Joni Keim writes technical (alternative health and wellness), spiritual (her father’s influence), and memoirs (matters of the heart)—for 40 years and counting.
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. I write technical, spiritual, and memoirs.
I first started writing technical in 1979 for natural health magazines. At the time, I worked at the Wholistic Health and Nutrition Institute in Mill Valley, CA, and learned a lot about alternative health. I was a licensed aesthetician, so I began writing articles and teaching classes on a healthy approach to skin care and using non-toxic skin care products. Some years later, I became the technical director for a natural product company that had a skin care line and an essential oil line. I wrote about both for websites, labels, newsletters, and training manuals. I continued to write for magazines. This was my career for over 30 years.
In addition to what I wrote professionally, I also had personal projects. From 2000 to 2008, a colleague, Ruah, and I wrote three books together. The books were based on using essential oils (aromatic plant extracts) in a spiritual context. We both had studied subtle energy healing, and she was a Spiritual Director. Aromatherapy & Subtle Energy Techniques, Aromatherapy Anointing Oils, and Daily Aromatherapy were published by North Atlantic Books in Berkeley. Foreign rights were purchased by Brazil. Many years later, the rights to these books were returned to us, and since that time, 2nd editions have been written and published for all of them. In addition to the books that Ruah and I wrote, I penned two books about angels.
Now in my seventy-plus years, I have written memoirs. The memoir books are a part of what I call my Tribute series—honoring that which has been so dear to me. There are now five books in that series. A book was written for each of two special men in my life that unexpectantly passed away. The books were composed in a simple, child-like style and illustrated with cartoons. However, they were for grown-ups (and the child in all adults). Writing these books was profoundly helpful for me to deal with the grief of losing those dear friends.
What brought you to writing? I did not major in English or literature in school. Still, I enjoyed the writing assignments and found researching and organizing information rewarding. I was also an avid letter writer—back in the days before email and texting.
When I began writing for natural health magazines, my children were young. The writing process provided intellectual stimulation amidst the diapers and carpooling.
In retrospect, I realize the foundation for the desire and pleasure of writing was probably set when I was a child. I was basically an introvert, and I was the youngest. The rest of the family was gregarious and extroverted, so I never really felt like I fit in. (But I knew I was loved.) My mother used to joke about how sending me to my room was not a punishment, and she would eventually have to get me to re-join the family.
So, in this setting—being an introvert and the youngest—I didn’t have the inclination or the opportunity to talk about things I wanted to, and I didn’t feel I would be heard. Writing allowed me to say what I wanted to say. Maybe more to the point was that I HAD something to say.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The most challenging part of my writing process is accessing the “zone” when it eludes me. The “zone” is when I am so fully present, relaxed, and patient that the writing flows and my thinking is energetic, clear, and accurate. When the “zone” is not available, it reminds me of what it is like when you enter a room that smells good. As you stay in that room, you no longer smell the aroma because the olfactory sense goes numb for that scent. Interestingly, when you leave the room for a bit and come back, you can smell it again. So, when I can’t get in the zone, I leave the writing and come back another time.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write in my office at a stand-up desk on an iMac. I look out the wide window to the neighborhood. My dog, Paris, is at my side. I write throughout the day, every day, for a couple of hours total, on various projects.
I have a strong ability to focus and block out distractions. However, if the distraction is overpowering, I simply stop. I know from experience that trying to write when I am not fully present is not worth the time spent.
How long did it take you to write your first book? How long to get it published? My first book, Natural Skin Care: Alternative & Traditional Techniques, was published in 1996 by North Atlantic Books under my name at that time: Joni Loughran. It took me a year and a half to write it. When it was finished, I submitted it, and it was published. The same was true for the three books that Ruah and I wrote.
I feel fortunate about having had such an easy time getting published. It came about because I had met the owner of North Atlantic Books in a doctor’s office waiting room. We were chatting. I told him that I wrote for natural health magazines. He said he was a publisher and told me I should write a book. So, I did, and he published it. Now, I am self-publishing.
Tell us about your writing process. This George Orwell quote makes me laugh: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
I have experienced that sentiment. After each one of the first few books I wrote, I told myself that I wouldn’t do it again. Yet, fifteen books later, I know now that writing is a part of my lifestyle and one that I will likely continue. I haven’t run out of ideas yet.
The first tenets that I embraced when I started writing were 1) write about what I know and 2) include facts, quotes, and anecdotes. When I begin a project, I first lay out the table of contents, knowing that it may change. Then I start one chapter at a time. I also keep a document of random notes. When I am writing a book, it is ever on my mind, and ideas pop up when I least expect them. I will jot them down anywhere I can and then transfer them all into my “Notes” document. Periodically, I go through those notes to ensure I include everything I thought would have value in the book. I have found that this makes the finished book much richer than it would have been.
How can our readers contact You?
Fiction writer Deven Greene lives in the San Francisco Bay area. Ever since childhood, Deven has been interested in science. After working as a biochemist, she went back to school and became a pathologist. When writing fiction, she usually incorporates elements of medicine or science. Deven has penned several short stories. Unnatural, Erica Rosen MD Trilogy Book 1 is the first novel the author has published. Her recently completed novel, Unwitting, is the second novel in the trilogy.
After a suicide bomber explodes at a baseball game, Erica takes in a young autistic man who has been trained to be a suicide bomber, hoping to find the perpetrator behind the operation and prevent further bombings.
Any comments about any other of your books: Unwitting is the second novel in the Erica Rosen MD Trilogy. It can be read as a stand-alone, although I think the reader might enjoy knowing the protagonist’s background and others in her sphere, which would be learned in the first book of the trilogy, Unnatural.
Tell us about your writing process. My writing is generally plot-driven. I start with a concept or idea I find interesting, often something in popular culture or the news. After I research the topic, I come up with a suspenseful plot centered around that idea. Then it’s time to conjure up characters who can pull it off. Lastly, after spending a fair amount of time thinking about it, I come face to face with my computer screen and type.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? I find that every time I re-read something I’ve written, I notice things to change. I suspect I often toggle the wording back and forth in some passages each time I see them. It is also difficult for me to decide when I’m done. Maybe I could improve the wording here or there, but at some point, I need to move on.
What are you currently working on? I am, of course, working on the last and final installment of my Erica Rosen MD Trilogy. The working title is Unforeseen. Again, Erica and those close to her will be involved.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? I absolutely do base my characters on real people. This is most true in Unwitting, where Erica becomes the caretaker for a young man inspired by one of my children. Other characters often have smaller similarities to people I have known. Some people may see themselves in particular individuals living in my books, but that is purely coincidental. Or is it?
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I’m in between. I learned early on that if I have a detailed blueprint, it’s bound to run into insurmountable obstacles as I write. I definitely have a plan, who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, some things that happen along the way, and how it will end. But as I am writing, ideas, details, and even inconsistencies pop up unexpectedly, so I need to be flexible and allow myself to make changes as I go along.
What kind of research do you do? I do enough research to feel comfortable with what I’m writing about if I don’t already know the subject sufficiently. I read books, do internet searches, and talk to experts that I know. I’m not writing fantasy, so I try to be accurate.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? For the most part, I use real locations. In the trilogy I’m writing, my protagonist, Erica Rosen, lives in San Francisco. I describe real places, such as Oracle Park baseball stadium. However, I often fabricate places such as homes, small stores, and towns.
Advice for new writers. Edit like crazy, and seek the opinion of others. It may be painful to hear criticism of your work, but it will help you in the end. There’s nothing worse than a rejection of your work without an explanation. Learn to appreciate whatever input others are willing to give you. You may not agree with it, and you don’t have to act on it, but you should at least listen with an open mind. One person may think your writing sucks, but if five out of five think it sucks, it probably does. Never fear, though. You can improve. It takes time to hone your writing skills.
John Schembra spent a year with the 557th MP Company in Vietnam in 1970. His time as a combat M.P. provided the basis of his first book M.P., A Novel of Vietnam.
After returning from Vietnam, he became a police officer with the Pleasant Hill Police Department, retiring as a Sergeant after nearly 30 years of service.
John has six other published novels in the mystery/thriller genre. One mystery, Sin Eater, has supernatural undertones. His latest book, The List, won the 1st place award in the Public Safety Writers Association 2021 writing competition. John has earned nine writing competition awards. You can find out more about him and his books and read their first chapters, plus a couple of short stories at his website; www.jschembra.com. John can be reached at his email; email@example.com.
John is currently writing his eighth book, Southern Justness, number six in the Vince Torelli series.
What brought you to writing? I’ve been an avid reader ever since I was a little boy (thanks to my mother) and have admired authors who could weave a story that made me feel I was there, inside their words. While with the police department, I wrote several trade articles on police procedures but didn’t get into fiction until I was 50. I‘d spent a year as an MP in Vietnam. Another police sergeant and Vietnam infantryman and I would swap stories at the police department. Other officers would stop and listen, and one of them told me I should write a book based on my experiences. So, one day, I grabbed a yellow paper pad and a pencil and started writing. 2 years later, my first book, M.P., a Novel of Vietnam, was published. In case you are curious, yes, I did do most of the writing on a computer.
I enjoyed writing the book, and many people liked it. I decided to write a second book, then a third, etc., etc., and here I am, working on my 8th novel!
Tell us about your writing process: I am strictly a pantser. I never was very good at outlining and dislike it immensely, so when I start a book, I write the first chapter, then write an ending. From there, I go back to the beginning and start filling the story in, letting it flow as an active document—a way to say the story flows freely as I write.
Who is your favorite author? Edgar Rice Burroughs. I was introduced to the Tarzan books by my uncle when I was eight or nine. Burrough’s ability to create new worlds, beings, creatures, and plants is amazing. He is the best I’ve read at writing to show, not tell. Burroughs has written eighty novels, and I have read every one of them, most more than once.
I do have to admit the best book I have ever read is Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. What a terrific story. It was books like Burrough’s and Hemingway’s that inspired me to become a writer.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? The five Vince Torelli mystery/thrillers all take place in the San Francisco Bay Area. Vince is a homicide inspector with SFPD, but his cases take him to various locations around the Bay Area. Since I grew up across the Bay from San Francisco, I try to use real places—streets, buildings, businesses, and surrounding cities are real places. I know when I read a book, if it takes place somewhere I am familiar with, it makes the story more enjoyable for me. Using real places makes the need for research a must. I use Google and Google Maps quite a bit when finding settings for various scenes. Also, I have a couple of close friends who are SFPD officers, so I rely on them to ensure I have Vince doing things according to SFPD procedures. Research is one of the tasks I most enjoy doing in my writing. I actually got the idea for my sixth book, The List, while researching information about the 19th century tunnels under San Francisco. I reconstructed the tunnels, which have mostly been filled in, and used them in several crucial scenes.
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. I have two books, one at the publisher undergoing editing and getting the cover art done. The other one available through Amazon, Sin Eater, is about a serial killer in a fictitious college town in the central valley of California. There is a supernatural twist to the story that adds a dose of creepiness to the book. The other book, An Echo of Lies, is the story of a police officer who gets gravely wounded during a traffic stop. Not expected to recover fully, he makes a complete and astonishing recovery due to being possessed by a demon.
Do you have any advice for new writers? The best advice I can give is don’t let any doubts you have about writing stop you. If you worry about the mechanics too much, you will never get the book done. Attend a writer’s conference or two. Join a writer’s group— there are tons of them out there, easily found with a google search. Groups such as Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, California Writers Club can be very helpful in getting you started and on the right track. There will likely be a group near you, wherever you call home.
If you write with a public safety theme, check out the Public Safety Writers Association, which I am the president of. It is a nationwide group of very talented authors willing to help other members with anything to do with writing. We also have a wonderful three-day conference in Las Vegas every year, with terrific keynote speakers and many informative panels, plus it is loads of fun! It is well worth attending. Check us out at www.policewriter.com.
Thank you for taking the time to visit with me. Many thanks to George Cramer, himself an award-winning author, for having me as a guest on his wonderful blog. Keep writing!
After entertaining on the quilt lecture circuit, we created the new genre of quilting science fiction
It’s great to be part of your blog world, George! Like you, I spent the better part of my life in other fields. While I began college as a poetry major, I graduated with a degree in Russian Political History. My intent was to join the diplomatic corps. But a frank discussion with my dad about life as a civil servant pushed me in another direction. I’ve been a secretary, a teacher and worked in human resources in the biotech and financial industries. My husband’s job brought us to California just in time for the dot-com bust. For many years I intended to return to the working world, but then I met Ann Anastasio, who introduced me to quilting. Together we created Broken Dishes Repertory Theatre, a quilting vaudeville troupe. We wrote one-act musical comedies about quilts and the women who make them. After entertaining on the quilt lecture circuit, we created the new genre of quilting science fiction with Death By Chenille, When Chenille Is Not Enough, and The Chenille Ultimatum, novels about quilters saving the world from aliens disguised as bolts of beige fabric. We thought The Chenille Ultimatum would be the last in the series, but then a friend said we absolutely had to write The Captain and Chenille because it was such a great title. We would have appreciated getting a suggestion for a plot as well, but you work with what you’ve got. Ann has lived in New Mexico since before When Chenille Is Not Enough was published, so we are used to writing long distance, but the pandemic has slowed our progress. We both joined the army of mask-makers in our home states when the need arose, for instance, which made my already messy sewing room a complete disaster. A lot of my creative energy has been shifted from writing to getting my quilting projects under control.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? My husband is a true technophile, so we have computers everywhere. My favorite is in a corner of the family room. It’s close enough to the kitchen to get tea and snacks but far enough away from the phone that I can ignore it. It’s adorable that you ask which distractions I “allow.” Distractions are worse than teenagers. Not only is there no arguing with them, you can’t even threaten to take away their car keys. HOWEVER, if I’m brutally honest, the time that distractions get the upper hand is when I’m uncertain where to go next in the scene I’m writing.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Absolutely! The California Writers Club has been a godsend. Ann and I were entertaining a quilt guild in San Jose and casually mentioned we were writing a novel. One of the women pulled out her CWC business card and suggested finding a branch nearby. That happened to be the Mt. Diablo branch, where Igal Levy had just started a critique group. Jack Russ, then the president of Mt. Diablo, established a committee to create what became Tri-Valley Writers. I joined Tri-Valley Writers after my term as Secretary to the Mt. Diablo branch ended. I joined two critique groups with this branch, which gave me the accountability I needed to finish the manuscript of Death By Chenille, which we published on Smashwords after hearing a presentation by Mark Coker, CEO. I’ve also published short stories in almost a dozen anthologies that I heard about through Tri-Valley Writers and a short story on BookTrack after one of their representatives gave a talk to the club.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? Yes, or at least parts of real people. Ann and I will combine the traits of people we know. We try to avoid having too much reality in our characters. Although we write cozy science fiction (meaning even our villains have a soft side), we don’t want anyone to say, “Hey, that’s me” – and not in a happy way.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Some settings are real, and some are fictional. Clearly, the alien planets are fictional, but even those planets have elements based on places we’ve known on Earth. All the quilt stores in our books are based on real stores.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Becoming a writer means being a life-long learner. Promise yourself that you will learn more and be a better writer for the next project, then submit your work for publication. It doesn’t matter if you don’t win the contest, or land the agent, or make the best-seller list with your self-published book. What matters is that you’ve tried. If you are convinced that this is the best work you can do at this moment, then do what you can to get it in front of readers. No one can tell your story like you can, so give readers a chance to hear your voice.
How do our readers contact you? Your website, blog links, any links you want to be posted? I post twice a week on Lani Longshore’s Blog at lani.longshore.wordpress.com. Mondays are about my writing life, Wednesdays are about my quilting life. There are also posts about the flowers in my garden when I haven’t accomplished anything either at the computer or in my sewing room. The entire Chenille series can be found as e-books on Smashwords.com. The Chenille Ultimatum is also available in a print edition on Amazon.com.
Death By Chenille https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/55823
When Chenille Is Not Enough https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/306399
The Chenille Ultimatum https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/815344
This week, I revisited a few posts from bygone years. The oldest post was February 28, 2013. Here is what I wrote way back then:
Yesterday I glanced at the cover of a recent issue of AARP’s magazine. There on the cover was the “Hook.” Find the Work You Love!
Today is an anniversary of sorts. One year ago today, I was laid off from a great job. I have found work I love, writing, however so far sans pay. It would be nice to find a paying job.
I had to look at the article. Maybe this can help me find something that pays?
The article presents several senior citizens’ stories but is primarily about two women, Maz Rauber and Amy Reingold. The two write “juicy novels for young adults” under the pseudonym Ella Monroe.
They have an exciting and inspiring tale about the job they love. If you visit this URL, you can read the article and watch a video interview of the duo.
In the eight ensuing years, a lot of water has passed under the bridge (cliché alert). I accepted the reality of age discrimination and gave up looking for a new job, earned an MFA, and published my debut novel, The Mona Lisa Sisters.
The URL for the article no longer works. I did find a URL (https://us.macmillan.com/author/ellamonroe/) for Ella Monroe but did not locate the interview.
There were two comments left, one by my best friend Jim Kennemore, who passed away last year. I miss him every day.
The other by my youngest daughter, Katie Cramer Rosevear, who has been an inspiration to me. She is a successful businesswoman, give her a visit at http://www.lolaandivy.com
Watched the video…Interesting. So you want to collaborate on a book? Just kidding. You know I think if you are serious (and I believe you are), I think you ought to write and submit some short stories to different publications. The pay might be small, maybe nonexistent, but if you can get published, you begin a resume. I thought about submitting that D.C. story of mine to HOG magazine a few years ago, but it was way too long…anyway, good luck with it all…JAK
Katie Cramer Rosevear:
Happy one year of writing, Dad! Thank you for inspiring me every day! Xo