Sunday, July 16, 2023

Interview With Author JO DENIAU



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 cover design?  

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 York.

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[1]: 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 to?

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:

o  “A powerful narrative of a relatable woman who embarks on a journey of self-discovery with surprising results.”

o  “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.”

o  “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.”

o  The book beautifully captures time and space through the eyes of innocence.“

o  “The book is a joy to read. It is skillfully crafted and a delight to the mind and heart.”

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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  and recognized by Feedspot in 2021 and 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. It was also named by 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:  




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