Friday, March 19, 2010

Joylene Butler's Dead Witness

Dead Witness is the story of Valerie McCormick, witness to a double murder in Seattle. Valerie has her life torn asunder when the FBI kidnap her and fake her death. The killer believes she’s dead until her brother suspects she isn’t and begins his own investigation. This alerts the mafia and puts Valerie’s children at risk.

Today’s guest is author, Joylene Butler. Welcome to the blog, Joylene. Tell us a little about yourself.
I began my first novel Dead Witness in 1984 and self-published it fourteen years later, in 2008. In 2009, I sold my second book Broken But Not Dead to Theytus Publishers. They’re releasing it in 2011. Today, my husband and I are retired and living on a quiet lake in central B.C., Canada, just 700 km north of the Vancouver, site of the 2010 Olympics.

When can I come to visit?
Seriously, when did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?
My mum gave me my first diary when I was eight. I can’t remember not writing. I read Marilyn French’s Bleeding Heart when I was a teen and never recovered. Besides French and Margaret Laurence, my favourite authors are Katzenbach, Grisham, James Lee Burke, and Sanders. It made sense that I would write suspense thrillers; however, recently I’ve had the beginnings of a children’s book running through my head.

Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?
It wasn’t until I finished my third book that I realized the parent/child theme was repeating itself. I don’t feel authorized to teach my readers anything, but I hope they understand that we all struggle with the complexities of our relationships. I think that struggle is part of the human experience.

How do you determine that all-important first sentence?
I read and studied the first line from every novel I could get my hands on when I first started. As I determined which ones moved me and why, I learned to apply those principles to my own work.
Dead Witness opens with Valerie McCormick stepping out into glaring sunshine and shields her eyes. This act symbolizes the beginning of her eyes opening to what her life is really about. To date none of my readers have remarked on the significance of that moment, but they don’t need to. The subtle change in Valerie begins there.

How do you develop characters?
I know many writers swear by character sketches, but that hasn’t worked for me. In the same way that I wouldn’t drill someone I barely know, the more I write, the more I get to know my characters. As the story progresses, I watch how they react. Sometimes, I have to stop because my biases influence the action and my characters. Eventually, their true nature shows through.
What attracted me to Valerie’s story is that she starts off a kind and soft-spoken woman, and despite all the horrible things that happened to her, remains that way in the end. The only difference being she finally understands just how strong and capable she was.

How do you determine voice in your writing?
By experimentation. When I started Dead Witness, my POV was all over the place. With the help of outstanding critiques, I learned to develop a deep POV, whether it is first or third. As corny as it sounds, I learned quickly that I had to jump inside Valerie’s skin and show the scene from her perspective, what she saw, smelled, tasted, heard and felt. It was that process that helped me understand who she was and what she wanted.

Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?
To move the story forward in the first draft, I include deep POV, a goal, conflict, and disaster in each chapter. Then I open the next chapter with a new decision, a new goal, conflict, etc.. The most important thing for me is to get the story down. I see too many writers get so caught up in apply technique that they keep going over the same scenes again and again. I think it’s vital to get the story down so you have something to work with.
After the first few drafts, I break the story down into 3-acts. If the manuscript is 300 pages long, I know the first act ends within the first 75 pages, the second at 150 pages, and the third the last 50 pages or less. The final climax speeds up the action.
If the structure is complicated, and that seems to happen with each new book, I apply the index-card method and break down each scene, making certain there’s a climax at the end of each act until the final exciting conclusion. But, again, for me, the secret is in the rewrites.

How do you promote yourself online and off?
I blog, network, visit and comment on as many writing-related blogs as I can. I love to showcase new authors and open up my blog to guest spots by inspiring writers. It’s all about making my presence felt online and making friends with other like-minded bloggers/authors.
To promote Dead Witness, I do book signings, readings, radio readings, interviews, posters, bookmarks, and continue writing new books. As each new book is released, my goal is to inspire readers to read my other books if they haven’t already.

Where do you write? What do you have around you?
I’m a fulltime caregiver for my 93-year-old mother-in-law, so I’ve moved my Mac to a small table in my dining room, part of an open-concept design. My computer sits in front of a large window overlooking Cluculz Lake. I often upload pictures of Cluculz Lake on my blog because it’s so incredibly beautiful. The strange part is once I’m completely immerged in writing, I forget where I am. Usually an eagle or loon flies past, captures my attention, and I’m reminded of how fortunate I am to live here.
But honestly, I could write in a bathroom stall at the Toronto Airport if I had to. As long as I had my computer with me.

After hours of intense writing, how do you unwind?
I’m laughing because in the old days I would practice T’chi, watch television, play computer games, or visit with friends. Today I’m in bed and asleep before nine.

What are your current projects?
My first book Always Father’s Child was shelved – for good reason. I’m currently working with my editor in preparing Broken But Not Dead for its release next year. I’m also editing its sequel Omatiwak: Woman Who Cries. My newest WIP is Dead Wrong, my 6th book. And I’m still polishing Kiss of the Assassin when I can. When I need a diversion, I work on my first children’s book, Spirit Eagle in my head.

How incredibly busy you are!
Where can folks learn more about your books and events?
Thanks for the interview, Susan. If anyone would like to know more, they’re welcome to check out my webpage -
Otherwise, I can be found every day at, blogging and chatting with other writers.

It has been a pleasure to have you over, Joylene.


Joylene said...

Thank you, Susan. It was fun, and I even learned something about myself. Have a great day and thanks again.

Horror with Heart said...

Great interview, Joylene. You have wonderful perspectives and techniques to share.


Deb Hockenberry said...

Thanks for a great interview. To Joylene: Thanks for your encouragment & advice! It was a nice glimpse into your writing life.

Katie Hines said...

Joylene, it was a great interview! Congratultions on your successes with your books. I used to swear by character sketches, but haven't done those as much in my other works...if I didn't know who they were by the time I was writing about them, then I was going to be in trouble throughout the book!

Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

Great interview! Joylene, I honor you for the work you do caring for your mother in law. Had that joy with my mother for three years. What a blessing. And how fortunate she is to have you in her life!!!

Carol J. Garvin said...

It's always good to learn a little something more, right? ;) This was another excellent interview. Thanks, Susan and Joylene.

Joylene said...

@Keith, thanks. I wouldn't be where I am today without your help.

@Deb, thank you for stopping by. I can't tell you how inspired I am by your blog. You're doing a super job.

@Katie, thank you. And thanks for doing all you do for the writing community.

@Sylvia, thank you. I cared for my mother for the last three years of her life. It's been 10 years since she passed and I still miss her every day. Blessings.

@Carol, thank you! Your continual support means more than I can say.