Author Interview: Joanne Kukanza Easley

Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?

When I was a kid, I devoured Nancy Drew books and fully engaged with the characters. That planted a seed about writing someday. As a teen, I read the books my mother took out of the library and fell in love with Shirley Jackson’s writing. John Irving’s The World According to Garp was an inspiration and got me studying the craft of writing.

How did you come up with the titles for your books?

I use song titles for my books. Sweet Jane is named for the 1970 Velvet Underground version of that iconic song. Just One Look is bookended in time by the 1963 Doris Troy version and Linda Ronstadt’s take. I’ll Be Seeing You was my parents’ favorite song. Each tune evokes the era and mood of the novel. My work-in-progress Higher Love, titled for Steve Winwood’s hit, is a sequel to I’ll Be Seeing You.

How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

I’ve written three novels. I’d have to say my favorite is my debut novel, Sweet Jane, which has won numerous awards, including 2020 adult fiction winner at the Texas Indie Author Project. The idea for the novel came from a prompt at a writing group: she didn’t get that far. It took many years to complete and get published with a small press.

How much research did you need to do for your book?

I lived during the timeline in Sweet Jane, so personal knowledge of 60s and 70s was not an issue. I did have to research the Monterey Pop Festival, The Haight, and life in Austin, Texas during the 70s.

What books did you grow up reading?

I devoured Nancy Drew books. During class, I had a book open on my lap. The Bobbsey Twins and The Hardy Boys were also favorites. My grandmother encouraged reading and gifted me with classics by Robert Louis Stevenson and others.

What books do you enjoy reading?

As an adult, I enjoy reading my own genre, women’s fiction, as well as the occasional mystery, thriller, or post-apocalyptic fiction. Much of my reading time is spent on beta reading for author friends, which entails many genres.

What comes first for you — the plot or the characters — and why?

My fiction is character-driven, so for me, the character is of utmost importance. Before I start writing, I need to know everything about my main character. I make a family tree, decide on her likes, dislikes, appearance, habits, and challenges.

What, to you, are the most important elements of good writing?

Writing is a craft and must be studied extensively. Proper grammar and punctuation are of utmost importance. Fully developed characters, dialogue that rings true, and a compelling plot are key.

How important is a good cover?

I do believe a lot of people judge a book by its cover. My talented niece designs the artwork for my novels. The covers have a distinctive look with an impressionistic rendering of the main character and an eye-catching font for the title.

How do you develop your plot and characters?

My characters take a lot of time and thought. I think about them, dream about them, and ultimately discover who they are. Only then do I devise their journey. I don’t plot my novel in its entirety before I begin writing, but rather let the character surprise me along the way. Joanne Kukanza Easley: books, biography, latest update

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