Friday, February 18, 2011
Interview with Jeanne C. Davis - Author of Psychological Mystery 'Sheetrock Angel'
Jeanne C. Davis grew up in southern California then traveled the world as a Pan Am purser until she landed a job writing for the television series, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. She wrote, produced and directed the independent feature, The Uniform Motion of Folly. She is currently at work on her second novel which explores her life with Pan Am, and another feature film, Lip Service, along with a documentary about her family's four generations in the carousel business. Visit www.sheetrockangel.homestead.com or SheetrockAngel on Facebook. You also can visit Jeanne’s website at www.bricolage-arts.com.
Welcome to The Writer's Life, Jeanne C. Davis. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
A: I kept a diary intermittently as a child, but began journaling in earnest when I joined Pan Am. I started keeping an extended logbook which morphed into a legal sized page a day hardcover book that I schlepped around the globe. My B.A. was in psychology, but I took film and dramatic writing classes at U.C.L.A because I was married to an actor and reading a lot of bad screenplays. That led me first to radio, then to television writing. So I guess the answer is that I’ve been writing for 38 years, but only started getting paid for it 18 years ago. Twenty years of obscurity. Quite the overnight success.
Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?
A: Sheetrock Angel grew out of incidents in my own life. One in particular was when an acquaintance helped me install some sheetrock, then was killed on his motorcycle. Another was the fact that my mother was prone to depression which led me to speculate that I might succumb someday. When I went through a depression after my divorce, I worried that it would become a habit. I upped the stakes and gave my character’s mother schizophrenia, then wrote a mystery intertwining those elements.
What kind of research was involved in writing Sheetrock Angel?
A: Because it began as a screenplay, I scouted locations which gave me a sense of place, particularly for the portions of the book that are set in northern California. I have a paralegal certificate which gave me some background on the procedural part of the story, but beyond that, I simply drew from the number of people I’ve met over the years to create characters who kept me on my toes. I did an independent study in college on a friend’s sister who was schizophrenic and interviewed a colleague who has struggled with the syndrome. She vetted the scenes involving schizophrenia for me.
Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?
A: It was a bumpy ride finishing Sheetrock Angel. It began as a screenplay 15 years ago; I then did a first draft of the novel and stuck it in the drawer for a few years. I took it out and revised it in 2002, put it back in the drawer for another couple of years, then took it out again in 2008 when I revised it by setting it back in 1995. I did this because I awoke one morning from a dream that told me something about the lives of the characters in present day.
For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?
A: An agent friend of mine advised me to have it published through Amazon’s publishing arm because he felt I’d see a larger return than going through a traditional publisher. It really only took about a month to get it set.
Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?
A: I had a couple of different television agents, but I don’t have a literary agent. I believe that if you can get an agent, it will save you a lot of time, but with all the different publishing venues out there now, I think perseverance and self-promotion can lead you to the same place. Quite possibly to a more ultimately lucrative place since you might cut a better deal with a company like Amazon and not have to pay the percentage to an agent.
Do you plan subsequent books?
A: Absolutely. I’m hard at work on a novel that incorporates my experiences with Pan Am.
Can you describe your most favorite place to write?
A: My husband and I live in a one-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica. He has let me appropriate the dining room as my office, so that’s my little slice of heaven. I have a work desk on which I work exclusively with a computer and a journaling desk where I write in longhand. I tried to use the computer, but it never felt right. I didn’t like the fact that I could edit it. I journal almost in a stream of consciousness and never correct or edit.
If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?
A: I’d take an ad in the Threepenny Review because it’s my favorite literary publication. Next I’d have Ashton Kutcher tweet Sheetrock Angel.
How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?
A: I think self-promotion is all important these days. With the consolidation of the publishing industry, promotional budgets have been slashed. Even the best selling authors are complaining about publisher support. If you want your book to be read, get out there and beat your drum. I’ve had all my friends on Facebook tell all their friends that I’m willing to speak at any book club within driving distance of southern California.
When I was back east last Fall, I spoke at a couple in Maine and Massachusetts. I also go into independent book stores – where you can still find them – and offer to do readings. I land about 50% of those. I just cross my fingers and hope that enough people will find Sheetrock Angel to create a ground swell of popular support.
What’s the most common reason you believe new writers give up their dream of becoming published and did you almost give up?
A: The most common reason is that doors are constantly being slammed in our faces. You just have to steel yourself and plow ahead. I’m addicted to writing. For me, it’s like breathing. Giving up isn’t an option.
Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?
A: Bear in mind all the advice about stumping for your book, but ultimately, love your work. Keep your eyes off the prize and on the process. It may not be the formula for financial success, but it is for daily happiness.
Thank you for your interview, Jeanne. I wish you much success!
A: Your lips to God’s ears. Thank you!
Posted by JM at 12:01 AM