Character Interview with Jolene Wiley, Voices of the Dead
I signed up for the Writer Nation spring challenge, which has been both fun and productive so far. Today’s task is a character interview, which I’ve never done before. I tooled around on the internet to find some standard questions to ask your character, but I was either meh about them or, if they were good and juicy questions, the answers to them would maybe give too much away.
I’ve been fascinated with the whole 36 questions to make strangers fall in love with each other since it appeared a few years ago for at least two reasons. One—though I realize astrology is not a personality test—I have always identified with the description of my Scorpio star sign as one that has no interest in chit chat and small talk. Never talk about religion, politics, or sex “they” say. Well, those are my three favorite topics. And two, I think relationships are built and maintained by communicating whether that be body language, steamy missives passed hand to hand, deep conversation, or a version of flaming semifore you work out between the two of you. The premise of these questions is that if two strangers reveal their deepest selves in conversation, love can happen. Isn’t that what we all want to believe?
So, it isn’t the complete set of questions as some of them are partner exchanges and well, at the end of the day, Jo and I talking is me talking to myself and I didn’t want to make that any weirder than it already was.
1.Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
My dad. Or maybe Leonard Cohen. You didn’t say alive or dead. Alive? Let’s make it amusing. Both Nick Caves and both Warren Ellises.
2. Would you like to be famous?
No. Fame means you stop belonging to yourself.
3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you’re going to say?
No. I hate making calls. They are pretty much only for emergencies. Texting is easier.
4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
Sleepy morning sex. A walk along the river in Ljubljana to Cacao or another favorite coffee haunt. A perfect cafe latté. Seeing an art or photography exhibit and having a deep conversation or debate about it afterward. Catching some live music somewhere in town, walking home, and taking a long hot bath before crawling back into bed, maybe alone.
5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
To myself, this morning getting dressed. To someone else, probably my son when he was a baby.
6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
(Laughs scandalously loudly)
7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
(Keeps laughing and then takes a breath) With the eventual heat-death of the universe?
8. Name three things you and your partner have in common. [OK, we’ll do this one.]
We both have 20-something grown sons, a penchant for black clothes and very similar taste in music.
9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
For the care and love of friends and chosen family. I’m certain I would not have made it this far without it.
10. If you could change anything about they way you were raised, what would it be?
(Laughs, but snarkily) I mean there’s a laundry list of things I would probably change, but what would that mean? What in my current life—the good things—would be altered? I could dwell on this question all damn day, but it wouldn’t change the past.
12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
First I’d remind anyone to be careful what they wish for in that department. But if I could have the choice of what I’d gained? I don’t know … Wait. Yes, I do know. I would wish to attain some inner peace. Cheesy maybe but very true.
13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
I’d want to always know when I was being lied to, even if it was for what the person talking to me thought was for good reasons.
14. Is there something you’ve dreamed of for a long time?
How long is a long time? For the last year or so, I’ve dreamt of going back to being a slinger of tea and fancy sandwiches.
15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
Survival. Mine and my kiddo’s.
16. What do you value most in friendship?
Honesty and always having my back.
17. What is your most treasured memory?
The one I tell is the day Faron, my son, first smiled at me. it felt like maybe I hadn’t completely screwed up if this little being was happy to see me. The one I keep to myself is a day I spent in an orchard a long time ago.
18. What is your most terrible memory?
Can we skip this one? I’m sure you can find a newspaper article about it with half the real story.
19. If you knew that in one year you would suddenly die, would you change anything about the way you are now living?
No. The way we spend our hours is the way we spend our days. I had been living the life I wanted, but things changed a bit.
20. What does friendship mean to you?
Everything. Friendships are the relationships that keep me tethered to the earth. You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends and whether you want to be friends with your family or not.
21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
My chosen family is very close; we’ve been through a lot together. (Laughs again) No. My childhood was difficult but not as much as other’s.
24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
How long do you have?
26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share …”
A giant eye roll? I have good people in my life, and I have a few I share things with that I wish I didn’t. We all have to carry our own burdens.
27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for them to know.
Very bad things happen to people close to me.
29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
Hm. There are a few. When I was still in college in Chattanooga, this very famous photographer came to do a talk for some joint event between the local art museum and the university. I was kind of enamored with her in both a brain crush way and in a more direct, physical way. After the talk at a party at a professor’s house, I wormed my way into a circle of people chatting with her. She kept looking at me with this intense expression and I thought maybe she was coming on to me. The circle dwindled and it was soon just the two of us. Before I could say anything that would have been mortifying later, she leaned in and whispered in my ear that I had a giant piece of spinach from the canapés wedged in my teeth. Lesson learned: don’t each spinach canapés at parties.
30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
I don’t, as a rule, cry in front of other people and by extension that means I’m probably not going to tell you the last time I cried by myself either.
32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
In public, lots of horrible things. In private, nothing. Gallows humor is key to survival.
33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone?
Nothing. I don’t take that chance any more.
34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be?
Nothing. If the loved ones and pets are safe, nothing else matters; it’s just stuff.
35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
My son’s. I don’t think I need to explain why.
Who by Water was Leonard Cohen, Our Lady of the Various Sorrows was Nick Cave, and Like a Pale Moon has been Billy Bragg, especially the song “Tank Park Salute.”
Writing this one took it out of me. I didn’t lose my father when I was a kid but I was in my 20s. Other losses, similar to Jo’s, have been more recent and are fresher. “Tank Park Salute” has always been one of my favorite Billy Bragg songs and I am so grateful for having had his music by my side while writing and in life in general.
Like a Pale Moon playlists:
Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern (for Under the Radar) Article
Hello, reader friends and friendly readers.
Our Lady of the Various Sorrows: Book Two in the Voices of the Dead series will be released on November 16, 2017. You can preorder now on Amazon Kindle and paperback, Google Play, and iBooks. It will be available on Barnes & Noble on November 16 and through Kobo, as well. And you can order a signed advanced reader copy from the store after November 16th. It won’t be an advanced reader copy so much at that point, but it will be a special edition as we only printed 20 copies.
Holed up in a farmhouse in the Slovenian Alps, Jo Wiley is hiding from the personal demons and the dead who haunt her in Ljubljana. When she meets a secretive ghost from the area’s war-torn past, being alone becomes much less interesting. Before she can uncover her dead friend’s identity and agenda, her son’s father visits her in the mountains with his own dark secrets, and a cryptic warning.
Forced from seclusion, Jo returns to the city to find things are even more chaotic than when she left. Vandals have attacked her teahouse and she and her chosen family are on the battle lines between ancient deities with human faces and humans who want the power of the gods.
As more secrets are revealed, Jo struggles with how these new pieces fit together and where her place is in a world where her fate is more determined than she ever believed. As she gets closer to understanding the truth about her ex and her own past, it’s clear she may have to make the ultimate sacrifice to save those she loves most.
But what if her sacrifice isn’t enough? And if it is, what are the consequences of thwarting fate?
Our Lady of the Various Sorrows is off being edited. I got the digital proof for the ARCs today. I thought it would maybe feel old hat the second time. Nope. I still got chills seeing the wrap version of the ARC cover. It’s real, an artifact, proof that I have finished something. Twice.
The book is set in the depths of winter, in that time when it feels like spring can never come. It’s fitting for Jo’s state of mind as she sorts out the aftermath of having her life turned upside down and shaken. Plus, it was great to work on a book with cold and snow in the merciless depths of a Southern summer.
I’ll post links to the pre-orders for Our Lady of the Various Sorrows, as soon as they are available. You can definitely pick up book two without having read the first one, but I’m going to go ahead and say I think you’ll enjoy it more if you’ve already read Who by Water. The second book contains answers to lingering questions and puzzle pieces to collect as the series unwinds.
If you haven’t already, please sign up for the newsletter at the bottom of or on the right side of the page for updates on releases, events, and special features for subscribers. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram, and Pinterest.
Thank you all again for your support, good wishes, and reviews. I have always written, because it’s necessary for my sanity, but it’s a completely different experience to have that work out in the world to share.
Where Leonard Cohen was my muse for Who by Water, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds have been my deep well for Our Lady of the Various Sorrows. Each of them have been nearly lifelong companions to the point I can’t remember what song I heard first or when exactly. Both write lyrics that stay with me for days, in a good way, not like an incessant earworm.
The playlist also contains a hint for the title of book three. I’m itching to get started but I’ve found I have to finish one story completely before it gets its hooks out of me and I can move onto the next thing.
Advance reader copies of Our Lady of the Various Sorrows will be available at the Southern Festival of Books. The final release date will most likely be in November.
As before, availability of tracks on various platforms altered the lists a bit. The White Stripes cover of “Jolene” isn’t available on Spotify so I threw in a little Cake. It isn’t the Dolly Parton-penned song, but it’s fitting in its own way.
Soundtrack for Our Lady of the Various Sorrows
I’ve been busy with the day job and with finishing the initial draft of the second book in the Voices of the Dead series. If you’d like to find out what the title of the next book will be and receive a teaser snippet from book two, please scroll on down to the bottom of the page and sign up for the newsletter.
Between driving all over Tennessee to visit farmers’ markets (day job) and tapping away at my laptop keyboard, I’ve been able to schedule some events for the summer and fall. I’ll be signing books at most of these and book swag will be available including the Renegade Tea stickers.
McKay Books – Chattanooga | 7734 Lee Highway
Sales and signing, Saturday, August 19th, 12 noon – 4 p.m.
Killer Nashville | Franklin, TN
Panelist, August 24-27th (times TBA)
McKay Books – Knoxville | 230 Papermill Place Way
Sales and signing, Saturday, September 9th, 12 noon – 3 p.m.
Mystery Writers Event @ White Pine Books | 1703 Main St. White Pine, TN
Speaking and signing, October 7th (time TBA)
Southern Festival of Books | War Memorial Auditorium & Plaza, Nashville, TN
Griffyn Ink table on the plaza, October 13-15th
Knoxville Writers’ Guild Fundraiser @ Barnes & Noble | Knoxville, TN
Reading and signing, Saturday, November 18th, 2 p.m.
Guild members will be reading and signing books all day and Barnes & Noble is offering a percentage of all store sales with the event coupon.
I’ve talked about the surreal aspect of being published after aspiring to it for so long. And I’ve talked about the sometimes crippling effects of imposter syndrome. Brilliant people I never would have imagined struggle with the same feelings. Thanks go to Nikki Moore for the Neil Gaiman story link. If Neil Armstrong and Neil Gaiman have to wonder how they got there, then of course I can question how I managed to scramble up to this waaay less exalted perch. I can’t say I envy narcissists but I do fantasize about having a shred of that unshakable self confidence.
While I’m waiting for my cloak of invincibility to descend upon me (haha) and dog paddling in my version of self-doubt chowder, I’m wending my way through the end of Book Two. This is where I have, in the past, questioned both my sanity and my ability to do the thing. This time is different for two big reasons: 1) I have proof I can indeed finish a book and, 2) I have a small cheering section pushing me on (y’all know who you are).
The ending has given me lots of avenues (and some rabbit holes) to run down. There’s been lots of research and double-checking where things are on maps to refresh my memory and, oh my god, does all of that make me miss Ljubljana so much.
I have friends who are traveling and posting beautiful pictures. The Slovenia and Ljubljana accounts I follow on social media are splashing out during the height of the tourist season with their own gorgeous photos. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in Ljubljana in the summer and there are so many things which only exist in the bright flash of the warm months. I’m checking in with Slovenian friends to say hi and pick their brains for tidbits I can’t find on the internet. I miss them, as much as, if not more than, the place.
No place is without flaws, whether they be political, social, environmental, or related to infrastructure. I know it’s a bad idea to idolize a real place to the point of glossing over those things. Doing so does a disservice to the people who actually live there. Having said all that, it’s not about escape to a fairytale, though given the news and the state of politics here it could easily be; it’s more about feeling homesick for a place that was so very briefly home.
Slovenia, and Ljubljana especially, have changed a great deal since the early 1990s when I was at university and walked and biked my way around town. Every time I go back, I find out about ten new things I want to do on my next trip. I guess because I don’t live there now, everything can feel new and exciting and not like the swirling hurricane of change it can sometimes feel like if you live in it or through it.
I can sit here and intellectualize this all day but I’ll still feel the same way. I’ll still be wildly in love.
If you’ve read the book, I hope you’ve fallen a little bit in love with Slovenia, too. I won’t be jealous.
After I signed my contract with Griffyn Ink, Eli Jackson, indie publisher badass, sent me an envelope with two really nice pens. The enclosed note said they were for signing copies when my book came out. I put them in my desk box, the closest thing I have to a drawer because I work at an old IKEA sofa table with the legs cut down. That I would be signing books seemed like an impossibly far off and surreal thing.
I’ve signed a few now. The first one went to my sister, who has always encouraged me, in life and in writing. A stack went off to Slovenia and a few to heart-friends who have supported me along the way. I’ve also signed a few to readers who bought my book at the first few pre-release events on the mini-tour. Those pens are really nice and the readers were even nicer. It still boggles my mind that someone picked up my book, read the back, and purchased it. That happened. I got to watch it happen.
A book with my name on the spine on my shelf, and now a few others’ shelves as well, is an undeniable fact and yet…
I’m incredulous I finished writing and editing a manuscript, someone wanted to publish it, and it’s a thing out in the world. Surely not me. I kept telling myself if one person who’s never met me and doesn’t know anything about me said something nice about the book, then it would be real. It happened and I still didn’t believe it.
The crushing insecurity of the creative mind is a real thing. Self-doubt or imposter syndrome or whatever name you want to give it, is a giant hurdle for a lot of people. There is fantastic work missing from library shelves and gallery walls and concert halls because it is so easy to talk ourselves out onto the I’m-not-good-enough ledge. Trust me there’s a lot of room out here on this jut of land; I’ve built a house on it and farm turnips.
On this journey from idea to dead-tree book in my hand, I’ve learned a few things. Having the idea is a good thing. Putting my butt in the seat to write was an act of will. Finishing it might have been an act of divinity. I did those three things. Of course there were hours and days of “who could possibly want to read this”? Those still happen; I know it’s not literature for the ages. There was the crushing reality of a typo on the opening page (fixed after I ordered my copies for the mini-tour).
Nothing is for everyone. And everything will have at least one devoted fan (I’m totally cool with the fact that it could be my sister). Someone is going to write a review somewhere savaging my book. It is guaranteed to happen and I might print it out and frame it. Someone might also write a review because they laughed out loud (in a good way) at a scene. Someone might cry when a character dies. I hope I hear about it, but I might not get to.
I fully believe when you put anything you create out into the world – a book, a film, a painting, even your kid – you have no control over how anyone else sees your work. That’s a scary prospect but it’s ultimately the thing that makes it real for me. I told a story I wanted to tell. It made me happy to write it. I hope you enjoy reading it. I’m writing the next book in the series.
Step. Step. Step. Back from the yawning canyon of self-doubt. Don’t look down.
I listen to music when I write. It helps set my mood and puts me in the place I need to be with the characters. Who by Water was influenced by a copious amount of Leonard Cohen, both back catalogue and his last release You Want It Darker. At some point, I imagined myself mailing a copy of the book off to him, but, of course, that won’t happen now.
Most of the first book was written and edited in 2016, better known as The Year of the Suck. For me the albums of 2016 that sum up the year best are the previously mentioned Cohen release, David Bowie’s Black Star, Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree, and Beyoncé’s Lemonade. I think there are traces of them all in the work. Whether it’s overt or not is another story.
I’ve put together a couple playlists for Who by Water. I don’t know that I necessarily recommend you listen while you read. Each song takes me back to a place in the book and in the lives of the characters and maybe these will work that way for you, too. Let me know.
They are a little different based on what was available on the platform and just to mix it up a bit.
“Bring It On” – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
“Rebel Girl” – Bikini Kill
“Wanderlust King” – Gogol Bordello
On iTunes: Who by Water soundtrack
On YouTube: Who by Water soundtrack