Seasoned writer/editor Jo
Deniau was born in Northeast Indiana and enjoyed a rich liberal arts education
from junior high school through her undergraduate studies at Butler University.
She worked on the editorial staffs of three National magazines before entering
the Graduate Writing Program at Ohio University (Athens) when she was almost
thirty. Since her teen years, Deniau has wanted to know why people believe and
live as they do—and to better understand her mother’s mental illness. Stiff Hearts
is the culmination of a long journey the author’s friends and mentors have
shared with her at critical milestones along the way. Having lived in a
number of states, Deniau now enjoys a tropical life, fifteen minutes from the
nearest Gulf coast beach in Florida.
1. What inspired you to write this book?
Stiff Hearts was
inspired by my mother’s experiences as a bar maid in early-1950s Greenwich
Village. When she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, she lost custody
of me and of my sister. (My parents had already divorced when I was three, and
my sister and I were in Florida foster care.) But many years later, when my
mother was mentally healthy enough, my parents remarried and my mother told me
about her life in the Village. She spoke of her Latvian lover and his cherished
fencing cap with the medals on it; of her roommate, whom she thought might have
been gay; of “The Bucket of Blood” nickname of the bar where she worked (and
the bullet holes in the bar); of the stained-glass window behind the bar. I
merely used my imagination to up the supernatural ante in my characters
and plot. In part three of Stiff Hearts, major events that occur in the
Ozarks with my protagonist’s mother are also based on my mother’s actual
experiences, but I won’t reveal what they are. This might spoil the read
for those who haven’t bought my book yet.
2. What exactly is it about and who is
it written for?
Gillian is a brave young girl from 1949 Missouri trying to free
herself from her abusive mother. After her father’s death, she decides to face
the unknown and moves to New York by herself. There she makes friends, falls in
love, and manages to build her own destiny, breaking generational patterns.
(Written for everyone who aspires not only to heal from childhood
trauma but to transcend abuse and lack of love.)
3. What do you hope readers will get out of
reading your book?
My hope for readers is: Stiff Hearts will teach them that
a shielded heart cannot bring them the love they desire. Finding courage within
themselves to risk letting down their guard and gaining the love they so richly
deserve is totally worth the effort.
4. How did you decide on your book’s title and
Stiff Hearts began as a short story called “In Gillian’s Room”—analogous to
my title character’s inner life—in a fiction writing class at Ohio
University. It became clear to me that a short story limited what I wanted to
share about my mother’s experiences. I developed “In Gillian’s Room” into a
novella as my Master’s Thesis at OU. In succeeding years, I continued to expand
the book but kept running into problems, I thought, with structure. When I
applied screenwriting structure, this resolved my major problems. The truth is
that I couldn’t finish writing my novel-length manuscript until I was able to
heal and open my own heart. That is when I realized that my finished novel
should be called Stiff Hearts. This title is where Gillian, my
protagonist begins—and reflects the scars of those she meets in post-war New
Re: my cover . . . I don’t like my cover much,
but because I self-published, I was pretty much stuck with the cover artist my
publisher’s art production staff chose. I have found that people love the cover
or hate it. There’s no in-between.
5. What advice or words of wisdom do you have for
fellow writers – other than run!?
Revise in layers, enrich in layers, proofread again and again. Read
Jessica Morrell’s Book: Thanks, But This Isn’t for Us . . .”
6. What trends in the book world do you see --
and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading?
At the 2023 Chanticleer Author’s Conference in April on the West
Coast this year, women (older women) predominated. Their craft is superb. Many
of these accomplished writers are self-published. Like so many novelists who
failed to get a literary agent, I also self-published. What I learned is that
women are dominating the market with their stories. Both fiction and memoirs
written by women are at “the top of the mountain” where reader interest is
concerned. The proof is in multi-billion-dollar annual sales and an entire
section devoted to women’s fiction in such bookstores as Barnes & Noble.
7. Were there experiences in your
personal life or career that came in handy when writing this book?
I inherited spiritual gifts
from my mother—abilities she couldn’t handle. My fading into the woodwork kept
those gifts active, led to amazing adventures, and saved me from many close
calls: I have had more than six
near-death experiences. I have seen the spirits of two loved ones, and I can
detect if a home or building is haunted. I “hear” warnings and other
“bulletins” that are clearly not my own inner voice. I just know things
that require precognitive abilities. The result is that my life itself has been
steeped in such magic realism as readers will find in Stiff Hearts. I
believe magic realism is different than science fiction or fantasy in that
characters accept the supernatural as a part of their everyday lives, as I
have throughout my life.
8. How would you describe your writing style?
I pared down excess prose in Stiff Hearts on purpose,
which led a male friend to thank me for writing more like Hemingway than like
“women’s flowery writing.” And yet, being also a poet, I do include more
poetic—not flowery—passages to capture feelings or the ambience of places. I
want my novel to affect readers as if they are watching a movie. A friend of
mine told me that when a song came on the jukebox in my novel, she went online
and played the song while she was reading that particular passage. Brilliant! Stiff
Hearts kind of sneaks up on you. At first you might say: “Not much is
happening.” But then you’re plunged into Gillian’s journey, symbolized and
amplified by the two Union train stations and their beautiful stained glass.
And then come the interactions of rich and interesting characters. Stiff
Hearts is character-driven, which often appeals more to women than to men.
A film example of “character-driven” would be “Driving Miss Daisy.” These films
win Oscars. Box-office money makers? Not so much.
9. Which writers or books is your writing similar
I hate to sound like a novice, puffed-up writer but . . . sorry/not
sorry. None. Regarding adapting Stiff Hearts to film,
in early January a professional screenwriter at Taleflick called my novel “A
rare gem” and recommended that Stiff Hearts be listed as a Top Pick.
(“Taleflick is the #1 digital library of original stories dedicated to Film
& TV adaptation, where 700+ producers and studios look for content.”) The
analyst judged my novel to be “EXCELLENT” in the categories of Overall Rating,
Author’s Writing Style, Characterization, Pace, Premise, Structure, and Theme.
“Nothing made me want to put the book down,” the expert noted. “. . . on the
contrary, the book is a good quality page turner.” None of the experts at Taleflick could find a
film adaptation of a book that is similar to Stiff Hearts.
10. What challenges did you overcome in the
writing of this book?
Working full-time in corporate positions to
support myself and maintaining a household took most of my energy. And I spent
years consciously committing my “free time” to healing from my Dickensian
childhood. And, as I mentioned, I struggled with the structure of my novel for
rather a long time.
11. If people can buy or read one book this week
or month, why should it be yours?
I would like to let some reviewers’ comments speak for me.
Accordingly, I have selected those that were the most spot-on regarding what I hoped
to achieve with my novel:
“A powerful narrative of
a relatable woman who embarks on a journey of self-discovery with surprising
“Overall this book is a
love story, one of lack of love, love and loss, the family we were born into
and the family of our hearts. Once you begin reading you will not want to put
the book down.”
“Each amazingly strong
character, from the beautiful Latina Dolores, who becomes Gillian's best
friend, to the eccentric owner of an antiques store, to the owner of a neighborhood
bar, is so strongly rendered that I absolutely felt I knew them.”
“The book beautifully captures time and
space through the eyes of innocence.“
“The book is a joy to
read. It is skillfully crafted and a delight to the mind and heart.”
Need Book Marketing Help?
Brian Feinblum, the founder of this
award-winning blog, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org He is available
to help authors promote their story, sell their book, and grow their brand. He
has over 30 years of experience in successfully helping thousands of authors in
all genres. Let him be your advocate, teacher, and motivator!
Can Tik-Tok Mint Its Own Bestselling
The Questions All Authors Must Answer
Fear Your Book Stinks?
Emails That Really Sell Books
Conversations Authors Must Have
Do Some Book Campaigns Fails?
How Can Authors Get Attention?
Reading Books Becoming A Passing Fad?
Do Authors Build An Email List?
You A Clickable Author?
Authors Blame Anyone For Book Marketing Failures?
About Brian Feinblum
Brian Feinblum should be followed on LinkedIn. This is
copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2023. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now
resides in Westchester with his wife, two kids, and Ferris, a black lab rescue
dog. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s The
Independent. This award-winning blog has
generated over 3.3 million pageviews. With 4,400+ posts over the past dozen
years, it was named one of the best book marketing blogs by BookBaby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2021 and 2018
as one of the top book marketing blogs. It was also named by
www.WinningWriters.com as a "best resource.” For the past three decades,
including 21 years as the head of marketing for the nation’s largest book
publicity firm, and two jobs at two independent presses, Brian has worked with
many first-time, self-published, authors of all genres, right along with
best-selling authors and celebrities such as: Dr. Ruth, Mark Victor Hansen,
Joseph Finder, Katherine Spurway, Neil Rackham, Harvey Mackay, Ken Blanchard,
Stephen Covey, Warren Adler, Cindy Adams, Todd Duncan, Susan RoAne, John C.
Maxwell, Jeff Foxworthy, Seth Godin, and Henry Winkler. He recently hosted a
panel on book publicity for Book Expo America, and has spoken at ASJA,
Independent Book Publishers Association Sarah Lawrence College, Nonfiction
Writers Association, Cape Cod Writers Association, Willamette (Portland)
Writers Association, APEX, and Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association.
His letters-to-the-editor have been published in The Wall Street Journal,
USA Today, New York Post, NY Daily News, Newsday, The Journal News
(Westchester) and The Washington Post. He has been featured in The
Sun Sentinel and Miami Herald. For more information, please consult: