Me: How did you get into writing?
Joyce: My 7th & 8th grade language arts teacher first told me I am a writer. She put it in writing even – in red ink at the top of my essays and book reports. And then she announced it at my 8th grade graduation. I can’t tell you how much I needed some affirmation at that point in my life. Because of my teacher’s predictions, I made A’s in writing projects throughout high school and college. But during my early adult years I focused on teaching in various settings. Then suddenly, midlife was fussing at me – challenging me to invest in what I really wanted out of the measly bit of life I had left. About this time, my hubby, two children, and I took a sabbatical from our regular life. I began seriously dreaming about writing. I was mapping out a novel in my head (actually a thinly disguised memoir is what it was!) During our sabbatical year we bought our first computer and at the same time an acquaintance offered me a work-for-hire writing job. From there, I began freelancing Christian Education curriculum, magazine, and newspaper writing. I wrote a book in response to an announcement for the Marguerite de Angeli Prize Contest. I didn’t win but in 1995 that manuscript became my first published book, BEST FRIENDS FOREVER.
Me: In BLUE, who do you most closely identify with?
Joyce: Well. I suppose it’s hard not to identify with Ann Fay. At least I hope it is. I certainly do.
Me: Ann Fay has such a strong voice. I wondered briefly if the book was actually an autobiography. How did you get inside her head?
Joyce: The story line isn’t autobiographical at all. Unless you count the fact that I learned about gardening from my daddy and I grew up in the area I wrote about. But at an emotional level I think Ann Fay is autobiographical. To me she represents a girl who is drawing on all her inner reserves, all her sense of commitment and stick-to-it-iveness to do a job that is bigger than she is. I wrote the book during a difficult year. After giving up writing for several years to teach, I’d decided to try doing both at the same time. But it wasn’t working well because No-Child-Left-Behind was squeezing every shred of creativity out of my teaching and new supervisors switched up my schedule. I had to change classrooms in the middle of the year AND set up a whole new system for teaching my high-needs special ed students. (this at a time when my heart was making this move back to writing.) In addition, my mother was ill and I was afraid we were losing her. But the good news is that we had lots of snow days that year and let me say, if there is something I miss about teaching school it, IS the snow days. I wrote BLUE on Saturdays and snow days. And at the finish of the school year I had a first draft. So the autobiographical part is that my school year pulled every ounce of emotional energy and perseverance out of me. I wanted desperately to quit. But there was that sense of honor – much like Ann Fay’s. And I think it really comes from the same place Ann Fay’s did – the need to please her Daddy. I’m not sure I can pinpoint what it was about my upbringing that gives me that Horton the Elephant sense of commitment but I know my parents modeled it.
Me: Do you have a favorite secondary character?
Joyce: I’m fond of Junior Bledsoe. To me he is the epitome of neighborliness. I know people like that – one of them is my brother. My dad too. And now I have a son-in-law who is the same way. Come to think of it, my hubby, my son, and all the most important men in my life are like that. They might wish they could say “no” more often than they do but the truth is if you have a need and they can help, they’re going to.
Me: How long did you research for BLUE?
Joyce: I began in the fall of 02 and I’m not done yet. Okay, well, let’s just say my ears will always perk up at the mention of polio. I’m still buying books on the subject. But to answer your question – hmmm. I was doing final fact checking in August of 2005 just before it went to galleys. So basically three years.
Me: What was the hardest part of writing BLUE?
Joyce: Waiting is always the hardest part I think. Waiting for the editor to read and give feedback. Waiting to see the cover composition. Waiting for the book to come off the press. But here’s the thing. As much as I hate the waiting, I’ve discovered that time is the writer’s best friend. It’s important for me to watch the seasons come and go – to know for sure when mimosa blossoms are on the tree, to discover some phenomenal resource that was published while the editor had my manuscript, or to meet a new expert I can interview. Time has saved me some embarrassing mistakes.
And if there was a second thing that was hard, it was the copyediting phase – ooosh – all the nitpicking over punctuation and grammatical correctness! (And as you can imagine, Ann Fay was not too thrilled with this phase of BLUE either!)
Me: Name a couple current authors that inspire you.
Joyce: Katherine Paterson has been inspiring me for years on end. Partly because she writes so consistently well and partly because, while I know she has a strong Christian faith, she demonstrates the difference between telling a story and preaching a sermon.
Jerry and Eileen Spinelli inspire me too. Not only are they diverse in their writing but they model relationship – with each other, with the writing community, and with their readers. Where do people get that sort of energy?
Oh, and all those moms and dad out there who are writing while raising children – now they are my heroes! (Katherine, Jerry, and Eileen fit this category also)
Me: If you weren't an author, what would you do with your extra time?
Joyce: I can’t really imagine having extra time but I know what you mean – hmmmm, I’d like to think I’d keep a spotless house and a weed-free yard and also spend more time on relationships. In terms of some other career or area of interest, I’d love to do something with art – paint murals on walls, create exciting classroom environments, or maybe or get involved in community theater.
Me: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Joyce: Oh, so this is where I get to bust on my editor? Carolyn Yoder is the most amazing combination of tough and nurturing. I love that she doesn’t tamper with my work. She gives me direction, she helps me think about what is missing or overstated but, in the end, every word is mine. She brings the story out of me! There have been times – especially with my latest book (HEALING WATER, Spring ’08) when I was reading her comments and trying to understand what she was asking for and I’d pound my desk and scream, “I don’t know what she wants!” But you know, somehow I found my way. The challenge is to learn to think like she thinks. It does get easier with each book.
And did I mention I just signed a contract for a sequel to BLUE?
Oh, a word or two about HEALING WATER – it takes place in Hawaii during the mid 1800’s. It grew out of my admiration for Father Damien, the priest who ministered to leprosy patients on Molokai . But it quickly became a story about the Hawaiian’s who were banished forever to live apart from family and home - about disillusionment and hope, hatred and forgiveness, anger and aloha!.