Interview with Harlequin Desire’s Joss Wood

This month marks the publication of Joss Wood’s Redeemed by Passion, the finale of Harlequin Desire’s Dynasties: Secrets of the A-List continuity. Her fellow A-List author Karen Booth got Joss to hold forth on the ups and downs of starting out, the challenges of the writing life and what she does to perfect her craft.

Karen Booth: At what stage in your life did you become serious about pursuing a career as an author?

Joss Wood: I have been writing since I was eight years old and writing was always something I ran to when times were hard. At the age of 38, I decided that I either had to give this a decent shot or give it up for good. I started to write seriously then, and the next few years were full of ups and downs. I got an agent, then she emigrated and closed her business and I felt gutted. Then, as a last-ditch attempt, I entered a writing competition and my story was picked up by Flo Nicoll at Mills & Boon and I was asked to develop the story into a book.

Karen: What a great story! And I was 40 when I decided to give writing a real shot. Funny that we were so close in age when coming to that decision.

Was there anything that held you back from pursuing your dream of being an author?

Joss: Oh, the usual things… Can I afford to do this? Will I be able to fill my fridge, pay my mortgage, educate my kids? So I, like so many other authors, kept my day job until I could afford to write full-time.

Karen: I feel like there are a million reasons not be a writer. It’s just the nature of the business. But I do think that says a lot about anyone choosing to pursue it. The love of storytelling somehow manages to win out.

What do you find most challenging about being an author?

Joss: I live in a small rural town in South Africa and I guess the loneliness of writing can sometimes be a little overwhelming. There are also times when I feel forgotten and ignored and isolated but that’s part of the deal. The upside is going to work in shorts and my flip-flops!

Karen: I totally get the loneliness and I’m an introvert, so you’d think that I would like the solitary nature of being at home and writing all day. I think we all crave some connection. Thumbs up for working in flip-flops, or in my case, slippers (in the winter).

What are some of the challenges of being a prolific author?

Joss: I am constantly worried that I won’t hit a deadline, that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew and that I’m not hitting the standard required. Sometimes I am writing one book, editing another and doing author approvals for another and I must keep the characters straight.

Karen: Juggling everything is definitely the most difficult part for me. Sometimes I can’t remember my characters’ names. That’s when I know I’m trying to do too many things.

In addition to your own series, you’ve written in continuities. How does the process work? What are some of the challenges?

Joss: Our editors give us a rough “bible” to follow (a bible is an editorial document detailing the plots and arcs for both our specific books and the overall series) and then the authors in the continuity either set up an email or Facebook group and discuss our individual books there. Questions can range from what a character drinks or the shade of lipstick she wears to a massive plot point. It’s like hanging out with your friends, without the wine.

Karen: Yeah, what’s up with that? We need to find a way to incorporate wine.

Since the character is already outlined for you in a continuity, how do you make the character your own?

Joss: Initially, I don’t think you need to connect with the character entirely. I sometimes think that, like with a new friend, you find the one thing that resonates with you and you go from there. And you must trust yourself and the process; you’re a writer, you’ve done this before and you’ll do it again.

Karen: Trusting the process is the part I struggle with! It’s like I get amnesia and forget that I have done it before.

How do you deal with characters or story lines that don’t necessarily speak to you initially?

Joss: The bibles aren’t always very prescriptive, there’s a lot of wiggle room so, with a little imagination, you can make plot points work. And I’ve always found that my editors are super cool. If I tell them that I can’t get behind a motivation or a plot twist, provided it doesn’t affect the continuity, they are prepared to help me find a solution I can live with.

Karen: I’ve had the same editorial experience. If you can make a case for a change, there’s rarely any problem.

What do you do to perfect your craft?

Joss: Write. Write some more. Read. Read some more. Make a note of feedback you get from editors and try not to make the same mistake in the next book. Check your ego because there’s always something you don’t know or room for improvement.

Karen: That bit about checking your ego is so important. You can always get better, and the sooner you come to terms with that, the better.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Joss: Wow, a hard one. I’d tell aspiring writers to finish the book. So many people get stuck on the first three chapters, trying to make them perfect but never finish. The first draft of anything is a smelly dumpster fire but, when you are done, you will have X amount of words you can play with. My other piece of advice is something I live by every day from the wonderful Nora Roberts and it’s simple:

Stop whining and write.

Stop *&%$ around and write.

Stop making excuses and write.

Karen: Pure genius from Ms. Nora. I need to remind myself of this every day!

Have a question for Joss? Comment below and join the conversation!