For my 2nd author interview, I selected the award-winning author, Jo Chandler.
From years ago when Jo and I were in a writing group I found her story, This Side of Forever, to be an honest view of what alcoholism and addiction do to families and teens. Having battled addiction and in counseling addicts and families I find that Jo's novel, This Side of Forever, can open a door of hope for parents and teens.
My questions and Jo’s answers:
Q. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
A. I think I always knew writing was in my bones, but it wasn’t until I became a reporter for my high school newspaper, the Manikopa, that I began to write in earnest. When I became editor of the newspaper during my senior year, I knew I’d found my home. But even then, it didn’t occur to me that I would write for a living.
Q. When did you first consider yourself a writer?
A. I dropped out of college in my junior year to get married. During that time, the writing was the furthest thing from my mind. After my divorce, I landed a job as the district marketing manager for a cellular company. My job entailed writing an array of marketing materials, including press releases, mail inserts, and statewide intercompany communications. Then I got fired. (Cellular technology was not my forte.) Rather than find another job, I decided to strike out on my own as a freelance journalist. That decision led me to a career writing feature articles for magazines and newspapers. I finally believed I was a writer. Writing fiction came much later.
Q. Do you have a specific writing style?
A. I know in advance where I want my story to go and what I want to accomplish. I can usually see the novel’s arc in my mind. I jot down notes to keep me on track, sort of like writing a grocery list. I make another list of what I need to research and a third list of who I need to interview. Here’s where it gets a little nuts. I gather together all of my final notes (handwritten, typed and printed from various websites) and literally go through and number each paragraph by hand, according to where it will appear in the story or novel. I have been using this method for decades.
Q Is your novel based on someone you know or events in your own life?
A. People often ask me if This Side of Forever is based on my daughter’s life. The answer is yes and no. Annie Bloom is not Crista. But the relationship between Annie and her mother came from that place in my heart where mother/daughter bonds can never be broken. The other characters are a compilation of teens I knew growing up (including two who died as a result of alcoholism) and young people I’ve known as an adult.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing your novel?
A. The hardest part of writing my novel was when it was finished. I’m an extrovert/introvert, which simply means I love people, but I don’t love trying to market myself and my work. I will sign books anywhere, anytime, and I have spoken to many middle school and high school English classes. I thoroughly enjoy both of these events. I have difficulty cold calling potential venues and convincing them to book me. This is where a publicist comes in handy. But even with an agent or publisher, today’s authors are expected to have a solid marketing plan. I’m determined to be more aggressive when my next novel debuts.
Q. How did you come up with the title?
A. I believe our true home is a spiritual realm of pure oneness and joy in which we come to know God as a being of limitless, changeless love. What we think we experience while we are on this planet (This Side of Forever), is nothing but an illusory blip on our Divine journey.
Q. Is there a message in your novel you want readers to grasp?
A. My first hope is that readers relate to Annie as she faces the death of her best friend through the bottom of a bottle and cheer for her recovery. The message I want them to come away with is that no matter how horrible we think we are, no matter what unforgivable thing we think we did, we are innocent in the eyes of Love. And Love is all there is.
Q. Do you have advice for other writers? Also, sites and groups you recommend.
A. Here is some advice I wish someone had told me. Never stay in a critique group where you are made to feel bad about your work. A good critique group should be sensitive and supportive in their comments. Your success should be their first concern. Also, network with other writers. I’ve been a member of California Writers Club, Sacramento, and CWC San Joaquin County. I was also a member of Gold Country Writers and Northern California Publishers and Authors until I moved out of the area. I’ve met so many wonderful people through these clubs. Writers are my tribe.
Q. Can you share a little of your current work with us?
A. I am on the final revise/edit of a novel I call Street Girl. It’s about a homeless girl who lives with her mother along the Sacramento River. When her mom disappears, thirteen-year-old Zoe is left to fend for herself. The seed for this novel was planted when I read about a homeless preteen in the Sacramento area whose parents vanished, leaving her completely alone. Beyond that, my novel is pure fiction.
Q. Is there anything else you would like readers to know about your life as a writer
A. As I said before, I spent most of my career writing nonfiction. It seems I had a knack for it. When I decided to switch gears and enter the world of make-believe, I thought it would be a fairly simple switch. It wasn’t. There was a steep learning curve. I remember taking a class from a well-known author. She was a wonderful teacher who didn’t hold anything back when it came to improving my work. There were times during that class when I felt like giving up. But, after the tears stopped, a voice inside reminded me that writing stories is what I do. It’s who I am. I can’t imagine my life any other way.