and unusual details in your descriptions, don’t make your protagonists either unrealistically nice (readers can’t empathise with perfection) or deeply unpleasant (we need to care about a character before we want to invest time in seeing what happens to her), do torture your characters a bit more than maybe you’re comfortable with, and for goodness sake – include some humor! Life is a tragi-comedy and it’s too short to read unremittingly bleak books.
When it comes to things getting hot and heavy on the romance front, I advise immersing yourself into your character and then, rather than describing twisting tongues and who touches what part of whom with what part of themselves, rather focussing on writing the character’s emotional response. Readers don’t remember our stories as much as they remember how we made them feel.
BD: Do you have any teasers for your readers and fans about the next book?
AUTHOR: How about the opening lines from the first book in my YA Dystopian series (currently out on submission)?
“Pancakes for breakfast are good. Sunday morning reruns of Supernatural are good. Finding the perfect jeans in my size and on sale at Hunter.com is really good."
"But finally killing Jakhil was better than good. It was awesome.”
BD: If a genie suddenly appeared and said they would grant you just one wish for your books, what would you wish for?
AUTHOR: That they would sell well. Like, really well. You know that saying about if a tree falls in the forest and no-one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Well if a book is written but not read, then does the story actually exist? (I believe that in the act of reading, and imagining the story scenes and characters, readers co-create a story with the author.)
Also, if my books could sell well enough for me to support myself on the proceeds of my writing, that would be just the best – almost (*adopts beauty queen pose*) on par with world peace and an end to poverty!
BD: Please give us your website url and your email address where people can contact you.
I can be contacted vie the contact form on my website, or anyone is welcome to reach out to me on Twitter or Facebook.
BD: Joanne, thanks for giving us a glimpse into your book and your writing life. We look forward to a reading many more books from you.
Author: Thanks so much for this opportunity to share something of my books and writing process with you and your readers!
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