US author Joan Opyr had immediate interest from agents when she sent out the first chapter of her novel Idaho Code. That is, until they found out the main character was a lesbian, and quickly delegated their PAs to explain why the book wasn’t suitable. However, the novel – and the rest of the series – found a happy home with Bywater Books.
Joan says she is a manic jack-of-all-trades. I’m not sure how she finds time to write – she is working on a new novel while pursuing a degree in nursing, working on an Alzheimer’s and dementia unit, and trying to teach herself Dutch and Serbo-Croatian. Plus she has a wife, two kids, two dogs and a guinea pig named Timothy. She has a BA and an MA in English from North Carolina State University, and is working on her PhD in Old English from The Ohio State University.
Joan has published two novels of her Idaho series with Bywater Books, Idaho Code and Shaken and Stirred, that bring a wry insight to the absurdity and devotion that holds families together.
At the end of this post you can read the first paragraph of Shaken and Stirred and you can win an ebook copy by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and telling me in 25 words why you’d like one. I’ll pick the most imaginative. Let me know your preferred format.
AND HERE, ON HER LITERARY SPEED DATE, IS JOAN:
Expatriate Southerner living in Idaho. Restless, curious, eccentric, generous, tender-hearted, world traveler, dog lover, Democrat, partner, mother, butch who likes fruity girl drinks.
If you were a book, what would it be and why?
I wish I were Beowulf, but in fact I am Thud! by Terry Pratchett. Why? Because at the heart of that book is an abiding sense of the painful unfairness of the world combined with an obligation to make that world better. And it’s really, really funny. Plus, trolls, dwarves, a Nelson Mandela made out of diamonds, and a bitter, recovering alcoholic cop who keeps on trying.
What made you write your last book?
The death of my grandfather and my need to understand his life and my part in it. He made me the person I am today, for good or bad. Why is it fiction and not autobiography? Because I believe there is more truth in fiction.
Why would a reader love your books?
People tell me they’re very funny. Also, they don’t flinch from the most painful thing we’ll ever experience in our lives, having a family.
When did you decide to be a writer?
When I was in third grade. I began my first novel, The Monster, featuring Nancy Drew and Bigfoot, together for the first and only time.
What’s your most humiliating moment as a writer?
Rejection. That never gets easy.
When, where and how do you write?
I write quickly in fits and starts. I write compulsively. I do not have good writerly habits. I get subsumed (and consumed) by a story, and then I sit down and type until I have a first draft. It’s the editing that’s slow — it can take me years to get a manuscript ready for submission.
Did you find it hard to get published the first time?
When I sent out the first chapter of Idaho Code, I was asked to overnight the full manuscript five or six times by some pretty big agents. Then, once they’d figured out that the main character was not a man but a lesbian woman, all of the enthusiasm would dry up. It was beyond frustrating, especially as they’d hem and haw (or the agent’s assistant would be delegated to hem and haw) about the reason for not wanting to take on the book. I was lucky to find Bywater Books.
What’s the best thing a reviewer said about your last book?
That it was funny and honest.
Are you over-involved with your pets?
Name a lesbian who isn’t.
What writers do you admire most?
Chaucer, Terry Pratchett, Stella Gibbons, E. F. Benson, W. H. Auden, Sarah Waters, Mary Dorcey, Carol Ann Duffy … this list is going to get very long. I was an English major.
What’s your favourite writing form?
Poetry, actually. But I write novels. I can’t think of many novelists who are good poets and vice versa. They seem to be very different skills.
Did you learn anything useful when you studied writing?
Absolutely. The more I read and analyze, the more I learn. I studied with Lee Smith and John Kessel at NC State, and both had a tremendous effect on my writing. They also helped me to think of myself as a writer — to believe in my vocation.
What inspires you?
People. I love people. Interacting, listening, watching how we respond to one another, to hardship, to triumph, and to daily living. There is endless comedy in the human condition. Endless tragedy, too, but I think comedy prevails over the long haul.
What’s your favourite procrastination when writing?
Web-surfing. It’s dangerous for me to turn to Google when I need to fact-check because I’ll follow link after link. This is how you get from Ho-Ho’s to Hitler, and then the next thing you know, you’ve stopped writing and are watching The Longest Day while eating Hostess snack cakes.
What are you working on now?
The third and final book in the Idaho series, Wish in One Hand.
Opening paragraph of Shaken and Stirred
My surgeon lied to me. A hysterectomy is not like an appendectomy. No one misses a vestigial organ, particularly one that’s trying to explode inside her guts and kill her. There is also no comparison between a hysterectomy and having your gallbladder removed, your tonsils out, or your bunions shaved, and as for the friend who told me it was no worse than having a root canal, well, that’s just proof that friends lie, too.
For more about Joan Opyr, check out her blog at http://joanopyr.wordpress.com