Writing takes time and perseverance. It always amazes me when I learn a writer’s background stories. How they manage to mesh their personal and professional lives and still have time to explore other interests. Following suit, Joanna is married, has two lovely daughters, works as an English Professor in upstate New York and has managed to have nine publishable books served up to the public. And some horse back jumping thrown in for fun. Enjoy!
Moe: Looking back, did you choose the writing profession or did the profession choose you? When did you ‘know’ you were a writer?
Joanna Scott: I was addicted to imaginative play as a child and wasn’t ready to stop playing when I grew older. For awhile, I kept at it in secret; then I discovered that I could keep losing myself in those unreal worlds of my imagination by writing fiction.
Moe: What inspires you?
Joanna Scott: Conversation, in all forms (with people, with books and newspapers, with the past).
Moe: Every writer has a method to their writing. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
Joanna Scott: I’ve lost my old routines. These days I snatch time at my desk between other commitments, whenever I can. But I’m learning that imagination can be nourished by varied commitments.
Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?
Joanna Scott: The computer has made it too easy to block and delete and replace one word with another! I rarely finish a sentence (like this one) without backtracking and revising in an attempt to achieve greater clarity. Increasingly, I write in a circular fashion and return to the beginning of something whenever I set out to move forward. Somehow I manage to accumulate pages. I’ve finished some books within a year’s time; others have taken several years.
Moe: When you sit down to write is any thought given to the genre or type of readers?
Joanna Scott: I try to attend to the requirements of the specific work, to follow its unique rules and make something solid and integral. But I’m always hoping to give readers something that’s nourishing, absorbing, and startling.
Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?
Joanna Scott: My intentions spin off in the craziest directions! I can barely keep up with them. I might make plans, but they’re all shredded by page 2.
Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?
Joanna Scott: My methods for accumulating information keep getting stranger: for recent books, I’ve started with my private dream of a real place. I’ve had to see it in my mind first and describe it with my own words before I read about it. I read about it after I’ve already described it at length. Then I go back to the pages I’ve written. Armed with some facts, I gently correct my mistakes and keep writing. And then, when it’s possible, I go to explore the place–I wander its streets and climb its mountains and skin my knees trying to climb up walls and peer into back yards. Sometimes I get into trouble for this.
Moe: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If yes, what measures do you take to get past it?
Joanna Scott: Even when my confidence flags, I’ll keep spitting out words–nonsense, junk, graffiti–for better or worse.
Moe: What do you hope readers gain, feel or experience when they read one of your books for the first time?
Joanna Scott: Certain works of fiction have made me feel less afraid of the intense complexities of experience, and so I try to write books that might do the same for others.
Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?
Joanna Scott: Well, there’s more sting involved then I’d expected. But when it comes to the business, I remain willingfully naive.
Moe: What is your latest release about?
Joanna Scott: I’d been reading through old newspapers and wondering about the anonymous lives on the outskirts of history. And I’m always wondering about strangers I see at a glance. I went in search of them–these ghosts of the past and the strangers of the present. I found some of them in the imagined worlds of the short stories in Everybody Loves Somebody. I’ve tried to convey the intensity of their experiences–their passions and successes and defeats.
Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?
Joanna Scott: Books that make me more aware. For example Some recent exciting immersions include Saramago’s Blindness, John Berger’s King, Maureen Howard’s The Silver Screen, W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz.
Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
Joanna Scott: Sailing over jumps on horseback, holding on for dear life.
Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?
Joanna Scott: To quote my first editor, who was quoting a friend of his, who was quoting Samuel Beckett: “Tell them to be very, very careful.” I take this as a warning to think twice before casting an idea as the truth.
Moe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
Joanna Scott: Unsteady.
- Everybody Loves Somebody is available from Amazon.com.
- Everybody Loves Somebody is available from Amazon.ca
This interview was originally published 12/18/2006 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.