Author Interview – JoDee Neathery
The author interview for May 2020 is another new author to us. We are excited to introduce you to JoDee Neathery. Going by her bio, I can tell you she is a survivor to move to the tiny town of Midland TX from California as a kid. Believe me, from personal experience, small town Texas living is for the hardy.
As a five-year old, JoDee experienced culture shock when her Texas-born dad announced to her Southern California-raised mom, we are leaving the ocean breezes and palm trees for mesquite bushes and tumbleweeds, settling in Midland, Texas. JoDee credits her West Texas roots for fostering a sense of belief in the possibility of dreaming and doing.
Her professional career began in the banking industry then into public relations executive recruiting until the explosion of the Internet changed the way employers looked for employees, virtually eliminating her skill set. Armed with this unconventional “author” pedigree and little more than a burning desire to write, a vivid imagination, a sense of humor, and a love of reading, she plucked a few colorful personalities off the family tree, encasing their world inside fictional events to create her novel, five-years in the making. She enjoys a by-line in a local paper and a lighthearted look at life in general. She and her husband now live in East Texas, their only daughter, two grandsons, a bird dog, two cats, a donkey and a few head of cattle live nearby.
Interview Conducted by Sherry Terry
TNR: When did you decide to become a writer?
JoDee: I’ve always been an avid reader with a love of writing – nothing on the level of a novel – but journals, book reviews, personal notes to friends and family, and sadly a few obituaries.
Sharing the magic of the written word is important to me and I longed to be part of this experience in whatever format was available. I always considered myself a writer, but it wasn’t until my book was published that I considered myself an author…that’s a whole different category.
My journey to this point would not have happened without the constant support and prodding from my book club who cheered on the sidelines every step of the way throughout this five-year process and I’m forever beholden to them. They believed in me before I did. I have since learned to believe in myself, hurdled the obstacles, never lost sight of the end goal and it is pure joy to share my novel with readers.
The poor UPS driver thought he had encountered an emotionally unbalanced woman when he delivered the proof copy of Life in a Box. He still doesn’t linger on the front porch when delivering any packages.
TNR: How funny! What drew you to write in the Literary Fiction genre?
JoDee: My reading preferences lean heavily into character-driven novels. Two of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Strout and the late Pat Conroy, have different styles of writing, but they are masters of transporting the reader to the scene and evoking emotion from a single word. Literary fiction enables the author to reside inside another person’s consciousness – to find a place that fiction can penetrate, to explain human nature with an empathetic slant to each voice in the narrative.
Some of the characters in Life in a Box are plucked off my family tree, so it was a natural fit to incorporate them into the novel. Although the story is fiction, every part of it sprouted from a seed of reality either in their personalities, appearances, quirks, or even morals. A childhood friend commented after reading the book that she could hear my mother’s laugh in the character patterned after her. It warmed my heart to hear that.
My writing style has been described as lyrical yet powerful with descriptive writing allowing the reader to visit places they might have never been, meet characters they may or may not have ever met, and to walk in other’s shoes. This seems to a fit into the genre that never fails to pull at my heartstrings.
TNR: Is there a secret to writing you would like to share?
JoDee: For me in a nutshell – insomnia, discipline, and raw emotion. An ever-present companion beside my bed is a notepad and I frequently wake up in the night with “to-die-for-thoughts and scenarios” that if I don’t scribble them down, they will be lost by dawn.
Sometimes the hen scratching is still illegible, but most of the time a few words will remain clear enough that I can piece together the thought. The discipline is self-imposed. It’s in my DNA to finish what I started even if accompanied by self-doubt. So, push forward, put yourself out for the world to see and judge…and relish in your accomplishment.
Novels without emotion are not novels and passion must not merely exist on the surface of our characters. To say Jane is sad or happy without convincing the reader there are underlying reasons she feels this way is one-dimensional and unacceptable in literature. One way to add depth to Jane’s sad or happy is to remember something that made your heart shiver or your stomach dance – a time when you might have felt vulnerable, afraid, or distraught when something or someone you loved was taken away from you. Hold on to this emotion until you can find the words to explain it.
Often the line blurs between the stories we invent and the lives we actually live, making us both prisoners and devotees of our childhoods. Keep in mind by writing what you know doesn’t mean you have to be a murderer to write about one, thankfully.
TNR: I like how you look at things. What are you currently working on and what is it about?
JoDee: My latest project is another literary novel with a twist of mystery entitled, A Kind of Hush, detailing how life is seldom a tidy affair, exploring if there is a gray area between right and wrong. A family of four is enjoying a summer outing when tragedy strikes. One parent survives along with their thirteen-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son found hiding nearby in the woods.
The heart of the novel centers on how each survivor deals with the circumstances and subsequent revelations…was this a tragic accident or something more heinous, and if so, whodunnit, and whydunnit. The young boy’s profile appeared to me in the middle of the night and I knew he had to be in whatever I wrote next. He’s curious and vulnerable with an adeptness to be younger or older than his years. The others feed off his uniqueness and as he grows, so do they. He’s a part of me to the point he’s certain to be in my will.
TNR: Awww. That’s awesome. How are you publishing your writing and why?
JoDee: I worked with a boutique production company in Dallas who provided start-to-finish services. When I typed The End to my novel after several years of researching and writing, I realized that since fiction authors must be represented by a literary agent, waiting what could be another half-decade to see my book in print was not feasible. After all, Kathryn Stockett, wildly successful author of The Help, received sixty rejection letters until one agent finally took a chance on her.
There are some smaller presses emerging outside of the “big five” publishing houses that are accepting fiction without agent representation now, however, my advice would be to diligently investigate what they are offering before signing on the dotted line.
TNR: Good advice for everyone! What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing vs traditional publishing?
JoDee: A creative writing professor once told me never to self-publish as you instantly lose credibility as an author. I think that stigma has changed because with more quality, professionally edited books published by indie-authors, the playing field has tilted – not leveled – but the gap is not as wide.
Traditionally published authors are automatically enrolled in the “club” where the bar is set very high for entry. It comes with editors, cover designers, publicity avenues, a direct pathway into libraries and bookstores, often an advancement on sales, and/or a multi-book deal. These perks come at a price however, the publisher takes the risks, absorbs the expenses, and therefore gets a larger percentage of the royalties.
Of course, indie authors have opportunities to utilize the services of professionals (which is highly recommended) but the costs incurred are out of their pockets and can be staggering. The advantage here is every penny down to the red pencil used for editing is tax deductible. No matter the route taken, the bottom line is authors write because we have a story to tell – it’s like our own Field of Dreams – build it and they will come.
TNR: Great observations. I like how you think. Do you read your reviews and if so, do you respond to the good, bad, and/or ugly?
JoDee: Editorial and customer reviews are not the same and it is important to differentiate the nuances of each. Editorial reviews, generated by other authors and organization such as Kirkus, Publishers’ Weekly, People Magazine, etc… do not count in a book’s “star” ratings. They are important, necessary, and generally “glowing” assessments of the book.
Customer reviews are generated by individuals who have read your book and have taken time to offer their opinion of the work. These represent less than 10% of the people who have purchased your “baby” will review it, but it is a fact that customer reviews drive sales. Just think what a boon for sales it would be if that number jumped to 50%.
I read my reviews because I want to know what other people saw in the work and sometimes am surprised at some of the comments – to the point of saying what book did he read? When I personally select a book for myself or our book club, I look at both the positive and negative reviews. Often there are common threads especially on the “one and two stars” varieties that gives you as a reader and you as an author valuable insight into the reason for the rating.
The infuriating part is when they are upset that the book was damaged when it arrived, or some other complaint having nothing to do with the work itself – just a product itself.
It is important to develop a thicker skin and accept criticism, constructive or not, with a grain of salt as negative comments are not directed at you personally, only your book might have not been their cup of tea, which is fair. Sage authors will advise you to never, never comment on a review either positive or negative. It’s very tempting to try to justify what a reader didn’t “get” or “like” but all this does is open a can of worms you really don’t want to be involved in.
For example, I just read one that a reviewer gave a book a three-star review blasting the author for not writing what she knows. The novel was set in the 1960’s in a black community in the South about urban renewal. The author responded, “I’m proud to make up what I don’t know…it’s called imagination. I invite you to write the novel you’d like people to read.” See what I mean?
TNR: I always tell authors not to respond to the reviews. Good, bad, or ugly. Let me ask you, when it comes to marketing, what role does social media play in your strategy and do you think giving away books for free works and why?
JoDee: Indie authors are responsible for 100% of the marketing of their book. An author friend told me that even before my book was published, the touting must begin. She said to connect and reconnect with every person you ever met in your life including past boyfriends, high school prom dates, and childhood neighbors.
Social media is the best word-of-mouth marketing tool available today so an active presence across all platforms is imperative and ideally get these ducks in a row pre-pub. Create an author Facebook page, a personal blog, a Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc…accounts along with a website.
Remember these are available to you to promote your book but you have to utilize the platforms often to build an audience. Engage the potential readers by posting snippets of your writing, ask for opinions on character names, post progress or writer’s block. Your followers will feel part of the process so when the book is available, they will feel they have been beside you in your journey and will tell others.
One of the most difficult things to do as an author is rationalize the importance of giving your book away for free. After all the time spent in creating this “masterpiece,” how in the world can you justify just giving it away? The bottom line is – you have to. Free copies donated to local libraries might result in an order for more copies. Send free copies to book reviewers willing to post their comments. I’m part of Amazon’s Kindle Select program and have run several free promotions. One e-book giveaway resulted in over two thousand downloads in the hands of new customers.
Free is a big draw, but unknown is how many will actually read the book. You have to resist adding up the lost royalty income and hope if they open the book, they’ll be hooked and tell others.
TNR: I agree with you 100%. If no one is buying the book, giving it away for free gets it in the hands of readers who might leave a review. I give away free copies of my books too. What advice would you like to share with our audience?
JoDee: Stay true to yourself, follow your dream, and never take the journey for granted. If your dream includes writing a book leave a piece of yourself in the work. I think I did that. And, above all remember who you were before the world told you who you should be and ignore those who might suggest that you’re too old or too young to try.
TNR: More great advice. Do you have a favorite quote or message that starts your day?
JoDee: There are so many quotes that speak to me but one of my favorites is from Antoine de Saint-Exupery in The Little Prince, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” And, American author, E.L. Doctorow said, “The historian will tell you what happened; the novelist will tell you how it felt.”
I’d like to leave you with this thought. Life begins with blank pages – how you fill them will measure your worth, not to others, but to yourself. If we can turn each page with the satisfaction that the words we used are kind; the emotions we shared are sincere; and the people we touched felt the warmth of an open heart, we know when we reach the last page, we were on the right track.
TNR: Awesome interview! Thanks so much for taking the time to share a little about yourself with us.
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