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Interview with Janelle Meraz Hooper, Author of Bears in the Hibiscus

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Janelle Meraz Hooper is an Anglo-Hispanic writer who was born in Oklahoma; she now lives in Washington State. An award-winning author, her books are character-driven and lean heavily on the lives and challenges of women. She has been awarded the 2002 Bold Media Book Award for Fiction, the 1999 Surrey Writing Contest 1st Place for Fiction, and was also a finalist at the 2004 Oklahoma Book Awards. Her books include A Three-Turtle Summer, As Brown As I Want: The Indianhead Diaries, Custer and His Naked Ladies, Bears in the Hibiscus, and Free-Pecan Pie and Other Chick Stories.

Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write it?

My latest published book (2010) is Bears in the Hibiscus, a humorous romance about a woman in her late thirties starting over. This is the first book I’ve written that isn’t based on my family. I’m sure they breathed a sigh of relief when I emailed them to say I’d finally stopped writing about them!

I wrote the book because so many of my friends are starting over. Some of the for the third and fourth time. Love isn’t just for the young. It’s for all ages, just with different challenges.

Are you a full-time writer or do you have another job?

I’m a full-time writer.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

I work with an outline. I’ve tried it both ways but the outline method works the best for me. For me, the main difference is it’s faster!

Do you use index cards to plot your book?

No. I do everything on the computer.

How long did it take you to write the book?

I wrote this one in a year. In 2011, I wrote two books, one was a romance, the other a literary novella. Neither one is published yet.

What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?

I like to go places where I can people-watch. When I was a child in Oklahoma, on summer nights it was too hot to sleep. It was a popular pastime to go downtown, buy an ice cream cone, then sit in the car and watch the people go by. Lawton was great for people-watching. The streets were full of Indians, cowboys, Hispanics, blacks, and Asians, and more. An awful lot of them were our friends. I’ve never forgotten those nights. Many of those people are in my Turtle Trilogy (A Three-Turtle Summer, As Brown As I Want: The Indianhead Diaries, and Custer and His Naked Ladies).

How was your experience in looking for a publisher?

Well, not good. I sent out my first novel to agents and publishers right after 9-11-2001 and most of my manuscripts were sent back unopened. Someone said they were afraid of bombs. I finally self-published in 2002.

What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

I’d advise them to carefully watch everything I do — and do the opposite!

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?

The best way for me to sell a book is at a book event. I have to put the book in a potential reader’s hand. The next best way is on Facebook. My Facebook readers are very faithful. I have blogs and websites that get a lot of hits but I have no way of knowing if any of them result in sales.

Share with us some writing tips!

I have a section on writing tips for students on my web page. My favorites are:

Exercise! Writing is exhausting work. Having enough stamina to do that one extra rewrite can make the difference between success and failure.

Listen — Are you listening? Really listening? I used to be a big talker at parties. Then I figured out that I’d be better off if I listened more. I listen not only to what people say but how they say it. Also, listen to the sounds around you. Listen to the sounds a prom dress makes when it dances across the floor. Listen to the different sounds the leaves in the trees make in the different seasons. Listen to the sounds of children playing.
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Read. Everything — well… almost everything. Let’s stay in the deep end of the IQ and morality pool. Remember that old computer saying: Garbage in, garbage out!

The best tool a writer can have is self-discipline. ‘Nuff said.

In college, an English instructor told me that I’d be a good writer someday when “I’d lived enough.” My first two novels are about my childhood. All I gained by waiting was perspective.

What authors or type of books do you read for fun?

I have a lot of interests so I like to read books on American Native history, marine science, archaeology, geology, interior design, biographies, etc.

Do you think a critique group is essential for a writer?

Yes, if you can find a good one. My definition of a good critique group is one that is nurturing and sociable. I seldom get out. When I do, I want to have a good time! Most of the serious critiquing goes on through email the next day.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

Yes. My main ones are:
www.JanelleMerazHooper.com
A site I started for local indie authors: www.NorthwestAuthors.org
A blog: http://JanelleMerazHooper.blogspot.com
Social networks include Facebook and National Society of Hispanic Professionals.

Do you have another novel on the works?

I have a new light romance, Boogie, Boots & Cherry Pie, but it isn’t published yet. I imagine it won’t be out until September. I’ve turned it in to my publisher but it is in a long queue. He’s putting it on Kindle for me to begin with. The paperback will come later. (All of my other books are available on Kindle and paperback.)

Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

Right now, I’m writing a one-man show for a Hollywood actor (Rudy Ramos) on Geronimo. It’s a very different take on the Chiricahua Apache. I’ve been interested in him since childhood. It is so different I haven’t had the nerve to show it to anyone yet, not even my husband.

I’m holding on to a literary novella titled The Welfare Resort because I’m thinking of expanding it into a novel.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell my readers?

Anyone who has read my Turtle Trilogy will realize I’ve had a very unusual life as an Anglo-Hispanic. To the first part, I was never white enough to fit in. To the second part, I was never brown enough to be really accepted. But to be fair, my Hispanic mother’s side of the family was very sociable and loved to play cards till all hours of the night and ballroom dance. I was just a nerdy little kid sitting on the floor of the living room reading a stack of library books. I didn’t play cribbage. I didn’t dance. I didn’t tell funny stories. But oh, how I loved them. Especially the women. They were the inspiration for my Turtle Trilogy.

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.