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Interview with Jo Ann Brown

You have several other Amish novels, so this isn’t a first for you in terms of theme. What message do you hope readers take away from this book?

The theme of An Amish Reunion is that families are built in many different ways, whether by birth or by adoption or by foster care or just by circumstances. I’d love for readers to realize that any way of building a family is a good way!

You’ve been in publishing for nearly 30 years and have more than 100 books published. That’s quite an amazing career! What was most significant to your publication journey?

This is a simple question to answer—networking with other writers. I learned not only how-tos, but also what to expect as I went through the publishing process. Writers have opened doors for me, and I’ve done the same for others. Writing is a solo enterprise, but we all can be there for each other, sharing the ups and the downs.

You spent several years as a quartermaster in the Army. What of your experiences from that service have you used in your stories?

My military experience doesn’t help with my Amish books, that’s for sure. However, I’ve had military heroes (and one heroine in The Counterfeit Count) in my Regencies through the years. Not surprising, many of my military and ex-military characters worked in military supply. I was the first and only female officer in my unit, and I learned about military camaraderie and setting priorities.

While I was in, I met many soldiers and officers who’d been in war zones. Knowing them taught me that true heroes come in all shapes and sizes—and that they are real people with dreams and faith.

Speaking of faith, how does your faith and your spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?

Even before I began writing for the CBA market, I always wanted my characters to have a strong connection to God and the strong moral compass that comes from having a deep and abiding faith. My characters always believe they’re never alone on their life’s journey and that love is a special gift from God—two facets of my faith that I hold dear.

With as many books as you’ve written, there are probably numerous answers to this question, but what do you consider the greatest moment of your career?

Selling the first book back in 1987 was definitely a biggie, but we’ve celebrated every sale since then. Making the Publishers Weekly list with my Amish Hearts series has been so exciting as well, but I think the best moments are when I hear from a reader about how my story has touched her—sometimes in ways I never imagined. That’s when I feel God working through me to reach someone I don’t even know. It thrills me to know that “God works in mysterious ways” isn’t just a saying.

You have written inspirational novels for both Harlequin Love Inspired and Guideposts mysteries. How do the needs and styles for these two publishers differ and how are they the same?

I’m not currently writing for Guideposts, but the biggest difference between the two is Guideposts books, because they are a multi-author series, are more of a collaborative project. I really enjoyed working on the Patchwork Mysteries series where six of us developed the characters and the setting and then watched them bloom over 24 books.

With Harlequin Love Inspired, my miniseries are written solely by me, which is also fun because I get to participate in the growth of all the characters and am part of the unfolding of the connected stories.

What have you learned from writing a series that differs from writing a standalone novel?

With a connected series, there are certain story elements that can have a story arc over the whole series, which some readers like and others don’t. For a stand-alone novel, everything has to be wrapped up in a single book. Otherwise, I approach them exactly the same: finding the story of two people who fall in love despite all the odds against them.

All authors write a little of themselves into their characters. Which of your characters is most like you?

That’s an interesting question. There are the characters I’d like to be, because they always seem to have the right answer and know what to do. However, there is a lot of me in Hannah Lambright, the heroine of An Amish Reunion. I’m not a beekeeper, though I’m a big fan of honey!

We’re alike in that we’re family-oriented and have learned how to help a child with special needs. As well, I had a grandparent with Alzheimer’s, back in the days before the condition had a name. So I guess you could say there’s a lot of me in Hannah, and a lot of my grandfather in her Grossmammi!

You write in multiple genres—and have a loyal following in all of them. This usually means you have a style in all of your books your readers can expect when they pick up one of your books. What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?

I’d like to think it’s my characters. When I hear from readers, they almost always comment on the characters rather than the plot. As I said earlier, sometimes I’m surprised by how one of my characters “speaks” to a reader.

The biggest surprise was when a reader commented on what I’d considered a “throw-in” scene (you know, the kind we use to get characters from one location to another while keeping the action moving smoothly). She was moved by the dialogue that helped her equate God with love for the first time in her life. Her letter made that book even more special to me.

What led you to branch out from historical romance into other genres?

I was led to Amish romances when a packaging editor I’d worked with on several projects asked another author and me to work on an Amish series she’d sold. I began researching and reading and fell in love with the genre.

As far as writing mysteries, I’ve always had a hint of suspense in my books. I moved into cozy mysteries with a series of Regency books from Kensington and ImaJinn/Bellebooks about an English pastor’s widow, Lady Priscilla Flanders, and the rogue, Sir Neville Hathaway, who’d been her husband’s best friend. An editor I’d worked with who was familiar with my Regencies moved to Guideposts, and she asked me to work on contemporary cozy mysteries with her.

In addition to writing, you also have a speaking career and teach writing. What is your favorite speaking topic?

I love to speak on developing characters with “real” emotions and how to make each one unique and relatable. I have an exercise for that program that I’ve used with everyone from third graders to senior citizens. Everyone has fun with it, and I hope they gain new insight into creating dynamic, emotional characters. That and one called “Beginning Blunders, Middle Muddles, Ending Errors” are my two most requested workshops.

What about the creative writing? What is the most unique experience you’ve had while teaching?

I began teaching creative writing a couple of years after the publication of my first book. At first, I was learning as much from finding answers to my students’ questions as they probably were learning from me. Later on, I received a Massachusetts State Lottery Arts grant to teach creative writing in my hometown. That helped lead to my time at Brown University.

Most unique experience? That’s a toughie, because each group of students brings new experiences and challenges. Some have made me laugh until I was crying with their humorous styles while others have simply made me cry with awe at their dedication to the craft and how much they long to learn to be better at it.

But I think the most unique has to be when a student who was an operating room nurse at a big city hospital shared the story she wrote about the latest heart transplant she’d assisted with. She had us all in stitches with her description of how the doctor dropped the “new” heart on the floor, picked it up, cleaned it off, and put it into the patient who went on to a full recovery. And it was a true story!

What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?

Traveling and photography. I have a digital camera that’s smarter than I am because I haven’t figured out all it can do even after five years. Fortunately my husband doesn’t mind me taking scads of pictures of castles and cathedrals and country churches as well as landscapes. Many of my books that have been re-released by Open Road Media have my photographs for the covers.

What books are on your nightstand right now?

I don’t keep books on my nightstand. If I read a great book just before bed, I find it tough to go to sleep because I’d want to know what happens next! But for fiction, I’m reading Christmas books now, mostly by my fellow Love Inspired authors. I’m mingling in some Anne McCaffrey science fiction, because I like to mix up what I’m reading.

Any parting words?

The best thing I can say “”is the advice my first creative writing teacher gave me in middle school: Read, read, read, and write, write, write. And just keep repeating.


Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood. Today, she has honed those skills to become an award-winning author and speaker who lives with her husband and author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Colorado. They have a daughter and son, and a Retriever-mix named Roxie. She has sold 20 books so far, three of which have won annual reader’s choice awards. She is represented by Tamela Murray of the Steve Laube Agency.

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