Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Joylene Nowell Butler Interview

I met Joylene Nowell Butler, author of DEAD WITNESS, in an online critique group back in 1997. We've remained close friends ever since, even though we've never met face to face. Ain't the Internet great? I mentioned in yesterday's blog post that she's been the first to critique all of my novels. That first novel critique, my very first time to be critiqued,
was perhaps my most intensive learning experience in fiction writing. I needed much guidance in many areas. Another critiquer might have soured me on writing at that point. Joylene added fuel to my writing passion and helped me in more ways than I can count.

Now here we are, both of us with published books. I'll ask Joylene to guest blog here in the near future, but for now, it's my great pleasure to interview Joylene about her writing, her novel DEAD WITNESS, and the wonderful successes she's been having now that it's on the market.

1. Joylene, you began writing 25 years ago. Did any event lead to your decision to write?

I lost my dad and I thought if I could write his story, maybe he would live forever. Before that I'd been keeping a journal for 20 years. As a kid, I remember discovering how at peace I felt during the act of writing.

2. You are, in my mind and in the minds of many others, a legend among critiquers. If critiquing were a 40 hour/week job, you must have already logged in years of effort to help others. How much has critiquing others helped your own writing? Or has it helped you?

Thank you, Keith. You're too kind. I learned a great deal reading and critiquing other writers. Some were much more experienced than I, while others were even newer to the profession. Every error I witnessed made me more conscious of my own repeated mistakes. When I read something deeply moving, I paid careful attention to why I was affected that way. It was a win-win situation all around. Exchanging critiques left me feeling spontaneously grateful and awed at the same time. I knew that first critique that I was only going to get better as a writer.

3. I love "gray" characters, and in DEAD WITNESS, the DeOlmos brothers fascinate me. They're intriguing and dangerous on their own, but the way they interact makes them even more threatening and more interesting, maybe because they become so believable. Were these bad boys easier or harder for you to create than the good guys? Did you have to find a new mindset when writing about them or from their points of view?

I'm wondering about that. I think it's because I was brought up to believe that everyone has good in them. I needed to love Mateo and Vicente. It might have something to do with the fact they're charming and gorgeous, and I am a "girl". Seriously, in part it was the writers who critiqued my drafts that prompted me to change the stereotypical bad guy into someone interesting. I thought back to every movie or book I'd read. What made the bad guys stand out? I took those lessons and ran with them.

4. As much as I enjoy the bad boys, Valerie and Canaday are my favorites. Both are very complex. Were they fully formed as you wrote the first draft, or did you modify them in edits? Do I know them as well as you do from my careful reading of DEAD WITNESS, or will understanding them require sequels (I hope, I hope)?

Thanks, Keith. I'm pretty attached to them too. I worked on both of them during each new draft (approx 22). The more time I spent with them, the more I got to know them. Honestly, they were inside my head (and still are) for so long that I began to see them as real. Canaday has shown up in my new WIP. Surprised the heck out of me.

5. What comes first for you, the plot or the characters?

I think they start as a "What if" question. Then I begin to see the protagonist moving about in my head, doing mundane things. As I pay attention, I learn what's eating her/him. As weeks pass, I discover what conflict is really pushing them to the edge. Then I see a foggy ending. That's when I know it's time to start writing.

6. Do you outline novels or "wing it" and let characters and events happen? Or some happy medium? I specifically want to know if you know the main struggle and the ending as you write the novel.

I used to wing it. This time, or this book, seems to be more complex, and so I'm doing both: creating a tentative outline and winging it at the same time.

7. What do you feel is more important, the story, the characters, or the quality of writing? Or are they all interconnected?

Good question. I think they're interconnected. I like books that make me care about the protagonist and their situation. I also want to feel something new, maybe understand human nature a bit better for having read the book. Those elements are what drive me to write the best book I can write. It's also the reason I enjoyed STRUCK so much.

8. DEAD WITNESS was picked up by a distributor in Canada as well as a retailer. Very impressive. Did that feel like a huge feather in your cap or was that something you counted on?

Shocked the heck out of me. It's bizarre, Keith. But no matter how many people told me Dead Witness was good, I don't think I believed it. When Sandhill and Overwaitea signed me up, I was flabbergasted. I still am. I feel very blessed.

9. You've learned a lot, starting with Lulu and then being picked up by Sandhill. Would you do any of it differently if you could?

Not as far as the past goes. I think everything happens for a reason. Would I go the route for the next book? No. It's far too stressful. I'd like a quiet, uneventful life with some small publisher somewhere, who sends me a cheque every month, and in return, asks me to do the occasional book signing and book reading gig.

10. It's a long, hard struggle for most writers to get published. What did you hold on to during those doubtful moments all writers seem to have, when it feels like you'll never make it, never be published?

I won't deny it. It was a long, rough road. I just never gave up, and that's probably because I'm so stubborn. Now that I am published, (I probably shouldn't admit this) the next one isn't near as important as the first. Being published has taught me that nothing is more important than family, friends, and breathing. I used to say that getting published was the all to end all. Today I think it's nice, but there are so many other blessings to cheer about.

11. Have any authors influenced you more than others? If so, which ones and what did they influence, style, characterization, or genre?

I was greatly influenced by Margaret Laurence, author of THE STONE ANGE and THE DIVINERS, required reading in NA schools. She was Metis, a Manitoban (like myself) and bipolar. Her books disturbed me, in a good way. They made me think. They fed my patriotic ego. They were vivid portrayals of uncompromising characters with convictions that didn't break apart in the face of adversities. You have to read one of her books to appreciate just how gifted she was. Author of Bleeding Heart and The Woman's Room, Marilyn French inspired me to try writing.

12. What do you feel you'll publish next, an entirely different novel or a sequel? Will you tell us about it to whet our appetites?

I'm glad you brought that up, Keith. My next book is silently waiting for a time when I hope my readers will like something entirely different from me. Meanwhile, I have my fourth manuscript with a publisher. BROKEN is the story of an educated woman on the eve of self-discovery. She's stalked by the deranged sons of a powerful politician, and she's forced to deal with her own prejudice to save her daughter and herself. I'm working on the sequel, OMATIWAK: WOMAN WHO CRIES and my new WIP, DEAD WRONG.

Thank you so much for letting me interview you, Joylene. I hope anyone with questions will ask them and that everyone who likes thrillers and suspense novels will pick up a copy of DEAD WITNESS and learn what I've known for years. You're a great writer.

To visit Joylene's Blog, click here.
Click here to visit a purchase link for DEAD WITNESS.


  1. I love what you do...Can't wait for the rest of the story.