I first became aware of JoAnna Senger through her short stories for Barbara Custer’s Night To Dawn magazine. Her writing style easily pulled me into the stories. Recently, I read her first published novel, Betrothal, Betrayal, And Blood, and was blown away by her writing technique and storytelling ability.
Tom: JoAnna, thank you for sitting down with me for this interview. First, how about telling your fans a little about yourself, your family, and where you live?
JoAnna: I still consider myself a Midwestern girl despite decades in California and now Arizona, still root for the Kansas City Chiefs even though I can’t remember the last time I saw them play in a stadium. My family consisted of a mom, dad, little brother and a half-sister. Only my brother and I are left. Although I still own my home in California, I have to say that I much prefer living in Arizona in the City of Surprise, a small city around 120,000 in the Phoenix metropolitan area.
I went to Stephens College, a girls’ college in Columbia, Missouri, where I received a Bachelors in a double major, French and Economics. I attended graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley and earned a master’s degree in economics.
The world of words and the world of numbers are equally comfortable for me.
Tom: From reading your short stories, and now your novel, it is easy to tell you are an experienced writer, how did you get your start, and what is your background?
JoAnna: You’re really taking me back. When I was in the fourth grade, we had a choice about a project, and writing a story was one of the choices. I wrote and illustrated (Lord help us) my first story: Roo-lah and the Elephant Herd. No doubt influenced by my thorough attention to Tarzan comics. I have worked as a financial analyst, a computer programmer and systems analyst, a compensation specialist, a Human Resources consultant, and recently earned a paralegal certificate. So I’ve written just about everything from technical documentation through legal briefs into fantasy.
Or, maybe it’s all a fantasy.
Tom: What writers influenced you, if any, and whom would you say your writing style most resembles? And are your stories more plot driven or character driven, do you think?
JoAnna: When I was seven, my parents gave me my first book that I could read myself: “The Tin Woodman of Oz” for Christmas. Smitten with the Land of Oz, I went on to buy all the books in the series, and I still have them. L. Frank Baum was followed by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (The Yearling), William Faulkner, Ann Rice, Agatha Christie, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King and many others.
I strive for a style similar to Faulkner’s with respect to the abrupt pace change and like Christie’s for subtlety. With respect to mysteries, I particularly like those where “who-dun-it” becomes almost beside the point, given the extraordinary discoveries made along the way.
As for plot versus character, I suppose I would put character first. It seems to me that the characters act according to their nature, and their actions become the plot. Yet, I usually think of a broad plot outline before I refine the characters. Once refined, the characters become real to me and, often, I can’t give them up.
Tom: Tell us about your short stories, and a bit about your recent novel, and which do you prefer writing, novels or short stories? Or do you have a preference either way?
JoAnna: The novel is most natural to me. A few of my short stories are standalones, and in the future, I will submit only standalones to magazines such as Night To Dawn and save the continuous stories for a novel. I think of writing a novel as similar to making a quilt, which I also do. Sometimes you need to take a break, and the short story or a table runner does the trick.
Tom: You point out that the human monster is worse than any imaginary creature, and I agree. There is a touch of horror in your recent mystery novel involving a human monster. But besides horror and mystery, do you consider writing other genres down the road, and if so, what would they be?
JoAnna: I have written a few children’s stories, as yet unpublished, as sometimes wonder what it would be like to write a column for a newspaper. So many challenges ahead!
Tom: In your novel, Betrothal, Betrayal, And Blood, you have some very interesting characters, in particular the police investigators and a certain female P.I., are these based on anyone you know (lol)? As you know, I’m already a fan of your lady P.I., and hope to see more of her!
JoAnna: In truth, I see myself, family, friends, and acquaintances in every character I write. I’ve heard it said that writers just write about themselves and use different disguises. A former colleague read a very early version of Betrothal, Betrayal, and Blood and saw me clearly in the lady P.I. I was so flattered!
When I have strong feelings about someone, that person will definitely wind up in my writing.
Tom: What do you find to be the most exciting part of the creating process to either novels or short stories?
JoAnna: Ideas come over me and demand my attention, nag at me, give me no peace until I start writing. The flow of words and the images in my mind invite me into another world, the world I am putting down on paper and yes, I often do write my very first drafts in long hand, a chapter at a time. This first act of writing, the very beginning of a novel, transports me to another world where I am all-powerful and everything will be as I have said. Then, I discover myself writing something completely different from what I was thinking, and we’re off to the races. If I’m using my laptop, I don’t even look at the screen and just write what I see in my mind’s eye.
Weird? You bet.
Tom: Along the same subject as above, what do you find to be the most difficult area in the creating process?
JoAnna: Making sure that what I see so clearly in my mind’s eye actually becomes words on the page. I have absorbed the characters and events so thoroughly that I sometimes forget that the reader has not.
Tom: Are you working on anything special right now, perhaps a sequel (I hope) to Betrothal, Betrayal, And Blood?
JoAnna: I have completed the first draft of the next book in the San Tobino series: Holistic Death. I can guarantee you that you’ll see some folks you know.
Tom: Besides family and writing, tell us about any hobbies or community services you may be involved in, and any other activity you would like to mention.
JoAnna: I am currently volunteering in the Prosecutor’s Office in the City of Surprise. The Chief Prosecutor is similar to a District Attorney.
I love to quilt and embroider, maintaining the traditions of the women in my family. I am the first to be raised in suburbia rather than on a farm or ranch.
Tom: What advice would you give other aspiring authors hoping to break into the writing field today?
JoAnna: Remain open to all opportunities. There are so many how-tos, and each of them worked for somebody. It’s all so easy once it happens, and so seemingly hopeless before it happens. The activities I thought would lead somewhere usually didn’t, and then a casual note led me to a bit of success.
And throughout it all was the writing, the world of the imagination, and that is an incomparable experience. When you realize that you would rather fail at writing than be successful at anything else, you know you’re in the right place.
Tom: Where can fans find and buy – your stories, and do you keep copies on hand for autographs? Please include website and Blogs.
JoAnna: My novel and short stories can currently be found in Night To Dawn magazine at www.bloodredshadow.com/ My novel is also available at Amazon and B&N.
Tom: And now a question from left field. If you could, would you choose to live in a parallel universe as one of the people in the places you create?
JoAnna: In a heartbeat. I would go to San Tobino and live forever having safe adventures with Emma, Hermione, Karl and Vito. Writing about them is the next best thing.
Tom: JoAnna, thank you very much for consenting to this interview.
JoAnna: It’t been a real pleasure.