1. Tell us about your latest book, Symmetry.
It’s humorous women’s fiction, but I like to call it “chick lit for women who own more books than shoes.” However, that’s not what makes it so different from other books of its kind. Like 8 million people in the U.S. and 40 million worldwide—including actor Colin Farrell—both the heroine of SYMMETRY and its author have trichotillomania (TTM), a compulsive hair-pulling disorder, and neither of them are ashamed to admit it. I always knew there had to be a good reason God gave me enough hair for three people–so I could pull it out and write about it! And I decided to put the issue into a novel rather than doing a non-fiction book about it because I hope to raise awareness of TTM in the general public and the woefully uninformed medical community. I’m tired of people with this disorder being told by their doctors that they’re crazy or defective when they simply have a nervous system disorder that is no more shameful than diabetes or high blood pressure.
2. Can you share a little bit about how you came up with the idea for your heroine, Jessica Cassady? Why did you decide to give her trichotillomania, a condition most people know nothing about?
Jess is a lot like me in that she has TTM only to the degree that I have it. Because of behavior management techniques I’ve learned and because I have so much hair, no one would ever know I had TTM if I didn’t tell them. The same is true for Jess. Although the main storyline in SYMMETRY is about how Jess deals with her marriage issues and her relationship with her mother, I gave her TTM because there has never been a protagonist in a novel with TTM. I hope to present both myself and Jess as positive role models for the millions of people with this common physical disorder, many of whom don’t even know that what they do has a name. Contrary to what a lot of people think, I don’t consider TTM a mental illness, and it’s also not caused by abuse or trauma–I wouldn’t have it if it was. These points are illustrated in SYMMETRY.
3. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
All my books are love stories at heart, and that comes from my lifelong love for other books of this kind. Like the epic loves in FOREVER AMBER and GONE WITH THE WIND, all my books feature couples whose love will never die, despite all the obstacles they encounter. I’m also immensely influenced by music, and my tastes in that are firmly rooted in love themes as well: songs like “Unchained Melody” and “God Bless the Broken Road” are examples that express the kind of love my characters have for each other. I have a playlist on my computer called “Songs to Write By” that I listen to whenever I write.
4. What is a typical writing day like for you?
After jump-starting my brain with coffee, I answer e-mail, respond to writing forum posts, check my Facebook account and try to do something promotional every day. Then I work on editing projects for 2-3 hours and break for lunch. Depending on whether or not my sister hijacks me at lunchtime, I work on my own writing projects in the afternoon until it’s time for my husband to come home, at which time all productivity comes to an abrupt halt! However, if it’s basketball or softball season and he has a game, I sometimes get to work at night too. And if I’m in the middle of a book’s climax, I write every chance I get, even if I have to fake an illness to stay home and write.
5. You’ve written in several genres; main-stream fiction, romance, and YA to name a few. Is there a genre you haven’t tried yet, but would like to?
Actually, I consider all my books women’s fiction because they focus on the multiple relationships in the heroine’s lives–love interests, friends, siblings and parents. Since my books are all character driven, I start with the main characters, get to know them and let them tell me their stories. However, I never know what direction they’re going to take me in. One of my current works-in-progress is a YA paranormal I like to describe as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” meets “Dexter.” I have another that includes a murder mystery. I know that writers are advised to pick a genre and “brand” themselves, but I’ve never been one to follow rules. Oh, wait–no, that’s my heroine Jaycee who’s like that. I was always the good girl teacher’s pet. Is there such a thing as writing-induced multiple personality disorder?
6. Your body of work includes both full-length novels and short stories. Do you prefer one over the other and how do you decide the length of a story?
I think I love them both equally. After contracting with L&L Dreamspell for SYMMETRY, I discovered the wonderful anthologies they publish and wanted to be included in them with my fellow “Dream Teamers.” I had a couple of short stories already written that fit in well with a few of the anthology themes, and I’ve also written some new ones. Often, I find myself writing “after-the-fact” short stories about the characters from my novels, so they really do complement each other.
7. Self-promotion is a necessity for all authors today, no matter how much most of us hate it. Can you tell us a little bit about how you promote your work? Any tips for other authors?
When my first book was published, I was basically flying blind when it came to promotion, and everything I did was the result of Internet searches for ways to promote. Now that I’m on my third book and have been an active member of multiple writing communities and forums, opportunities for promotion literally fall into my lap every time I check my messages because of the great network of writers I know, several of whom have even published reference books about how to promote. My book promotion library is now well-stocked and referred to often.
8. You’ve received several outstanding reviews for your books but what is your most cherished reader reaction to your work?
I’d be hard pressed to pick one, because every reader review is like food for my writer’s soul. However, I guess I would have to say all the letters and reviews I got for my first book, TRUE BLUE FOREVER, from teenage girls who told me they stayed up all night to finish reading it, some of whom had never read a book before for pleasure. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is for me to know my book introduced these girls to the wonders of reading, something I’ve cherished for as long as I can remember.
9. Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?
Without question, I have been influenced most by the books I read and fell in love with when I was growing up. My all-time favorite book is LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott. I wanted to be Jo March from the moment I met her. Since she was a writer, it was almost as if I didn’t have a choice!
10. In addition to being a published author, you were the senior editor for Champagne Books and you’re active in local writer’s groups. Have those benefited you in your writing career?
Both have many benefits, the greatest of which I would have to say is the camaraderie of my fellow writers and the contacts I’ve made at writing conferences with other editors and publishers. I also found my critique group partners through my local writers’ guild, and they are invaluable to me.
11. Can you share a little bit about your family; your husband who you say is the “love of your life” and your three “beautiful, gifted children,” TJ, Tia, and Treasure?
Oh, Lord. Where to begin? I always wanted children who didn’t follow the crowd, and I definitely got them! My kids are non-conformists in so many ways–they’re funny, irreverent, sarcastic, intelligent and opinionated, and I wouldn’t change a thing about any of them. Well, maybe I would make them easier to wake up in the morning, but that’s the only thing! As for my husband Tony, anyone who talks to me for more than five minutes knows that he is my absolute favorite person in the world. We have been hopelessly in love for thirty years and still gross out our kids on a regular basis with our PDAs. (Public Displays of Affection, not Palm Pilots!)
12. Mark Twain said, “Southerners speak music…” As a Southerner, do you have a favorite Southern saying or expression?
Here are a few of my favorites that my pappaw and my daddy used to say:
“The sun don’t shine on the same dog’s butt all the time.”
“I’m so hungry I could lick the sweat off a restaurant window.”
“Nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”
“Knee-high to a grasshopper”
“Colder than a well digger’s butt in January.”
“Tell your mama ‘n ’em I said hey.” (I still use this one myself!)
And this quote from Robert Penn Warren pretty much sums up my writing research methods: “Storytelling and copulation are the two chief forms of amusement in the South. They’re inexpensive and easy to procure.”
Thanks for having me as a guest on your blog!
Read samples of all Joyce’s work at Author’s Den: http://tinyurl.com/yb8q2sw
Joyce’s blog “Blue Attitude”: http://joycescarbrough.blogspot.com