Pageonelit.com: How do you categorize
Joan Hall Hovey: My books aren't
mysteries in the way that Agatha Christie's novels are. The focus
is on the `whydunnit' rather than `whodunnit.' While an element
of mystery is inherent in the stories, I write psychological
Pageonelit.com: What is the setting
of your books? Are they standalones?
Joan Hall Hovey: Yes, my books are
standalones. Although I was born in New Brunswick on the Bay
of Fundy and still live in Canada, Listen To The Shadows is
set in a fictional town in Maine, and Nowhere to Hide is set
in both Maine and New York. I think the setting may come out
of my being such a big reader of American authors over the years.
Also, most of my readers are in the U.S. That doesn't exclude
the possibility of my choosing a Canadian background for a story,
but I haven't as yet. Sense of place has influenced my writing,
in ways I'm sure I'm not even aware of.
Pageonelit.com: When did you begin
to write and how did you discover this was the type of book you
wanted to create?
Joan Hall Hovey: Growing up, I lived
a great deal inside my own head and in the pages of the wonderful
books I devoured. I was a good student, especially in English
class and composition, but I did spend a fair amount of time
staring out the classroom window, to the dismay of my teachers.
I began to write almost as soon as I could read,
coming up with stories that no doubt were derived from fairy
tales about Princesses and frogs. Some were pretty gruesome as
I remember. I seemed pulled to the dark side even then. I also
liked to draw, and in first grade I recall showing my teacher
Miss Vanwart one of my renderings--a snake crawling out of a
bathtub and a man with a gun about to shoot it. My teacher's
exact words when she saw that were: "I don't know what's
going to become of you."
I've always considered myself to be a storyteller.
I loved making up yarns to entertain classmates. If I could frighten
them, so much the better. In some ways I was shy and insecure,
so maybe this was my way of gaining approval. I also liked being
the center of attention.
I was both drawn to and repelled by spooky stories,
even then. The draw was stronger. I never missed an episode of
The Squeaking Door (which really dates me) or Suspense Theater.
I never missed a Zombie movie and loved Edgar Allan Poe. I thought
Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were, in part, very dark and
scary. I loved gothic novels with the long secret passageways
and attics, and I think the influence of gothics is reflected
in my own novels.
Pageonelit.com: What inspired you
to write these characters? These stories?
Joan Hall Hovey: First and foremost,
I wanted to write a gripping suspense novel. But I didn't realize
until I finished writing my second book, Nowhere To Hide, that
I was also exploring the theme of abandonment through my main
character, Ellen Harris. I'd done the same with Katie in Listen
to the Shadows, although that first one was a very different
book. I didn't have to be a psychologist, like my character,
Ellen, to know that I had tapped into very personal waters. So
although I write what are termed `page turners,' at a deeper
level, I have a need to mine the motherlode buried in my psyche.
I think most writers do. To quote Willa Cather: "Most of
the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the
age of fifteen."
Pageonelit.com: What do you try to
do with your novels?
Joan Hall Hovey: My first duty to
a reader who has laid down money for my book is to be entertaining.
But I hope my books offer something more. I strive for substance
and for believable characters whose stories resonate with the
reader long after that final page is turned.
Pageonelit.com: Do you write fulltime
or do you have another career as well?
Joan Hall Hovey: Yes, I write fulltime
now. For a good many years, I had to work outside the home and
write when I could squeeze in the time. This, of course, along
with bringing up my children. You do what you have to. Up until
a year or so ago I worked as a writing instructor for a writing
school in Canada. But although I enjoyed my students and learned
a good deal from them, I found that my natural inclination to
give all that I could sapped most of my creative energy, not
to mention time. I like having those resources to give to my
own work now. Getting older does bring a few perks.
Pageonelit.com: What type of book
do you most like to read?
Joan Hall Hovey: I enjoy all sorts
of fiction, but most love to curl up with a great suspense novel,
something by Stephen King, James Patterson, Joy Fielding, Ruth
Rendell, Ira Levin--there are so many fine authors out there.
Pageonelit.com: What writers have
most influenced you?
Joan Hall Hovey: I really believe
that the authors who influenced me most are those I read in childhood.
Those stories live on in the subconscious. From the time I could
find my way to the library, I was a constant visitor. For me,
the Saint John Regional Library was a magical place--a hushed,
warm haven, where, through the pages of a book, I could travel
to far-off exotic spots in my imagination. I could experience
vicariously all the joy, romance, terror, tragedy, and triumph
of the characters in the story.
One of my favorite stories was The Happy Prince
by Oscar Wilde. I cried my little heart out over that one. Having
reread it recently, I realized how suspenseful that story really
was. A tale of sacrifice and redemption, it had a profound effect
Another story I loved was in my schoolbook--The
Golden Windows. Even now when I see a window in the distance
appearing golden from the sun's reflection, I remember that story
and its ability to enchant. To enchant is a wonderful thing--such
a legacy that author left.
Pageonelit.com: Tell me about your
publishing experience - The good, the bad and the ugly...
Joan Hall Hovey: Anytime a publisher
tells me they want to publish my short story, article or book,
that's a good thing. Nothing bad or ugly that I can recall.
Although plenty of disappointments along the way. Like most
writers, I've received more rejection slips than acceptances.
One thing I've learned is that 'You're never there.' Wherever
I'll go back a bit. Well, quite a bit. Pregnant
with my fourth child, I had determined to pursue my lifelong
dream of writing a novel. That summer, I sat on our back deck
and read a stack of suspense novels of the sort I wanted to write.
I reread Poe, Patricia Highsmith, Shirley Jackson and many of
the new authors who were also becoming my favorites. In the
fall, I began writing my own suspense novel, The Strawman. (Later
Zebra Books would change the title to Listen To The Shadows.)
I wrote at our kitchen table in longhand, and the book took
a long time to write. I worked on it off and on over a period
of maybe four years. Finally the novel was finished. I'd already
gone through my Writer's Market, as well as checking out the
books on the shelves of our local bookstore, and Zebra seemed
right for The Strawman. I sent it off. It came flying back
within a few weeks, but the attached note wasn't quite a rejection.
Anne LaFarge, acquisitions editor at the time, liked the book,
but it was too short. They needed 100,000 words; mine was about
I settled down to work. It took another four months
to add the other 25,000 words, which I did by weaving in a couple
of intriguing subplots. In November, I sent the manuscript off
again, addressing it to Anne LaFarge. On the outside of the
package, in bold black market, I printed: Requested material,
just in case she forgot me, which I'm sure she did. One day
in February the phone rang. I knew intuitively that it was Zebra.
They wanted to publish my book. When my husband came home that
night I was at the stove cooking spaghetti. He took one look
at my face, and said, "You sold your book." It was
a dream come true. I felt weepy and humbled. And very happy.
Nowhere To Hide sold on the heels of Listen To
The Shadows, on the basis of an outline. I managed easily to
get an agent to negotiate the contract. Zebra wanted to publish
a book a year.
End of story? Hardly. I completed and sent off
the third manuscript and it was returned to me with a rejection
letter. Zebra was no longer publishing suspense. At least the
sort of psychological suspense I like to write. And I'm convinced
you should only write what you really want to write. Otherwise,
it's just too damned hard. The moral of the story: You're never
there. (Unless you're Stephen King, but he's a genius.)
Back to square one? Well, not quite. What I have
now is a track record. Publishers tend to give my work a little
longer look before they turn it down.
This is a precarious business, with no guarantees
for any of us. So you must love the actual process of writing.
In the end, the only thing we have any control over is the writing
itself. It takes courage to be a writer, to put our work (ourselves)
out there, never knowing if it will be praised or ridiculed.
We must rise above the fear, and do what we know we can when
all cylinders are firing. "Ay, there's the rub."
And the challenge.
Pageonelit.com: What was the last
book you read?
Joan Hall Hovey: A Painted House
by John Grisham. This one's quite different from his usual
fare, and I loved. it. A Painted House is a coming-of-age
novel, reminiscent of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird,
and maybe a touch of Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer. Grisham
can write a literary novel with the best of them, but I'm not
sure his legions of 'legal thriller' fans will let him.
Pageonelit.com: Do you have any hobbies?
What are they? Tell us about your acting experience. How do
your hobbies enhance your writing?
Joan Hall Hovey: My hobbies are reading,
and acting in community theatre. I've had a passion for the
performing arts for as long as I can remember. I like the
immediate response you get when you're on stage. The audience
lets you know pretty quickly if a thing is working or not.
If you deliver what is supposed to be a funny line and no one
laughs (I've never had that happen to me of course) you'd better
figure out a better way to say it. Only a couple of hours to
wait for what might be a luke warm applause, or maybe a standing
ovation. Writing a novel, on the other hand can take months,
or even years, another year to publish. By that time, it's
almost as if someone else wrote the book. But I do enjoy doing
readings on TV, radio, the library. That part of it appeals
to the performer in me. And the signings are fun, meeting folks,
Acting and writing give me an opportunity to explore
different sides of my nature through creative work. It just
doesn't get any better than that.
Pageonelit.com: What does the future
hold for you?
Joan Hall Hovey: I'm writing my third
suspense novel, with the working title, Chill Waters. I'd like
to be able to write my stories into my nineties, like Phyllis
Whitney, another favorite writer of my girlhood. My goal is to
have as wide an audience as possible for my books, and to continue
to grow as a writer and as a person.
Pageonelit.com: Anything else that
you want your readers to know?
Joan Hall Hovey: I love hearing from
you all, and treasure each and every one of your comments. Telling
me that my novels kept you up all night or that you couldn't
put the book down was music to my ears. Those words of appreciation
keep me going in the tough times, while I find my way in the
unknown, unlit territory of this next book.