UNMASKING JOAN MAUCH:
Interview by Michael McCarty
Joan Mauch’s background ranges from teaching and working for nonprofit organizations advocating for the poor, selling real estate to a career in marketing and public relations. Over the years, her nonfiction has appeared in a variety of publications. She has bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s in urban studies.
She is the author of five novels: Halifax, The Mangled Spoon (later renamed Unmasking Miss Jane), The Waterkeeper’s Daughter, Escape from Ambergris and Leon’s Wall.
When she isn’t writing, Joan enjoys visiting her son in Tampa, Florida or just hanging out with family or friends.
Visit her website: joanmauch.com
MICHAEL McCARTY: Why did you decide to become a novelist in the first place?
JOAN MAUCH: As a lifelong lover of reading, from an early age I wanted to write a novel but when I first sat down (under a tree by Lake Michigan) to write, after the first page, I ran out of words and discovered there was more to it than I thought. Years went by, life intervened and I put that desire on the back burner. Finally, after retiring, I had some free time and my desire to write a novel resurfaced along with the realization that I didn’t know the first thing about novel writing. At the time I was living on Chicago’s North Shore and found out about a fiction-writing class in which I promptly enrolled. The rest is as they say, history.
MIKE: Your book “Halifax” is set in both Florida and Canada. Was there any particular reason from going to extreme hot to extreme cold locations?
JOAN: Before even thinking about writing the novel, I had gone to Nova Scotia on vacation and visited all the locations mentioned in the book. When I came up with the idea for the novel, and the protagonist was going to flee, I thought Halifax would be the perfect place for her go. Like me, I assumed most of my readers had heard of Halifax but were unfamiliar with where it was or what it was like, so, in my mind at least, the setting added an element of interest to the novel. By the way, when we were there, which was in the fall, the weather in Nova Scotia was similar to autumn weather here, which is to say, delightful.
(Joan Mauch at the Book Rack, Davenport, Iowa)
MIKE: Why did you change the name of the title from “The Mangled Spoon” to “Unmasking Miss Jane”?
JOAN: Truthfully, I never cared much for the title, “The Mangled Spoon”. Although it reflected a key element in the novel, I didn’t think it reflected the true nature of the book the way the new title and book cover do. I don’t know about other authors, but for me, coming up with the right title and book cover is difficult because there are so many factors to consider.
MIKE: If we are unmasking Joan Mauch, what would we find?
JOAN: A person who is somewhat conflicted. I am a very private person who avoids the spotlight and enjoys solitude, but at the same time I love excitement. For example, I went skydiving with my son a few years ago, ran two half-marathons and someday would like to go bungee jumping. On a more normal scale I enjoy hanging out with family and friends.
MIKE: What is a waterkeeper? And why did you choose to write about that profession?
JOAN: A Waterkeeper is someone who is a member of the Waterkeepers’ Alliance, an international organization solely focused on clean water. It is dedicated to preserving and protecting water by connecting local Waterkeeper Organizations and Affiliates worldwide. Their goal is drinkable, fishable, and swimmable water everywhere. They achieve this by monitoring our waterways and going after polluters often filing suit to stop them when they can’t do so by persuasion.
I had read a story in the Dispatch-Rock Island Argus about Quad-Cities Waterkeeper, Art Norris, and it captured my attention. The more I learned about it, the more I thought it would make a good subject for a novel since, like me, I assumed most people were unfamiliar with the term, “waterkeeper” and would find it facinating.
MIKE: Of all your books. What was the hardest to write? What was the easiest?
JOAN: “Escape from Ambergris Caye” was the most difficult because the book’s plot focuses on human trafficking. I had to do extensive research on that horrendous subject. There were times that it was so depressing that I didn’t think I could continue. However since the problem is so widespread and people generally unaware that it takes place virtually under their very noses, I felt it was worth any discomfort my research caused me.
“Halifax” was by far the easiest and most fun to write. Eleanor “Ellie” Hurley, the main character was so quirky and unpredictable, I often broke out laughing as I wrote about some of the things she said and did. It’s also special because it was the first time I was offered a publishing contract by a traditional publisher.
MIKE: You did a sequel with “Escape from Ambergris” and “Leon’s Wall”. Any thoughts of writing another book and making it a trilogy?
JOAN: I have considered writing a sequel focused on Zac Taylor, Jackson’s free-spirit brother in “Escape”. I think he would make an interesting subject for a novel since, like Ellie in “Halifax” he’s so unpredictable. Unfortunately it will have to wait because I’m currently in the middle of a stand-alone novel that I hope to release sometime next spring.
MIKE: You started out with a small publisher and went into self publishing. Why did you choose that route?
JOAN: I had three novels published by two traditional publishers and while I was grateful for the confidence they showed in publishing my work, I wanted more control in terms of promotion, editing and cover design. Self-publishing isn’t for everyone as in essence you become not only the writer, but also marketer and publisher as well. It’s a lot more work but, for me, it has also been more rewarding. In recent years, self-publishing has come into its own. With more well-known writers taking the plunge, it has lost the reputation for poor writing it formerly had. Also, Amazon’s KindleDirect publishing arm has made it easier for writers to self-publish, something I never would have considered without it.
MIKE: Any advise for beginning writers?
JOAN: Writing a novel is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. What I mean by that is, as a young woman I thought I could just sit down and whip off a novel. After all, in college I always got A’s in creative writing courses and was often told I was a good writer and should write a book. Well, as I mentioned above, when I sat down to actually write, I quickly discovered after only a page, I couldn’t think of anything more to say. So, if you’re a new writer just starting out, I would advise you to take a few courses or workshops on novel writing. If that’s not possible, read some books on the topic. Then you need to accept the fact that novel writing is a life-long pursuit, it is hard work that requires discipline. It’s not a weekend activity to pursue when you’re in the mood or have nothing better to do. Only then will you succeed. I hope this doesn’t discourage any of you who, like me, longed to write a book, but you do need to face the reality of what’s involved.
MIKE: Last words?
JOAN: Yes! Would-be writers who are reading this blog also need to know that most published authors are kind and more than willing to help struggling writers, so don’t be afraid to ask. I, myself, have emailed famous authors for their input on various topics and received responses. Authors are human too and most have at one time struggled to get their work published so they know what you are going through.
If you’re a reader, be sure to look up my work on my website at joanmauch.com or on Amazon. And after you read any or all of my novel, please leave comments or reviews. They needn’t be more than a few words. Those are gold for writers at any level and much appreciated!
Thanks to Mike for the opportunity to participate in his blog.
(Joan Mauch’s book signing for Halifax, Joan on the left, Mike on the right, photo by Cindy McCarty)
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