Around the Globe with JO SPARKES

Today, I’m celebrating (as it were) my one week anniversary of my new home…in a camper trailer while I look for more permanent lodging. Here in Iowa, it’s been rainy and cool.

However, I still have time to jump in the transporter and pick up this week’s featured author. I ask her the destination she has in mind and soon we’re sitting outside the Brasserie le Cafe de Paris, in Monte Carlo, eating chocolate croissants with our coffee. It’s eight am, still quiet on the street. Only one other table is occupied, by an elderly man who keeps sneaking pastry crumbs to the pigeons, despite the owner’s vocal objections.

I don’t mind the pigeons, as long as they do their business away from MY pastries. Anyway, on with the interview.

1. Who are you and what makes you the most fascinating person in your city?

A writer, a teacher, and a friend. Hopefully not in that order.

I love people, and think they are the most fascinating things on earth. To be allowed to watch them strive, and succeed or fail, and whatever the outcome to then push on. I’m humbled as I watch humanity.

To be honest, I’m the least fascinating person I know.

2. Without revealing a deep dark secret (unless you want to), what one thing would people be surprised to learn about you?

I’m a huge Arizona Cardinals football fanatic. As in totally unreasonable, absolutely certain they’ll win the game no matter what the current score, hardcore jersey-wearing loud-mouth at the bar idiot.

3. What interested you to become a writer rather than something else such an internationally renowned chef?

I’d love to be an internationally renowned chef!

For me, writing is as much an addiction as a passion. There were times in my life where I reached the end of my rope, and completely released it. I vowed never to write again.

And then I woke up the next day, free of all restraints, and asked myself what I wished to do. My longest break was 6 days before I went back to writing.

4. Writers are readers. With which author(s) would you enjoy sharing dinner? Why?

Oliver Stone or David Mamet. (Screenwriters are writers, too.)

I’d love some writing tips from them – but really, I’d dearly love to hear their stories. I bet they have some truly wonderful stories from their lives.

5. If I were stranded on a deserted island or suffering from a four hour layover at the airport, why would you book(s) be great company?

It opens on a cliff hanger, literally. I like a fast pace. A young prince in disguise, waking to find himself  a continent away from home. A young apprentice who tries a mysterious elixir in her dead mistress’s book, which wildly succeeds beyond anything she could have dreamt, and a Gamesmen from a long line of gamesmen, who does something no one has ever done before. And dangerous men stalking them before they’ve barely begun.

6. Share your process of writing in regards to: plot and character development, story outline, research (do you Google or visit places/people, or make it up on the spot), writing schedule, editing and number of rewrites.

Okay – but get me talking about writing at your own risk!

There are two pieces to a story for me: the events, and the characters that live them. The events must shape the characters, and the characters must shape the events. I sort of dance between the two, defining who my characters are, and then outlining the events they’ll experience.

There are times when I have an event and what I think should happen – such as a man and woman who should wind up in a passionate embrace. But when I put my characters into the scene, they end up in huge fight instead. She’s supposed to walk off on his arm – but she slams the door in his face.

Research is key, and not just for accuracy. Proper research creates a fresh approach to a scene or a problem. Robert McKee says that the cure for ‘writer’s block’ is research, and I think he’s right.

In writing fantasy, you discover how crucial it is to keep track of the world you create. I’ve got a whole religion, herb science, culture, geography, slang … well, you get the idea. I need a catalog system just to keep it straight.

I write in the mornings – early. Like 5 am. It turns out I’m a morning person, much to my husband’s chagrin. And as for rewrites – I do a lot. I’m one of those ridiculous people who can’t pick up anything I’ve written – even an article published years ago – without grabbing a pen and starting to edit. I have to make myself stop writing and move on.

7. “I think I have a good idea for a story, but I don’t know where or how to begin. Your process may not work for me. Any advice?”

The journey of all artists is as much self discovery as exploration of the craft. Read about it, take classes, and write. Find what works for you. Have the courage to fail, and you will eventually succeed.

8. I saw an amusing T-shirt the other day which read, “Every great idea I have gets me in trouble.” what is your philosophy of life?

I once wrote a book on feedback for writers – but I discovered that it really applies to all of life.

The way we learn is by making mistakes, and the further you want to go in life, the bigger the mistakes you may make. When you fall off that mountain, and everyone around you is staring or laughing or avoiding your eyes, get up and grin. And either try again, or find a new route to where you most want to go.

9. Please tell me you’re not going to stop writing? What’s next for you?

The next book in the series is in the works, hopefully for a November release. I’m also working on two features at the moment – a comedy and thriller.

10. Where can people find more information on you and your projects?

birrelixir.com has the book and the series. josparkes.com has everything else.

And if I can help any writers out there, just ask. I try to answer all my emails.

Thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed this.

Oops – I think I smeared chocolate croissant on my shirt.

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