Monday, December 24, 2007

Q & A with author and poet JoSelle Vanderhooft

Hello There,

I’ve been getting to know JoSelle Vanderhooft, an exceptional poet and writer. I reviewed her novel—very briefly in a recent post. She wrote, The Tale of the Miller’s Daughter , which I loved. The publisher might be out of copies, so contact JoSelle personally at

JoSelle and I just interviewed each other about writing in a series of back and forth emails where we alternated asking questions. The whole thing came out great. Below you’ll find out lots some of our thoughts about writing the creative process.

Q from Paul: Could you ever stop writing, or is it a need that has to be fed?

Joselle’s Answer: Honestly, I don't think it is something I could avoid doing while remaining healthy. A few years ago, due to a number of factors (including a severe bout of depression) I stopped writing for about two years. And they were, categorically speaking, the worst years of my life so far. I think “need” is the correct term to define it. In a number of ways, story is integral to healthy human living, whether you're the recipient of story (reading it or listening, say) or the teller. It's one of the earliest things we, as a species, figured out, right after fire, the wheel and hunting, and with good reason: it sustains us, refines us and makes us human. I could no more stop writing than I could stop being human.

Q from JoSelle: Your bio on Popcorn Press said you decided to write at age 4 or so. Tell me a bit about how you came to that decision at such a very young age.

Paul’s Answer: Before I could speak I was arranging my toys and creating stories about what was happening to them. I would play out the story, imitating who knows what, but creating stories none-the-less. Even before I could speak, I made it clear that I loved books and stories. My mom reports that I told her in my four year old voice--very matter of factly--that I was going to be a writer. She of course recoiled in horror and started giving me career suggestions. In the end, I became a nurse--probably to work off a karmic debt--but also to do something that involved helping people. I love meeting people and it so happens that writing and nursing have allowed me to meet some amazing people. I'll never quit being a nurse and I'll always write in some form or another.
JoSelle: Haha now I want to know what the games were! I did that with my toys, too.

Q from Paul: When you're writing poetry or fiction, do the words just flow most of the time, or do you have to pry them out of your head with a crowbar?

That often depends on the piece, and whether or not it is poetry or prose. Let's start with poems first. Last year, I wrote five collections (yes, really!) and most of the time the words flowed pretty well. This year, maybe because I've had other things to do, they haven't so well. I've also been writing a fairly challenging collection about father/daughter relationships, and perhaps the subject matter (and the fact I'm not really working in the pre-established plots of fairytales as I was last year) has made the wordflow a bit... well, stickier. Like molasses sometimes! When you emailed, I was working on a poem called "The Vampire's Daughter," a daughter's recollections of her father, who was the world's last great vampire stage and screen actor. It's written in iambic pentameter, as a dialogue between a reporter and the daughter, and I'm going to strangle it soon if it doesn't start being easier to write :). Fiction's a bit different. It tends to just go slower for me because the rules are a little different than they are in poetry, and getting the cadence of the language correct while doing everything I need to do with plot and character can be quite challenging. Ok, now one for you!And I'm gonna be boring and turn your question back to you.

Q from JoSelle: How does writing work for you? When does it come easy and when does it come hard? And when doesn't it come at all - if you'll forgive me paraphrasing Meat Loaf's "Anything for Love." :D

Paul’s Answer: Ah, Meatloaf. "I would do anything for love, but I won't do that . . . ." I think that's a line from the Meatloaf song you mentioned.

Well, I would do ANYTHING to let the words flow fast. Sometimes they come like a raging river, but most of the time they're very slow to appear on the page. When I wrote my first novel, and series, words came so fast. I wrote 550,000 words in less than three years. It turned out to be three fat novels, that turned into five shorter novels. Now, they're known as The Iron Dragon Series, book one being: The Golden Cord, coming out in April of 2008.

In those heady days, when I didn't realize so many things about writing, I could bang out 35 pages in one night. I would just go and go until I couldn't see straight anymore. I tended to write a lot of crap that needed to be rewritten and edited heavily, but at least it was down on paper. You can't edit nothing. I miss those days. I was more pure then and less encumbered with worry about the writing itself.

Now, I'm much more methodical and plodding--or should I say--plotting. I outline. I stew over it. I make sure I have a good hook and a chapter ending disaster that makes people keep reading. Things come hard now, most of the time. I think if I had less going on in other aspects I of my life I would write faster, but I have too many distractions. Finding a balance is huge for me. Tonight I did okay. I got going and let it flow. I wrote one chapter for my current novel (Chapter 19), Medusa's Daughter and revised another (Chapter 18) but then it was 7:00 AM and I was getting tired from being up all night. I even started chapter 20, but had to quit as my brain was mushy and I couldn’t keep going.

I think writing comes hard for me when I have too much going on. It comes easy when I can forget about the stress outside my writing room and focus on what's inside my little brain trying to get out.

Okay, next question for you:

Q from Paul: What inspires you? Personal experiences? Books? Poems? Art? What gets your juices flowing to write poems, stories, books?

Answer from JoSelle: A little bit of all of those, actually! I'm very inspired by the classics, particularly drama - I did get one of my degrees in theatre studies, after all, and I'd even planned on being a literary manager at a theatre. Ahh, but that feels like several lifetimes ago! Shakespeare is a perennial source of inspiration, as is John Webster, John Ford, Ben Johnson - basically anyone with "John" in his or her name. ;) But actually, I find that almost anything can be an inspiration. A dream, the cover of a book, something funny my cat did, an interesting conversation with a friend, the smell of my favorite perfume. I try to be as open to the world as I can be, and to as many experiences as I can have. And now for you,Q from JoSelle: You've discussed how Golden Cord came about a little in the last question, but I'm very curious how the book went from a project to publication. When did you get the idea for the novel/series and how did it progress?

A from Paul: This is good question. And a long answer, though I’ll be brief here. My website has a section titled: Writers’ Resources and an essay on how I got published. That describes how it all went down. Check it out for the long answer. The short answer is this: I dreamed the dream of getting published. I lived it. I wanted it. I learned what it would take. I went to conventions. I went to writing seminars. I spoke with writers who sold professionally and with writing teachers. I wrote a lot of words, over half a million. Then poof! I became an overnight success SIX YEARS later. In the end, I had developed the skill to get published and gained the contacts required to get published. Then it happened. Now I’ve sold nine short stories, six to DAW Books and three to smaller presses and one novel so far.

The other part of the question is about how I got the idea for the novel and how did it progress. That happened when I was flying over the Grand Canyon. I was looking at the massive mesas below me and I was thinking about how entire groups of animals—deer and mountain lions—are so isolated and cut off from everything—according to a documentary I saw. I also remembered an article in National Geographic from back in the 90’s about these massive plateaus in Venzuela, called Tepuis. If you’ve seen Angel Falls, the tallest waterfall in the world, you’ve seen the Tepuis.

So, the Grand Canyon’s geography and Venzuela’s Tepuis gave me the idea for the world. That’s when I thought of Ae’leron—a world of massive plateaus surrounded by an ocean of mist and cloud—inspired by plane rides when I could look out and see the clouds going to the horizon, but there was no evidence of the ground below. In Ae’leron, no one knows what’s below the mist and winged creatures prey upon the folk who try to survive on the plateaus. Death comes from above and yes, there are dragons—not that many. You really have worry about the griffins. Flights of griffins are like prides of lions, but they come from above and kill without warning. The story and plot of the books came as I started to create a story that could take place in the world. The one line description of the novel and even the series is this:

To stop the dragon king, a young hunter must leave behind the woman he loves, give up all of hope of survival, as he is forced to guide his most hated enemies to the lair of the beast that threatens to enslave their world.

The Golden Cord, Book One of the Iron Dragon Series comes out in April of 2008. Please email me to pre-order a signed copy.

Okay, thanks for reading. JoSelle and I thank you for your time and we hope you found our little Q & A interesting. Stay tuned and good luck writing.

Paul Genesse


Anonymous said...

Paul, the tag team Q&A is a good idea. Your fans get to know two cool writers in one sitting. Good On You.

Maranda said...

Paul, I was just checking out your website. How awesome! Your book is getting published in May?!! That is amazing. You are amazing!