I’m delighted to have Joylene Butler as my guest today. Joylene and I met as a ‘happy coincidence’ when she discovered my pen name on the Federation of BC Writers’ website and followed the link to my blog.
We continue to be surprised by things we have in common: we’ve both lived in Langley and Maple Ridge, BC, both now have homes on beautiful interior BC lakes (well, truthfully, mine is just a cabin), both suffered through the loss of children, both lean heavily on our faith for sustenance, both love the natural world around us, both are passionate about writing… indeed, we’ve decided our meeting was no coincidence at all!
CG: Welcome, and congratulations on the imminent release of BROKEN BUT NOT DEAD, Joylene. This is your second novel. Can you please tell us a bit about the story?
JB: First of all, thank you for having me as your guest today, Carol. I’m grateful to call you my friend even though we haven’t met, and I’m appreciative of all you do for our community.
As for my new novel, because I’m still so terrible at summarizing my stories, I’m going to cheat and copy the blurb from the back cover. Yes, shame on me!
Brendell Kisêpîsim Meshango is of Métis heritage and a PhD university professor in Prince George, British Columbia. When Brendell resigns from the university and retreats to her isolated cabin to repair her psyche, she is confronted by a masked intruder. His racial comments lead her to believe she is the solitary victim of a hate crime. However, is all as it appears? After two bizarre days inflicting a sadistic captivity, the intruder mysteriously disappears.
Taught by her mother to fear and distrust the mainstream-based power structures, and with her stalker possibly linked to a high level of government, Brendell conceals the incident from the police. But will keeping quiet keep her safe?
Then her beloved daughter, Zoë, is threatened — and Brendell takes matters into her own hands. To save Zoë, Brendell searches for the stalker and confronts not just a depraved madman but her own fears and prejudices.
JB: It was an onslaught of hot flushes. The story’s premise began as a question: Could a menopausal woman lose control and kill someone to protect a loved one? From there I met 50-year-old Brendell, a broken but not dead woman who felt overwhelmed by her history. As her secrets were revealed, I got a sense of who she was, and that brought me to the opening of the story. From there I jotted down what happened to her. Sounds easy, but in reality it took years.
CG: Everyone has a story about “how I found my agent/editor/publisher.” Can you share a bit of the journey that led you to Theytus Books?
JB: Not until after everything happened did I realize my story is unique. I self-published my first novel. Overwaitea Foods got hold of a copy and asked me for more. I didn’t have more, so they introduced me to Hignell Book Printers in Manitoba, who introduced me to Sandhill Books, who in turn suggested I query Theytus with my next manuscript. Theytus bought the book. It was all surreal and exciting, but to sum it up in one word, I’d have to say: Providence.
CG: How long did it take you to write BROKEN BUT NOT DEAD compared to your first novel, DEAD WITNESS? Was the first draft close to the finished product or did it go through multiple revision transformations?
JB: Dead Witness was my second novel, and took me three months to write, then five years to edit. My first manuscript was a learning tool that took seven years to write. Broken was a challenge, but it actually took me less time to write because of raging hormones. The first draft was finished in three months, then I spent three years editing. I’m one of those writers who is never satisfied. My biggest problem is to know when to stop.
CG: Are you a writer who plots and outlines first, or do you dive in and figure things out as you go?
JB: If/when I get stuck, I do a thorough outline. Otherwise, I start at the beginning and work my way slowly to the end. I use the 3-Act play formula eventually to make certain I’ve created a strong foundation. When I suffer from writer’s block and can’t seem to go forward, I read everything and anything. Finally, I visualize the book as a video in my mind with my finger on the replay button. At the rough spots, I keep hitting replay while I’m vacuuming, gardening, experiencing insomnia, during hockey intermissions, and waiting at the doctor’s office. Eventually, the story plays itself out in my head, then I race for my computer.
CG: Do you have support in your writing… a mentor, critique group, etc.?
JB: I belong to DeadlyProse, an online writers critique group. Great bunch of writers. I also work with a small intimate Alberta writers group through Skype. I’m the only one from BC. And I work one-on-one with a very talented American historical writer. I’m fortunate to know some great authors who have supported my work since the mid-90s.
CG: Give us a glimpse of where you do most of your writing.
JB: My computer is positioned in the corner of my dining room at a picture window that overlooks Cluculz Lake. That way I can keep track of the eagles, loons, and kingfishers. When I need to focus, I close the blind. We live in an open-concept log and stick house. During the cold winters it’s hard if I have family home, but I’ve learned to tune them out when I have to. I can edit anywhere, even during hockey intermission, but if I’m writing something new, I need complete quiet. Early morning works best, or after midnight.
CG: Were there doubts, low times or obstacles for you along the way? How did you overcome them?
JB: More doubts and low times than I can number. I quit writing once, for an entire year. I hit bottom a few times and bounced back only to have something happen that sent me into months of writer’s block. I started writing novels in 1984 and didn’t publish until 2008. That’s a long time of supposedly paying my dues. Being pigheaded helped. I kept reminding myself how could I teach my sons to never give up if I did.
CG: Do you have any advice for writers who are a step behind you in their pursuit of publication? Anything that you wish you’d known before you waded in yourself?
JB: I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times: write. But please know that being published is not going to fix anything that’s wrong with your life. It’s only going to give you new experiences. It’s not a replacement for the love of family or their health and welfare. But because I’ve been where you are and can remember someone trying to tell me this, I would urge you to learn your craft in earnest. Know your grammar to the best of your ability. Understand POV. Study the 3-Act Play. Learn to give and get critiques. It’s amazing what a wonderful tool critiquing is. Though others will tell you it’s your story and you know what’s best, don’t assume you do. Educate yourself. You have access to the internet? Use it. And read. Read everything in your genre that you can. Study why you love your favourite authors so much. Then get back to writing. Oh, and don’t forget to be stubborn. It helps.
CG: What is your role in the marketing and promotion of your books? Do Theytus and Sandhill Books have specific distribution plans?
JB: I’m about to learn exactly what Theytus’s marketing plans are. Luckily I made a lot of contacts with my first book. I’ll put out the word and sign up for as many readings and signings that I can this summer. My local radio station has been very supportive, and I’ll do readings for their storytelling nights. I’ll blog regularly. I’ll keep in touch with Friends of the Library. I’ll attend the northern conference again this winter. I’ll sponsor book giveaways on my blog. I’ll tour as a guest online. I do know Theytus will enter my book in applicable contests. Sandhill will take care of making certain it arrives at the stores before I do. That in itself is a big load off my mind. And I’ll keep writing more books.
CG: Where can people buy copies of BROKEN BUT NOT DEAD and DEAD WITNESS?
JB: Any independent bookstore in Canada, plus Chapters/Indigo, Books & Company, Amazon.ca, and online at http://www.theytus.com.
CG: What’s next? Do you have other stories in the works?
JB: I’m almost finished the sequel to Broken But Not Dead, titled Omatiwak: Woman Who Cries. I have another completed manuscript called Kiss of the Assassin, which I’ll probably edit some more. I have a WIP called Wrong, or Dead Wrong, I’m not sure yet. And I’m working on a children’s illustrated book about a spirit eagle.
CG: Anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to take the opportunity to mention?
JB: I don’t know where the need to write came from, but I’m very grateful I write novels that people actually pay money to read. If I could do it for free, I would. Thank you to all those readers who took time to read my novels. You’re the reason I’m able to keep doing this.
As for news, an e-book version of Dead Witness is due for release through MuseItUp Publishing this summer. I’ll post information on my blog when it’s out.
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Joylene Nowell Butler, Metis, was born in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, grew up in Maple Ridge, and raised her children in Prince George, BC. She began writing in 1984 after the death of her father. Her first novel Dead Witness, published in 2008 is distributed across Canada by Sandhill Books. Her current works in progress include a political thriller, a children’s book, a suspense thriller, and the sequel to Broken But Not Dead. Joylene, her husband, and their three stray cats live in Cluculz Lake in central BC. They are expecting their ninth grandchild in September. In her spare time, Joylene teaches Tai chi.