Welcome back! A few days ago I posted a spotlight on JoAnne Keltner and her new paranormal YA, Goth Girl, Virgin Queen. I wanted to know a little more about the author and how the book came to be, so sent her a few questions, which she graciously returned. I think it’s fascinating how she became a fan, and then an author, of the YA genre. Sit back, relax, and spend some time in the creative space of a new author!
Q (Infamous Scribbler): What drew you to the YA genre, and what are some of the aspects of writing in that genre that are most challenging/intriguing?
A (JoAnne Keltner): What drew me to the YA genre was that I enjoyed reading it. I started out reading some titles in Spanish–The Giver (El Dador) and Messenger (El Mensajero) by Lois Lowry, A Ghost in the House (Un Fantasma en la Casa) by Betty Ren Wright, and a few others–to keep fresh what I learned in high school and college Spanish. Despite having to turn to a dictionary often, the stories really drew me in. I loved seeing the world through a young person’s eyes. Problems are magnified, and the world is a lot more intriguing and dangerous. I began reading a ton of other YA titles in English. At the time, I had some ideas for a paranormal adult novel. I had been free writing a lot on the ideas, trying to flesh out a plot, but my ideas and characters seemed mundane. But, after reading the MG and YA titles in Spanish and English, I started to think what my ideas would be like with my main characters as young adults, and low and behold, the magic happened: I found my genre! The ideas I had been tossing around at the time turned into two different stories: Goth Girl, Virgin Queen and Obsession. I think that in writing YA, I allowed my characters to be adventurous, immature at times, and risk takers and to make mistakes and to learn from them, whereas I kept judging my adult characters, which is what held me back from creating a great story.
The most challenging thing about writing in that genre is keeping up with the concerns of young adults today and what appeals to them. I don’t have the pleasure to be around this age group. No grandkids; no nieces or nephews. But in my work, I’ve drawn on my own experiences as a young adult and remembered what my boys and their friends were like growing up. I’m also reasonably in tune with pop culture.
Q: Who was your favorite character to write, and why? Your hardest character?
A: Definitely Jackie of Goth Girl, Virgin Queen. I love her imperfections–being afraid of the power within herself and at times not being able to separate her own emotions from those of others. I love that in all of her imperfections, she is kind, although sometimes she hurts others unintentionally. She’s the most human, three-dimensional character I have ever written about. I also love the relationship she has with her great grandmother, Babu. I can relate to it because I was close with my great aunt and learned so much from her.
She [Jackie] wasn’t afraid to touch Babu’s hands and absorb her emotions. Jackie got a good feeling from her. Babu filled Jackie’s inner vision with white light. She renewed her spirit. And this is what Jackie needed for the commitment she had made for tonight. -JoAnne Keltner, Goth Girl Virgin Queen
The hardest character I’ve written about and am still writing about is Hailey from an urban fantasy I’m currently working on. I know her, but not as fully as I should. It’s like she’s keeping things from me. She and I need to have a good talk. Or maybe I can peek into her journal! (IS Note: I definitely know THAT struggle!)
Q: Did you learn anything writing this book, and if so, what?
A: Yes. I did a bit of research about the Russian Orthodox religion, which I find fascinating. The most interesting things I learned about this religion is that parishioners stand during service because there are no church pews and that priests can be married, as long as they marry before they are ordained. I also learned some basic Russian by listening to the Michel Thomas Learn Russian CDs, even though two Russian translators helped with Babu’s (Jackie’s great grandmother) dialog, and how to read Russian–not that I always know what I’m reading. I know how to sound out the letters–the great mystery of the Cyrillic alphabet has been solved for me.
I also learned to give readers what they want–not to hold back the good stuff for a book two in a series. If book one never takes off, there won’t be a book two.
Q: What do you hope your readers will take away from Goth Girl, Virgin Queen?
A: I would like readers to take away from Goth Girl, Virgin Queen the power of love and the value of accepting yourself for who you are and accepting others for who they are. This is the most important message in this book.
Driving to the Oktoberfest, Jackie focused on the road. Sometimes she looked at Jason, but focused only on his mouth or his jacket. When he was around her, his aura turned from black to reddish purple, almost like his spirit had been bruised. She interpreted it as a mixture of pain and love—the love he felt for her pouring over his pain like salve. Yes. She sensed Jason was in love with her. But this relationship worked out well for the both of them, she supposed. Jason liked to suffer. It made him feel alive. Though, she knew he’d never admit it. And she was comfortable being around him, not just because he allowed her space, but because he accepted her as she was. He made the guilt she carried more bearable. -JoAnne Keltner, Goth Girl Virgin Queen
Q: Do you have any favorite writing tips? Please share one with us!
A: I guess the most important writing tip I can share is to learn all you can about story structure and plotting. For me, these were the elements I needed to incorporate into my writing to get published. I was always good at writing prose–had even scored twice in the Writer’s Digest Short Story Competition in the 90s–but was weak at plotting. There are all kinds of writing styles out there, and different readers will be attracted to different styles of writing, but a good story always captures a reader.
Q: Anything to add?
A: Please visit my website, www.joannekeltner.com, to check out Goth Girl, Virgin Queen and Obsession, or find me on Goodreads. From time to time, I post info on my blogs about giveaways and other updates regarding these titles.
Thank you very much to JoAnne for coming by to share some of her process. I’m looking forward to reading Goth Girl, Virgin Queen.
Thank you, Rachel, for having me. It was a pleasure.
Thank you so much for providing us another way to get to know JoAnne Keltner!!