Interview with JoAnn Ross

Jen: Help me welcome JoAnn Ross to Book Talk this weekend. JoAnn, will you please share a short bio with us?
JoAnn: : I’m Irish and live in the South, so short and and succinct is always a challenge, but here goes: I’ve written around 100 books (hardcover, trade, and mass market), many of which have hit the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists, and have been published in twenty-six countries. Two titles were excerpted in Cosmopolitan magazine, and my books have also been published by the Doubleday, Rhapsody, Literary Guild, and Mystery Guild book clubs. I’m a member of the Romance Writers of America’s Honor Roll of best-selling authors and have won several awards, including Romantic Times’ Career Achievement Awards in both category and contemporary single title.

In addition, I received RWA’s national service award and was hugely honored to be named RWA national Pro-Mentor of the Year.

Jen: Tell us about Breakpoint and where it’s available.
JoAnn: Breakpoint is the 4th book in my High Risk romantic suspense series featuring former Special Ops heroes and the strong women who love them. Although all the books were written to stand alone, the first three each showed a bit of the disastrously failed mission in Afghanistan that changed all the men’s lives.

Breakpoint picks up after that mission, when Air Force Combat Controller Dallas O’Halloran is partnered on a secret terrorist fighting team with Julianne Decatur, the by-the-book JAG officer who attempted to court-martial his SEAL friends.

Assigned to investigate a Navy flyer’s apparent suicide aboard an aircraft carrier, they discover the trail of a ruthless killer—and an attraction between them that can’t be denied. And when their prey turns the tables on them, Julianne has to depend on the one man daring and reckless enough to keep them both alive.

Breakpoint is available July 7th (or perhaps a few days earlier, depending on distribution), wherever books are sold.

Jen: At what age did you discover writing and when were you first published? Tell us your call story.
JoAnn: When I was seven-years-old, I wrote my first novella — a tragic romance about two star-crossed mallard ducks with a three-hankie ending– for a second grade writing assignment. When the story earned a gold star, I just kept writing.

As for The Call, I was making Joy of Cooking brownies for a party my son was going to be having that evening. Since the recipe doesn’t really let you stop midway, I kept mixing and stirring, saying “Yes, yes, yes,” to everything the editor said.

Afterwards I wanted to scream my news from the rooftop, but my husband was out of his office. (There weren’t cell phones back in November, 1982.) My kid was at school. And no one else even knew I was trying to get published. So, since my house was going to be invaded by a hoard of adolescent boys in a few hours, I put the brownies in the oven. Then continued getting ready for the party. As I was cleaning toilets, it occurred to me that your life really doesn’t change just because you become published.

Jen: How does your family handle the time that you write? Are they supportive or disruptive?
JoAnn: They’re hugely supportive. Both my son and husband have always read all my books and my husband — my biggest supporter, cheerleader, and the way helpful wall I bounce ideas off — is the only person I allow to read my manuscript before I send it to my editor.

Jen: How do you approach your writing? Do you plot or go with the flow?
JoAnn: I ALWAYS begin with the characters. Usually the hero. Then I find a woman who, corny as it might sound, “completes him.” Since I write a lot of redemption stories, she usually knows he’s better than he believes himself to be, while still providing a challenge. Because my guys thrive on challenges.

Then I start looking for a situation to put them into. This often takes awhile. I thought about No Regrets (aka my nun-secret-baby book) for five years before I wrote a word.

When I have a beginning, a pivotal moment, and what I think will be the ending, but seldom is, I begin to write. I usually know about ten scenes ahead of where I am, which gives my story some structure, but still allows for surprises.

Jen: Do you have a specific time or place that you write?
JoAnn: These days, since my office looks out over trees and gardens, I tend to write around eight – ten hours a day (more often four hours on Sundays) at my desk. But, having developed a “cone of silence” during those years when I wrote with boys blasting away at video game aliens or shouting “Marco Polo” from the pool, I can write in cars, planes, even airport gates. I once wrote while sitting on the sidewalk waiting for a Fiesta Bowl parade to begin, and another time proofed galleys in the stands during halftime of a Rose Bowl game surrounded by thousands of screaming fans.

Jen: What kind of research did you do for this book?
JoAnn: Since it’s part of a series, I’ve been researching for years. I’ve read nearly every non-fiction book written on the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and begin each day reading blogs from deployed troops, many who include videos, which gives me a good sense of place. (Having always believed that setting is character, I try never to put a book in a location I haven’t personally spent a lot of time in. Obviously Iraq and Afghanistan weren’t possible.) Since I volunteer with many military support groups, I’ve been fortunate to have made a lot of contacts who are more than willing to answer my many questions.

I’ve also been on two aircraft carriers myself, have two nephews currently deployed – one in Iraq, the other as a medic in Afghanistan – and my husband put himself through college fighting forest fires, which proved a help during Breakpoint’s fire scenes.

Jen: What’s the most challenging aspect of writing? Easiest?
JoAnn: I love research (I changed majors five times in college, so starting a new book is like changing majors yet again), so two of my biggest challenges are not spending hours online getting distracted by some side bit of trivia I’ve run across that has nothing to do with my story, and choosing which bits of the mountains of information I’ve collected to put into a book.

The easiest is spending my days with sexy, complex guys I always fall madly in love with. But in a way that doesn’t get me in trouble with my husband. LOL

Jen: What’s the most rewarding aspect?
JoAnn: That’s an easy one. Hearing from readers – a few who’ve gone on to become long-time friends — that in some way my stories have touched their lives.

Jen: Where do you draw your inspiration?
JoAnn: That’s a tricky question since I believe that everyone is born with the ability to make up stories. (Just watch four-year-olds play pretend.) But somewhere along the line, creativity starts to get worn away. Children learn to color inside the lines, imagination can often be seen as unwanted exaggeration by adults and very few teachers are willing to drag out chairs for invisible friends to sit beside students in class. Writers are, in my opinion, people who grow up while managing to hang on to that bit of childhood.

Personally, I’ve always viewed my mind as one of those domed toddler push toys with the brightly colored popping balls. Every so often one of the balls will catch my attention, I’ll snatch it up, and that becomes my story.

Jen: Do you become attached to your characters and have a hard time letting them go, or are you happy that their story is told and you can move on?
JoAnn: I’m sort of in the middle. I do think about them from time to time, and trilogies and series are fun because I can catch up on their lives. Also, I’m always bringing back characters from older books, even from other publishers, just for a visit in current stories. (For instance, since we’re moving back home to our beloved Pacific Northwest, I’ll be revisiting Coldwater Cove, where Homeplace and Far Harbor were set.)

On the other hand, I don’t grieve when I sent them off to my publishers. Because no one ever showed up at my house begging to read those stories I used to keep hidden away in my piano bench.

Jen: What’s the most interesting comment you have received about your books?
JoAnn: Oh, that’s like asking which is my personal favorite book! One was from a reader who shared stories about many her miscarriages. Because she felt I would understand both her sadness and her joy, she sent me a picture of the newborn she’d conceived through artificial insemination. I continued to receive yearly updates and it was a pleasure watching Ashley grow.

Others where readers tell me that they’ve gathered up the courage to escape an abusive relationship partly because one of my heroines managed to survive a similar situation, always pull an emotional chord. But I suppose my favorite, so far, was from a functionally illiterate adult who’d never read a book before she picked up one of mine. She taught herself to read with that book and thanked me for giving her what she called “the best gift of all – the gift of reading.” I still get a little misty-eyed when I think about that.

Jen: What’s next for you?
JoAnn: After Breakpoint on July 7th, I have the 5th book in the High Risk series featuring sexy Cajun SEAL Sax Douchett, coming out next summer. It’s set in the bayou, where someone is killing off people who’d been voted various “Mostly Likely To” titles back in high school. (Sax was voted most likely to become a rock star as well as the most likely to miss his tenth year class reunion because he’d be in prison.) It’s been grand fun passing a good time with the former class bad boy.

Then, as I mentioned, I’ll be returning to Coldwater Cove, Washington, where, after some personal challenges, good things will happen to good, yet flawed people. As much as I enjoy writing suspense, I’m looking forward to returning to the multi-layered, family-centric romances that have always been so dear to my heart.

Jen: Where can you be found on the web?
JoAnn: http://www.joannross.com/ , http://www.myspace.com/novelsbyjoann, and http://blog.joannross.com/.

Jen: Is there anything you’d like to ask our readers?
JoAnn: Reading, like writing, is such a personal thing, but I suppose I’d like to know what moves people emotionally when they read a book. What makes the story or the character memorable enough that they’re still pondering what might happen after the last page is closed. And I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank all the fabulous readers who’ve allowed me to live out my childhood dream and work in my jammies for the past twenty-years!

Jen: Thank you JoAnn for stopping by this weekend. Readers, JoAnn is giving away a Breakpoint magnet, assorted bookmarks, as well as an autographed Backlist book of the winner’s choice to one random commenter. To enter the drawing, first leave a comment or question for JoAnn. Then you must either leave your email address in your comment or send a message to admin.bookblog@gmail.com letting us know you’d like to be in the drawing. A winner will be chosen on Sunday, July 12 around 5 pm PST. Due to JoAnn’s request, the contest is only open to those living within the US.