By Sandra Parshall
Joanna Wayne’s bestselling novels have been praised for being “on the cutting edge of romantic suspense” and have gained her many male as well as female readers. She has published more than 40 books since her debut novel in 1994. Born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana, she attended her first writing class after marrying and moving to New Orleans.
Joanna now lives in a small community near Houston, Texas, and has set her latest series in that part of the country. Cowboy Swagger was released in September. The second book in the series,Genuine Cowboy, comes out in December, followed by OK Cowboy next March. Joanna recently talked about her work in an interview.
Tell us about your new series.
Joanna Wayne: Cowboy Swagger introduces the 5-book Sons of Troy Ledger series. The setting is the fictional town of Mustang Run in the Texas Hill Country. The series centers around the character of Troy Ledger, a rancher wrongly convicted of killing his wife eighteen years before the series opens. In Cowboy Swagger, Troy has been released from prison on a technicality. He returns to the ranch obsessed with finding his wife’s killer and hopeful of reuniting with his sons. But the years in prison have hardened Troy and made him suspicious and edgy, a man to be reckoned with. Each book will feature one of the five sons in a mystery and romance of their own, each connected and each moving Troy closer to finding the real killer of his wife.
Dylan Ledger, the middle son, is the only son who returns to welcome Troy on his release. The meeting between them is strained as Dylan tries to come to terms with the man who has become a virtual stranger to him. But the story heats up quickly when Dylan becomes involved with Collette McGuire, the beautiful, spunky daughter of the local sheriff, the same sheriff who was instrumental in putting Troy behind bars. Threatened by a dangerous stalker with complex reasons of his own for wanting Collette dead, she turns to Dylan for protection, angering her father and increasing the tension that had previously existed between father and daughter. Family secrets and old feuds erupt as the story moves to the suspenseful climax. The book is sensual and a page turner with lots of twists and turns as the suspense builds.
Do you write with a particular audience in mind? Have you ever been surprised by the kind of readers who love your books?
I write women’s fiction, but I have a large male following as most of my recent books deal with tough, independent Texans facing situations that come right out of the morning news. I was amazed at a recent book signing when one of the women said her husband reads all my books and she wondered if I wrote anything for women. And one of my most avid readers said her son, who only read bestselling thrillers, made fun of her for reading all my romances. Then he picked up one and now she says he goes for my books as soon as she gets them, and reads them before she can.
What kind of feedback do you get from readers? What do they seem to like most about your novels?
My characters and the emotional impact of the stories seem to get the most response from readers. Even though my books are short, I try to develop three-dimensional, complex characters with the proper motivation to support their actions. I incorporate a lot of family situations, and most readers can identify with the joy and pain associated with that. And I go for the most emotional impact I can give the reader. Everyone deserves a bang for their bucks. One reader I said, “I love the way you tear the heart right out of the reader before you give them the happy ending.” The pacing also get gets lots of comments as people claim they can’t put them down until they finish them.
You’ve published 40-plus books since 1994 – a staggering rate of production. What kind of writing routine do you have? Do you have a word quota, or do you write for a set number of hours each day?
Once I have a working outline, I try to write about 60 pages a week, but unlike many prolific writers, I don’t follow a strict writing regimen. I do write most weekday mornings, but if I have something else to do that morning, I’ll write afternoons or evenings. I also like to travel, but never without my computer. Even on the busiest of days, I usually manage to get some writing in.
Are you strongly influenced by your surroundings? Do you usually set your stories in the place where you live?
I like to set stories in places I know well, as much for the characters as the plot. Where we live does seem to shape our opinions and actions in many ways. New Orleans and southern Louisiana are favorite settings since I lived in New Orleans for many years before moving to Texas. I have a very edgy book set in New Orleans coming out next year–Gossamer Moon. And I grew up in a small southern town, so small southern towns appeal to me. Now I live in a community about an hour northwest of Houston so I’ve set several books in that area of the Lone Star state.
What do you consider the one essential ingredient in a suspense novel? The one essential ingredient in a romance? Are they ever difficult to mix successfully?
I’d say for suspense, it’s pulling in the reader so completely that they virtually experience the same fear that the character is experiencing. That’s why we read suspense, to have the same breathless, bone-chilling horror while curled up safely in our favorite chair. And for romance, it’s the thrill, though sometimes bittersweet, of falling in love. They are always difficult to mix, but when done right, it gives great emotional dimension to both the romance and the suspense.
Have you found teaching aspiring writers rewarding? Based on your experience, do you believe the ability to write creatively can be taught, or is it the teacher’s job to guide people who are natural writers?
I try never to make the judgment as to who can and who can’t become a successful writer. There are too many factors involved. But I am convinced that there are many things a new writer can learn in a class or workshop that most of us had to learn the hard way. I do know that some people have a natural talent and when I encounter one of them as a teacher, it is very exciting. Unfortunately, many of those people do not have the perseverance necessary to succeed. No matter how much natural talent you have, a writer has to write in order to get published.
There’s been a lot of controversy lately about literary fiction receiving more review space and critical acclaim than popular fiction. Does the attitude of some reviewers toward commercial fiction bother you too, or do you feel satisfied that you’re doing good work and reaching your audience without New York Times reviews?
I look at it this way. Sometimes you want a glass of milk. Sometimes you want a margaritJW: I’m your margarita. As long as readers buy and like my books, I’ll keep writing.
In today’s volatile publishing climate, has your own approach to marketing changed in any way?
I try to have more of an Internet presence, but I still think the best think I can do to promote myself is to write the very best book I can write.
Who are your favorite writers – authors you’ve learned from and read for pleasure?
My very favorite is Ken Follett. His characters literally step off the pages and take over my life while I’m reading one of his books. His writing is direct and earthy and his stories are fascinating. There is much to learn from him. I also like Dennis Lehane. Mystic River was a masterpiece. And I cut my writing teeth on James Patterson and Mary Higgins Clark. There are others too numerous to mention.