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Interview with JoAnn Durgin

Dorothy’s famous line, “There’s no place like home,” in The Wizard of Oz resonates with JoAnn. A native of Indiana, JoAnn grew tired of stomping through snow at Ball State University and resolved to experience life outside the Hoosier state. She moved to Dallas, Texas, where she met her husband, Jim (a Rhode Island native and Dallas Seminary student), married in a chapel nestled in the hills of Kentucky, honeymooned in Hawaii, and subsequently lived in California, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. Eighteen years and three children later – they all moved back to home in her heart, Kentuckiana (where southern Indiana meets Louisville, Kentucky, at the Ohio River). “Thank the Lord for a highly adaptable family,” JoAnn says, adding that living on the east and west coasts and various points in-between (with a few trips abroad thrown in for good measure) has tremendously broadened her experience and perspective as a writer. “I now have much more of an appreciation of the freedoms we enjoy and all our nation has to offer.”

How did you know you wanted to write fiction and romance in particular?

I’ve been an avid reader my entire life, and ideas for novels simmered in my imagination for years. However, it wasn’t until I was a young, stay-at-home mom in Philly that I tried my hand at penning one. I love creating characters and their stories, and making them so real they jump off the page and into the hearts and minds of readers. I write what I call contemporary romantic adventures. Romance is my first love, but as both a reader and an author, I also need more than romance for a novel to be fully developed and emotionally satisfying. Throw in humor and some witty banter, dramatic conflict, a moving plotline with adventure, and maybe a hint of mystery or suspense, and you’ve got my kind of book. That’s what you get with Awakening!

It may be a cliché, but I write what I like to read. Following your passion as a writer does make a better book. One of the most precious things in life is that first blush of love, that rush of adrenaline at a glance, a touch, a kiss… Awakening is the beginning of a series, and – although I’m on a book-by-book basis for now – it’s been a wonderful process for me as a writer to develop my characters as they “grow” their families and make their way through life.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
Believe it or not, it was rejection from a big-name agent and a multi-published author that spurred me on to keep striving toward publication. I’m tough and don’t like being told I can’t do something. Where others might throw in the proverbial towel, I kept going. After all, they only reviewed the first three chapters of my story. I knew if that one entity of God’s choosing could review the entire manuscript, they’d see the value in the work as a whole. The second part of the equation in my journey to publication was rejection of another kind – being laid off from my paralegal position; the Lord gave me the gifts of time and a generous severance package in which I enjoyed four months to make the necessary contacts in the writing world and for the Lord to connect me with my publisher, new Christian romance publisher Torn Veil Books of Winnipeg, Canada.

Last, but certainly not least, I owe a huge deal of credit to the ACFW. In the first few months of membership alone, I learned more to further my writing (and editing) career than in all the years leading up to it, including earning a Journalism/English degree. College taught me the basics of writing, but I didn’t learn about fiction tools such as POV and back story until joining the ACFW. Attending the 2010 conference in my home state was an unequaled blessing. Consequently, I’m a huge supporter and believer in the countless benefits of authors joining the ACFW.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?

No question – finding the time to write is my biggest challenge, especially with a full-time job, a part-time job, and a busy family. The only way I can write is generally to do it between the hours of 11 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. It helps that I’ve always been a night owl. I was literally one of those girls under the sheets with the flashlight, devouring the latest Nancy Drew mystery (my $5 weekly allowance would buy three hardback books – it was the highlight of my week!). So, it’s not so much a question of balancing as whether or not I’m feeling creative during those hours. If I can’t sleep and feel the inspiration, I’ll crawl out of bed at 4:00 a.m. to write. Writing keeps me sane. Seriously. It’s my solace, my peace, and my time to connect with the Lord. Thankfully, the words just flow. The slogan, “I’d Rather Be Writing” was made for someone like me.

And how do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
Faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love. God first loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for our sins, and it’s through His boundless love that I write. My stories depict people who often stumble and fall, but they find grace, forgiveness, love, redemption, and hope when they seek to follow the Lord’s will for their lives. The Lord has been so faithful to me in this writing journey, and I know He’ll continue to open the doors of His choosing in the proper time. He’s truly my Partner. Matthew 5:16 is my personal theme verse, and it’s my prayer that my light will shine through the words in my books, giving light and hope to a hurting world. It’s my high honor and privilege to share the stories the Lord has laid on my heart to share with others.

What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
Opening my e-mail on May 1, 2010, and reading those long-awaited words, “We have decided to publish your book, Awakening” with my contract attached. It was the culmination of years of writing, editing, learning, reading, and praying. Second would have to be holding my book in my hands for the very first time. And it doesn’t stop there. You smell the pages, thumb through it, smooth your hand over the front and back cover, wanting to experience every sensation (and get a few weird looks, especially if you have teenagers). Other than cradling my newborn babies for the first time, it’s a joy beyond compare to a writer’s heart. It’s like Christmas and your birthday all rolled into one joyous, absolutely glorious occasion.

Who/What spurs you to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?
I write because it’s my passion. It’s what I love, and what I feel called by the Lord to do. Put it this way: I can’t not write, although I put my writing aside for a decade for something more pressing – raising my children. But the ideas were always formulating, simmering beneath the surface. Maybe that’s why I’ve never had writer’s block, and hopefully never will. Most of my story ideas are inspired from newspapers, magazines, television or radio programs, my kids, church sermons or Sunday school lessons, snippets of conversations in the grocery store…you name it. Practically anything is fodder for my fertile imagination.

In the case of Awakening, however, it is loosely based on my love story with my own hero, my husband, Jim (the inspiration for Sam Lewis). Of course, I am the model for Lexa, the feisty blonde who challenges Sam. But she’s also resilient and resourceful, and I prefer to believe I share those qualities with my heroine. In part, my book is published today because of that dogged determination and stubbornness. My characters are real to me and deserve to have their stories told!

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
I’ve been told I have a fresh, unique voice. I try to infuse my sense of humor and unique way of phrasing and expression into every book. I especially love getting into the male psyche, and I’ve been told (by those of the male persuasion) that I do it quite well. That’s high praise! I don’t necessarily follow the “three kiss” or formula pathway to romance. But that doesn’t mean there’s not conflict and roadblocks along the way to lasting love. I personally feel it’s a greater test of faith and bonds a couple together more when they work through issues and confront problems together instead of keeping them apart until the very end where they share a kiss, proclaim their love and ride off into the sunset. That’s a very simplistic way of putting it, but I’m sure you get my point. I am a firm believer in happy endings, and tying up loose ends of a story, although sometimes I carry storylines over from one book to another in the series. But each book can certainly stand alone.

My other motto? I don’t kill major characters. I just can’t do it. Peripheral characters sometimes die (and a few are maimed along the way), but I just can’t kill ’em. Although I realize life isn’t always rosy and can seem downright hard and unfair at times, I don’t believe killing beloved characters is something romance readers respond to positively. From a personal perspective, I don’t like it. At least at this early point in my writing career, I want readers to weep tears of joy or because I’ve struck an emotional chord deep inside, but I don’t want them to cry because they’re grieving the loss of a beloved character.

Finish this question. I want my books to . . .
find their way into the hands of those of God’s choosing who need to read them, planting seeds and touching hearts with the redeeming love of Christ.

Any parting words?
Thank you so much for allowing me to join you. It’s a blessing, an honor and a privilege to be a part of the ACFW.

Thanks for sharing with us, JoAnn!

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