You may learn more about the Jagged Scares series here or visit Jo Ann's website to learn more about her books.
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I appreciate Jo Ann stopping by to visit -- let's hear from her about her writing.
1. How did you get interested in writing?
I won’t lie, I started writing stories as a tweenager. They all featured me, tossed into my favorite universes (ie Transformers, Jem and the Holograms, The A-Team, Aliens, Star Wars...) romping about kicking bad guy’s butts with the heroes.
None of it was good, but that’s how it all started.
2. What inspired you to come up with the Jagged Scars series?
A dream I had in college. A young girl who wakes up among strangers and has no idea where she is or what’s going on. I usually have fun dreams, but this was different. It felt real, and I still remember it to this day. The dream itself never made it into the novels, but the young girl, Wendy, and the leader of Shelter, Mike, did.
Ever since seeing the original Planet of the Apes—late at night, huddled in front of my 12” black and white TV that I had in my room when I was about twelve—and having my mind blown by the Statue of Liberty at the end, I’ve been fascinated with the fall of the world and what might happen afterwards. Jagged Scars is my first romp into that world.
3. Tell me about the main character, Wendy, and what inspired you to create her.
Wendy has problems. She’s the lone survivor of a Skinny (a mix between zombies and reavers) attack on the Den. She struggles with PTSD through the first three books, and it never totally goes away. It takes her a while to trust and/or bond with anyone. In book one, Wendy feels a little distant, and that’s on purpose.
Despite her problems, she’s a warrior who has spent more of her life training than anything else. She would give her life it if meant saving a kid, and she’ll go out of her way to kill Skinnies. Her father described her as the hammer of the Den, while her sister was the heart.
4. What characters, other than Wendy, did you find enjoyable to write as you progressed with the books?
Well, the others have their work cut out for them. Wendy is a hard nut to crack, but between Kev, Cal and Arie—with the occasional assist from Jeff—they break through her shell of protection and begin drawing the real Wendy out into the story.
The relationship between Kev and Cal has been fun to write. At first they’re like brothers, but Kev gets hurt and Cal gets warped by one of the bad guys, and they struggle for a few books. Being able to drive a wedge between them and then have the characters rip it apart was strangely satisfying. Their relationship is different now, and that’s okay.
5. What are some of the themes you explored in writing the series?
The first is mental illness. Not that I delve into the topic, but the first two books in the series are riddled with Wendy’s struggle with PTSD. She doesn’t really know what the problem is, and for a while she thinks she’s becoming a monster. Her friends rally around her, and never give up on her. Kev even knocks her out to keep her from killing a guy who did some nasty things to her.
That would be the second theme. Friendship. It can go through hell and still survive. I think people today need to know that. With the flurry of social media and the ease with which you get into a fight over nothing these days, I think it’s important to remember to ask yourself, “What is important? That we disagree over this topic, or that we’re friends and can stay that way despite our differences?”
6. What were some of the things you have learned along the way as you have written and edited each book in the series?
I’ve learned a few things. One being that I’m a crazy person until my plot is gelled. Which, sadly, may take two or three drafts of the book.
I’ve learned how valuable mean beta readers are. Seriously, worth their weight in gold. And chocolate.
I’ve learned that knowing the end will help me get there.
Right now I’m learning that wrapping everything up in book five is by far the most difficult part of this series.
7. Tell me more about the book, Babes in Spyland.
Babes in Spyland is a satirical James Bond in heels story. And it’s just as cheesy as it sounds. Four Super Secret Agents go up against bad guys that really shouldn’t exist. Like Lady Cluck. And the Swiss Misters. There are zombie flash mobs, a golf cart chase, theme parks, and a reality TV show gone awry.
The whole thing started out as a joke in college between some friends. It escalated and I decided I loved the characters so much that I asked the other girls if they were okay if I wrote an actual story. They said yes.
Babes was originally a serial story—one episode a week for twelve weeks to make a season. The publisher has gone out of business, so you can’t read it that way anymore, but I plan to break the original five seasons apart and then add on to it.
8. How did the process for writing Babes in Spyland differ from what you have done with the Jagged Scars series?
Each season of Babes is about 25k words. That was what the publisher requested. Fractured Memories, the shortest of my Jagged Scars books, is over 60k. On one hand, only having to worry about 25k words is easier than over 60k words. However, cramming an entire mystery—along with enough jokes to keep me laughing—into only 25k was challenging.
I didn’t have a solid ending in mind for Babes when I started, and life got crazy when I met my husband to be, so the last two seasons were a bit messy to write.
9. You have also written a couple of books in the New Sight series – what inspired those books?
I had recently been to a writing conference, and I had vowed that I would have a novel to pitch to an agent the next year. I’d been messing around with ideas for a few weeks, when one day, as I was driving home from work, the idea hit me.
Kids addicted to magic.
10. And what can you tell me about that series’ main character, Lysandra Blake, and how you created her?
I obviously gravitate toward female protagonists. Lys sort of grew out of the world building I was doing for the series. Once I figured out the magic system I started to think about what sense would be the most interesting to explore. Sight ended up at the top of the list, and things snowballed from there. I needed a main character who had issues—in this case addiction instead of PTSD—but was a good kid. Lys is smart and kind. She’s way out of her comfort zone at the beginning of the book when she’s on the psych ward after trying to take her mother’s eyes out with a spoon. We’ve all felt out of place before. Lys got that times about ten. I’ve loved her journey of self-discoverey so far. She isn’t a warrior, like Wendy, but she’s tough in other areas.
11. What do you find is the right environment for you to write?
I can write almost anywhere. One of the best short stories I’ve ever written came to me while I was in the train station in Moscow, Russia. Also, doctor’s offices. No idea why.
If I need to push out words, I go to Barnes and Noble. No distractions. No laundry. No dusting. No pull to go to the fridge and see if something chocolate or caffeinated has miraculously appeared in the last fifteen minutes.
If I’m not in a huge rush, I have an office in my house. All I need is a computer and a comfie chair. Music helps, but Pandora can stop for a good hour before I notice sometimes.
12. Are there specific programs or tools you find useful to help you with the writing process?
I type in Word. Although I have Scrivener. I’m just too afraid of opening it and losing a month of my life.
For plotting I am a huge fan of Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet. I know there is a lot of controversy around having a ‘formula’ to write to, but it really helps the pacing of my stories. If I didn’t use it, the fun part of the story would be 2/3 of the novel, and the endings would all be rushed. Not to mention weak. Torturing characters is sometimes hard, and the Beat Sheet forces me not shy away from it.
Also, I often write plot points on index cards and spread them around my desk/table/house. I’m a visual girl. It really helps.
13. What have you found to be useful methods for promoting your writing?
I’m in the midst of trying out:
Diversifying my platforms (not just Amazon)
I’m still looking for what really works for me. But the best thing I’ve done is find a few people who are ahead of me in the marketing game and ask them what’s working for them.
Putting Fractured Memories up for free on Amazon was a big move for me earlier this year. So far so good.
14. What are some of the famous books or authors you have enjoyed or inspired you?
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, and anything by David Eddings or R.A. Salvatore. I know, old school.
15. Any aspiring or independent authors whose books you’ve read that you liked and want to mention to others to check out?
I’m really liking Angel Lawson’s The Death Fields series.
16. What advice would you give to those who want to write a novel before they actually get started?
Just do it! First drafts are supposed to be horrible. There will be parts that make you cringe and want to delete the file, then there will be parts that will amaze you. Embrace them both, then be ready to build on them.
17. I see you have a black belt in Kempo – tell me more about Kempo and what you enjoy about that martial arts discipline.
Well, I’ve always wanted to be a Jedi Knight, but since that particular path isn’t available, I decided on the next best thing. A ninja! I’m not great at the actual fighting part of it, but I love the physical confidence it gives me. I’m a chubby girl—always have been and always will be—so it’s nice to know that if something happens, I have a few things up my sleeves. And a killer kick to the groin. (Sorry guys)
I’ve had great instructors, and honestly, nothing prepared me more for receiving critiques in writing than having my instructors correct me and show me a better way to do even a simple kick. It sounds cliche, but I learned how to keep my cup empty, instead of full all of the time.
Plus, you get to kick things as hard as you can. It’s extremely satisfying.
18. I can tell you’re a Star Wars fan – is there a particular character(s) in the series you particularly love, and if so, who?
What gave it away?
Yes, I love Star Wars. As a kid I was all over wanting to be like Luke. Like I said before, Jedi would totally have been a career path for me. However, as I’ve gotten older, Han has become my favorite. His approach to things is practical and sometimes brutal, but things get done. He’s been down a lot of different paths, and in the end he decides to stick with the rebellion. He does what’s right even though it might hurt him in the long run. I like that.
19. In your travels to other continents, what were some locations you visited you particularly found enjoyable or interesting?
I went to China with my dojo and we did some training at the Shaolin Temple. Like Kung Fu the Legend Shaolin Temple. There is a room in which there are two divots in the floor, about a foot and a half across and four or five inches deep. They are just over shoulder width apart. This is where the monks stomp the floor.
Seriously. Stomp the floor. The stone floor, made out of super thick slabs of rock. That was pretty cool.
I took a Lord of the Rings tour in New Zealand. We went everywhere, but one of my favorites was the outing we took to where they had Edoras in the movies. The whole set is gone, but it was a beautiful wilderness with this amazing hill in the middle. We forded streams and everything to get there.
On my first cruise to Alaska my mom, dad, sister and I took a helicopter ride up to the top of a glacier. We got out and walked around. It was amazingly beautiful, and peaceful, but also full of power. Like nothing I’ve ever felt before. We all still talk about it, twenty years later.
20. Who would win a battle of superhero skills: Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman?
I have to stick with what I heard Stan Lee say when he was asked about characters in the Marvel Universe fighting.
“It depends on who’s writing the story.”
I still agree with him.