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INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR
What initially got you interested in writing?
Being a reader. When I was in first grade, my teacher had a lovely ritual: as soon as a child could read, she’d come into class after recess one day and find a shiny brand-new book on her desk, marking this momentous achievement. I still recall the thrill of discovering my crisp book, and the new world that reading opened.
My parents took me weekly then to our small-town library, and I remember being astonished and delighted by the walls of books in the children’s section. When I was old enough to discover Heidi by Johanna Spyri, at eight or nine years old, I realized that these books were created by individual authors; she was the first author’s name I knew.
So I imagine it was that early association of books with pleasure that kindled my desire to write, which teachers encouraged. In high school I entered an American Legion essay contest and won the five dollar first prize, which gave me further encouragement, and in college I majored in English literature, which gave academic license to continue my voracious reading.
How did you decide to make the move into becoming a published author?
I finally decided that I had worthwhile ideas and stories to contribute; at the same time I was practicing my craft by writing in a personal journal, as generations of women have done, and found I thoroughly enjoyed even the process of writing. After I first submitted my essays and book reviews to small local publications and they were accepted, I gained the courage to submit to national media. Again: acceptance! When a publisher called asking me to publish an anthology of my essays she’d seen in the press, I was on my way.
What do you want readers to take away from reading your works?
Inspiration, hope, and a conviction they can navigate any challenges in their lives. I also usually want to impart a bit of new information—sliding it in as easily as I can—about some aspect of our social life, like the history of Mother’s Day, for instance. This began as a day in 1870 when Julia Ward Howe, who wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” called women to meet “for a general congress of women…to promote…the great and general interests of peace.” Not a day where women were honored with flowers and brunch for their domestic role. But rather, a day when their sphere was properly considered the world.
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
Last night at a bookstore reading for Mama’s Child, a girl who looked about thirteen (sitting with her mom) called out, when I mentioned my teen novel Black, White, Other, “I read that book. I loved it!” That was a thrilling moment.
In addition to hearing such enthusiasm from readers, I enjoy the actual process of crafting sentences and paragraphs—finding just the right word to convey my meaning.
What do you find most challenging about writing?
Sometimes the physical act becomes difficult, sitting for long hours until my head feels as though it will explode.
Other times, when I’ve worked and reworked an essay or book chapter, I become so enmeshed in it that I lose perspective and need others’ reactions to gain it; and/or I step away for awhile.
What advice would you give to people wanting to enter the field?
Have confidence that you have something significant to say. There is no other voice like yours, no-one else has the exact experience you have, or unique perspective; be persistent until you find your right place in the world of published writers. And also: read, read, read fine literature. Good writing will inspire you with the endless possibilities for marvelous metaphors.
Is there anything else besides writing you think people would find interesting about you?
I love to sing, hike, and garden. These are all activities which use other parts of my brain and body, so are wonderful counterbalances to the “sitting at my computer” part of my days.
What are the best ways to connect with you, or find out more about your work?
Check out my website, www.JoanLester.com, where there is lots of information, plus a “Contact me” page. I’d love to hear from you.