Joey W. Hill is passionate about her craft. The author of over forty titles, she believes in writing compelling characters who explore ‘their darkest sexual needs’. Love is at the heart of her stories, as she takes her readers on a cathartic emotional journey.
Here, she reveals how she began writing from a young age, tells us what inspires her, and offers advice to new writers.
Joey, do tell us how you began writing fiction…
I was reading before I ever started school, thanks to my wonderful mom teaching me. Stories that had a central love story or an abundance of romantic elements were the ones that most captured my interest. The more I read, the more I wanted to be part of those worlds, and somewhere along the way I realized the closest I could come to joining them was creating those worlds myself.
I wrote my first novella in 5th grade and spent my teenage years learning about craft, the business and writing a multitude of short stories and novels. I entered college as a creative writing major but that’s where my intentions took a turn. I became involved in the animal
rights/animal welfare movement and spent the next ten years giving that my primary energy. Then, one day, it was as if a switch flipped and said, “It’s time to get back to writing stories.”
I’m glad for that hiatus, not only because I supported a great cause still dear to my heart, but because it provided the vital life experience necessary to write emotionally intense Dom/sub stories. I couldn’t have done that in my teens or early twenties, because I just didn’t know enough about love, disappointment, sacrifice, and what it takes to make a relationship work.
What brought about the incorporation of more explicit erotic elements, and why are they integral to your work?
Since I started writing in 5th grade, my understanding of erotic elements was a lot different then than it was about 15 years later (laughter). However, even as an adolescent and teenager, there was sex in my books. I knew what sex was and had reached the age that it intrigued me. I think it fascinated me differently than it does most adolescents, however.
Aside from the typical interests caused by hormones, intellectually, the power of it, the way it intertwined with emotions and helped define a relationship, absorbed me. I was also intrigued by the spiritual elements: in the way sex can be used to take love to a deeper level (as with Tantra) and in how various faiths/cultures have used it in their rituals. When I embraced the Wiccan faith in my mid-twenties, I loved the idea of sex being used to raise spiritual energy in the Great Rite.
Back in my teens, my (then dormant) submissive orientation was driving my interest as well. I had a subconscious sense of how deep, intense and diverse sexual expression could be. If I still had my hands on those early manuscripts, I’m pretty sure there would be more than a hint of Dom/sub dynamics to come, because the spicy romances I read as a teenager were the bodice rippers whose heroes are barely disguised Doms.
When I was young, I had my Ken doll put my Barbies in the dungeon and tie them up, so it really shouldn’t have been a surprise when I wrote my first Dom/sub romance in my late twenties. And yet, it was. I initially intended Make Her Dreams Come True to be a spicy romance, but instead it became a day-long exploration between a Dom and a sub in a mall environment. It not only surprised me that it took that turn; what it unlocked inside of myself was even more surprising. I finally understood and embraced my own submissive side. When I began the exploration of my orientation, I channelled what I was feeling and learning into an exploration of all aspects of the Dom/sub relationship on the written page.
Can you remember how you first felt on discovering that you could write a scene able to ‘arouse’?
I’m not sure I ever thought about it consciously. I was always captivated by the spiritual and emotional power of sexual relations, so writing stories that reflected that was as intuitive as breathing. While I do love to hear “oh, that scene was hot” or “that character melts my panties”, what I like most is to hear that the emotional component added extra wattage to the erotic quotient, because that’s what ratchets it up for me. If I can’t pull heartstrings and stroke the libido at the same time, I know it still needs work. I believe that arousal works best for women when body, soul, heart and mind are all involved.
What do you hope to accomplish through your writing?
Whenever I have a reader contact me to say that I’m an auto-buy and on their keeper shelf, or that my work gives them an escape, a chance to feel better about life, or has helped them through a rough patch, I know that I’m doing exactly what I hope to do. I think a writer needs to write for themself first; I must write a story I love before I can give it to anyone else.
I don’t write to motivate people to any kind of action, because I don’t feel that’s the role of a romance author. However, I do think that, when we do our job right, we help people feel good. People who feel good tend to reach out and perform kindnesses for others. This makes the world a better place overall.
What has been your experience of the publishing industry? Have your experiences matched your expectations?
Ups and downs, like any business. Not too long after I was first published, in 2000, both my ebook publishers closed down. Fortunately, soon after, I found a good home with a supportive erotic romance publisher. That was my primary home for fifteen years, before their business troubles convinced me it was time to turn my hand to self-publishing. I’m also published by a NY house.
With the recent shake ups and struggles related to ebook pricing, Amazon’s influence on the market and other dynamic factors, it’s been harder than usual to predict the best ways to pursue this business. I’ve always spread my eggs across multiple baskets, having books with my NY house, as well as with a small press, and through self-publishing. I pursue an eclectic market strategy, always evolving. When push comes to shove, it’s mostly up to the author to make her/his book successful, if it’s going to happen at all.
To answer the question directly, the publishing business is pretty much what I expected it to be. Often unfair but, overall, a system where persistence, hard work and writing a good book pays off. You sometimes have to push through with a battering ram, and lose family, friends, home and sanity in the process. But don’t let that discourage you! (lol)
Have you been shamed or otherwise discouraged for your choice of writing?
I’ve always been straightforward about what I write, yet courteous and considerate about where and with whom I discuss particulars. That behavior seems to go over well, no matter my audience. There is a continuing misconception that erotic romance is low quality adult bookstore porn, and a BDSM romance author is a trashy, outrageous character with the morality of a crack whore.
Meeting me (and many other erotic romance authors, who are a talented, wonderful group) helps people correct that impression, and allows them to take a closer, more balanced look at the genre. I act, sound and look like exactly what I am: a middle-class, well-educated, pretty traditional, Southern-polite kind of girl.
When I worked a day job as an administrative assistant, I did have a board member who had a problem with me. They tried to “expose” what I write in an attempt to discredit me. However, since most of my customers and my employers already knew (because of my professionalism/openness about it, as noted above), the attempt fell flat.
My family doesn’t necessarily understand why I write what I write, but they’ve been very supportive, particularly my mom. Also, I have no idea how I’d do any of it without my husband’s help and support.
While erotic fiction has many loyal fans, it’s often denigrated as ‘pulp’. What would you say in its defense?
Stories that present sex in a positive, respectful or sacred way make many people uncomfortable, let alone those that explore alternative sexual practices. It’s easier to trivialize these as “mommy porn” than to acknowledge that , to help them embrace their libido in a context we understand – love, commitment, family. My hope is that we’ll grow up enough one day as a society to understand that, but I often fear we’ll never evolve beyond the mentality of two ten-year-old boys snickering over a Penthouse they’ve found in the trashcan.
What appeals to you about the work of other authors within the erotic genre?
I hate that I’m not able to read more but, often, it’s too much like a busman’s holiday. I can’t turn off the internal editor: “oh, I like how she did that transition” or “he really needed some better character development there”. Those thoughts make it REALLY hard to get lost in a story, which is the best part of reading a book.
VJ Summers is probably one of my favorite erotic romance authors, though she’s currently on a short (I hope!) hiatus. She connects you to her characters quickly, writing stories that make you feel interested, aroused, moved, and invested: as you want to in a love story. That sounds so simple, but it’s actually quite difficult.
I also love Alexis Hall’s For Real and Glitterland, and look forward to reading more of his brilliance. Denise Rossetti’s Phoenix Rising series is a personal favorite in the paranormal/erotic romance arena, as is Shelby Reed’s Fifth Favor and Michelle Polaris’s Bound Odyssey. I also recently finished Master of No One by Tricia Owens, which was excellent.
What all of these books have in common is their strong craft, great characterization, and their integration of erotic elements within the emotion of the story. I expect the same quality from my erotic reads as I do from any other genre, and these authors deliver in these titles. On my GoodReads page, you can see my reviews for various erotic books, and find out which other genres motivate my work (grin).
How would you describe your current writing style, and what are your inspirations?
I write emotionally intense, character-driven, BDSM love stories. The characters always lead the way for me. I don’t care for complicated political or action plots, though I do use these when my stories demand them. For me, the excitement and drama is in the relationship.
As far as inspirations, I love relationship stories, where the characters figure out conflicts together, rather than enduring a frustrated string of “misunderstandings” that only get resolved in the final pages. Nora Roberts was the first author I read who did away with the “misunderstanding” crap and focused on letting her characters resolve emotional obstacles together. Although she is not an erotic author, her command of sexual tension has heavily influenced how I built this in my own stories.
Laura Kinsale, Kathleen Woodiwiss and Penelope Williamson are other influences. They avoid the “expected”, writing steamy love stories with unforgettable characters that squeeze your heart in your chest and make you cry. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series is the cherry-on-the-top. Her Jamie and Claire relationship is unforgettable.
What advice would you share with ‘new’ writers?
I always give aspiring authors three pieces of advice: know your craft, know the business, and never give up. Sounds simple, but there are hours of work and tons of emotional and physical energy involved in all three of those.
Know your craft – Learning the craft of writing is like learning any complex skill. It takes practice, studying the style/craft of authors that you love, reading books about craft, attending workshops, joining a writing group that can critique your early attempts and give you feedback (which also teaches you to be brave enough to subject your work to review), and more practice, practice, practice. You never write the best book you can write. You attempt to write it with every new project, whether you’ve written one book or fifty.
Know the business – these days, this is even more of a challenge, because you can seek a home for your work with small press, self-publish, or try for the NY houses. Fewer authors are going NY, however, since some of the NY houses hold onto a lion’s share of rights. Small presses tend to offer short term contracts (more than seven years is a mistake, and for digital media, three to five years makes far more sense), and quicker turnaround of royalty statements/payments, while allowing you to retain subsidiary rights, and the freedom to provide input into the prep of your book.
In self-publishing, you control all those aspects, which makes it a very appealing choice for authors with an established following. I still recommend that aspiring authors seek out a publisher for their early work, however, because a good publisher tests your craft and helps you determine if your work is ready to be published. You only get to make a first impression once, and you don’t want to have to win back readers you alienated by putting stuff out there that was weak craft/immature writing. Yes, getting published is hard, and yes, sometimes, editors can’t see past the latest trends to something of quality, but that’s
why small press is an even better training ground, because they are far more likely to consider the quality of the writing than whether you’ve written “the next Twilight” (name your trendy title here).
To learn the business, attend industry or online conferences, check out industry publications like Writer’s Digest, and RT Book Reviews and read articles/blogs by established, successful authors. It’s the age of the Internet, so you have to use discretion to weed out the good from the chaff but, if you do, you’ll find good info to help you learn about this crazy business. Once you get published, those same sources will help you learn to market, since that’s pretty much all on you unless you’re one of the few Chosen Ones who become the favoured child of a publisher with a large marketing budget. No sour grapes there—just the way the business is, and getting resentful or angry about it doesn’t help your career in the slightest.
Never Give Up – Only you can decide how much effort you want to put into becoming a good writer and getting published. You’re also the one who decides how far along that road you want to go. Some people decide they’re going to just write for themselves, and, honestly, that’s valid. At its heart, writing is about the passion we feel for telling a story. The publishing business can suck that passion right out of you if you don’t develop the right combination of inner creative sensitivity, outer rhino skin, and unflagging professionalism. If you think you have that combo, the secret is to not give up. Persist, persist, persist. Keep writing better and better stories, learn more about the business, and keep trying to meet your goals.
Thank you so much!
Want to learn more about Joey or ask her anything else?
Free excerpts from her works are available on her website, www.storywitch.com. Additional vignettes, character interviews and graphics inspired by her work can be viewed at the fan forum site, here. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and GoodReads.