1st September 2018
Interview with J. C. Paulson
Your first published book - Adam’s Witness - has been described as a blend of mystery, romance and crime fiction. How did you go about combining those different components?
I think I largely just muddled through, originally. I felt like I didn’t have a choice. The story’s plot erupted into my disturbed and sleepless mind one night, after a couple of life-changing experiences had plunged me into insomniac misery. It felt, quite seriously, like my subconscious was trying to save me. It was saying, here’s something less awful to think about. Now, what are you going to do about it?
The mystery part of the plot involved the primary witness — a reporter (Grace) who finds the body — and the troubled police sergeant (Adam) who solves the crime. There was nothing for it but for them to fall for each other. I did my best to meld the elements together by advancing both the crime solving and the romance chapter by chapter, building both together and connecting them. I was also interested in using the relationship (there is a secondary one, as well) as a foil for the crime: love v. evil.
Did the plot come to you fully formed or was it something that required alteration and adaption as you wrote?
The basic plot did come to me nearly fully formed. I did have to flesh it out, add scenes and create the supporting characters. The primary villain proved tricky: who was he, exactly? I knew, basically, who he was, but had to add dimension.
Romances live and die by the realism of how their characters are written and the interactions between them. What do you feel the key to this is?
I wish I really knew. Magic? They say, though, that if the author doesn’t care madly about his or her main characters, the reader won’t either. For myself, I felt Adam’s pain and passion, and how Grace, really quite a tough reporter, was emotionally turned into a puddle by this handsome and intense man. I hope that comes across. You have to really understand your characters, as well. I based Grace on many female reporters I have known, and knew a police officer slightly who had post-traumatic stress disorder. I mixed those elements into my characters. Also, the language you use has to be appropriate to the person’s intellect, social standing, occupation and understanding of the situation.
I understand that you’re preparing the second book in the Adam and Grace series - Broken Through - for launch. Could you tell us a little about that?
Adam’s Witness, in part, deals with homophobia. The plot turned on a smaller but true event in our community, where a cathedral kicked out a gay choir, slated to sing in its sanctuary. The second book has a similar jumping off point: a true crime, a woman’s death, that was never solved. (At least, the neighbourhood felt that she had been killed.) I take that crime ‘too far’ in the second book, Broken Through. Grace is involved, again, in the crime’s discovery, although in a very different way from in Adam’s Witness. Adam, as the detective sergeant, has to solve it, hampered as he is by the lack of certain police policies, which should have been in place but were not. (That has improved in the ensuing years, thanks to some very dedicated officers.) The books take place in the late 2000s (2007-8 ish) and I suppose I see the crimes and Adam’s frustration as a bit of a morality tale about what can be accomplished if we, as a society, actually give a damn about people, and not just those in our own socio-economic groups.
Do you think it’s important that a story has a message?
I do. It’s very important to me. I suppose it’s that idealism that often comes with being a journalist — yes, we can change the world with our pens. Yes, we really believe it. My goal was to write books that make points about society, but could also be read as, simply, a mystery, a romance and a police procedural: essentially, grinding the pill in with the honey. I’d also like to note that both books have more than one villain; there’s a primary villain, but also subsidiary ones. Society abets crime in ways we do not realize. That’s an important message to me, as well.
I think that’s really important too. I think stories are one of the main ways that people can reflect honestly on their society and themselves because it’s not a reflection on themselves personally. What made you decide to self-publish your books?
Impending old age and a fierce desire for independence. As to age, I felt I simply did not have time to find an agent and subsequently a publisher, if indeed either would ever happen. I would not presume. As to independence, one of the nasty events resulting in my insomniac hell involved other people having control over my work, my words and my life. I was damned if that was going to happen with my book(s). I would publish it myself and there was nothing ‘they’ could do about it. Sounds terribly adolescent, perhaps, but I was terribly angry. And I may live to regret that, but it was part of the entire process for me when I wrote and published Adam’s Witness. That being said, I absolutely hired a content editor and a line editor, and leaned heavily on a few wonderful beta readers.
“Hell is other people” but people can also be very kind and supportive. I guess that’s why stories about people will be always be compelling. Do you feel that your considerable experience as a journalist was advantageous in the writing of these books?
Yes and no. Yes, in that I’ve been writing all my life and understand the odd thing about sentence structure, accuracy, spelling, and so on. As well, I know a great deal about newsgathering and how newsrooms function, of course, and how journalists sometimes interact with police. All of that comes up in my novels. No, though, too; I write rather journalistically and started out with little clue about how to structure a book. It did help a bit that I’m a voracious reader, particularly of news but also literature and especially mysteries.
When I started writing, my style was cribbed from Isaac Asimov and HP Lovecraft, which made for a very unhappy pairing! Did your first drafts require some editing in terms of voice?
I don’t think my style was cribbed, although maybe I’m not the one to ask! I write very much like I have always written, I think. It does come off as a bit journalistic, very linear. I had read so many mysteries and crime novels, though, the structure of the book was perhaps similar to many of those.
Adam’s Witness was very well received by its reviewers. What do you think the key to writing a good sequel is?
Oh! Well, thank you. It was a nice surprise, I must say. I think the sequel/subsequent series additions must be very true to the style in the first book; the characters must grow and their relationships must deepen; and of course the genre had better be bang on. A bit late to switch to humour or horror, for example. Louise Penny, the great Canadian mystery writer, and Dorothy Sayers, genius creator of Lord Peter Wimsey, are/were amazing at that. I love both of those authors and have been inspired by them.
Your Goodreads reviews were glowing, as are your reviews on essentially every Amazon platform that sells your book. Clearly you’re someone who understands their market very well.
Thank you for the lovely compliment, but I really am not sure about that. I hope so. I’m like many authors, who wrote something I wanted to read. I’ve recently worked with a book marketer (we’ll see how that goes!) who may not agree. He seems to think I’ve missed marketing in several genres. What a learning process all of this is! The marketing is the hardest part, and I find it so hard to write “this is the best, most gripping, most thrilling book you will ever read” in my materials. Because, of course, that can’t possibly be true. In addition, some readers object to the melding of mystery and romance, and one of my editors warned me of that. But you have to tell the story in your heart and mind. That’s all you’ve got, as an author.
Very true. A lot of the authors I’ve interviewed just want to tell their story and hate ‘boasting’ about it. It feels very unnatural to them, but they’ll be effusive with their praise for the work of others. Outside of writing, what are your other passions?
Other passions??? Uh . . . no, just kidding. But I do very little that I’m mad about other than write. I have a communications business, so I also write in my day job, and continue to be a part-time journalist. I love to work crosswords, read, go for long walks, waste some time on social media, spend endless days staring at my favourite northern lake (which happens so rarely!) It’s relationships, otherwise. I’m incredibly lucky to have a wonderful, supportive and adorable husband, and magnificent friends and family. I love spending time with them, wherever and whenever possible.
How do you find balancing the demands of being a writer and a sociable person? It’s a trick that I’m still trying to learn with three preschool children!
Oh my goodness, the demands on me pale in comparison with writers who have small children. You amaze me.
Balance is tough, as you know. I wrote nothing in July and August (although I did some editing of Broken Through) due to those demands; such a busy summer. You also have to make time for appearances and social media and marketing. It’s really hard. I have a very busy work life, and sometimes it’s frustrating having to do paying work while you’d really rather craft the next piece of fiction. I write for several hours on weekends, try to sneak in an hour or two in the evenings, and try very hard to find half a day each week. There are times when I just say, “sorry, I’m already busy” which is not strictly true. But parents of wee ones can’t do that. It’s entirely different and a much bigger set of responsibilities.
There are ways if you’re quiet enough! (*creeping downstairs to the computer as the sun’s coming up*) If people would like to engage with you online, what’s the best way to do that?
Right! Creeping downstairs is an excellent tactic.
Thanks for asking about how to find me. My website is www.jcpaulsonauthor.com. I’m on Twitter @joanne_paulson and Facebook (professional page) at facebook.com/jcpaulsonauthor/. I’ve just started on Instagram and I admit I’m not at all sure how to use it, but it’s paulson.joanne. I write as J.C. Paulson but don’t hide my real first name. My next goal is to develop a subscribers’ list, so of course, I always hope people will come to my website and subscribe, so I can legally find them!
Cheers, and thank you so much for the interview.
The first book in the 'Adam and Grace' series - Adam's Witness - is currently available for purchase through Amazon. The second - Broken Through - is available for preorder, prior to its launch on 27th September.