Idaho Writers Guild

Say Hello to Joanne Pence

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Joanne Pence is an award-winning and USA Today best-selling author of the Angie Amalfi mysteries, the new Rebecca Mayfield mysteries, as well as historical fiction, romance, romantic suspense, a fantasy, and most recently, a supernatural suspense set in the empty, roadless, no-one’s-ever-lived-there “River of No Return” area of Idaho. Born and raised in San Francisco, she has been a journalist, analyst for the Federal government, taught school in Japan, and now makes her home in the foothills north of Boise, Idaho, with her husband, two dogs, four cats, and a peahen (female peacock) who showed up one day and refuses to leave.

I met Joanne several years ago at a writer’s function in Boise. She had just relocated and wanted to connect with other writers. We’ve been good friends since. An active member of Idaho Writers Guild and a true writer’s advocate, Joanne gives willing of her time and knowledge.

15 things you may not know about Joanne Pence

1) Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?

Growing up, I wanted to become a foreign correspondent and travel the world. I made it as far as Japan. After I got married and had children, I turned to fiction. Fortunately, through journalism (I have a masters degree in it), I learned a lot about writing. With fiction, I enjoy being able to have stories end the way I want them to.

2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?

I no longer have a “day job,” and my sons are adults, so I only have my husband and pets to contend with around the house. It’s not difficult to fit in time to write. In fact, I’ve been known to become grumpy if I can’t find time to write because too many other things have to be done. (Hard to imagine, isn’t it?)

3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?

It depends on the book. I know when I’ve written enough drafts when I stop finding things to change. I write an extremely rough, short, first draft—just doing all I can to get from the beginning of the book to some kind of an ending. I don’t worry about much when I’m putting down that draft. Sometimes I’ll think of something in the middle of the story that needs to go in the beginning, so I’ll write it down. Later, I’ll move it to where it belongs. Also, I write in scenes—each new scene has its own file (I use Scrivener, which is a blessing for people who write the way I do). I’m a person who needs to see things written down, and only after that am I able to fix what needs to be fixed. Because my first drafts are so rough and short, the next few drafts flesh out the plot, and the last few drafts flesh out the characters. I know the book is almost finished when I start to cut out the excess words, scenes, descriptions, and especially explanations that tell instead of show.

4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?

Selling my first novel was definitely the most exciting thing, and then my second (the first in the Angie Amalfi mysteries, Something’s Cooking) was nominated for several big awards and sold extremely well, so that was a huge boost. One of my special memories happened shortly after watching a Woody Allen movie (can’t remember the name) in which he was a writer and in one scene he walked into the HarperCollins building at 10 East 53rd Street in New York City (the front is quite distinctive). A few weeks later, there I was walking into the same building. I went to the Edgar Mystery Awards Ceremony with my editor. It was all quite magical.

Despite all that, I began to feel as if I was on a treadmill, turning out one Angie Amalfi mystery a year. The best thing was when I decided I wanted to write something completely different, and stopped the Angie books.

As far as the worst, there were disappointments—it’s always easy to think one should have been given more support, more publicity, more money, or whatever—but overall, I really can’t complain.

5) What part of your job do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?

I most dislike writing the first draft of a book. It always seems impossible—that I’ll never be able to think of enough for my characters to do to cover 55,000 or more words. I have to all but force myself to write at that first draft—a necessary evil. I most love late-draft revising, where the plot has been worked out, and I’m tweaking to find the perfect word to make a sentence better, or the perfect few sentences to transform a scene from the mundane to something that comes alive or evokes emotion from the reader. I also love making book covers. That’s something I’ve been learning to do since I set up my own publishing company as an independent author. It’s not easy, but I love the challenge, and hope to someday be really, really good at it.

6) What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a novel? Favorite authors?

I most enjoy mysteries and suspense novels that deal with crime, but that have characters with a romantic storyline of some sort. The Yard was a recent read that’s a good example—a crime story that takes place shortly after the Jack the Ripper murders. The inspectors, their wives, lovers, and so on were great people to read about. As to favorite authors, that’s tough–they change with my mood. Over the years, probably the ones I’ve gone back to and reread are Daphne du Maurier, LaVryle Spencer, and Michael Connelly.

7) What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?

The best advice was to give independent publishing a try. I’ve never enjoyed writing as much as I do since I began putting out my own books and writing them the way I want them written. The worst was probably to write what my editor and agent wanted me to write rather than to follow my own muse.

It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because agents and editors are “professionals” they know what’s best for you. For example, anyone who is familiar with my biggest, most ambitious book, ANCIENT ECHOES, can understand how dumbfounded I was when an agent suggested I “get rid of all that Lewis and Clark stuff.” I’m thankful I continued with my concept of the book, not someone else’s. (It was chosen as a Top Idaho Fiction Book of 2013.)

8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?

Considering that I’ve been writing since the 1970’s, I have no idea—I write the way I write because it’s the way I think. My “voice” is like a colloquial style that’s clear, simple, wry, and sometimes tongue-in-cheek. I can think of writers who tend to write that way, but I don’t know that they were influences. Susan Isaacs’ Compromising Positions showed me that humor and crime could go together.

9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?

I’m afraid not.

10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I’d be unhappy. I’d probably be doing something else creative—making book covers for other people, possibly; or painting; maybe knitting, crochet, and/or needlepoint which are all things I very much enjoy.

11) What quote or personal saying do you live by?

“If you build it, they will come.” In other words, don’t sit around and wish for good things to happen to you—get out there and work to make your own luck and you won’t be disappointed. Things might not turn out the way you expect, or even the way you ever imagined, but whatever the result will be, it’s preferable to doing nothing.

12) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

Bottom line, I hope to write more, write faster, and write better. Specifically, I hope to quickly put out at least three books in my new Inspector Rebecca Mayfield mystery series. The first book, ONE O’CLOCK HUSTLE, was released in April. The second book, TWO O’CLOCK HEIST, will be released next month, and then I hope to start the third, THREE O’CLOCK I-DON’T-KNOW-WHAT-YET. I also want to complete the trilogy that began with ANCIENT ECHOES. And Angie Amalfi fans keep writing to me asking for another book in that series.

13) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?

I wish I had paid more attention to what was going on with independent publishing earlier than I did. I was hearing rumors, but not until 2011, when I attended a conference in Florida, did it all begin to make sense. There’s a steep learning curve—and things change from one week to the next—so you pretty much need to just jump in and test the waters.

14) What advice would you give beginning writers?

I would tell writers to write what they “love” rather than what they “know” because there’s a world of research at your fingertips. If I had written what I know, I never would have set parts of ANCIENT ECHOES in Mongolia or Jerusalem, and never would have used the “secret” that’s the heart of the story. Writers need to listen to that little voice we all have that tells us when something needs changing or needs more work. And most of all, don’t release a story before you’re completely happy with it.

15) Something we don’t know about you?

Perhaps you don’t know that I studied Mandarin Chinese in college and took calligraphy classes to learn to write Chinese characters using a brush and ink that I was taught how to prepare. Both were among the most difficult things I ever attempted!

And: what’d you like us to know about your latest release?

My latest release is ONE O’CLOCK HUSTLE. Homicide Inspector Rebecca Mayfield and Richie Amalfi were introduced in the Angie Amalfi mysteries, and they now have their own mystery series. This is their first full-length story.

When San Francisco Homicide Inspector Rebecca Mayfield arrives at the scene of a deadly shooting, she’s shocked to find that the witnesses have caught the killer, and that he’s someone she knows. Rebecca’s a by-the-book detective, and she’s always done her job according to the rules, without hesitation … until Richie Amalfi comes back into her life.

Richie knows his way around everything and everyone in his city. When people say they “know a guy who knows a guy,” Richie’s the guy they’re talking about. He can usually help people out of tight situations, but suddenly finds he can’t get himself out of hot water when he’s accused of murder.

Richie’s on the run, and he runs straight to Rebecca to help him prove his innocence. From the nightclubs of North Beach to the scenic heights of Twin Peaks, dangers lurk and more deaths happen. As Rebecca discovers there’s a lot more to Richie than she thought, and a lot more to like than she imagined, she soon fears not only for her life, but also her heart.

Joanne will be signing books this Saturday (June 14) at Rediscovered Bookshop in Boise, Idaho, Saturday 11-1. If you’re nearby, stop in and say hello.

Say Hello to the funny A. K. Turner

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I write a lot ofCORNDOG_Cover_onTemp_220pgsOLF things, but humor isn’t one of them. Writing “funny” is hard work, but A. K. Turner makes it look so easy. Her latest book, Hair of the Corn Dog, releases today. Both members of the Idaho Writers Guild, we love to talk writing. Here’s something about Amanda you may not know:

15 things you may not know about A. K. Turner

 1) Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?

I don’t feel like I had much choice in the matter. My route may have at times been circuitous, but I think this is where I was always headed. My father is a writer, so I had a sense early on of the realities of the writing life. I still had to come to writing in my own way and in my own time, though, which meant a solid decade of the starving artist gig. I waited tables and cleaned houses for years before I found my genre and really started moving forward in my writing career.

2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?

I don’t work on a book every day, but when I do, it is regimented. I map out my progress on a calendar and I stick to it. When I’m writing a first draft, I write 5,000 words per work day. I don’t write on weekends. I have kids and they deserve my full attention during that time, though chances are I might write a little something, even if just an email to a friend or idea for a blog post. If it’s a day when I have a word goal, I don’t allow myself to do much else until that goal is met. The fact that I take breaks in between projects and take my weekends off helps me stay disciplined during my work days.

3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished? 

It varies for each book. I write my first draft very fast, then rewrite two or three times before sending it to my editor. She sends back what is by then a fourth draft. We volley it back and forth. It’s usually on its sixth draft when I send it to my beta readers. I incorporate their comments for an eighth draft that goes back to the editor. Hell, let’s just call it an even ten.

4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?

The best thing for my writing career was impending motherhood. When pregnant with my first child, I felt terrified that I’d missed my chance, that now that I was going to be a mother, I’d never be a writer. That was the kick in the pants that I needed. I’m not sure I can think of the worst thing for my writing career. Even things that seem like they were negative (rejections, disappointments, typos) all help shape the present and future. There is no worst thing.

5) What part of your job do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?

I love the excitement of beginning a new project, the sense of accomplishment at completing something, the space in the middle when you realize your project has legs. I also love that it no longer costs me money to be a writer, which is how it felt for the longest time. I hate horrible reviews and try not to read them. That’s a learned skill.

6) What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a novel? Favorite authors?

I like to read almost anything I can get my hands on. If you looked at my nightstand (but please, stay out of my bedroom) you’d see a collection of short stories, a book of essays, a nature narrative, an epic historical novel, and a lesson on craft. I recently finished books in sci-fi, mystery/thriller, a few that I’d consider literary fiction, and another book on craft. I hate assigning these labels, because most books fit more than one category. I always read, whether I’m working on a book or not. That said, I don’t usually read another female humorist while working on a humor project of my own. Favorite authors: Flannery O’Connor, John Irving, Wally Lamb, Jeffrey Eugenides. Other books I adore: Stephen King’s On Writing, Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop.

7) What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?

Best advice: “Time is going to march on no matter what. In five years, you’ll be five years older. You can be five years older having written a book, or not having written a book, but you’re going to be five years older, either way.” Sometimes I think of this but play with the number. I make it one year or ten and think of what I want to accomplish in that time. Not that writing should be rushed, but life is short. 

Worst advice: “You must write every day.” People take this too seriously. So what if someone else writes 2,000 words every day of the year? Every writer is different, so it makes no sense to latch on to rules that work for someone else. There are no rules, this isn’t football. Every writer whose habits you try to emulate had major faults of their own. Hemingway shot himself in the head. Instead of trying to be Hemingway, find your own path. It’ll likely be less messy.

8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?

When I realized that there were people who actually made a living writing humor essays, I knew I’d found my genre. I read David Sedaris, Sloane Crosley, Bill Bryson, and Laurie Notaro, among others. In terms of developing my own style, my husband Mike and my editor Elizabeth Day have been and continue to be extremely helpful in identifying the strengths and weaknesses in my writing. Identifying those aspects and using that knowledge going forward is, in my mind, one way a writer develops her personal style.

9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?

I’m not superstitious at all, though I do believe I’ve been very lucky in life. Every writer needs talent, tenacity, and a little bit of luck.

10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I’d like to say Federal Agent or Homicide Detective. But if we’re talking about reality, I’d clean houses, something I did a lot of before writing full time. I can clean a toilet like nobody’s business.

11) What quote or personal saying do you live by?

Every day in which I read, write, laugh, and move is a good day.

12) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

I want to continue writing humor, but replace the element of alcohol with travel. Don’t get me wrong, I still love a drink at the end of the day, but in terms of genre, the drinking mommy thing has been done, and I’m ready to move on to something else. We have a trip planned to Australia later this year and I’m working on some preliminary research. The working title is Tasmania with Children and Other Devils.

13) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?

I’d write more and read more. Other than that, I think dwelling on what I could have done or should have done is a big waste of time. I’m always looking forward.

14) What advice would you give beginning writers?

Everything takes practice. A person practicing the piano doesn’t view that practice time as wasted music notes. Writers need to give themselves permission to write things that never go anywhere, pieces they’ll never show to anyone else. You need that practice and those are not wasted words. We battle this a lot when others ask us about our work. We feel compelled to answer that we’re working on something that is ultimately marketable: a book, magazine article, short story. There’s nothing wrong with working on the writing itself without an end goal in mind. When an athlete exercises, that’s as much a part of their job as playing in the big game. The same is true for writers, whether or not your friends, family, and acquaintances understand that.

15) Something we don’t know about you?

I took flying lessons in a Piper J-3 Cub for about a year when I was a teenager, but never got my license. I worked on two seasons of the television show Survivor. I also worked on a movie, during which I met a shirtless Matthew McConaughey, but who hasn’t?

And: what’d you like us to know about your latest release:

Hair of the Corn Dog is the third book in my “Tales of Imperfection” series. It’s a collection of essays that center on the adventures of family and motherhood, like going to a drag show with your in-laws. But again, who hasn’t? Fans of the first two books, This Little Piggy Went to the Liquor Store and Mommy Had a Little Flask, will enjoy it. Those offended by raw honesty and four-letter words will not. I’ll be reading and signing on Thursday, March 20th at 6:30 pm at Rediscovered Books in Boise.