It’s not every day I get to talk with a former military officer, but today I’m happy to introduce Jo Ann Brown – author of Love Inspired historical romances. Here are her tips for writing, as well as her soda-of-choice for meeting her deadlines.
Welcome, and thank you for being here. Please, tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a former Army officer. My husband and I have three grown children and one cat who rules the house. Even though I’m a born and bred New Englander, I live out west now. When I’m not writing, I love to travel and photograph those trips, which often inspire my writing. I’ve published over 100 titles while volunteering in the community — both the writing one and my local one.
Why did you start writing?
I started writing because I loved stories — both reading them, listening to them read, and telling them to my younger sisters. It’s the same reason I’ve heard from so many of my writer friends. We write because we’ve got stories that just need to be told and/or we can’t find the stories we want to read, so we write them ourselves.
How did you start writing?
I began writing in earnest when I was in sixth grade. I was supposed to be writing a paper about the colonizing of the United States, and I found I’d rather tell the story of a girl making that journey than just writing the dull facts.
How did you select your genre?
I started out writing historicals because I was a history major in college. I always loved that sense of excitement and adventure of a “once upon a time.” My next book will be an Amish romance, and I started it because I’d lived near the Amish about ten years ago and admired how their present reminds me so much of my life growing up on a small farm in a small town.
What is your writing day like?
I’m a night owl. I get up late in the morning and do my email to try to get it out of the way while my mind wakes up. I write in the afternoons after lunch. When my husband gets home, I take time off with him and go back to work around 11 pm. Depending on how close my deadline is, I work more or less, but I try to spend some time at the computer every weekday. Weekends are time off…unless that deadline is creeping up on me.
How do you organize your writing (outlines/note cards/post-its)?
I’m a very organized person, but I don’t use anything other than the quickie synopsis I write up as part of the selling proposal. Instead, I write what I know. By that, I mean I don’t write the book in order from page 1 to the end. I jump around, writing the scenes that have appeared in my mind, going where inspiration takes me. Then I start from the beginning and tie it altogether. It’s a system that works for me. Probably because while I’m very organized, I’m also very quickly bored, so if I don’t know what’s going to happen next, I go to a spot in the book where I do know what will happen. That means having to toss some material on the final draft, but that’s okay because I avoid writer’s block.
What’s the most surprising thing a character has “told you?”
My characters are constantly surprising me. Once they are alive in my imagination, they “own” the story. The most surprising thing I ever was “told” was when I was 90% of the way through an historical western novel, and the character who was supposed to be the villain told me that he wasn’t. It was someone else! I was shocked, but when I went back to redo the clues, I saw the character was right. Everything pointed to him not being the villain.
Do you have a list of characters that you’re saving for future use? What kind of information do you keep on these characters?
I don’t keep a list of characters, but I do keep a list of names as I happen upon them. Sometimes when I’m struggling with naming a character — which is always the hardest thing for me — I go to that list and find the perfect name.
What does your work space/office look like?
My office is filled with bookcases crammed with books and small items I’ve picked up and like to have displayed. And then there is the not
-so-small collection — typewriters from an old early 20th century model to my first computer I got back in 1985. Those sit on top of my bookcases. My desk is made up of kitchen cabinets with a countertop that I see only when I’ve finished a ms and clear off all the research materials. I joke that I couldn’t pick my countertop out in a line-up because I see it so seldom.
What is your go-to snack when writing?
I exist on Pepsi when I’m working, especially as I get that finishing frenzy when the ms is all I can think about!
If you could only recommend one NOVEL, what would it be? Why?
Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I read it as a child, and I try to reread it (and the other books in the series) every couple of years…simply for the joy of seeing how prose can be poetic and compelling at the same time. I grew up with the characters — a kid when they were kids and pregnant at the same time the heroine was. I love the themes of individuality and the love within a family that no amount of time or distance can destroy.
If you could only recommend one CRAFT book (writing, no crocheting), what would it be? Why?
I usually recommend Debra Dixon’s Goals, Motivation, Conflict book to my students when I teach creative writing. It is a good resource for a vital part of a novel.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I feel very blessed to be able to share my stories and my characters with readers. When I get a note from one of them, I really appreciate the connection. Sometimes, they tell me about an aspect of the story that touched them, and I’m awed at the power words can have. I wouldn’t trade my job for any other in the world!
Thank you so much for appearing on my blog – have a blessed day!