Jo Goodman has been writing romance novels for over thirty years. Six of her books have been Desert Island Keepers here at AAR. Many of her historical romances have been set in the US and, for the past several years, she’s written tales set in the late 1880’s on the American Frontier. I’ve been reading Jo’s work since I first began reading romance and am thrilled to get the chance to ask her some questions.
Dabney: Hi Jo, thanks for talking to AAR.
Jo: Always a pleasure to hang out! I appreciate you having me.
Dabney: Your latest book, This Gun for Hire, (a DIK here at AAR) is a western set in Stonechurch, Colorado in 1888. It is not, like the books before it, set in Bitter Springs, Wyoming. Is this book a stand-alone or will it introduce a new series?
Jo:There will be a follow up book featuring a character mentioned in This Gun for Hire. The story will not take place in Stonechurch, but it will include roles for Calico and Quill from This Gun for Hire.
Dabney: Stonechurch, Reidsville, and Bitter Springs are all small frontier towns. What calls to you about that setting?
Jo: Laziness. I enjoy creating the town, spending some time there, but by using the town for more than one story, I don’t have to keep researching and thinking about the lay of the land. I have it pretty well set up in my mind.
Dabney: You are, if I recall correctly, a counselor who routinely works with young people. Many of your heroes and heroines have suffered childhood sexual and violent abuse. In your writing, these victims find their way to happy endings. Is there a tension there for you? Does being able to envision joyful outcomes make it easier or harder to see real lives with less positive ones?
Jo: There is a phenomenon in my work called secondary trauma. This can affect those of us in the helping professions who come face to face with people who have experienced complex trauma. We listen to the stories and cannot help be moved by the experiences, and we keep on listening because these children (and adults) deserve to be heard and often need help to find perspective and hope and healing. Over time, if professional counselors do not care for themselves, the piling on of stories not only hurt your heart, they suck at your soul because the damage is so profound on an individual level and the problem of abuse is so overwhelming on a system level that you can feel helpless. So…I write. It keeps me sane. It keeps me useful. It helps me think about resilience and resourcefulness and reinforces my deep respect for every life well lived.
Dabney: I have read many of your historical romances and enjoyed them all. As I think about them, I can’t think of a single truly bad boy hero. To a man, your heroes are men of honor who take scrupulous care to treat the women they love with respect and sensitivity. Would you ever write a bad boy?
Jo: I can’t quite get my head around a bad boy. I don’t really get the appeal. The bad boy redeemed by the love of a good woman is a tragic myth and makes for a tragic marriage. That’s my take on it.
Dabney: Your books are wonderfully filled with intricate details about the worlds in which they are set. What’s the most interesting research you’ve ever done for a book?
Jo: I always feel like such a fraud when I have to answer questions about research. I don’t think I do as much research as readers seem to think I do, but that could be because I have a head so crowded with odd bits of information that my sister calls me with a question before she googles. (Okay, I was ready to say that was a gross exaggeration, but just as I was starting to write that, she interrupted me with an iMessage with a question she could have asked Siri or googled. Weird.) But back to your question, I suppose the most interesting research was reading about asylums for the mentally ill in the 1860s. There were some terrifying therapies done in those days, and I use the word ‘therapies’ very loosely. I remember one treatment in particular that was practically waterboarding.
Dabney: You’ve written European histories, Westerns, and–I think–one contemporary. Why just the one contemp?
Jo: Time. I really don’t know how writers who have full time jobs manage to write more than a book a year. I squeezed the contemporary in between two historicals, and I enjoyed writing it, but I was exhausted, and not much fun to be around. And then it took 10 years to get it into print. I imagine that I will write more when I retire, or at least reduce my hours.
Dabney: Quill, the hero of This Gun for Hire is, like most of your characters, well-spoken with a prodigious vocabulary and intellect. I am assuming you research word usage from that time. What are some of your favorite words you’ve found that we no longer use in American speech?
Jo: It’s not so much that I find words we no longer use, it’s that I use words that the characters would not have known. I constantly have to check word origins and the date they were first used. Sometimes I play a bit loose with that. Copy editors are really word detectives, and if I miss something, they find it. For instance, I didn’t realize ‘ashtray’ wasn’t a word until 1876. For crying out loud! What did they call it? And potbellied stove? 1936. Don’t even get me started. I do have this terrific little book a friend gave me called Endangered Words. It’s filled with words that will probably just disappear for lack of use. Perfectly good words like desipience, which means foolish trifling or silliness (I randomly plucked it out of the book). The word seems to be so rare spell check doesn’t recognize it and underlined it with the red squiggle. See, that makes me giggle.
Dabney: The heroine of This Gun for Hire, Calico, is a bounty hunter. Were there any female bounty hunters in the 1880’s? Why did you pick that profession for her?
Jo: I have no idea if there were female bounty hunters. That’s the making it up part that I love about writing, but it did seem plausible.
Dabney: What’s next for you? And please tell me we haven’t heard the last from Rabbit and Finn.
Jo: I’ve already finished the follow up book. As for Rabbit and Finn, I liked those rascals, too. I’m not certain I have a book for them. There’s a bit of Peter Pan in me, and I don’t necessary like to see my kid characters grow up.
Dabney: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us!