Joni Hobbs writes fiction short stories and poetry. Her poem, “Ode to the Fountain Pen”, won the Docket literary competition and her flash fiction piece, “The Sky”, was published in ACC’s literary journal, The Progenitor. She is currently working on finishing her first novel.
Interviewer: You stated in your bio that you are working on finishing your first novel. What has been your experience in writing it so far? What roadblocks have you faced? Also, what tools have helped with its creation?
Joni Hobbs: I started the storyline and world building for my novel when I was 15 years old, so it has grown with me and gone through so many different versions. It has taught me so much about myself. My main character found out she was bisexual before I did! Some roadblocks I’ve struggled with the most are writer’s block (who doesn’t?) and editing it and realizing whole sections that I love are not needed. That’s discouraging, and it is always hard to “kill your darlings.” I listen to music while I’m writing, so there are playlists dedicated to character development and action sequences and emotional moments and world building. That has been the biggest tool for me.
I: I always find it so interesting the ways in which a writer may work. You mentioned having to cut parts of your novel that you loved. How exactly does one go about “killing their darlings” and can they be repurposed?
Joni: I get to a point where I need to step away from working on the novel. There are things that aren’t working but I love all of it so much and I’m too close to it so, I take a week off or write something else before re-reading a chapter. Then I hand write it. If something interrupts the flow of the chapter, I know it needs to go. Things can definitely be repurposed, even if it’s never in the same way, so I never throw away a draft.
I: I can agree with all of this, especially to never throw a draft away. You write fiction and poetry. What literary devices have you learned from each that have benefitted you in the other? Do you find it easy to go between the two genres? How do you decide a topic is meant to be a poem or a story?
Joni: There’s a lot that bleeds over, specifically from poetry into stories. I tend to write like a poet, but I love story and characters. I love it when the story flows like poetry and I use a lot of metaphors. I’ve also written a lot of poems with a story in them. But I can only work on one form at a time, which can get irritating. Right now, I’m working on short stories and the novel, and that’s great, but I can’t write a decent poem.
I: Is there anything you were taught in school or through workshops that had a huge impact on your writing? What questions about writing or the literary community do you still have?
In connection with the above question, if you could dream up the perfect writing workshop, what would it be and who would you have teach it?
Joni: The most important thing I think I learned in writing workshops (specifically with Dr. Winograd.) was how to edit my writing and send it out, how to have the persistence and to not let the no’s get to me, but also how to take constructive criticism. The quality of my writing is so much better, and I have so much more confidence in sharing it. I still want to learn more about the publishing business. It feels like such a long mysterious process to me, even though I know the basics. I think it’s just something I’m going to learn with experience and by asking questions as I go.
My dream writing workshop would be taught by Dr. Winograd and the author Tamora Peirce. Winograd has the experience with teaching and she is an incredible poet. Tamora Peirce has the world building and strong female characters. That would be an amazing workshop!
I: I have heard from a lot of people that the publishing process is difficult to grasp. What resources do you wish were out there to assist with that? Can it only be learned from experience?
In connection, what else (aside from publishing) can a writer do to improve and get exposure?
Joni: Most of what I’ve learned has been through the internet. There’s a lot of information and it’s all pretty scattered. I know there are classes specifically for publishing out there as well and I’ve always got my eyes open for them. I wish they were a little more common and a little more accessible and not so scattered. Personally, I’m an experiential learner, so I think I’ll only really get it when I go through the process myself.
I think the best way to get exposure is through reading at open mics, finding opportunities like the one your offering people to have their work heard. Also talking to other writers and learning from them.
I: Do you do any other type of art?
Joni: I love photography and painting but really just for myself! As a kid, I would try to draw my characters or the scenery they were in. But I was never as dedicated to it as I was to writing. The only thing I really had a handle on was sketching horses and even then, the legs always looked funny.
I: That is awesome! You said you would try to draw your characters or the scenery, did your photography, painting, or sketches ever help create the idea of a character or scene before you knew about it? Have you ever used your art as a focal point for a piece?
Joni: Photos I’ve taken of environments have given me ideas for character and scenery a few times. I have the visual imagination but not the hand-eye coordination to get it down on paper, so usually, it is me trying to interpret an idea I had but failing. If the painting or sketch is any good, it still won’t look anything like I’ve imagined.
I: Both of your grandparents are writers, did/do they have any influences on your writing? In what way?
Joni: My grandparents influence my writing in a few ways. we write about completely different subjects and our voices sound very different. I don’t think anyone could pick up on the connection by putting our writing side by side. But anything I’ve finished, anything I’m proud of, they have had a hand in. They are always ready to edit and workshop a piece with me and I am so thankful.
I: What is something else people may not know about you as a writer that you would like them to know?
Joni: I’m inspired by stories like Redwall by Brian Jacques and Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin that create a vivid universe to escape the real world for a bit. But at the same time, I think they are the best of what the real world can be. They are stories about all different kinds of people and all different kinds of cultures. There is more to the real world than just one story, and I think Redwall and Earthsea show that to the reader. That is what I am trying to do. That is what I want to do with my writing.
I: Aside from your novel and short story collection, what other writing projects are you currently working on or thinking about starting next? Also, where can people follow you?
Joni: I have just started to get into screen/playwriting. I’ve started a ten-minute script that needs a lot of work before it’s done. My Instagram is story_teller119. A lot of it is photography, but there’s writing stuff up there too!