A God-fearing man. A God-seeking woman. It’s a combustible combination. Lexa Clarke signs up for a short-term summer mission in San Antonio with TeamWork Missions, hoping to make a difference in the world. TeamWork director Sam Lewis has a job to do and can't afford to be distracted by the petite, feisty blonde. But when she tumbles into his arms from the top of a house they’re rebuilding, Sam suspects his life will never be the same.
Author Bio: JoAnn is a member of ACFW and its Indiana chapter. Awakening is her debut novel. She was a finalist in the long contemporary romance category of the 2010 RWA/FHL Touched by Love contest, and is a regular blog contributor with Hoosier Ink and Reflections in Hindsight. JoAnn is also an active member of the My Book Therapy Voices and has won or placed in several of their quarterly Flash Fiction contests. She loves to share her passion for the redeeming love of Christ through her stories.
What's your latest book? (Include publisher and release date)
My debut novel, Awakening, was published by Canadian publisher, Torn Veil Books, in late 2010. This particular story is precious to me because it was written more than a decade ago and is loosely based on my own love story with my husband, Jim. Sam and Lexa are uniquely special to me and become my core characters and mentors in a continuing series as they minister and interact with volunteers in Sam’s TeamWork Missions organization. A lot of the strength of character, unwavering faith and goodness in Sam Lewis is based on my Jim. Some of the feistiness and stubbornness in Lexa Clarke (yes, Lewis and Clarke – they are adventures, after all) is based on yours truly, but I choose to believe I also share my heroine’s resourcefulness and resilience.
Awakening was also the last story I wrote before putting my writing aside for a decade to raise my children. When I unearthed it (literally from beneath the bed and blew off the dust bunnies) in late 2008, I only found half the story. It was like someone else had written it, but as I read it again with fresh eyes, I felt this was the story the Lord wanted me to pursue getting published. Jim and I prayed about it, and I knew He’d give the story back to me if it was, in fact, in His will. Not only did He give it back to me in a dramatic way, but the Lord confirmed it was the one. I hope you’ll read all about my writing journey on my website at www.joanndurgin.com.
How did you know you wanted to write fiction and romance in particular?
I’ve been an avid reader my entire life, and ideas for novels simmered in my imagination for years. However, it wasn’t until I was a young, stay-at-home mom in Philly that I tried my hand at penning one. I love creating characters and their stories, and making them so real they jump off the page and into the hearts and minds of readers. I write what I call contemporary romantic adventures. Romance is my first love, but as both a reader and an author, I also need more than romance for a novel to be fully-developed and emotionally satisfying. Throw in humor and some witty banter, dramatic conflict, a moving plotline with adventure and a hint of intrigue, and you’ve got my kind of book. That’s what you get with Awakening! It may be a cliché, but I write what I like to read. Following your passion as a writer does make a better book. One of the most precious things in life is that first blush of love, that rush of adrenaline at a glance, a touch, a kiss… I love the hope and joy to be discovered in an uplifting romance.
How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
Faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love. God first loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for our sins, and it’s through His boundless love that I write. My stories depict people who often stumble and fall but they find grace, forgiveness, love, redemption and hope when they seek to follow the Lord’s will for their lives. The Lord has been so faithful to me in this writing journey, and I know He’ll continue to open the doors of His choosing in the proper time. He’s truly my Partner. Matthew 5:16 is my personal theme verse, and it’s my prayer that my light will shine through the words in my books, giving light and hope to a hurting world. It’s my high honor and privilege to share the stories the Lord has laid on my heart to share with others.
What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
I’ve been told I have a fresh, unique voice. I try to infuse my sense of humor and unique way of phrasing and expression into every book. I especially love getting into the male psyche, and I’ve been told (by those of the male persuasion) that I do it quite well. That’s high praise! I don’t necessarily follow the “three kiss rule” or formula pathway to romance. But that doesn’t mean there’s not conflict and roadblocks along the way to lasting love. I personally feel it’s a greater test of faith and bonds a couple more when they work through issues and confront problems together instead of keeping them apart until the very end where they share a kiss, proclaim their love and ride off into the sunset. That’s a very simplistic way of putting it, but I’m sure you get my point. I am a firm believer in happy endings, and tying up loose ends of a story, although sometimes I carry storylines over from one book to another in the series. But each book can certainly stand alone.
I don’t kill major characters. I just can’t do it. Peripheral characters sometimes die (and a few are maimed along the way), but I just can’t kill ‘em. Although I realize life isn’t always rosy and can seem downright hard and unfair at times, I don’t believe killing beloved characters is something romance readers respond to positively. From a personal perspective, I don’t like it. At least at this early point in my writing career, I want readers to weep tears of joy or because I’ve struck an emotional chord deep inside, but I don’t want them to cry because they’re grieving the loss of a beloved character. You can have drama and realism with all the killing. Christians can laugh as easily as they can cry.
What's one of the oddest or most interesting things someone has ever said about you?
When I once told someone about all the places I’ve lived and visited, she made the comment, “Wow, you’ve certainly been around.” Given the connotation of that statement, I wasn’t pleased, until I realized that yes, I have been around, but in the nicest sense of the word. Now, it’s actually one of my catch phrases when describing myself. By way of explanation – I was born in IN, moved to TX after college, met my husband (a student at Dallas Theological Seminary – he’s from RI), moved to CA, married in KY, honeymooned in HI, had our first child, moved to PA, had two more children and then moved to MA, then my (thankfully highly-adaptable) family back to IN in late 2005. While I have a great appreciation for each place we’ve lived, Kentuckiana (where southern Indiana meets Louisville, KY at the Ohio River) is truly “home in my heart.” Jim and I have always followed where the Lord leads, but in our case, He made it abundantly clear in each instance where He wanted us, and we tried to bloom where we were planted. So, in another important sense, “home in your heart” is so much more than simple geography.
How did you find out about your book contract?
On Saturday, May 1, 2010, I indulged in a rarity – sleeping in! It was glorious. When I awoke, I did the usual – brewed coffee, started a load of laundry – the normal stuff of life before settling in front of the computer. As usual, I checked my e-mail. When I saw the e-mail from Torn Veil Books, I stared, and my heart rate increased tenfold. If I’d been fully awake and really paying attention, I would have noticed the paper clip indicating an attachment. Holding my breath, I clicked on the e-mail and read the words that changed my life, “We have decided to publish your book, Awakening. Your contract is attached.” So, long story short, I was in my nightgown, still half asleep and then…I gasped and ran to get my husband and family and tell them the news. It was a banner day. Getting my first contract truly was one of the most important days of my life. It was the culmination of years of reading, writing, editing and studying journalism and English in school…and a dream come true. I am so thankful.
Who/What spurs you to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?
I write because it’s my passion. It’s what I love, and what I feel called by the Lord to do. Put it this way: I can’t not write, although I put my writing aside for a decade for something more pressing – raising my children. But the ideas were always formulating, simmering beneath the surface. Maybe that’s why I’ve never had writer’s block, and hopefully never will. Most of my story ideas are inspired from newspapers, magazines, television or radio programs, my kids, church sermons or Sunday school lessons, snippets of conversations in the grocery store…you name it. Practically anything is fodder for my fertile imagination.