June Converse is the newest member of the Heart Ally Books family. I met her while teaching a class and was instantly drawn to the hopefulness of her writing. Her positivity and the beauty of her writing delighted me. I read her first book, Decide to Hope, before I learned she was looking for a new publisher.
When she asked if I'd consider publishing the sequel, Journey to Hope, she was probably stunned by how quickly I snapped it up.
HA: Let's start with my favorite question. Why did you choose Heart Ally for your publisher on this book?
JAC: Writing a book is a very intimate process – especially a book that revolves around an intense personal journey. Some authors choose publishers based exclusively on potential financial success. I chose Heart Ally because I knew they would handle my novel with care and respect. They honored my goal, my process and my character’s story. Yes, they did ask for changes and edits. However, these modifications simply forced me to add depth and not to change who my characters are. It was collaborative and not dictatorial.
While Heart Ally wanted me to honor a timeline, there was never any pressure. They truly wanted me to put my best work – a story I can stand behind – on the market. If that took extra time, so be it.
The other professionals Heart Ally directed me to – GrammarWitch and Deranged Doctor – were equally committed to my story and not the profit margin.
In the end, I wanted to give my book to someone who loved Kathleen and Matt [the protagonists] as much as I did and to treat them with care and compassion.
HA: This is your second book. You’re a pro at this now. What was the most surprising experience you had during the process of becoming an author?
JAC: Okay, I have to laugh – “a pro” – is anyone ever a pro at writing? When I wrote my first book, Decide to Hope, I had no support. I just wrote a book because the main character kept talking to me and asking me to tell his story. It took me four years and massive amounts of re-writing and crying.
So, for book two, Journey To Hope, I decided to learn how to write. I took classes and engaged coaches. I guess rather than ‘someone who wrote a book’, I chose to become ‘an author’. That was a surprise. I never – in my wildest imagination – expected to write or to enjoy it so much. In book 1, I had to coax the characters on the page. In book 2, I let the characters come to me. I didn’t try to write in any linear way. I asked my characters: Where are we going today? What do I need to know about you and this journey right now? Matt and Kathleen never let me down.
It’s going to sound crazy, but I discovered if I treated my characters with love and respect, they became more and more real, three-dimensional. They would show me their thoughts and reactions. They would explain what I had wrong and force me to fix a scene until it was the character moving and not me, the author.
HA: There's always more to learn in this industry. Your characters feel so real, I've found myself wondering how they are doing. Do you have a favorite or least favorite part of being an author?
JAC: Easy question and the answer is the same! What I hate is when I write a scene and I’m super proud of it. I think it’s emotional and compelling. I’ll hand it over to my coach or my critique group anticipating oohs and ahhhs. And then, BAM!, I learn it is neither emotional nor compelling! I let a few tears fall and then I listen … which leads to my favorite part …
Making a scene better and better until my coach and partners tell me they laughed or cried or hate a character. (It’s great when a reader hates a character – it means I made a character real!). My favorite thing to hear is, “Please tell me you do XYZ.” An engaged reader is perfection for an author!
HA: Let’s talk about your book. It is intense and feels absolutely real. How much is based on real life?
JAC: Well, thankfully, I have not suffered the horrible trauma my Kathleen experienced. But I have suffered my own intense breakdown. And, like Kathleen, when I awoke into a life ‘after’, I had lost my career, many of my friends, my faith, my own sense of who I am. It sounds minor, but in the story Kathleen’s handwriting is no longer recognizable. That is taken fully from my life. It’s scary to no longer be able to write legibly. It kind of feels like you’ve had a traumatic brain injury and you are left wondering what else is gone.
The rehab scenes are based on my true experience in rehab. I did dramatize and collapse the time frame. But the therapies, the other patients, the therapists are based on my experiences. Funny, I had someone tell me that my book wasn’t realistic because “rehab centers aren’t like this.” Well, mine was. One of my goals for this book was to share with people who have family in rehab centers what it’s like. My husband had to drop me off (much like Matt did) and hope I was being cared for properly. He was as scared as me.
HA: Your books are full of hope. What keeps you hoping?
JAC: I do struggle with bi-polar and the diagnosis has caused much trauma and drama. But I find hope in talking about it. Not only does opening myself up in my blog (juneconverse.com) allow me to work through my own yuck, I find so many people are relieved to learn their difficult emotions are not unique. I find hope in my characters too. Kathleen and Matt went on an intense journey and they taught me three things: 1) you can move past trauma into a beautiful life BUT 2) the trauma lives in the body and will never be excised. The goal is to honor the trauma, let it speak. When we give the trauma voice, we calm it. And 3) it is okay to lean on someone else – to borrow someone else’s strength and courage – until you rebuild your own. There is great hope in that. Right?
HA: There is, indeed! I look forward to sharing Matt and Kathleen's struggles and their successes with readers. And get back to writing book 3! I need to know how these powerful people are doing now!
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Excellent interview. I will be linking to it!