Tuesday, March 22, 2011
In my debut novel, Awakening, my heroine, Lexa Clarke, is me in several ways - stubborn and feisty, but also resourceful, resilient and fiercely loyal. Like Lexa, I was left on the doorstep of my faith for a number of years. Her grandmother, Nana, is my grandmother – down to stringing pearls on the summer porch and her tales of the “Happy Hunting Grounds” (her term for Heaven). And my father was much like Lexa’s dad. The book’s events parallel my love story with my husband, Jim, who is the inspiration for Lexa’s hero, Sam Lewis. The strength of character, goodness and unwavering faith in Sam is based on Jim. When we first met, Jim was a ministry student at Dallas Theological Seminary and drove an old white station wagon, the inspiration for Sam’s “bomb.” Because I lived this story in several respects, it’s part of my heart. I’m passionate about it, and hopefully that makes Awakening all the more real to readers.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
Okay, I’ll confess – and this might surprise some of you. In the mid-1980s, I actually went out on a date with a tall, dark and handsome Italian. In Rome (yes, Italy). Named Marcello. Wait – it gets better. He was the lounge singer in the hotel. You can groan now. Even quirkier? I was on the trip with my mother, and she let me go! He took me on a whirlwind trip around the city at 90 mph in his little car and sang American love songs to me in his smooth tenor and halting English. I wasn’t sure how to react, but I gripped the door handle and held on tight. Thankfully the perfect gentleman, Marcello escorted me to a club located in the basement of a house with small tables low to the ground and covered in sheets, black lights, disco balls and velvet paintings featuring dead American icons. The Europeans are really strange in their obsession over Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, and James Dean. You must understand that I was a good moral person at the time, but I wasn’t living for the Lord. But then, as always, He protected me. You know what? All in all, I had a great time that night and it was one I’ll never forget. I still smile when I think of Marcello. When in Rome…
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
My mother says I was always a writer. In first grade, I was promoted into the Red Birds reading group (the highest level) on the very first day. We also wrote stories in that group, and I loved it. The writing was thrilling, but reading our work aloud to the group terrified me. Hard to believe I was shy once upon a time. A few years later, when I sold a joke to a local magazine, my mom told me I should frame the $10 check as my first royalty check. It’s like she knew. Later on, I routinely spent my $5 weekly allowance on three hardback Nancy Drew mysteries and would sneak under the covers with the flashlight to finish the teenager’s latest adventure (I pay homage to the titian-haired sleuth in Awakening). About that time, I started writing all sorts of things, mostly short stories. I knew I’d hit the height of sophistication when I got my first subscription to The New Yorker. I learned from the contemporary masters of storytelling. When I was a young mother in Philly, I started reading Christian fiction and penned my first novel for fun. In a week. I continued writing novels for fun while living in Boston before putting my writing aside for a decade to raise our children. But picked it back up again in late 2008 and began the journey to publication!
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
Through the years, I’ve progressed from Nancy Drew to mysteries by Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, and Agatha Christie. Someone gave me a large bag of Grace Livingston Hill books a number of years ago, and it was my first taste of inspirational romances. I read the gamut of classics, and love the dry wit and irony of Mark Twain. He can be caustic, but his observations of life are priceless. Twain’s Innocents Abroad is one of my all-time favorite books. I read very little pop fiction (I got enough of that from my years reading The New Yorker). I embraced Shakespeare (but prefer his comedies), and the Bard’s plays came to life when I visited the Globe Theatre in London (I lived there for 10 weeks on a college program abroad – when the nannies on the highspeed train from London to Scotland gossiped about Charles dating Lady Sarah Spencer, Diana’s older sister). For the most part, I read Christian fiction now. Whatever the genre, I adore a well-written book with humor, great characters, romantic elements (of course) and a moving plot.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
Believe it or not, writing keeps me sane. It’s my peace, my solace, my private time. My day job is demanding as an estate administration paralegal in a large law firm, and I need the creative release of writing something every night. Our home computer is in the midst of Grand Central Station – TV on, the kids and Jim coming in and out, the dog meandering in for food and/or affection. Listening to music also soothes my soul. I’ll often put on the headphones and zone out with Michael W. and Steven Curtis while I write. Our gracious Lord graced me with an amazing capacity for concentration in the midst of chaos. Perhaps this stems from reading The Iliad and The Odyssey in the snack bar at Ball State University with the jukebox playing and the pinball machine pinging in the background. Somehow, I managed to ace the test. I’m convinced being able to tune out distractions is a gift of the Spirit.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Without a doubt, my three children: Sarah, Chelsea and Matthew. They’re growing up so fast, but every year brings new trials, blessings and joys. Matthew is high-functioning autistic, and he’s one of the most loving – and smartest – kids you’ll ever meet. He builds Lego architectural masterpieces from scratch! Sarah’s a college student and Chelsea’s finishing up her senior year in high school. They’re musical, they’re funny, and – most importantly – they love the Lord. If the Lord chose to take me home tomorrow, I’ve accomplished what I wanted on this earth – I’ve found love, I’ve had children, great friends, a wonderful life, and now I’ve published a book. The Lord has been so gracious.
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
I love this thought-provoking question! Probably a jaguar. They’re sleek, strong, agile and quick. Mysterious. Secretive. I’m none of those things now, although I used to be much more agile and could skip faster than any of the kids – girls or boys – in grade school.
What is your favorite food?
I have several (and good thing I’ve already had dinner before answering these questions). I create my own dish at Olive Garden with tortelloni (same as tortellini only bigger), alfredo sauce and grilled chicken. I love a good medium-rare steak every now and then with a loaded baked or sweet potato. But those are rare indulgences or else I’d be dead and gone, most likely. I also love fresh veggies and fruits – all of them. My well-meaning pastor husband once announced from the pulpit, “JoAnn loves donuts.” Well, he almost didn’t live past lunch. Jim learned a valuable lesson that Sunday morning – you don’t mention anything about your wife from the pulpit unless you first have her permission. For the record, I like donuts, but that’s about as far as it goes.
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
It wasn’t until I joined the ACFW that I learned about problematic issues with such writing components as POV and backstory. Those happened to be the two I stumbled over the most. Still do at times, fueled by my desire to let the reader know everything about my characters – in the first chapter. You live and learn. Awakening was originally written over a decade ago, and it also needed the most editing. But the basic story never changed. Like everything else, practices makes better (not perfect, but much better).
Tell us about the featured book.
Awakening is a contemporary romantic adventure filled with great characters, plenty of humor, sparkling dialogue, emotion, and a moving plot with adventure and a little mystery thrown into the mix! The best way to tell you about it is to give you the short version back cover copy: Lexa Clarke signs up for a short-term summer assignment in San Antonio with TeamWork Missions, hoping to make a difference in the world. TeamWork director Sam Lewis has a job to do and can’t afford to be distracted by the petite, feisty blonde. But when she tumbles into his arms from the top of a house they’re rebuilding, Sam suspects his life will never be the same. A God-fearing man. A God-seeking woman. A combustible combination.
Please give us the first page of the book.
Lexa Clarke was on a roll, and it wasn’t even noon.
San Antonio – 40 miles. The highway marker filled her with anticipation. Soon, she’d be a survivor of the four-hour bus trip from Houston. So far, so good. The guy with the beady eyes seated beside her reeked of knock-off drugstore cologne and offered her things, none of them legal. With nearly every seat occupied, she was stuck. Burying her head in her dad’s old police union newsletter did the trick. Smart thinking, bringing that along.
The senior flirt across the aisle graced her with a gap-toothed smile and nudged her with his cane a couple of times. A young mother attempted conversation, but finally gave up when her two rambunctious boys demanded constant attention. When Beady Eyes snored – a loud, obnoxious wheeze – Lexa attempted to read her novel, but her thoughts always strayed to the upcoming eight weeks.
Maybe building houses in a summer predicted to be one of the hottest on record wasn’t the smartest idea. Lexa swallowed her doubts and lifted her chin. When you want to make a difference in the world, you’ve got to make some sacrifices. The TeamWork driver would pick her up in less than an hour, and then the real adventure could begin . . .
The bus pulled into the Greyhound bus station along with Lexa’s high hopes. Holding out one hand, the driver helped her to the curb and grinned with surprise when she handed him a generous tip. He hurried to retrieve her rolling suitcase. “Enjoy your stay in San Antonio, Miss.”
Lexa broke into a grin, equal parts relief and excitement. “Thanks. I’m sure I will.” It might be long hours of hard work with no pay, but it’s how she chose to spend her summer. High hopes should count for something.
Very interesting. How can readers find you on the Internet?
I’m on Facebook and you can send me a message through my website at http://www.joanndurgin.com/. I blog every other Wednesday on Reflections in Hindsight and I’m featured on the 30th of each month on Hoosier Ink.
Thanks so much for having me join you today, Lena! I loved answering your fun questions! I’ll be happy to answer any questions, and will check in frequently.
And thank you for coming by, JoAnn.
Readers, here's a link to the book. By using it when you order, you help support this blog.
Leave a comment for a chance to win a free copy of the book. Please tell us where you live, at least the state or territory. (Comments containing links may be subject to removal by blog owner.)
Void where prohibited; the odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. Entering the giveaway is considered a confirmation of eligibility on behalf of the enterer in accord with these rules and any pertaining local/federal/international laws.
The only notification you’ll receive is the winner post on this blog. So be sure to check back a week from Saturday to see if you won. You will have 6 weeks from the posting of the winners to claim your book.
If you’re reading this on Feedblitz, Facebook, or Amazon, please come to the blog to leave your comment if you want to be in the drawing. Here’s a link.