Today I'm very lucky to be welcoming the lovely Joanna Monahan to talk about her new book, Something Better, which has recently been published.
Joanna is a little different to my other author interviewees as she's had her book traditionally published (which is very exciting!), so I know you're going to be interested in reading all about that!
So, without any further ado, I shall hand over to Joanna...
Hello, Joanna! Thank you so much for joining me today, and congratulations on your recent release! Let's start by talking about your book. What inspired you to write SOMETHING BETTER?
I’m fascinated with the trend of retelling stories from the ‘villain’s’ point-of-view. Because every villain is the hero of their own story. And what better place to tell a story about how fickle perception can be than high school?
Villains are so interesting, and high school is such a great setting for a story. When did you begin writing, and why did you choose Women’s Fiction?
I’d been toying with the idea of writing a book off and on for almost 20 years. My first manuscript was a YA novel, but by the time I got to the querying phase, I knew that wasn’t where I wanted to stay.
So I started over in December of 2019 with the idea of writing a book about adults that still incorporated some of my favorite YA elements – coming-of-age, the drama and heartbreak of first love. It was my writing coach who first introduced me to the Women’s Fiction genre – a female-identifying protagonist, where the emotional arc drives the plot.
I love that, it's like a "what happened next" on a first love story. Every author has their own approach to getting a story onto a page. What's your writing process?
I used to be a professional organizer, so it might surprise my readers to learn that I’m a complete pantser when it comes to writing my first draft.
My first full-length manuscript was completed during National Novel Writing Month in 2010, and I liked the adrenaline of sitting down and just writing – no plan, no edits. So that’s what I still do.
After my first draft, I go through and create an outline, and start identifying any glaring issues.
Subsequent drafts are dedicated to fixing those issues, strengthening themes, etc.
And I’ve been lucky to work with a book coach on the first two drafts of my first two Women’s Fiction manuscripts, so it is like having a developmental edit in real time.
That sounds like an exciting, if slightly nerve-wracking, way to write a book! Book titles are so imporatant, so please tell me, what does the title of your book mean?
My first title was I REMEMBER EVERYTHING – which was a play on how our memories fail us and how point of view can alter the role of ‘hero’ and ‘villain.’
But then I heard The National’s song “Start a War” and the opening line jumped out at me: “We expected something, something better than before. We expected something more.” It really encapsulated that idealism of youth, and the nostalgia (and often, disappointment) of looking back.
Ohhhh, that's perfect for a book about revisiting high school relationships How did you develop your plot and characters?
The original idea for SOMETHING BETTER was that it would be a four-person, multi-POV novel, following a group of friends over the course of their 5th, 10th, 25th and 40th high school reunions. Each reunion would be narrated from a different friend’s POV. I started with the character that felt closest to my own perspective - Corinne, a wife and mother, attending her 25th reunion. By the time I got 10,000 words in, I didn’t want to leave her.
Some characters just grab you and refuse to let you go, don't they? So, you ended up telling the story in a different way to how you originally planned. What else in the story changed between the first draft and publication?
I originally envisioned the book to be much snarkier, more skewering humor about the superficiality of high school and its high-drama stakes. But writing the book as I did over the Spring of 2020, I wasn’t in a place to be snarky.
Instead, I found myself writing a quieter story about a woman caught between reality and fantasy in the ever-changing landscape of middle age.
It sounds like an important story to tell. What do you hope your reader will take away from the book?
I didn’t write Corinne, my main character, to be likeable, but I did want her to feel relatable. I think we all, at some point in our lives, struggle with the definitions that have been assigned to us.
I like to say that Corinne is a character who is caught at the intersection of “What if” and “What next.” I hope any reader in a similar situation comes away with a sense of hope about the next phase of their life.
That's a lovely sentiment, and I hope it hits the right mark with your readers. Now, we've talked about the writing process, but I'm curious to know what was your journey to publication like. Could you tell us about that, please?
I queried agents for a year, and while I did get a couple of full requests and some very helpful feedback, after 60 “no”s, I was ready to put the manuscript aside.
Then the amazing Jennifer Brasington-Crowley asked to read it and she was so supportive and encouraging that I decided to give querying another go, this time focusing on smaller publishers.
Several years earlier, I’d gotten the name of Blue Ink Press from the owner of my favorite bookstore (Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, NC) and it just so happened that when I looked up their guidelines, they were open to unagented submissions. I submitted, they responded almost immediately with “We got it – give us three months.”
And the rest is history. When you’ve heard “no” for so long, the “yes” is almost more of a shock!
Definitely inspiration to just give your dreams one more chance to work! Speaking of dreams, what advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Find your people. It’s not easy, but it is the thing that will keep you going when the writing is tough.
Look locally for writing group meetups.
Check your local libraries and bookstores for author events and writing classes.
Join a professional association for your genre (the Women’s Fiction Writers Association has been crucial to my career).
Check out the online writing community. I have met many of my closest writing friends through Instagram writing challenges – in fact, Saffron, you and I met through the #authorsinwords challenge in April 21 (where I also met @brasingtonbooks!).
Great advice, and I'm glad that writing challenge brought us together! As authors, we're always looking towards the next thing. What are you working on next?
Getting my oldest child ready for her freshman year of college (not me crying)!
After that, I’ll be diving back into round three of edits for my next Women’s Fiction book, WELCOME TO BLOOMS, about an estranged sister and brother who must work together to save the family flower shop. My goal is to begin querying in October.
I’m also thinking about trying my hand at short stories (a new format for me) and starting a new project during November’s NaNoWriMo.
Wow, it sounds like you've got a busy few months ahead of you! Wishing both you and your daughter luck with everything you've got coming up :) It's important to take time out for yourself though, even whilst you're busy, and I imagine that will involve reading at some point. This is a tough question, but what is your favorite book?
RAMONA QUIMBY, AGE 8 by Beverly Cleary. The chapter “The Extra-Good Sunday” remains one of the funniest things I’ve ever read; it’s a physical comedy masterclass. I always wanted to be a Ramona, but I have long since made peace with the fact that I’m a Beezus.
I haven't read that one, but I'll have to go check it out sometime! We all take inspiration from other writers. Which authors inspire you?
I’m inspired by Beverly Cleary’s story – she was a librarian with no formal writing training. She simply knew the stories she wanted to tell and made it happen.
I also love Jan Karon, author of the Mitford series. Like Beverly Cleary, she also came to writing later in life, and her sweet, sweeping stories about the residents of a small mountain town in North Carolina are part of the reason I now live here.
That's wonderful. We're getting to the end of the interview now, but I'm sure my readers will want to find out more about you and SOMETHING BETTER. Where can they do that?
You can find me at www.joannamonahan.com where I talk about books, writing, and life, and all things GenX.
You can also find me on Facebook:
or Instagram @joannamonahanauthor where I regularly torments my characters by participating in writing challenges.
Tormenting characters is the best :) Thank you so much for joining me today, Joanna, it's been a really fun and informative interview. Before you go, do you have any final thoughts you'd like to share?
Oh, the pressure! I would say that becoming a debut author at (almost) 50 has been both terrifying and exhilarating.
In some ways, I regret not following my dream sooner (like Corinne, there’s always that nagging question of “what if.” But I also believe I wasn’t ready until now. I had to be old enough to accept the possibility of failure and still find the courage to try.
I hope anyone out there- no matter your age- who wants to write will find the courage to try.
I hope so, too. Thank you to Joanna Monahan for joining me for this month's interview! I'm sure you'll agree it was a brilliant one, and I hope you'll go check her out online and give her book a read :)
Thank you so much for reading, I'll be back soon with a post - haven't decided on August's topic yet. might be something to do with the next book. Might just skip and go straight on to August's author interview. We'll see how it goes!
Regardless, I'll catch you soon!