By Amy Lignor
Joan Hall Hovey is the definition of an “artist.” From her writing that has taken the form of suspense novels, as well as short stories and articles, this woman has not only taken the suspense world by storm, but also dabbles in the theater community. In addition, Joan makes time to work with other authors, giving them the information and help they need to embrace their talent and become a part of the literary world.
Born and raised in Saint John, New Brunswick, Joan has a family she adores, including Scamp, the family dog. She looks out every day at tall pine trees and the stunning view of the Kennebecasis River. But although that view is certainly inspiring, her fans will tell you that it is Joan’s view—the scenes and characters within her own creative mind—that is truly unforgettable. This is a talent who brings vibrancy to the page, creating locations that, even in the light of day, chill readers to the bone.
The works of Poe, King, and other masters of the mystery world inspired Joan to write. And now, with her latest novel—THE DEEPEST DARK—she once again hits the nail on the proverbial head, drawing readers into a world of fear that will leave them absolutely breathless.
Let’s begin at the beginning. You have an incredible mind for suspense, and are able to weave together an absolutely frightening plot. When was it that you decided to become a suspense author? Was there a specific reason why you chose that genre?
Like most authors of suspense, I have always been drawn to the dark side of human nature. From childhood I loved anything that was scary; from zombies to vampires to noir movies. Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price—these were my anti-heros. I read stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Shirley Jackson, and others. When you love the genre, you immerse yourself in voices that write in that genre, until finally you want your own voice to rise from the page.
In relation to the above, have you ever thought of branching out into other genres one day?
No, I’m happy writing suspense novels. There is just so much flexibility and range with the suspense thriller. I can take any other genre I wish and weave it into my novel as long as it serves the story—romance, paranormal, and so on.
You are a writing instructor/mentor, so could you speak about what you feel is the hardest thing for an author to accomplish? And what was your worst moment when it came to getting your work out there? Did you have a specific fear?
I think the hardest thing for an aspiring author to accomplish is getting out of her/his own way. You can’t tell a great story if you’re worried what someone will think, or that you’re not good enough. We all have fears of not measuring up; we just have to rise above them and focus on the task at hand. There is no other way, no shortcuts. It takes courage to be a writer. It’s also true that with every accomplishment, no matter how small, the fear lessens and the confidence grows.
WRITE YOUR NOVEL—your audiobook for writers—is an informative, highly encouraging source. Do you have any specific authors you mentor? What areas of fiction do you hope will grow in the coming years?
It’s been a while since I wrote and narrated that audiobook, but I’m sure I mentioned a number of authors. The suspense genre is increasingly gaining the respect it deserves, and I think that will continue in the coming years. There are any number of authors who would be in the running for prizes for great literature if they were writing mainstream. A couple off the top of my head are the late Patricia Highsmith and the very much alive Ruth Rendell. And definitely Stephen King, who is the Dickens of our day, in my opinion. There are, of course, more—several of whom are ITW members.
Although e-books and technology are fantastic for the literary world, some readers are still “old school,” and love the smell of the book in their hands. Can you speak about e-books, Kindle, Nooks, social media, etc., and how these inventions helped your writing?
I, too, like the heft of books, the smell of them, but I have also come to embrace the age of technology. I like to read in bed, and my Kindle is light to hold, and with fading vision, I can make the font as big as I need it to be. As an author, I like the ease with which I can send a copy of my novel to a reviewer. Not to mention emailing my finished manuscript to my publisher. (It’s cheaper too.)
THE DEEPEST DARK, your next release, is unbelievably terrifying. Can you tell readers a bit about the book?
I like to write about ordinary women who are at a difficult time in their lives, and are suddenly faced with an external evil force. Women who are stronger than they think they are. The idea for THE DEEPEST DARK came to me when I asked myself: “What would be the worst thing that could happen to a woman?” To me, the answer would be to lose her child. Not only has author Abby Miller, my main character, lost her ten-year-old daughter in a horrendous car accident, but her husband as well.
Following their deaths, Abby sinks ever deeper into depression. She even contemplates suicide as a way to be with them and to end her unrelenting pain. In a last desperate effort to find peace, she drives to Loon Lake where they last vacationed together, wanting to believe they will be waiting for her there, at least in spirit. The cabin at Loon Lake was her and her husband’s secret hideaway, and not even Abby’s sister, Karen, knows where it is. But someone else does. He is one of three men who have escaped from Pennington prison. This trio, these dangerous predators, will stop at nothing to get what they want and keep from going back to their cells. Having already committed atrocious crimes, they have nothing to lose.
Unknowingly, Abby ends up on a collision course with evil itself. And the decision of whether to live or die will soon be wrenched from her hands.
Locations, such as Loon Lake, are definitely “characters” in your tales. You do an outstanding job of making readers feel as if they are standing in those woods, or nervously pacing that cabin floor. Do you feel that surroundings should be a literal part of the story instead of just the “set” that’s briefly described?
Thank you. Since I am first telling myself a story, I need to put myself in my character’s shoes. So, yes, I think it’s very important to take readers with you and let them experience “place” vicariously through your character. It is important to write for all five senses without overdoing it, because nothing draws your reader into your story more quickly than sensory detail.
As a die-hard suspense reader, do you lean more toward the classics, like Agatha Christie, or more along the lines of present-day writings?
Agatha Christie wrote “who-dunnits” while I write “why dunnits,” although there can be a mystery woven into the fabric of my story. For me, it is always exciting to open that new Harlan Coben book, or one from Tess Gerritsen, or Karin Slaughter. My list is long.
I also hear that you like to act, as well as write. Is the artistic passion the same for writing and acting, or do they differ?
It’s all a means of expressing oneself, but each discipline is different. Writing is an inward, cerebral activity, while with acting, you’re putting it out there physically as well as emotionally. You can learn a lot about writing from a good play—pacing, set, dialogue, characterization. I like to get inside the skin of my characters in my novels, much like the actor does when portraying a character on stage.
This is a question I always ask of everyone because readers truly want to know: If there is a writer (alive or dead) you could have lunch with, who would it be and why?
My grandmother. Her name was Lillian May Hall (nee Watts). She wasn’t a writer, however, but an artist. She painted in oils mainly, but also watercolor, and was always striving to improve her work. I remember as a child accompanying her to an occasional art lesson. She was in her mid-seventies and I can still see her counting out the change from her little leather pouch to pay for it. She was passionate about her art; always in the pursuit of excellence. I liked being close to that passion. It was infectious, and I am privileged to have known her.
Like the grandmother she speaks of, readers certainly see the passion that Joan Hall Hovey puts into her work. And her continuous pursuit of excellence in the suspense world makes it our privilege to enjoy her incredible novels.
In addition to her award-winning suspense novels, Joan Hall Hovey’s articles and short stories have appeared in numerous publications. Her short story Dark Reunion was selected for the anthology investigating Women, Published by Simon & Pierre. She is a member of the Writer’s Federation of New Brunswick, past regional Vice-President of Crime Writers of Canada and a member of International Thriller Writers. Joan lives in New Brunswick, Canada, in a modest home on the banks of the beautiful Kennebecasis River with her husband, Mel and their sweet dog, Scamp. She is always working on her next suspense novel.
To learn more about Joan, please visit her website.