Joylene Nowell Butler, Author of “Broken but not Dead”

Broken-But-Not-DeadWelcome, Joylene. I am delighted you agreed to talk to us today. What is your book “Broken but not Dead” about?

When Brendell Meshango is terrorized by a deranged masked man for two long days, she thinks it’s racially motivated. When he threatens her daughter, she doesn’t care how scary he is, she’ll use any means to stop him. Or so she thinks.

Tell us a little about your main characters. Who was your favorite? Why?

Brendell is 50 and a little cranky. Nor is she the easiest person to get to know. Smart as a whip, but cautious. She’s learned not to trust people even when her instincts say it’s okay. She also has the bad habit of blaming others for some of the wrong in her life. Why she’s my favourite is because she rises above that and realizes what is really important in life.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

Honestly, one day it occurred to me that there weren’t enough stories about fantastic 50-year-old women. I wasn’t quite 50, but decided that while it might be nice to be young and beautiful like Cheryl Ladd and all those other famous ladies from my era, there’s nothing quite like the wisdom and empowerment that comes with age.

How long did it take you to write your book?

Too long. Someone asked me the other day about my mother and it occurred to me then that the day she died I’d written the first four pages of “Broken but not Dead”. I gave them to her to read, then retired for the night. When I got up the next morning the pages were on the dining room table with spelling corrections and a note that said she liked it very much. I didn’t realize then that she’d passed. That was October 16, 1999. It takes me a long time to write, and I don’t think it’s because I’m slow. I work on so many different projects at the same time and I like to take breaks and distance myself often.

How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

I go to television or movie sources and choose the actor I think best fits the role of my character. In the case of Valerie McCormick in “Dead Witness” I chose Cheryl Ladd at the age of 38. For Brendell Meshango of “Broken but not Dead”, I chose Tina Keeper, the actor famous for her role of Michelle in the Canadian series “North of 60”. I can’t finish the story until I know my characters inside and out. That requires hours of listening and asking them questions. They’re not always open to me prying, so sometimes the process can take years. I’ve no idea why. It’s as if they need to trust me first. Which is bizarre, right?

What has changed for you personally since you wrote your first book?

I’ve had a lot of sorrow in my life. I began my first manuscript to cope with the early death of my father. I started my second novel in the spring of 1991 and by fall we had lost our eldest son. I wasn’t able to write again until the following year, but my sorrow and anger seemed to propel me. Valerie isn’t an aggressive person, but there are moments in “Dead Witness” when she’s filled with rage, a rage I understand.

We lost another son in 2006 and when I was able to write again, I put a lot of that rage in the revisions of “Broken but not Dead”. I think that’s why my readers feel the impact of what Brendell is experiencing. It’s almost as if writing enables me to channel my grief and sorrow and overwhelming rage into something positive.

How have you marketed and promoted your work?

I’m constantly working at marketing and promoting. I did a physical book tour this past summer. I write a blog, I comment on other blogs, I have contests on my site, I visit bookstores and if they have my books on the shelves, I offer to autograph them. I do whatever I can to put my name and my titles out there. I used to wonder if it was worth it. Today I think the secret is to keep writing and promoting. It’s about consistency and perseverance. It’s that simple. I also think having a clean manuscript is vital. You can’t rely on your publisher or agent to polish it for you. Your copy must be as clean as it’s ever going to get. Which is never going to happen. Thank God for line editors and copy-editors. I certainly appreciate, respect and admire the ones I’ve worked with.

What, in your opinion, are the essential qualities of a good story?

This is something that was slammed home to me in a very big way when I first started writing. You need good characters your reader can relate to almost immediately. They talk about plot-driven vs. character-driven stories, but honestly you can’t have one without the other. Readers want to live vicariously through your characters, but first they need to trust you, trust that you’ll take them on a journey they’ll connect to with characters they care about. Even if what you’re asking them to believe takes place on a foreign planet with outrageous settings and descriptions, if you do your job correctly, it won’t matter how strange the setting or how weird-looking the residing peoples are, human nature can transcend all that weirdness and endear any reader quickly and for the duration of the story. Think “Dune”, “Harry Potter”, or “Wizard of Oz”.

What advice would you give other novelists about book promotion?

If you’ve gone to all the trouble of writing and revising and querying, why not market? Why not spend hours blogging and visiting other blogs and establishing a connection to like-minded writers? I’m still astonished when authors tell me they don’t have time to blog and they certainly don’t have time to visit other blogs. They just want to fill your inbox with news of their book and why it’s important for you to buy it. They’re targeting the wrong people. Writers write, readers buy books. Yet how many emails do you receive in a week telling you why you should buy their book?

Promotion is about creating a presence online. But it’s about getting out and doing readings, signing copies, writing related articles, doing online, radio and newspaper interviews, joining evening events where the opportunity to read arises. It’s about fairs, bazaars, contests, giveaways, and anything else you think will put you and your book in the public eye.

What is the easiest part of the writing process?

Editing. Once I’ve written that first draft, I step back and regroup for a week or so. I do the same thing when I’m finished the last draft. The second draft is my favourite part. It’s filling in the blanks, eliminating all the garbage, adverbs, excessive wordage, unnecessary characters and scenes, and baring the bones of the story. It never fails to excite me during this process. Like unveiling Cinderella’s beauty. Love it.

Thank you, Joylene! It’s been delight to visit with you here on this blog, and I am honored that you agreed to answer my questions. I admire your commitment to following other people’s blogs, your generosity to other authors, and your consummate professionalism.

Click here to read an excerpt from: “Broken but not Dead” by Joylene Nowell Butler

Click here to read an excerpt from:  Dead Witness by Joylene Nowell Butler

Click here to read an interview with: Valerie McCormick, Hero of Dead Witness by Joylene Nowell Butler

Broken But Not Dead
Joylene Nowell Butler
ISBN 978-1-926886-16-9
$17.95 USD
Publishers  Theytus Books, June 27, 2011

Dead Witness, Books & Co.
Broken But Not Dead – Theytus
Broken but not Dead,
Broken but not Dead, Chapters.Indigo
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Valerie McCormick, Hero of Dead Witness by Joylene Nowell Butler

Bertram: What is your story?

Valerie: I witnessed the execution of two FBI agents while I was in Seattle, and the FBI kidnapped me so that my family and the killers believe I’m dead.

Bertram: Who are you?

Valerie: Valerie McCormick, wife & mother, bookkeeper.

Bertram: Where do you live?

Valerie: Prince George, B.C. Canada is where my family are. I’m stuck in Santa Cruz, Cal.

Bertram: Are you the hero of your own story?

Valerie: I’m not a hero, but I do believe you have to fight for those you love. My girls think I’m a hero though. They’ll understand once they have their own children, that I’m just a mum.

Bertram: What is your problem in the story?

Valerie: The FBI are failing to convince the killers that I’m dead, and those bad men may go after my children.

Bertram: Do you have a problem that wasn’t mentioned in the story?

Valerie: I don’t think so.

Bertram: Do you embrace conflict?

Valerie: I wouldn’t say “embrace” is accurate. I can cope.

Bertram: Do you run from conflict?

Valerie: Running never solves anything.

Bertram: How do you see yourself?

Valerie: I think I’m a good mother, a good person. I try not to judge others.

Bertram: How do your friends see you?

Valerie: They say I’m good company. And I listen well.

Bertram: How do your enemies see you?

Valerie: I hope I don’t have any. I guess the men trying to kill me are my enemies. They don’t know me.

Bertram: How does the author, Joylene Nowell Butler, see you?

Valerie: Joylene accepts me the way I am. She even says she wishes she were more like me. That’s sweet. She told me to tell you that Dead Witness went to press 2 weeks ago for the second time and should be available at Chapters.Indigo and bookstores across Canada by the end of November, 2008.

Bertram: Do you think Joylene portrayed you accurately?

Valerie: Yes, we’ve gotten to know each other very well over the past 15 years. I think too well maybe. I have no secrets left.

Bertram: What do you think of yourself?

Valerie: I’m a good mother. I strive to be a good example always.

Bertram: Do you have a hero?

Valerie: My brother. He raised me after our parents were murdered. FBI agent Mike Canaday. But please don’t tell him I said that.

Bertram: Do you have a goal?

Valerie: I’ll do whatever it takes to keep my children safe, even if I have to pretend I’m dead.

Bertram: What are your achievements?

Valerie: I raised 3 wonderful girls. I coached softball and we’ve won the trophy the last three years. Not that winning is everything. I finished the marathon.

Bertram: Do you talk about your achievements?

Valerie: No, I think it’s more important to be an example.

Bertram: Do you keep your achievements to yourself?

Valerie: Yes, unless talking to my girls about them makes life easier for them.

Bertram: Do you have any special strengths?

Valerie: Losing my parents at such an early age, helped to prepare me for what’s happening now.

Bertram: Do you have any special weaknesses?

Valerie: I’m growing fond of Canaday. I can’t see how that’s a good thing.

Bertram: Do you have any skills?

Valerie: I can write. I like working with people.

Bertram: Do you have money troubles?

Valerie: Other than our business failing? No.

Bertram: What do you want?

Valerie: I want to believe that Canaday knows what he’s doing, keeping me from my children.

Bertram: What do you need?

Valerie: I need to go home and fight the killer on my own terms.

Bertram: What do you want to be?

Valerie: I’m 38. It’s a little late for that.

Bertram: What do you believe?

Valerie: I believe God has a plan. I don’t know what it is. I just have faith everything is for a reason.

Bertram: What makes you happy?

Valerie: Hearing my children laugh. Seeing their smiles. Being there when they understand something for the first time.

Bertram: What are you afraid of?

Valerie: I’m afraid I’ll never see my girls again.

Bertram: What makes you angry?

Valerie: That I’m relying on strangers to protect my children. That should be my job.

Bertram: What makes you sad?

Valerie: When people hurt each other for no apparent reason other than they can.

Bertram: What do you regret?

Valerie: I regret that I never told my parents I was sorry. I thought I’d have time.

Bertram: What is your biggest disappointment?

Valerie: That Ed won’t accept me for who I am. He’s been trying to turn me into someone else since our wedding day.

Bertram: What, if anything, haunts you?

Valerie: My parents murder. I have nightmares about that night.

Bertram: Are you lucky?

Valerie: Blessed.

Bertram: Have you ever failed at anything?

Valerie: My marriage hasn’t been good for a long time.

Bertram: Has anyone ever failed you?

Valerie: When I was young, I thought my parents had by dying.

Bertram: Has anyone ever betrayed you?

Valerie: Not that I’m aware.

Bertram: Have you ever failed anyone?

Valerie: I feel as if I’ve failed my girls. I should be with them.

Bertram: Have you ever betrayed anyone?

Valerie: No.

Bertram: Do you keep your promises?

Valerie: I try very hard to.

Bertram: Are you honorable?

Valerie: I think so.

Bertram: Are you healthy?

Valerie: Very. Thank God.

Bertram: Do you have any handicaps?

Valerie: No.

Bertram: Do you have any distinguishing marks?

Valerie: No.

Bertram: What was your childhood like?

Valerie: It was fine. My parents were wonderful. My brother did his best after they were gone.

Bertram: Do you like remembering your childhood?

Valerie: Yes.

Bertram: Did anything newsworthy happen on the day you were born?

Valerie: I don’t know.

Bertram: Did you get along with your parents?

Valerie: Yes, until I turned fourteen.

Bertram: What in your past had the most profound effect on you?

Valerie: Losing my parents.

Bertram: What in your past would you like to forget?

Valerie: Those few months after they died was pretty bad. I wasn’t always very nice to my brother.

Bertram: What in your past would you like others to forget?

Valerie: I hope my brother forgets what a brat I was.

Bertram: Who was your first love?

Valerie: Tommy Framer, my childhood neighbour.

Bertram: Who is your true love?

Valerie: Don’t tell Canaday, but I suspect he is.

Bertram: Have you ever had an adventure?

Valerie: Apparently I’m on one now. It feels more like a nightmare.

Bertram: What is the most important thing that ever happened to you?

Valerie: The birth of Megan, Christine, and Brandi. They’re my life.

Bertram: Was there a major turning point in your life?

Valerie: I seem to be dwelling on this a lot: my parents murder.

Bertram: Was there ever a defining moment of your life?

Valerie: I think it’s happening now.

Bertram: Is there anything else about your background you’d like to discuss?

Valerie: No. I live in the present.

Bertram: What is your most closely guarded secret?

Valerie: My brother’s right. I shouldn’t have married Ed.

Bertram: What is your most prized possession?

Valerie: You can’t take any of this stuff with you. Nothing but life should be prized.

Bertram: Do you have any hobbies?

Valerie: Writing short stories and magazine articles. Running marathons,

Bertram: What is your favorite scent?

Valerie: I love the smell of lawn clippings. It means re-growth. A new beginning.

Bertram: What is your favorite color?

Valerie: Blue. It’s a happy colour.

Bertram: What is your favorite food?

Valerie: I love pizza. Pizza night was always so much fun. It meant I had more time to spend with my girls.

Bertram: What is your favorite beverage?

Valerie: I love water. Very cold.

Bertram: What is your favorite music?

Valerie: I love Cher’s love songs. I like the Beach Boys.

Bertram: What is your favorite item of clothing?

Valerie: My jeans. They’re so comfortable. And my PJs.

Bertram: Name five items in your purse, briefcase, or pockets.

Valerie: Hand cleaner, change purse, measuring tape, Kleenex, business cards.

Bertram: What are the last five entries in your check registry?

Valerie: Nothing very exciting: grocery store, hardware, gas station, paper boy, renew library card.

Bertram: What are the last three books you read?

Valerie: Don’t tell anyone, but I read Romance.

Bertram: If you were at a store now, what ten items would be in your shopping cart?

Valerie: Toilet paper, (4 girls in the house), bread, eggs, milk, yogurt, breakfast bars, dog treats, wrapping paper (always need some), romaine lettuce and cheddar cheese.

Bertram: If you had the power to change one thing in the world that didn’t affect you personally, what would it be?

Valerie: Stop the atrocities women are subjected to in the Middle East.

Bertram: What makes you think that change would be for the better?

Valerie: It’s the 90s and they still stone woman who commit adultery.

Bertram: If you were stranded on a desert island, would you rather be stranded with, a man or a woman?

Valerie: I hope this doesn’t sound sexist, but I’d rather be stranded with a man with muscles. Someone not afraid of heights.

Bertram: How do you envision your future?

Valerie: If everything works out, and I’m praying it does, I see myself surrounded by giggling grandchildren.