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Thursday, 14 September 2017

Interview: Jeannie Zokan

This morning, I am pleased to welcome indie author Jeannie Zokan to the blog for a quick chat. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the read!

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
I grew up in Colombia, South America, where I was most often found reading library books from the American school I attended. My love of books led me to study Library Science at Baylor University, then to attend The George Washington University in Washington, DC. I now live in Florida, ten minutes from the beach, with my husband, two teenage daughters, two dachshunds, and one black cat.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I’d say that reading led to a desire to write. I’d find myself narrating the events of my life as if I were one of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, or in a Beverly Cleary story. I filled many diaries, burned a few, wrote stories and poetry, circling ever nearer to writing my first novel, which is about a Vespa-driving waitress with a ticking cat whose manuscript comes to life!
the-existence-of-pity, jeannie-zokan, book
Image: Jeannie Zokan
Tell me about The Existence of Pity.
Sixteen-year-old Josie Wales is growing up in a lush valley in the Andes mountains where her family is mostly isolated from the turbulence brewing in 1976 Colombia. As the daughter of missionaries, Josie feels torn between their beliefs and the need to choose for herself. She soon begins to hide things from her parents, like her new boyfriend and her explorations into different religions. Josie soon discovers her parents’ secrets are far more insidious than her own.
How do you get inspiration?
I was inspired to write this novel by the many people who asked me, “What was it like, growing in Colombia?” There was so much to tell, I decided to write a book about the experience.

I also wrote this book for myself. It seemed I would never be in Colombia again; see the beautiful mountains, eat the delicious fruits and breads, or laugh with the friendly people. Writing this book was a trip down memory lane for me. Just the setting, mind you. The things that happen to Josie didn’t happen to me!
What’s your writing process?
NaNoWriMo! National Novel Writing Month, the online writing program started by Chris Baty, gave me the tools to write my novel. Setting life aside for one month to write a 50,000-word novel worked for me. I wrote my first NaNo novel in November of 2008, but The Existence of Pity was written in 2010. And what took one month to write took five years to edit!
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Trusting that process. Right now I am working on the sequel to The Existence of Pity, and it will be very different from its predecessor. This sequel is what I have in me to write, though, and I have to believe it’s what I’m supposed to be writing. In the past, I’ve chosen writing based on what I thought people wanted to read, and it didn’t work. Those projects felt hollow. The opening scene to the sequel came to me – Josie standing in front of an apartment building on a cold February night – and the story took off from there. Not to worry, though. There will be flashbacks to the years I will be skipping!
jeannie-zokan, author
Image: Jeannie Zokan
What do you love most about writing?
It depends on the day. Some days I love the rituals, the music that immerses me in my writing, the cup of coffee that encourages me, the computer games I like to play that settle me into the right frame of mind, the pictures around my desk that spur me on. I may not get much writing done, but I’m happy to be where I am, and the work I’m doing is on a deeper level.

Other days, I love the ideas as they flow, and I’m typing as fast as I can to keep up with my characters’ conversations. 
Then there are days when I’m immersed in the process of editing. I love printing out a chapter and reading it closely, asking myself what it was I meant to say in a certain scene. Or I’ll work with a critique group. I write to make connections with others, and the best way I’ve found to make those connections is to sit around a table for a few hours every week and talk about writing.
Which authors inspire you?
The Existence of Pity was very much inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. She gave me the courage to write what was inside me to write. But my all-time favourite author, the one who turned my world upside down was Douglas Adams. I HAD to write after I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and I couldn’t really tell you why. Something about the clever and funny flow of his words, his surprising and amusing characters, their mad antics, it all is just such a delight. I want to delight people like he does!
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Stop wasting time. You’re going to write, it will happen, so you may as well get going. Put your thoughts on paper, no matter how messy. Trust me, ideas about how to clear up your writing will appear to you. But they can only show up after you’ve started. 
In order to move to the next level, you have to make your way through this one, so again, stop wasting time! And of course, I’m talking to myself on that one...
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
My greatest ambition is to know my work has made a difference in someone’s life. It’s to have someone thank me for writing my books. Sure, I think about being a best-selling, award-winning author whose books have been turned into movies.

But I’m happy right now, with my level of success. Someone recognized me at the local post office; there are over fifty reviews on Amazon for my book; I’m a finalist in the National Indie Excellence Awards for Women’s Fiction. Oh, and someone is selling a used copy of my book on Amazon.com for $45.98! It’s only in acceptable condition, too. Did they underline favourite passages? Dog-ear pages?

Best of all, I’m being interviewed for “The Writing Greyhound! How fun is that?
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
My husband, daughters, and I love to stay active. We bike-ride and exercise at a local gym. I take yoga classes and play tennis with a dear group of friends. After our matches, we go out to lunch, which may be my favourite part. Come to think of it, lunch with friends should be considered one of my interests, especially if we are discussing writing!
What are you reading at the moment?
I am listening to War and Peace on CD. I’m doing it to honour my mother, who read it when I was a child. She has Alzheimer’s now and often doesn’t know who I am. It comforts me to connect with her as I listen to the epic saga, and it’s more enjoyable than I expected!
The Existence of Pity is available to buy now. To find out more about Jeannie and her writing, you can visit her website.

What do you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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