Updated: Dec 1, 2020
Give Us Your "Best" Elevator Pitch—UNDER A GILDED MOON
Joy: “Crawdads meets the Crawleys…A novel of secrets, a tumultuous war of ideas, and murder as classes collide in the shadow of Biltmore House."
None, actually. Trick answer. I was born in Washington, D.C.
Tennessee. Which always makes people—especially outside the South—check my feet to see if I’m wearing shoes. In summer, I’m often not. Contrary to stereotype, I am literate, though, which often seemed to come as a surprise to new people I’d meet in New England when I was in grad school—back when I still had a good drawl. Which is mostly gone now. But as an adult, I’ve lived all over the eastern half of the United States, including Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky and Texas.
FAVORITE FLOWER and COLOR?
Roses and blue—the blue of the ocean on a sunny day. I love to garden, though I only grow perennials that need little coddling. I love bold colors in the garden and a good, hardy, can-do attitude, so I only grow roses that don’t need constant attention. I love the way the garden makes me think about who needs a vase of flowers quietly dropped at the doorstep that day. I can be a selfish dog sometimes, so my garden reminds me to stop and think about who might be having a hard day.
Dark chocolate and white wine, hands down. Especially together. With family or friends or both. By a fire. Or in a friend’s barn. Or on a friend’s porch looking out over the Blue Ridge.
Morning person, by nature. But corrupted by living with an inveterate night person for thirty-plus years. I think so much more creatively in the early morning hours, and my brain doesn’t fritz out as much in early morning with all the messages that YOU CAN’T DO THIS and YOU’RE DELUDED TO THINK YOU’RE A REAL WRITER and WHO DO YOU THINK YOU’RE KIDDING, so early mornings are essential.
But I’m often up late having a long, interesting chat with Beloved Husband or one of my kids, or watching a NetFlix movie, which is lovely at the time but I sometimes hate myself the next morning since late nights are not at all helpful in trying to begin writing in the morning before the Bully In My Brain wakes up.
DOG/CAT LOVER? (or neither):
Dog and horse lover. I love cats, too, but I’m a total fan of the complete mutual adoration that dogs and I have for each other.
Hiking and travel.
FAVORITE TYPE OF MUSIC?
I love R&B. Early rock and roll. Island country. Reggae. Anything with a guitar or a steel drum. My mother tried so hard to raise me right—to love opera. Total epic fail on that. Don’t tell my mother, but I truly cannot bear opera.
FAVORITE HOLIDAY OR SEASON?
Christmas and the whole winter season of extra lights everywhere, snow, mulled cider, gift-giving, the emphasis on inclusive love, people gathering together…which will be so strange this year in the pandemic to have to find other ways to “gather”
FAVORITE READING FORMAT?
Hardcover. I can’t help it. I adore hardcovers. I should be the poster child for Kindle since I travel a lot (or once did before the pandemic), and I do own one that I try to use. But I just so love the artistry of a good book jacket and the feel of a hardcover book in my hands. Sigh.
This latest novel, for example, is a masterpiece of book jacket beauty, thanks to the designer Rex Bonomelli. Convenient as ebooks are, you can’t admire Rex Bonomelli’s art on the outside and even inside of the jacket—a whole other scene—on the Kindle version.
FAVORITE TV SERIES? (or Movie/Video) binge-watch, series, etc.?
I adored Downton Abbey when it was on PBS and I’m a huge fan of This is Us-—huge fan as in everyone in this house either join me now in watching or sit there and do not dare talk. It touches on so many issues that are relevant for all of us in our own families: race, gender roles, sexuality, parenting, marriage . . . And the issues are handled with such honesty and tenderness.
MOST MEMORABLE PLACE YOU HAVE TRAVELED?
St. John Island, U.S. Virgin Islands for a wedding anniversary—but we took the three kids. And please remind my kids of this, the remarkable generosity of their parents. We had such a blast snorkeling and tooling around in our little red Jeep. Our rental house was at the top of the steepest road I’ve ever seen in my life—accessible only with four-wheel drive. And with a view to die for. Trunk Bay is still my fantasy of the perfect beach.
IF YOU WERE GRANTED 3 MONTHS OF UNINTERRUPTED WRITING TIME—WHERE WOULD IT BE?
A Nostalgic Lake House -— I do so love the mountains and beach, but I have terrible FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), and I associate mountains and beach with family vacations and trips with friends. If I see other people out doing something—sailing, swimming, hiking…okay, even breathing—I’m going to want to be out there with them.
Once I’m really alone, I’m not lonely and just grateful to be writing, just me and a laptop. But I get the most done with there’s a gorgeous natural setting but no people around to make me want to stop work and go join them. Truly, it’s a terrible personality type for a writer. Also, there’s something about a lake that’s so incredibly peaceful. Makes my blood pressure drop just thinking of it….
A Writer's Retreat—And this one, too. Maybe a writer’s retreat at a lake? As long as the other writers understood the rules, that we were NOT to engage in interesting conversations or share margaritas during daylight hours, but only after a long and productive day of work. Otherwise, without those strict rules, I’d be the first to break them and sit chatting away for two hours at lunch.
WHEN YOU RECEIVE A SPARK OF INSPIRATION FOR A BOOK:
Make a few quick notes on a pad or device. If I’m just falling to sleep or waking up in the middle of the night with a thought, I’ve learned to roll over and jot it down on a notebook I keep by the bed. I rarely remember these thoughts the next morning, and sometimes they’re the way out of a plot tangle I’d back myself into or insight about a character.
YOUR FAVORITE PLACE TO WRITE?
My screened porch
WHAT BOOK IS CURRENTLY ON YOUR NIGHTSTAND OR READING LIST OR BOOK YOU WOULD RECOMMEND?
I’m so enjoying the Maisie Dobbs mystery series by Jacqueline Winspear right now. I have a number of manuscripts by writer friends that I’m looking forward to getting to read before publication. One of those is The Secret Stealers by Jane Healey. And I could go on and on. My nightstand is always a frighteningly overburdened thing.
INTROVERT OR EXTROVERT?
An extrovert with residual shyness which I sometimes try to cover over by talking too much.
YOUR PERFECT DAY?
Wake around dawn after a full night’s sleep (see my whining above about being married to and the mother of night owls), write all morning uninterrupted with only my dog, the two of us on a screened porch that, magically, has no doors that anyone else would walkthrough, have a late lunch with my family as we laugh together, then an afternoon of playing on the beach with our whole extended family (because of course, we’re at the beach on this day, though, sadly, none of us live there), then maybe a bit of time to dabble with watercolor painting or something else artistic, then all of us walking along the shore to an outdoor restaurant with a view of the sunset over the water, linger for a glass of wine and key lime pie, walk back and linger on the porch talking, watch a movie we all agree on quickly, more talking before hugging goodnight and falling into bed.
Rinse, repeat. And dark chocolate should be in there somewhere.
YOUR FAVORITE INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORE?
Parnassus, my local indie here in Nashville. They are so warm and supportive of local writers and host marvelous launch parties. And they thrive by having become a kind of community hub, as well as a draw for nationally known figures to speak and sign. My thanks to all indie bookstores, though, because every single one adds immensely to its community.
YOUR NEXT BOOK IN TEN WORDS OR LESS?
In a 1950s coastal Maine village, secrets, suspense, books & art
IF YOU WERE IN WITNESS PROTECTION, WHAT WOULD YOUR ALIAS BE?
The Lion (without boatloads of moisturizer, I have quite the wild mane of hair)
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED FOR?
Love. Warmth. Welcome. And lots of all those.
WHICH ONE OF YOUR CHARACTERS IS MOST LIKE YOU?
Kerry MacGregor from Under a Gilded Moon is stubborn like I am, determined to the point of obsessive, and grew up in the mountains, as I did, with a great passion for and pull toward those forests and streams and valleys. Though she’s much more resourceful than I am. And tougher. Much better with guns and knives. And less fear of heights.
WHAT ARE SOME JOBS YOU HAD BEFORE BECOMING AN AUTHOR? HOW HAVE THEY HELPED YOU OR BEEN INSTRUMENTAL IN YOUR WRITING CAREER?
Everything is future material as a writer because you get peeks into human nature—the good bad and the ugly. I’ve taught sailing at a camp in North Carolina, waitressed at Pizza Hut, ran a food pantry for homeless and low-income women and families, served as an associate pastor of a church in New England, worked as a free-lance journalist, and was an adjunct professor of literature and creative writing. All those gave me enough stories to keep me writing for dozens more years. Honestly, it matters less what you’re doing if you want to write books than how much you’re paying attention.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS LIKE?
• PANSTER • BOTH—With suspense or mystery, I think you have to plot a good bit, but I’m a panster by nature—and that’s not necessarily a good thing. I hate planning ahead in every area of my life, and I’m always re-learning both the serendipity of surprise but also what you often miss out on by not thinking ahead. . I have to make myself plan.
So for complicated plots like my second novel, A Tangled Mercy, a dual timeline novel set in 1822 and 2015, I had two entirely separate timelines which I hung up vertically side by side in my office to keep track of what was happening when, and how best to weave things together so the reader didn’t feel too jerked around at each time shift.
YOUR FAVORITE PLACE TO READ?
By a lake or in a mountain cabin or in a beach chair with waves lapping at my toes.
JEANS, LEGGINS, OR SWEATS?
Leggings and ripped jeans
WINE, MIXED DRINK, BEER OR OTHER?
Margaritas with friends who love books, love talking about big topics (how to live life well and generously, physical, mental and spiritual health, books, politics, family relations), and laugh heartily.
A dirt-brown, 1974 Ford LTD, the largest car known to humankind. Awful thing. The wind would catch it on bridges and nearly blow me off. My college friends called it The Raft, and it fit about twelve of us at a time, it felt like. Okay, maybe just six or eight. But the thing took up the whole road. And steered like a cruise ship. You’d spin the wheel and several minutes later, the bow of the car would gradually begin coming about.
COFFEE OR TEA?
Tea in the morning, coffee in the afternoon—preferably a latte, please.
PEN OR PENCIL?
Pen. I don’t like the tentative nature of a pencil. Used to. Not anymore.
WHERE DO YOU ESCAPE?
My attic office. Preferably with my dog who never interrupts a plot idea beginning to form.
Sailing. Though let me quickly add that I really only know how to handle one sail, one mast, and one halyard—no fancy boats with a jib and random ropes I’ve no idea what to do with.
Pittsburgh Steelers (because my younger daughter has been a huge fan since kindergarten and can reel off every stat you can imagine) and the Boston Red Sox (because we used to live in Boston, and you can’t help but catch the fever there—and it never leaves you)
Too many to name. You’d think I’d be good at the question, but as someone who always has a Leaning Tower of To Be Read stack on my nightstand, if someone asks me this question, I tend to stare stupidly at them like an illiterate dolt, not because I can’t think of an author or book but because I’m overwhelmed with too many answers.
BEST PART OF BEING AN AUTHOR?
Getting to imagine living someone else’s life and travel to another time or place, even when you’re stuck at home during a worldwide pandemic. Also getting to imagine other people’s professions and personalities and choices—a chance to play What If without wrecking your own life.
Currently, it’s Fiercely. I friend recently said she thought I loved people inclusively and fiercely and I thought, Now that’s what I want on my tombstone—or if I’m cremated, on a bookmark or poster board or something. Or just in people’s memories would be fine.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT THE CITY OR AREA WHERE YOU CURRENTLY RESIDE?
Live music, great barbecue, friendly people, and four beautiful seasons.
SOMETHING ABOUT YOU THAT IS GIRLY OR TOMBOYISH?
As a kid, I no interest in babies or dolls (to my poor mom’s disappointment) but only horses and dogs. I adore the smell of leather, hay and horse manure. (Okay, that last could be added to the question below on something deeply weird about me.)
WHAT AREA WOULD YOU LIKE ONE OF YOUR FUTURE BOOKS TO BE SET?
The south of France. I have a dual-timeline story idea set there but haven’t yet begun the book. Also, I’ve never been there yet, and a writer friend Patricia Sand’s work has reminded me how much I’ve always wanted to go!
AT WHAT AGE DID YOU CONSIDER BECOMING A WRITER?
Fourth grade. A shout out here to all current or former elementary school teachers: my fourth and fifth-grade teachers were the ones who early on inspired me to become a writer. I think all educators have a tremendous capacity to influence young lives, and so many make an absolutely essential difference.
YOUR FAVORITE THING TO DO AS A CHILD?
Horseback riding and reading
IF YOU COULD GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF SOME WISE ADVICE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Quit trying to please everyone and trying to get everyone in the room to like you. Keep being warm and welcoming, but also, for God’s sake—quite literally—be more bold, brave and assertive—because you’ll have to learn that eventually, and you might as well begin now.
IF YOU COULD RE-LIVE YOUR TEENS IN A DIFFERENT TIME, WHAT TIME PERIOD OR DECADE?
As someone who needed boatloads of antibiotics as a kid, and desperately needed braces and Clearasil and contact lenses as a teen, I don’t think there’s an earlier time period that would’ve worked for me. And I love that things are so much more open now for young women’s professional dreams. That’s been incredible to watch even just during my lifetime.
IF YOUR FOOD IS BAD AT A RESTAURANT DO YOU SAY SOMETHING?
Nope. I waitressed for a while in grad school, so I’m kind of obnoxiously encouraging of the wait staff and cooks, because I know someone in their shift will be a royal jerk.
HOW OFTEN DO YOU LOOK AT YOUR PHONE EVERY DAY?
Too much, except on weekends when I can go a whole glorious day without even picking it up. And then friends think I’ve fallen off the face of the earth, but it’s such a relief not to be sucked into social media or email. That’s one thing I love about writing historical mysteries: my characters never look at their phones.
IF YOU COULD BE ONE OF YOUR CHARACTERS FOR A DAY, (FROM YOUR BOOKS) WHICH ONE WOULD IT BE?
George Vanderbilt from Under a Gilded Moon just to see what it would be like to have that whole stable full of fine horses, those forests to ride in, those gardens that someone else would weed—and, okay, also the whole of Biltmore Estate. But just that one day would be fine. I wouldn’t want more than that. Okay, maybe two days. But that’s it. I honestly wouldn’t want to trade places, but just see what it was like. Which, come to think of it, is partly where the novel came from, that curiosity to see what it might feel like….
DESCRIBE YOUR LIFE USING ONE WORD?
Joy. Ha. Okay, so one that’s not my name? Gratitude. At least, those are the people I most admire: those how manage to be grateful, no matter what life is throwing at them—grateful not in a fakey way, but authentically so, even when they’re hurting or struggling, you know? I’m humbled by these sorts of folks. And inspired.
DID YOU ENJOY READING AS A CHILD?
Obsessively, yes. I was sick a lot as a kid, and reading was sometimes all I could do. I also was lucky to have a group of friends who loved reading, too—Barbara, Martha and Susan. We spent whole afternoons in the woods and in treehouses with Nancy Drew mysteries and Marguerite Henry horse stories in our hands.
HAVE YOU EVER CRIED AT A MOVIE?
Constantly. My kids all lean forward to watch me and chuckle when an emotional scene begins. I am also a movie talker but trying mightily to reform. Don’t judge me. Unless I’m bothering you.
TRAVELER OR HOMEBODY?
Both. In cold weather, and especially after dark, I just want to curl up by a fire and read or write. In warmer weather, I want to be traveling: out hiking in mountains or strolling down a beach, or exploring a town in a place I’ve never been before.
ONE THING YOU HAVE MISSED MOST DURING A PANDEMIC?
AN AUTHOR WHO HAS INSPIRED YOU?
All my writer friends. If I start naming names, I’ll leave someone fabulous out. But they’re not only gifted writers, they’re also savvy businesswomen. I learn so much in so many ways from each of them.
But also nineteenth-century women writers like Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters and George Eliot and others. I love that they wrote at a time when female writers often had to hide their identities but plugged away telling their stories regardless.
A CHARACTER IN ONE OF YOUR BOOKS YOU ARE MOST LIKE OR WOULD LIKE TO HANG OUT WITH?
Kerry MacGregor from Under a Gilded Moon. She’s tough and resourceful and driven, but also kind. She can appreciate a stringed quartet playing Strauss in the Biltmore, but also make shoelaces from squirrel hide.
SPONTANEITY OR STABILITY?
SOMETHING YOU WILL NEVER TRY AGAIN?
Rappelling. I tried it once many years ago with a group of college friends that included a guy I had a crush on. Thus the doing of something I was terrified of and had zero desire to try. The crush passed, and so did my willingness ever again to strap ropes to myself and walk off a tower.
WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO SPEND A RAINY AFTERNOON?
Reading by a fire.
YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT BEING A MOM?
Watching my kids become their own people, with some of my husband’s and my good traits and some of our bad, but then also all sorts of their own gifts and strengths that are God-given and nurtured by coaches and teachers and mentors and family friends all along the way. It’s startling and fabulous to watch.
WHAT SOUND DO YOU LOVE?
Waves on the shore. One of my kids playing the guitar or piano at the other end of the house. My little dog grunting contentedly in his sleep. A mountain brook. The fountain outside my screened porch where I write.
A SMELL YOU LOVE?
Autumn leaves and campfires. But, wait, this time of year: balsam. And in summer: toasted coconut and sea salt.
THE ONE FOOD YOU COULD NEVER GIVE UP?
Dark Chocolate. Except when I was pregnant and weirdly couldn’t bear the sight of it.
A WRITING IDOL?
Whew, so many. Love Louise Penny’s novels set in rural Quebec, but also loved hearing her speak when she came to Nashville: she was funny, authentic, lovely, and her writing career didn’t really take off until middle age, which says all sorts of good things about not giving up on your dreams—unless you’re a 64-year-old aspiring Olympic ice skater.
WHAT ARE YOU FREAKISHLY BAD AT?
Following recipes. There is something damaged about my brain that makes me have to keep looking back at any recipe an outrageous number of times. Who knows what got wired wrong in my frontal lobe under the culinary function, but it’s crazy-making. Add some family members or friends in the kitchen trying to carry on a conversation with me and I’m sure to forget the eggs or light something on fire.
IF YOU WERE NOT A WRITER, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR IDEAL CAREER?
A veterinarian. In this next mystery series. I’m starting, a secondary character is a large animal vet, so I’m planning to live vicariously through him. Already, I’m getting to watch YouTube videos of red bag births of colts, and it is so very cool. (Hmm, is that odd?)
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WRITTEN ON YOUR TOMBSTONE?
She loved fiercely.
WHAT’S THE WEIRDEST THING ABOUT YOU?
Ha! Plenty. Here’s just one of so many: my personality loves to have other people around me (off-the-chart extrovert), but in order to get any focused writing done, I can’t be stopping to chat every few minutes like I’d love to do. So I regularly go outside my town to coffee shops where I’m unlikely to know anyone and write there. Just the buzz of conversation around me is strangely comforting and helps me focus
A PET PEEVE?
Seeing enormous vacation homes at the beach where no one is ever, ever there. (I volunteer to help air out and bop around in those homes, by the way, to give them that friendly, lived-in-recently feel!)
FAVORITE TYPE OF WORKOUT?
Hiking. But if that doesn’t count because it’s out in nature, then using the elliptical at the YMCA (after the pandemic is over). I can get lost in watching the news or a good HGTV episode and forget that I am miserable, sweaty. and panting.
ONE OF YOUR MOST EVIL CHARACTERS FROM ONE OF YOUR BOOKS?
Madison Grant from Under a Gilded Moon. He was an actual person and in life, Adolph Hitler wrote him a fan letter. But he’s also smooth, polished and well connected in New York society circles, which makes his machinations that much more despicable.
BOOKS I LOVED AS A KID THAT MADE ME WANT TO BE A WRITER?
Anne of Green Gables, Nancy Drew mysteries, the novels of the Brontë sisters, the horse-centered novels of Marguerite Henry and Walter Farley
What great answers and adore your humor. This has been so much FUN! Thank you, Joy for sharing with our readers, more about yourself. For more information about Joy, Under a Gilded Moon, and Behind the Scenes. Check out all her virtual events!
To read the full interview with @JudithDCollins, host of creator of the popular —An Elevator with the Author Series, click here. For more Author Interviews like this (behind the scenes with the author), click here.
Related Post. A Conversation with Joy and Behind the Scenes of Under a Gilded Moon.