Tuesday, 2 June 2009

An Interview with Joanne Walpole

Conducted by members of the Black Horse Discussion Group

Welcome, Jo, and thank you for agreeing to do this interview. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Terry James is my pen name when I'm writing traditional westerns. I chose it because I thought a western would look more attractive to its prime readership (men) if it were written by a man. However, my plans to maintain my anonymity backfired badly because all you nice people sucked me in and Joanne Walpole popped to the fore anyway.

Although I started writing westerns when I was a child of about 5 years of age and continued through to the age of 16, I had a big break so that I could experience life and write from the heart. This period of writing inactivity lasted into my 30s. Then, encouraged by my father-in-law, I started writing again in 2001 and haven't stopped since.

I've been published twice previously under my own name, a romance western and a Civil War drama, both of which I withdrew from publication in 2007 so that I could have a fresh start in the western genre. I like the works of Louis L'Amour, Lee Younger (and his various pseudonyms) and Jack Edwardes and have spent the last 18 months exclusively reading Black Horse Westerns by different authors. If nothing else, it's shown me that the brand is diverse.

You can find an excerpt here or if you're not in the mood for reading there's a shorter audio excerpt on Youtube. Please feel free to fire away with anything you want to know about Long Shadows, my western interests or my writing in general. I've pressed my enthusiasm button and I'm ready and raring to go.
I'm curious why you decided to pull the books written under your real name since you were writing the westerns under a pen name. Do you have any plans to rerelease those books?

To be honest, I was disappointed with the sales of the previous two books. Because I went e-pub, the only coverage they got was whatever I could stir up on my website and on forums. That's not really my cup of tea so the sales were all but non-existent. Long Shadows was actually accepted by the e-pub (in a longer format) but being disillusioned I withdrew it before anything was done with it. For a while, I was adamant that I was finished with the publishing world and then one day I remembered Black Horse Westerns and decided to send them Long Shadows. The rest as they say...

As for what I'll do with the original two, I've edited one and started on the other but I don't really have any idea what to do with them so they're in my redundant WIP file.

Keep that redundant WIP file - you never know... I've had two books WIP for over 20 years and then got round to rewriting them and they sold.

It must have felt great opening that package when the books arrived. And the reviews have been so positive.

It was great and a story in itself. I happened to know the postman who delivered the author copies and I made him stand there and wait while I ripped open the parcel so he could be the first to see the shiny new hardback! Don't worry, he already knew I was bananas!

You have said before that you thought up the title for Long Shadows on a walk. Could you add to that anecdote and say how those two words developed into a story?

As you say, the title Long Shadows came to me when I was walking the dog one afternoon. I'd been working with another title but as the story drew to a close it didn't seem to fit (can't remember what it was). I wanted something that would link the past with the present. I toyed with a lot of ideas and then I just happened to see my long shadow ahead of me and it was a 'Eureka' moment.

What did you think of the cover of Long Shadows? I know Hale just use stock images but do you think they chose one that reflected the feel or any scene within the book?

I like it although it doesn't represent any scene in the book. However, it is 'dark' and I think that mirrors the feeling of the story and therefore anyone picking it up and choosing to read it based on the cover art, shouldn't be disappointed.
What resources do you use for research? Any good websites?

I use the Internet a lot and have a long list of sites saved in my favourites. Books I use include The Wild Wild West of Louis L'Amour which is good for weapons amongst other general things, and The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the Old West by Candy Moutlon. I also have books on the Texas Rangers, outlaws, stagecoach travel and a number of other topics.

How did you research the memory loss aspects? What impressed me is that you included things like reconstructed memories, an area that has vastly improved with the use of photographs and video footage.

Basically I decided how much I wanted the character to be able to remember and then trawled the Internet looking for memory loss information (preferably medical sites and not just Joe Bloggs going off on one), e.g. the types of injuries that can cause it, the long term effects, and treatments that might have been around at the time. I didn't become an authority on it but I wanted to make sure that somebody reading it would find it realistic without it taking over the story like a medical lesson. The fact that you commented positively on it in your recent review, really made my day.

I'd really like to know how you and other non-U.S. writers get the feeling, lingo, place, and times of the West into your writing. Could you elaborate?

I've always watched and read a lot of westerns. With the Internet, a whole new line of resources has opened up to me, not least of which is my group of American friends. If I have a concern about the correct word to use e.g. vest instead of waistcoat I can drop them an e-mail and they'll set me straight. Anything I want to know about flora, fauna or history I can find on the Internet. I think it also helps that I've now visited the US a few times. The food and the language were a real eye opener.

Know what you mean. You're braver than I. Personally have a terrible time putting protagonists (and antagonists) in places I have never lived. I wrote my BHW No.5 based in the fictional town of Longhorn. Fortunately, the town is based on a real town as is the geography, so I didn't get lost. Still had to draw out a map so I wouldn't send someone off to the south when he was supposed to be going north, or west, or east. Good on you.
A friend of mine asked an intriguing question the other day - how do you relate to the characters you create? The way he put it was this: Many books consist of stereotypes - but once in a while you come across a book that has what he calls 'real' people in them. That just happens to be the feeling that I got with your characters.

That's very nice of you to say. Thank you. When I'm writing characters I like to give them real character traits and emotions, not just some romanticised personality type. When they say or do something I always to try to put myself in their shoes and ask 'is this really how they'd act?'. I also feel it's particularly important to keep a character true to his nature right to the end. I get really annoyed when I'm reading a story and a character I've come to know suddenly does something totally at odds with who they are for no good reason.

I read your extract and it had a good beginning, hooks the reader and we get to like Ros immediately, especially sympathising with her plight of being afoot. My book of Cowboy Wisdom says, 'There were only two things old time cowpunchers were afraid of: a decent woman and being set afoot.'

I've got your book already and it's 2nd in my pile to read. So I'm really looking forward to reading it.

I like the old time wisdom and I hope you enjoy the book. I'm always curious about a writer's routine. What's your typical writing day like?

I like to write for an hour in the morning when I get up. At the weekend I can pretty much spend two days writing if I've got something I want to get down. If I don't feel inclined to work on my WIP, I tend to ignore it and play with my blog, catch up with friends on e-mail. It's all writing, so I'm happy.
We all know of your love for the TV series Alias Smith and Jones but what is it about this series that made it stand out from all the others that were around at the same time? And who is your favourite character: Hannibal Hayes or Kid Curry and why?

I have no idea why AS&J was the one I noticed. Maybe it's the humour or the fact that I would have liked them as brothers (I was an only child). I vaguely remember watching The High Chaparral and Bonanza but over the years these haven't stayed with me.

Favourite character - Hannibal Heyes at a pinch. He's smart, good at cards and a bit of a lady's man. Kid Curry has some good points too, especially his impulsiveness and that lightning quick speed with a gun coupled with the fact he doesn't kill (except in one episode Smiler with a Gun when the baddie absolutely asked for it). What's next from Terry James?

What's next? Well, just for once I can give you a definitive answer. I'm writing another western called Yesterday's Rain. It's about 2/3rds complete and although I seem to have run myself into a wall with the plot, I'm optimistic it's only a temporary hold up while I backtrack to see where it all went awry.

I love that title - Yesterday's Rain and after Long Shadows - you'll have to keep all your titles weather related (OK allow me that shadows is weather related) -Tomorrow there'll be Thunder, perhaps. But seriously it's a wonderful title that could mean so many things.

And it does, I assure you. Not a bad idea about theming my titles.

You say that you are 2/3 through your next novel, but have hit a problem with the plot. Does that mean that you write with the flow or do you use an outline?

I have a mental outline, scenes I can picture, but apart from that I write with the flow. I think that's possibly the problem with this current WIP; there's one character who was intended as a minor player who has turned into someone too interesting not to have a major part.

Consequently I don't know how his starring role will fit into the story I had in mind. However, once I figure out where he made his grand entrance, I'll be able to rejig what I've done to accommodate him.

Can you tell us some more about the plot?

It's another story of revenge with a twist (I tend to like that storyline). The main characters are an ex-jailbird, his deranged nephew, a gunfighter/gambler/drifter and a girl. A death/murder appears to link them all together but one of the characters has an ulterior motive that skews the predicted outcome. I'll tease you with the opening paragraph:

"Well, Jethro, you've served your time and paid your debt to society, so keep your nose clean and with luck you and I won't see each other again." The craggy faced warden, a short man of wide stature and very little hair, pushed back his chair and stood up behind his cluttered desk. "Here's the watch and the twenty-three dollars you had on you when you were brought in," he said, handing over a lumpy brown envelope. "The rest is the stage fare to get you back to Wagoner where you were sentenced."

Liked the start - and I hate cliffhangers and I want to know what happens next.

Sorry, I did say it was going to tease you. :-) Thanks for an interesting read, Jo.

Thanks for a lovely weekend. I've enjoyed answering your questions. So, to be as far removed from my western persona as I can be, I'm going to say ttfn (ta ta for now).

Next Interview 4 July - Jack Martin


Joanne Walpole said...

Thanks for posting this Ian.

Howard said...

Great to read this interview from a very talented writer. Unfortunately I had to miss the weekend due to personal problems so it's great getting to catch up on the interview. I love reading about enthusiastic and positve writers in the genre, new and I hope to see a lot more from this talented young woman in the future!

Paul Brazill said...

smashing interview.