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Interview: August 2012

Persistence, Persistence, Persistence –

A Writers Write Interview with Joanne Yeck

Posted on August 18, 2012 by Andi Cumbo. Her blog is AndiLit.

Despite my utter disbelief when she says she doesn’t understand why writers hate to write, I still call Joanne Yeck a friend. We met because our research brought us together. Her most recently published title, A Place Called Buckingham studies Buckingham County, the county just across the river from the location of my book. I hope you will enjoy Joanne’s thoughts on her writing life.

1. Tell me about your latest project.

Slate River Press (founded in 2010) is about to release my next book, The Jefferson Brothers
(October 2012). In it readers will meet Thomas Jefferson’s only brother, Randolph. They will
also see Thomas Jefferson in a new light – as a big brother, as a farmer, and as a slaveholder.
This fall, while I promote the book, my concurrent project is a series of historical essays about
Buckingham County, Virginia, appearing every other month in the Buckingham Beacon. These
will, eventually, be collected into a companion volume for At a Place Called Buckingham
(Slate River Press, 2011).

2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?

I grew up in a house filled to the brim with books. My mother held a degree in English Literature
and was a prodigious letter writer; my father was a copywriter and authored several books.
Books, reading, and writing doesn’t get much more integrated than that! An only child, I had an
extensive library and no little sister or brother scribbling inappropriately in my beloved volumes.
Even more than I loved books, I loved to be read to. It didn’t matter if it was my mother, or my
father, or Captain Kangaroo. I vividly remember The Captain reading Make Way for Ducklings
and Stone Soup, which I adored.

3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?

Just the other day, a friend asked, “How many hours a day do you write?” My answer was,
“Constantly.” There is no downtime. Some of my best ideas come while I’m asleep. As a writer
of non-fiction, I also have the luxury of switching modes if I feel stuck. From writing to research
to editing to marketing, my brain cells are exercised many hours, every day of the week.

4. Who are you reading now?

At present, I’m participating in two group reads in the History Book Club at Goodreads:
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Robert K. Massie) and a new translation of Dr.
Zhivago (Boris Pasternak, translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky). I’ve also embarked on a self-
designed study of successful debut novels. I just finished The Secret Lives of Bees (Sue Monk
Kidd), and next up is The Bluest Eye (Toni Morrison). Concurrently, I’m studying a variety of
travel books and memoirs, interested in comparing and contrasting approaches to form. I started with Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran (Jason Elliot) and Travels with Pomegranates (Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor). The next selection is I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections (Nora Ephron). Generally, I read non-fiction, mostly history and biography, and recently finished A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons (Elizabeth Dowling Taylor) and Kay Francis: I Can’t Wait to be Forgotten – Her Life on Film and Stage (Scott O’Brien). Now that’s eclectic!

There is a general assumption that writers are avid readers. English teachers insist that you read “good books” to learn how to write well. Contrary to this popular belief, I learned to write at the movies. By watching hundreds of movies, I internalized strong, classical narrative and great dialogue. As you may have guessed already, I’m an auditory learner. Once I discovered classic Hollywood movies, which powerfully combined story and image, books took a back seat to Gable, Bogart, Crawford, and Davis.

5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?

As with motion pictures, I don’t have favorite books. However, I can name three very influential titles. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind launched two careers: the first in cinema studies and the second in southern history. Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead was intellectually affirming at age 15. And, very recently, I revisited True Grit by Charles Portis. Mattie Ross is still my hero! If we lived in the world of Fahrenheit 451, I would memorize True Grit.

6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?

I can honestly say, I have no idea what you mean!

7.What is a typical day like for you?

My home is both my castle and my office. It verges on a hermitage. I rarely go out and even more rarely have people in. My house sits at the edge of a small woods in southern Ohio. The setting is suburban, but feels much more isolated. We have everything in our yard but skunk . . . all the typical song birds, plus woodpeckers of all shapes and sizes, hawk, deer, racoon, fox, opossum, and even coyote. Admittedly, the coyote are rarely seen, but often heard as they travel the ravine. My location means that everyday needs are very convenient; at the same time, I enjoy a great deal of quiet, which is conducive for writing. When I’m not working on a manuscript (which you now know is constantly), I’m typically conducting research or watching the deer consume the hosta or the fox family frolic on the lawn. Their habituation to the suburbs is a tad disturbing. . . .

8. Describe your dream writing space?

My situation is pretty ideal just as it is. I took it to heart when Dorothy Gale said, “There’s no
place like home.” I also know, “The grass is never greener.” Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Robert
Mitchum, and Jean Simmons taught me that. So why not make “here” the dream space. Just like
Mark Twain (and I recently learned, Meg Cabot, author of Princess Diaries), my actual writing
space is my bed. Unlike Mark Twain, it does not also include 25 cats.

9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?

I don’t recall ever being critiqued, outside of college course work, which is much too long ago to
remember. Constructive criticism, however, is a very useful thing. It would be wonderful if more
people were willing to read my drafts; I’d welcome their comments.

10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?

Persistence. Persistence. Persistence. I love what I do. I can do it any time, any place, and, as all writers know, in my jammies. I can’t imagine doing anything else, and I never understand writers who say, “I hate to write.” Really? Did Sheridan really have to chain himself to his desk? Oh, and lastly, as Thomas Edison so wisely said, “(Writing) is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.”

Historian Joanne Yeck has been exploring her Buckingham County roots since 1995. She is the author of numerous articles concerning Classic Hollywood and American Popular Culture and the co-author of Movie Westerns and Our Movie Heritage. Today, her love for Virginia, especially Buckingham County, has translated into a full-time occupation. When she is not exploring Virginia, in the field or in the archives, she resides in Kettering, Ohio.

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