So honored to be interviewing writer Joan Reeves (we talk about writing tips, inspirations and the whys of things)! Before I share her words with you, please take a moment to cruise around on the rabble.ca website, and support them if you can. It’s an amazing grassroots organization with real news and in-depth cultural content, and it’s not just for Canadians!
June is Audiobook Month, and I personally love “reading by listening.” Whether I am cleaning or driving or doing paperwork, audiobooks delight me, inform me, comfort me, keep me awake and so much more. Also, I am honored to be an audiobook narrator, and that is how I met author Joan Reeves. Since my blogs are mostly for artists, educators, and community leaders who use arts-in-ed, we talk mostly about how, why, and the importance of writing and of her work.
Hi, Joan! I am so happy to have you with us today. Warning: I am a big fan, I have a bunch of questions!
My mother was a reader, but she never read to me or my brothers. I remember the first book I ever read because reading made such an impact on me. I became a storyteller for my brothers and would entertain them in the evenings with stories I made up. I guess our family would best be described as lower income. I know my parents did the best they could with their financial and emotional resources. I’ve always tried to adhere to the philosophy that people deserve to be remembered by their best moments so that’s all I’ll say on that subject. In the sixth grade, I had a teacher who required much writing as class work — stories, themes, research papers. I did it all and received little blue ribbons she taped onto my papers. There was the carrot as if I needed one. For me, the reward was as much about expressing a thought so clearly that the reader would easily understand what I was saying as it was about teacher recognition. Everything probably grew from those early experiences.
2) What compelled you to write romances? Do you write other things as well?
I write what I like to read. By the time I was in my teens, I’d had enough drama, tragedy, and emotional dysfunction to last me for 10 lifetimes. I didn’t want to read about all that or see it in movies. I’d lived it. I didn’t feel the need to see a character grow from embittered to accepting. I felt there had to be people in the world who were happy more often than they were sad, who went after what they wanted with a cheerful optimism, and who were strong, resilient, and able to endure and persist without becoming bitter, angry and full of hate. I wanted to write about those people — their journeys from not having what they want but not being resigned to that fate. I write about hope. People need hope. Hope they can pay their bills, keep a roof over their heads, find a good job, fall in love, have babies, and live in a committed relationship with their chosen one.
Yes, I write other things as well. I’ve written a lot of nonfiction, usually along the lines of inspiration and motivation as well as articles about the art, craft, and business of writing to help those who want to write. On the fiction side, I’ve played around with mystery and suspense while keeping a romance in the story too.
3) Part of what I enjoy about narrating your work is the strong sense of PLACE you evoke. I feel like I am actually in the tea shop with the characters, and of course I am hoping beyond hope that the vintage bar/restaurant, Crimson (in Scents & Sensuality), exists so I can go there! Could you share some words of wisdom for would-be writers on how you experience a real environment, and a couple tips on making a fictitious place come to life for the reader?
Oh, I wish Crimson (from Scents and Sensuality) did exist. It’s exactly the kind of place I’d frequent. I tend to associate music with places so when I’m constructing a setting like Crimson, I’m hearing the music they would play. Like in Romeo and Judy Anne, Roman, the hero, listens to his iPod constantly and the music he’s listening to reflects the setting in which he finds himself, whether it’s the classroom in the rundown school or the no-frills house he’s renting across the street from Judy Anne, the woman he finds isn’t easy to forget.
I draw upon my imagination and my travels too. I traveled quite a bit, especially before I had children, and lived in Japan for many years. I’ve witnessed everything from the seedy to the elegant in many places in the world. With Crimson, I envisioned it as the kind of place Fred Astaire, clad in a tailcoat and top hat, would have tap danced around or maybe Holly Golightly would be there with the in-crowd for drinks before she went to Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I always have a visual and a music background when I start.
4) As you know, I LOVE your work. Part of what I love is that the characters are struggling with the idea that they are not good enough, not lovable, often because of social messages or negative relationships. You deal with their struggles in a realistic and sympathetic way. What draws you to write about these issues?
Holly, you are so kind. Thank you for such lovely compliments. I write about these issues because they’re what women struggle with most of the time. Men don’t have nearly as much insecurity about EVERYTHING in life the way we women do. It’s like the old joke about the guy who gains 10 pounds, looks in the mirror, grins, and says, “Looking good, stud.” A woman gains 10 pounds and thinks she should be stoned in the town square — and she’ll be the one to hit herself with a stone! We have all internalized the messages blasted across television, movies, music, and, sadly, from our families, until we’ve lost the ability to judge ourselves impartially whether that’s in the area of our looks, our brains, our career achievements, our gender roles, or anything else. We pay too much attention to the opinions of other people and too little to what we ourselves think and feel.
The people in my books are damaged in some way. Even in romantic comedy, there’s a shadow over the heart — something a character may dredge up every time something goes wrong. Through the course of the book, they learn that what they thought was true, may not be. They usually have to accept that times have changed, they’ve grown, the past really is the past, what they thought was right may be wrong and what they thought they wanted may no longer be what they want. They also learn to think for themselves and learn that to get love, they have to trust, risk everything, and be willing to open themselves to possible embarrassment, humiliation or hurt.
5) I also appreciate that sometimes the characters have something they have done/said/been that they need to put right, but without melodrama and without “miracle-grow.” The characters must learn to reach out, be responsible and both give and accept love.
Exactly. Epiphanies don’t happen often in life. You know, that moment of clarity when you see the decisions that led you to a certain point and the knowledge that you can, right now, change it or continue on the path and reap the consequences. Communication as well as granting the other person understanding is important to characters and to real people. I don’t write characters who hammer at each other about why they did something that the other misunderstood that caused a rift and blah blah blah. All that has been played out in scenes for the reader. In most of my books, I give the reader credit for being able to “see the big picture.” For instance, the hero may have an epiphany and return to the heroine who at the same time has resolved to reach out for the happiness she wants. When they see each other, all they want is to hold each other — not have long detailed conversations about why he came back and why she accepted him. The reader knows because the scene where the hero made the decision was played out. The heroine may say, “We’ll talk later, but for now I just want to kiss you.” This is because she’s now secure enough in her own identity to accept him back and to do it on her terms. Some readers don’t like to make those connections. They want it spelled out so I sometimes get negative remarks because of that.
6) Okay, I’m gonna bring it up. SEX. There’s sex in your books! Lovely, sweet, passionate, intense, self-discovering sex!
I recently had a conversation with a friend who has a teenage daughter. She asked me to recommend an audiobook I narrated, and I named a few, including Scents & Sensuality. “It has sex in it,” I warned, “but I think it’s actually an important book for a young woman. It deals with having strong and unexpected sexual feelings, and not being sure what to do about that. The young woman who is the main character thinks she has to look a certain way and pretend not to be smart to be liked by guys, and she’s coming out of a relationship with a boyfriend who made her feel bad about herself. She doesn’t know that sex should be on her own terms and be wonderful — she doesn’t even know that it’s ‘allowed’ for her to want it to be wonderful.”
“Wow,” said my friend. “Sounds perfect for us to listen to together. YES. Yes, yes, yes!!
Now that I’ve ranted, what are your thoughts?
Sex is a vital part of life and of love. A real man wants to satisfy his woman, and a real woman wants to satisfy her man. By book’s end, they should be equals in bed. In my books, the woman usually ends up realizing that she controls the gates to paradise. *g*
Some writers are uncomfortable writing about sex. Others, like me, write about the love making because it’s as much a part of the developing relationship between the heroine and hero as anything else in the plot. When characters have sex, it changes them and their relationship. There’s no going back after having sex. There have been entire reams written about the physiological implications of human touch by far more educated scholars than I, and the sex act is always the pinnacle of that human touch. It touches us physically and emotionally — whether we want that or not.
Regardless of the dispassionate approach to sex in today’s world, I think most women long for a fulfilling sex life with the man they love. I think they would choose sex with a man they love and who loves them over sex with any guy — regardless of how sexy and gorgeous he may be — just to get off. A lot of women are in lackluster relationships and sex is not thrilling. It doesn’t have to be that way, but it does require the courage to change. Women need the courage to admit they aren’t happy in that area, and men need the courage to ask, “What can I do to satisfy you?” (I’ve always said if a man wanted to know how to make love to a woman, he should just read a well-written sexy romance novel.)
7) Anything else you’d like to share before we say good-bye?
Yes, I’d like to apologize for being so darn wordy! I’d also like to say that I’ve enjoyed having you as narrator on 3 of my audio books: The Trouble With Love, Old Enough to Know Better, and, most recently, Scents and Sensuality. We seem to be simpatico on so many levels, and that makes working with you such a pleasure.
Thank you so much, Joan! Readers, if you want more, you can read Joan’s article on “What is a Romance Novel?” here.