It’s a Mystery–Interview with Joanne Weck

Q. What is your ideal writing environment?

A. Although I can write anywhere—on planes, in restaurants, in the library—my favorite spot is at my cottage in the Poconos, sitting at my desk overlooking an expanse of wild overgrown “garden” consisting of rocks, weeds, mountain laurel, rhododendron, lilac bushes and cattails. My six bird feeders just outside my windows lure blue jays, cardinals, sparrows, chickadees, (and squirrels) and while I’m engaged by their antics a line of dialogue, an image, or exactly the right word suddenly comes to me.

Q. What authors inspire you most?

A. Too many to list, really, but I’ll mention a few who come to mind. I love different authors for different types of inspiration—Tennessee Williams, Lajos Egri, Adrienne Rich, and Shakespeare for playwriting–Colette and Anne Sexton for poetry–Jane Austen, Truman Capote, Vladimir Nabokov, the Bronte sisters, Edith Wharton and Gustav Flaubert for novels– Annie Dillard, Anne Lamott, Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron for writing advice and finally– for a good escape into mystery I love Niki French, Patricia Highsmith, and Ruth Rendell.

Q. What do you do when you aren’t feeling inspired or motivated to write?

A. I stay up all night watching black and white film noir mysteries, starring Bogart or Cary Grant. I walk my dog, or go horseback riding. I sculpt. I find pounding and shaping clay amazingly therapeutic. Sometimes I get up early and drive on the back roads of Pennsylvania listening to music or a book on tape. I sit in my sky swing and read. In New York I enjoy a night at the theater or dinner out with my husband—sushi or Indian food preferably. Or I fly to California to play with people I love—Eric, Heather, and their twins—Gwyneth and Sydney Anne.

Q. How do you think your worst experiences impact your writing?

A. I’m touched and inspired by this quote by James Baldwin, who surely knew.

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”

Tragedy, heartbreak, and pain do not make life richer, except perhaps for the relief of having survived with a deeper appreciation of everything you still have. My life has not been awash in unusual suffering. I’ve never survived a tsunami, an earthquake, a fire, or a shooting rampage.

I have felt the normal losses most people face–the loss of people I loved, parents, a sister. I’ve lived through a painful divorce, financial disaster, a near death from an ectopic pregnancy. I was stalked and threatened by a mental patient who fixated on me.

I can’t identify with those who have faced worse tragedies, or imagine myself in a similar situation. As a writer, I use the pain and suffering, the fear and shock that I’ve experienced to enrich and develop the characters in my novel.

One peculiar aspect of being a writer is the ability to be inside and outside of the experience at the same time. I remember as a child during moments of rage or sadness becoming aware of a separate part of myself observing and recording everything I was feeling. In the most dire moments (once, for example, as my car spun through the air after being sideswiped by a truck) I caught myself thinking, “This will be great to write about. Time actually does slow down. If I live through this, I’ll use it in my novel.”

When I’m writing a scene that demands intense emotions I can easily recall desires and emotions of my own life. (Not that I’ve ever murdered anyone–but I know what murderous rage feels like.) Devastation, hate, love, joy, feel the same no matter what the circumstances.

Tapping into the emotions, sense memory according to acting principals, help me, as a writer, recall the physical sensation of these emotions and transfer them to the characters as I create them.

 

 

Q. What inspired you to write Double Deception?

A. When I began I thought that I wanted to write a good mystery merely as a challenge to myself and a diversion but as I got deeper into the writing I found that many of my real life obsessions were seeping into the story. I had long been concerned with the catastrophic consequences of unrestrained temper and male violence toward women and children, also how the lack of love and the damage caused by alcoholism can filter down to affect several generations. I also suffered over the loss of a sister I loved and the illusion that I could have somehow prevented her death. These concerns became somehow submerged in and threaded through the novel.

Q. Did you know how the story would end when you began writing?

A. Absolutely not! It seemed that when I sat down to write this book a separate part of my brain often took over and dictated incidents and characters to me, almost against my intentions and the outline I had written. On the other hand I struggled with the final twists and turns and wrote several versions before the final one and even though it’s finally out there, I still find myself rethinking the ending and figuring out how I can take it up in the sequel.

Q. “I was hooked with the first page.”; “Wow!! This book had me from the first paragraph.” ; “I was pulled into Double Deception…”; “This book is hands down in the top five as one of the best books I have ever read.” These are all quotes from reviewers and avid mystery readers. Besides being a great confidence-booster do you think you’ve got a sequel in you?

A. As for the quotes—of course they are encouraging. It’s terrific to know that people read and enjoy my work. On the other hand I try to keep in mind that I’m writing out of my own passion and for my own pleasure and I would keep at it even if no one recognized it or encourage me. It’s my life sentence, my escape, and my salvation.

As for a sequel, I guess I already answered that question. I’ve outlined and written part of the sequel BONE MOON already. I’m determined to stick to my outline this time, but then again I’ve said that before and then found myself exploring unexpected pathways. I’ve just completed a totally unrelated novel—a coming of age novel called Summer of Secrets and even though I was certain I knew the ending of this book when I started, I found that the pathway to that end took many unexpected turns.

Q. Have you ever struggled with “writer’s block,” and how do you deal with it?

A. One of my favorite inspirational writers is Julia Cameron, author of several books on the creative process including The Artist’s Way, Walking in This World, Finding Water, and The Complete Artis’s Way. She is a prolific creator in many fields, including film, poetry, memoir, as well as her inspirational books for every artist.

Q. What are the most difficult scenes to write?

A.  Writing scenes that portray or even suggest a sexual encounter can be difficult.  Just show? Just tell?  Show and tell?

      My characters are driven by many forces.  I believe that makes for a story that people want to read. Sexual attraction is a vital part of the life of any well-rounded character. A prime motivator that drives mystery and suspense. Lust. Jealousy. Suspicion. Theft.  Manipulation. Betrayal. Greed. Murder. Some of the qualities that contribute to a page-turner.

I don’t write erotica or porn. I don’t write “romances.” I try to write realistically, to present sex as a part of normal life but also as one of the natural, human drives that leads to irrational behavior, to situations that create or increase the conflicts for a novel that makes a reader ask “What happens next?”

I’ve been faulted for creating characters that aren’t “likable” or like Hilary, “likable enough.” It is my belief that certain characters, and not just villains, are more interesting if they have minor (and sometimes not so minor) flaws.

The characters in my latest novel, RIMA AND CHLOE, the major characters are guilty of various sins and offenses–adultery, selfishness, greed, rage, betrayal.  A supporting character is revealed as a murderer. But until the denouement, he appears more sympathetically than some of the major characters.

In Rima and Chloe the adulterous love affair jumpstarts and drives the plot. Lovers betray spouses and sometimes deceive one another. But, I do believe, it is in the cause of a deeper understanding of human nature, and the ultimate redemption of the characters.

One of her ideas that strikes me as deeply true is her belief  that procrastination (and/or the condition known as “writer’s block) is the result of FEAR.  What can cause a person who truly wants to write (or draw, paint, sculpt, film, dance etc.) to freeze before the page or artistic material? What turns an artist’s desire for expression against herself?

ACCORDING TO CAMERON, FEAR IS AT THE HEART OF SUCH PROCRASTINATION.


Her advice: before you start a new project, ask your artist (i.e. that inner creative part of yourself) several questions, including what resentments or angers you are holding in regard to the project, any fears, and what you stand to gain by NOT tackling the project.

Another part of Cameron’s cannon is the daily mental “dump” called Morning Pages. She urges any creative person to make this a daily practice, simply write, no censorship, no second thoughts, no concern with grammar or spelling or structure. This practice, according to Cameron, frees the mind and dissolves writer’s block.

 

Q. You are also an actor and a playwright…Can you speak a bit about how those talents have played into your work as a novelist? Do you think it has helped your writing when it comes to dialogue?

A. I’m sure that my theater background affects my fiction. I had the opportunity to hone my skills (via a Geraldine R. Dodge Playwriting grant) with theater notable such as Adrienne Kennedy, Anne Bogart, N. Richard Nash, and I was greatly impressed by the relentless focus on the importance of the physicality and dialogue of the actors as characters. I visualize my characters movements and expressions and I hear their conversations almost as though I’m watching them on stage or in a film.

Q. Got a favorite quote?

A. Yes. It’s hard to select just one but here’s something by William Trevor that keeps me going:

“I believe in not quite knowing.

A writer needs to be doubtful, questioning.

I write our of curiosity and bewilderment.”