Friday, January 13, 2017

Author! Author! JOANNA CHAMBERS

Back in the heyday of romance blogs, I stumbled across this very smart, witty, civilized pundit (which sounds better than yon sonsie lass) by the name of Tumperkin. Er...even then I knew that probably was not her real name, but then--well, anyway. Tumperkin not only shared my love for Georgette Heyer and crazy-ass Charlotte Lamb novels both, she had mastered the rare ability of being passionate and polite at the same time. I liked what she had to say.

And when she turned to writing fiction as Joanna Chambers, I liked what she had to say then as well. A lot.

As I was considering my first interviewee of the New Year, naturally my thoughts turned to Joanna. Who better to provide the first footing of 2017?

Share your favorite recipe for porridge. COME ON! You're Scottish. You must have a favorite recipe for porridge. What about mince and tatties? DON'T BE SO SECRETIVE.

JC - I am indeed Scottish! And my Scottish working class credentials are so spotless, it hurts. My dad, who is Keeper of the Family Tales, used to tell me that his grandmother (who had thirteen children) used to fill a drawer in the kitchen sideboard with porridge every morning and when it hardened, she would cut it into squares and the sons would take a square each down the pit. True! My recipe, however, creates a porridge so silky and creamy and soft it would have dribbled out of Marann’s drawer and landed in a puddle on the floor. It is this: put some rolled porridge oats in a pan with a splash of milk and loads of COLD water. Like, 4 times as much water as oats. Plus a generous sprinkling of sea salt. Then you put it on the very lowest possible heat for 30 mins and completely leave it alone. Don’t touch it. Don’t even look at it. After 30 mins it will be perfect. THEN sprinkle over a teaspoon of demerara sugar and, dribble some cream over - I swear it’s the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted. The key thing is getting a good balance between sweet and salt.

 Do you believe the sins of the father shall be visited upon the sons? What about the sins of the mother?

JC - Let’s look at this from a writerly angle. 

 
This calls for an example. Let’s call the son in the following example, Adrien. Adrien’s mother—let’s call her Lisa—murders Adrien’s grandmother, resulting in Adrien unexpectedly inheriting his grandmother’s valuable ranch. Let’s say that Lisa is motivated by a hatred of people with golden-brown eyes - which Granny has. Adrien has nothing to do with plotting or carrying out the murder.

 

Question: Do we think the sins of Lisa should be visited on Adrien in the following scenarios? 

  1. Adrien shares Lisa’s hatred of people with golden-brown eyes, was aware of her intention to murder his grandmother and did nothing to stop her
     
    Answer: In this case, surely the sins of Lisa should be visited upon Adrien to some extent? Adrien is not innocent here, even if his sin is on only one of omission, namely not acting to save Granny? (Although it may be that Adrien didn’t act because he was unable to do so, e.g by reason of grave illness, such as rheumatic fever). In a satisfying story, how would Adrien end up? Would him losing the ranch be enough to restore ‘order’ at the end of the story? If I was writing this, I’d burn the ranch to the ground and have Adrien make a moral choice to redeem himself.
     
  2. Adrien does not share Lisa’s hatred of people with golden-brown eyes but again, he was aware of her intention to murder his grandmother and did nothing to stop her – this time because he wants the ranch
     
    Answer: In some ways, this feels worse than (a) from a moral perspective – but why should that be? Is there a moral distinction between someone who does (or fails to do) something out of a vile but genuinely held belief and someone who does (or fails to do) it for purely monetary gain? Hmmm. If I was writing this story, Adrien would probably be hounded by his grandmother’s ghost till he throws himself from the battlements—or whatever it is ranches have instead of battlements.



       c. Adrien does not share Lisa’s hatred of people with golden-brown eyes—indeed he has argued with her about the subject vociferously—and was also entirely unaware of her intention to murder his grandmother . 



Answer: In this case, Adrien is innocent - surely Lisa’s sins should not be visited upon him? Nevertheless, he is benefitting from the ranch as a direct result of murder. So, should Adrien pay? If I was writing this, I think Adrien would go to the ranch and meet a man with golden-brown eyes—let’s call him Jake—and together they would unravel of the mystery of how his grandmother died and then live in the house together happily ever after. (And it may even turn out that the murderer wasn’t Lisa anyway, but some… I don’t know… English dude called Guy or something).
 
Does that answer your question? I think, long story short, I got to Yes.


I-I'm still reeling after the revelation that Lisa English is a cold-blooded murderess. WHY AM I ALWAYS THE LAST TO KNOW?
Okay. Um, leaving the unexpectedly dark and twisted murderous inclinations of the English family for a moment...standalone versus series? What do you prefer as a writer? How about as a reader?

JC - As a writer? Well, there are pros and cons of both, I’m not sure I have a strong preference, though I do look back on the trilogy I wrote fondly—having said that, I tend to forget how difficult each book was to write, after some time has passed.

 As a reader, I don’t really have a preference, but I do think that series can bring additional satisfaction. I remember the first series books I ever loved were Enid Blyton’s all-girls boarding school books about Malory Towers. Every book featured friendship conflicts, a major sporting victory for Darrell (the MC), pranks on teachers, a midnight feast and a final crisis. And each book ended with a sense of resolution about that school year, with Darrell having generally become better at life/ a better person. At the end of the last book (sixth form) she leaves school and goes to university. I cannot express how much I loved these books. I loved them the way I love romance books. I loved the shape of them, and the elements. It didn’t matter that the shape and elements were predictable. In fact, that was a major part of why I loved them. It was very much about the execution and the anticipation of the inevitable pay-offs.

 I think for a series to be ‘more’ than a standalone for me, I want something bigger than the individual books. Something that builds through all the books—that might be a single relationship or it might be a story that unfolds and reaches its denouement in the final book.

Is it true that your day job is bounty hunter? Why not? That's a very cool job. You would be good at it.

JC - No, that is not true. Unless you’re talking about moist, tender coconut drenched in dark, silky chocolate? In that case, yes and I am, thank you.

Bonbons and bounty hunters. It sounds like a cozy mystery. What do you think is the most important thing to remember when creating fully realized main characters?

JC - This is the hardest thing about writing, for me, anyway. I think it’s actually really difficult to avoid just writing yourself into characters, especially when you’re writing a scene, and you’ve got some kind of flow going. It can be hard not to just reflect what your own reactions to events would be. It seems kind of obvious to say this but I think the most important thing to remember is that the character isn’t you. Judging by how often I read characters in novels who seem to act/ speak more like someone of the age/gender/demographic of the author rather than of the supposed character, I don’t think I’m the only one who experiences this.
Fashion magazines always ask this question: What is the one cosmetic or grooming tool you cannot live without? And do you have any idea why all these fashion models are always pretending the one tool they can't live without is their EYEBROW GROOMER? 

JC - The one cosmetic I would take to my desert island would be a very red lipstick– that is the best face decoration there is, an excellent enhancement to an expression of curled-lip disgust.


Oh! Excellent choice! Well played, madam! And speaking of hauteur, how do you deal with the criticism that is part and parcel of any job in the arts?

JC - I’m okay with it actually. My RL job is all about winners and losers and there’s a lot of post-morteming/  post-facto rationalisation/ arse-covering. So, with writing, it’s kind of weirdly restful to me that there’s just a range of opinions and some people will hate your book and some will love it and some will just be *meh* about it but no one gets ultimately proved *right*. I’d probably feel very differently if my writing was my sole or main source of income, but since it’s not, I get the luxury of not minding so much.


I'm not sure why this seemed to be a natural segue, but here we go. Have you ever broken a bone? Have you ever broken anyone else's bones? You must have because your day job is bounty hunter. Have any of your victims sued you?

JC - No, no and no! I have never broken a bone, either my own or someone else’s, although I am clumsy and suspect I may have chipped my coccyx more than once. 

Is there any genre you'd like to tackle but you're kinda sorta afraid?

JC - Hmmmm. Well, for the last year or two, my major reading preference has been contemporary US set books—I’m kind of obsessed with the idea of learning about another country purely through reading a single genre of fiction—or that’s my excuse anyway. Would I want to tackle one myself though? Nah. I’m most comfortable with UK early 19th century and UK Contemporary at this point, but I have written one paranormal-fantasy story and am planning a pair of paranormals set in the 18th century so that’ll shove me out of my comfort zone on two fronts.

Oh, you have to come and visit us! And by us, I mean everyone in the U.S. We'll show you how the other half lives. Enywho. What are the elements that make a Joanna Chambers book unique? What do you consider your strengths as a writer?

JC - Um… well, credibility is important to me. When I wrote my first novel (a het romance in which the heroine masqueraded as a man – as the hero’s valet) it was because I’d decided I really wanted to write a credible chick-in-pants romance. I’d read a rash of reader blogs talking about how they couldn’t suspend disbelief with chicks-in-pants stories but I’d also read real-life stories about women who did successfully masquerade as men at the time, so I had this whole thing in my head about meeting that challenge and how satisfying that would be.  At this point, I’m mostly known as an

author of historical MM and my ambition with these stories is to have a credible HEA for my characters. When I say a “credible HEA”, I mean two things: credible for the period but also credible as a romance HEA i.e. a proper soaring HEA rather than a limited one. Since I’m a long-term romance reader, I’ve got a lot views on what makes a good HEA and what the end of a romance book should *feel* like and I really didn’t want a limited, lesser version of that for my characters, but it does take a bit of doing.
Where did you and the Mister meet?

In a student union, on the dancefloor. We were shoe-gazing to some Indie song. We shuffled up to each other and the rest is history.

 What are you working on right now? What's coming out next?

JC - My next release, in April-ish 2017, will be a Victorian historical MM set in Cornwall called A Gathering Storm. It’s part of Riptide’s new Porthkennack line featuring a number of other authors (Alex Beecroft, Garrett Leigh, JL Merrow and Charlie Cochrane). My book is set in Victorian times and features an eccentric scientist who is trying to contact his dead brother with the help of a sceptical half-Romany land steward (!) Basically it’s about the twin Victorian obsessions of science and spiritualism.

Oh! I love it already!


 As for what I’m working on now. I’m writing a contemporary spy MM story with Carolyn Crane which I’m sort of super-excited about (hopefully out first half 2017) and a second Porthkennack book for Riptide – a contemporary this time which should be out in August 2017.


 Do you believe in extra-terrestrial life? What about angels?

JC - I’m a no, on angels. I think extra-terrestrials are possible, and probably statistically likely, but I can’t say I get terribly excited about the possibility.  I’m just not fundamentally that interested in the idea of aliens, maybe because I feel like I’ve got my hands full with humans. Humans are terrifying and glorious and I still haven’t got my head round them.


Tell us something surprising. Anything. Go on. Surprise us!

JC - When I was in Brownies (you would call them girl scouts? I was 7 or 8) I was unsuccessful in my bid to win my writer’s badge. 


 Still mortified about that.


LOL. And so you should be. ;-)


You can learn more about the Joanna at her website. AND you can find her on Facebook.

43 comments:

  1. What a wonderful interview! It was just what I needed to start my day off. I love Joanna Chambers and look forward to her new books coming out. She seems so nice for a bounty hunter.

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  2. Thank you for this extremely entertaining interview, Josh and Joanna! I especially appreciate the porridge instructions and the fact that Guy might have a dark secret... :-D

    I'm definitely a fan of Joanna Chambers books. AND Joanna is exactly as lovely in person as one might think. Despite her tendency to Bounty hunt... :-)

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    1. Aww, thank you! It was lovely meeting you too!

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  3. Thank you for the interview. You discovered me an author I might enjoy! I need to give a try at some of her titles :)
    And I enjoyed that outcome about Guy and Adrien's granny... I always has been suspicious about Guy XD

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    1. I think she should write a CYOA of the series. :-D

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    2. CYOA = Choose Your Own Adventure

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Choose_Your_Own_Adventure

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  4. Fun interview. Looking forward to three Joanna Chambers' books this year!

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    1. Me too. I genuinely love her work.

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    2. I felt like a bit of a slouch in 2016...

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  5. Smiling at your shared wit and humor. Thanks, Josh and Joanna. Looking forward to Johanna's 2017 releases.

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    1. I love the fact that she moves so easily from contemporary to historical. That's not a gift we all share.

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    2. oooh! The precarious WiFi is holding out!

      It's funny how different genres are forgiving in different ways. Historical is on balance the most comfortable for me.

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  6. Thank you for another very amusing interview and another author I will have to begin reading. :)

    Who knew Lisa had such a dark side to her! I will never be able to think about her the same way again.

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    1. I think Joanna has a mystery novel lurking insider her somewhere.

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  7. Thanks for the interview! I love Joanna Chambers. The Enlightenment series is one of my favorites.

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    1. I absolutely agree. Will Murdo and David or Iain and James ever appear in one of your books again, Joanna?

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    2. Thank you 😃 I do plan to write a story about another character in that world (Kit Redford) that some those characters might well appear in. I'm thinking possibly a Christmas short.

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  8. Thank you for the interview, Josh and Joanna. I always knew there was to be something dark about Adrien's grandma's death. As for Joanna's books, I love them. I really enjoyed the Enlightenment series, and I'm looking forward for her new books. I have a question, though... When will we have the second book in the Somnus series? I loved Brynn and Laszlo

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    1. :-)

      I just wish she could write faster. ;-)

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    2. I'm really not sure on that one. I do have Somnus 2 sketched out but other things keep claiming my time...

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  9. Hah!I KNEW there was something hinky about a) Granna's death and b) Guy. As for Grandmother Ann, no reason, there. My own grandfather died from complications of a roping incident when his horse rolled on him and crushed his leg. He didn't leave us a ranch, though,--sigh. But poor Guy. What is it about characters you wish you could like, who never do anything to justify your discomfort, but arouse it, anyway? Adrien says it so nicely: he's 'smart, funny, sexy as hell,' but--. There it is. Lisa, a murderer? Whoa! But I wonder how many readers would be all that surprised if Guy turned out to be a serial killer?

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    1. LOL Not as many as I would have previously thought!

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    2. I just picked those names out of thin air to illustrate my point, honest!

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  10. I am shaken from an inner turmoil: Lisa - no I can't write it. But Guy on the other hand, that's okay for me. :-D
    What a great interview! I am looking forward to read Joanna's new books, seems to me that March/ April are great months for readers.

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    1. Joanna's one of those really excellent writers who sometimes gets overlooked in the hustle and bustle of this very noisy genre. I highly recommend her work.

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  11. I started replying to your kind comments but I'm away from home this weekend in the back of beyond with very dodgy wi-fi that keeps failing on me! Thank you for hosting me - it was a really fun interview!

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    1. Uh huh. WE KNOW YOU ARE OUT THERE BOUNTY HUNTING EVEN NOW.

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    2. Lol! You know me so well... Right, I better get back to the in laws and make nice!

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  12. OH MY GOODNESS!!! Joanna, you are Tumperkin?!?!?!?! My mind is now forever blown.

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    1. I hope that wasn't a secret!!!!

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    2. No, not at all 😃 my only reservation these days is that someone might think the name signifies something very different...

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  13. I'm so excited to hear about the new JC books in the pipeline! And I realise that my love for book series was also born with Enid Blyton books. I can still remember visiting the local bookstore with my pocket money to secure my next Famous Five book.

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    1. I devoured her books. Mr Gallianio's Circus, the Secret Island books, the Naughtiest Girl books, St Clare's, the Mystery Of books, the Magic Faraway Tree, the Wishing Chair. The only ones I didn't love were the Secret Seven ones I think.

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    2. Oh yes - The Secret Island books <3 I was secretly in love with Prince Paul.

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