Joyce Sterling Scarbrough is a fellow author and another of the wonderful friends I’ve acquired since starting my writing career. Joyce and I are Inky Sisters (both published by Authors Ink Books) and have several things in common, including our Southern roots and our fondness for good emotional love stories. Here, the author of True Blue Forever, Different Roads and the recently released Symmetry discusses writing, trichotillomania, and, of course, the total hunk she married. Thanks, Joyce!
Thanks for talking to me, Joyce. Tell me a little about yourself.
Joyce Scarbrough: I write full time and do freelance editing in addition to serving as president of my local writers’ guild and acting as facilitator for the Quill Masters critique group. I have three published novels, True Blue Forever, Different Roads and Symmetry. I also have five short stories featured in four different upcoming anthologies. I’ve lived all my life in southern Alabama, I’m the mother of three gifted children, and I’ve been married for 26 years to the love of my life–a public school teacher, coach extraordinaire, and total hunk.
Your latest novel, Symmetry, was just released by L & L Dreamspell. Tell us about it.
Joyce Scarbrough: It’s humorous women’s fiction, but I like to call it “chick lit for women who own more books than shoes.” However, that’s not what makes it so different from other books of its kind. Like 8 million people in the U.S. and 40 million worldwide-including actor Colin Farrell-both the heroine of Symmetry and its author have trichotillomania (TTM), a compulsive hair-pulling disorder, and neither of them are ashamed to admit it. See, I figured that if I literally had to pull out my hair to get attention for my books, I might as well write about it and use it for promotion.
What made you decide to write about trichotillomania?
Joyce Scarbrough: There has never been a protagonist in a novel with TTM, and I hope to present both myself and my heroine as positive role models for the millions of people with this common physical disorder, many of whom don’t even know that what they do has a name. I decided to put the issue into a novel rather than doing a reference book about it because I hope to raise awareness of TTM in the general public and the woefully uninformed medical community. I’m tired of people with this disorder being told by their doctors that they’re crazy or defective when they simply have a nervous system disorder that is no more shameful than diabetes or high blood pressure.
Symmetry is much different than your other books. How are they different and how are they similar?
Joyce Scarbrough:True Blue Forever is a feel-good story that came straight from my heart. It does address some serious issues, but mostly it’s a coming-of-age story about young love. Different Roads is much grittier because of its heroine’s childhood abuse and neglect that make her grow up to be a real hellion, but it’s ultimately about how she finds the love of her life and conquers her demons. Since Symmetry already included the issue of the heroine’s hair-pulling disorder, I wanted to keep the rest of the story light-hearted and humorous. And while they all have happy endings, they might not end exactly as the reader expects!
Do you find any recurring theme or idea in your writing?
Joyce Scarbrough: Two things my books will always have in common are humor and an emotional love story, because those are the things about me that dominate my life. My books also tend to have a soundtrack that runs through them with references to songs, since music is also very important to me and I never write without a musical accompaniment. And since I’m married to Mr. Jock, my books usually feature some kind of sports.
Everyone’s road to publication is different. Take us down yours.
Joyce Scarbrough:This is still an ongoing journey for me. The publishing world is changing rapidly, and I’m still trying to find my place in it. After hitting a few potholes in the beginning with my first book, I detoured down the right path and truly love both of my current publishers. (How’s that for milking a metaphor?) They’re both small, independent presses, but they have their priorities straight and are making advances in the publishing business every day. Most importantly, I know they respect me as a writer and truly care about the literary value of the books they publish.
How has being a published author changed your life?
Joyce Scarbrough: At the risk of being crude, I have to say I had to grow a set of cojones. For someone who hated talking to people I didn’t know or speaking to a crowd, I have learned to introduce myself at conferences to complete strangers and can now talk about my books to a group without batting an eye. I’ve also learned to write my ridiculously long name really fast for book signings.
What do you consider the most important element of a story?
Joyce Scarbrough: Most definitely it’s the characters. I’ve always read books for the connection I feel with the characters, and my favorites (Jo March, Scarlett O’Hara and Amber St. Clare) are like old friends I will never forget. I read Stephen King’s books for his characters, not the horror element of the stories–a dangerous practice since he frequently kills them off before the end of the books! My own characters are as real to me as my own children, and I hope they’re real to my readers as well.
How would you categorize your writing style?
Joyce Scarbrough: Lots of snappy dialogue, a fast-moving storyline, no flowery language or unnecessary detail, steamy love scenes that aren’t crude or graphic, and scenes that will make you laugh, cry, yell or gasp, sometimes within a few paragraphs of each other.
Are you working on anything new?
Joyce Scarbrough: I’m about three-quarters done with another coming-of-age novel that my critique group partners have said reminds them of To Kill a Mockingbird. I can’t even begin to express how flattered I am to even be mentioned in the same breath as a book like that.
I’m also writing a YA paranormal novel that I like to describe as Dexter meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. However, I want to make it clear that there are no vampires in my book. Just a smart-mouthed dead girl with a penance to pay.
Any advice for other writers?
Joyce Scarbrough: Write the stories that entertain you. If you don’t like what you’re writing, it shows. And read, read, read. As Stephen King says: “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the tools to write.”
When the work day is done, what is your favorite way to relax?
Joyce Scarbrough: I read a chapter or two of whatever book I’m currently reading, then I snuggle up with my husband and do research for those steamy love scenes!
What do you enjoy reading?
Joyce Scarbrough: My favorite authors are Stephen and Tabitha King, John Grisham, Barbara Kingsolver, Joshilyn Jackson and Rick Bragg. I also participate monthly in a “Classics Revisited” book discussion group at my library, and I enjoy reading our classic selections.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Joyce Scarbrough: As an intelligent Southern woman, I get weary of seeing myself and my peers portrayed in books and movies as either post-antebellum debutantes or barefoot hillbillies á la Daisy Duke. That’s why I vowed to make sure all my heroines are smart, unpretentious women who refuse to be anyone but themselves.
For more information on Joyce’s novels, including an excerpt of Symmetry, visit her Web site at http://www.authorsden.com/visit/author.asp?id=13479. All of Joyce’s novels are available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble.