Interview with… Joanne Nelson

It’s author interview time, and I’m delighted to introduce you to Joanne Nelson.

Joanne is the author of the memoir, This is How We Leave available from Vine Leaves Press. Her writing appears in anthologies and literary journals such as Brevity, the Citron Review,the museum of americana,Consequence, and Redivider. In addition, she is a contributor to “Lake Effect” on WUWM—Milwaukee’s NPR station. Nelson lives in Hartland, Wisconsin, where she develops and leads community programs, maintains a psychotherapy practice, and adjuncts. More information is at

Welcome to the Fountain Pen, Joanne. Please tell us a little about yourself

Well, I struggle to settle into any one career or topic! I started college as a theater major and graduated in social work. I’ve always loved the field of social work because there are so many ways to use the degree from working for social justice, to working with kids in schools, to having a private practice—just to name a few. Now I’m most interested in spending my time writing, working with writers, and teaching about writing. Into this mix I’d throw in a love of meditation, walking, traveling, and hanging out with friends and family. I guess I’m continually searching for the just right fit. 

How did your writing career begin?

Recently I went through boxes of childhood stuff. I found childhood diaries with notes about how much I liked to write and reams of college poetry. So, the desire, the call to write, has been with me for a long time. I took a break from creative writing while raising kids—I just couldn’t find the time or settle myself (see the above question!) enough for anything other than journal writing. I started taking writing classes again when the kids were adolescents. That led to an MFA and more focused writing goals as time became available again.

Why memoir and poetry? Did you choose them, or did they choose you?

Currently I write personal essays, memoir, and poetry. These genres have chosen me. Whenever I try to write fiction I find I’m just creating a long character study. Even when I try to fictionalize a poem I find I can’t. So of course that means I long to write fiction. Recently I heard that publishers really like series. So I dream of creating a detective who lives in an alternate world! The desire is there. The idea is there. It’s just the words that aren’t appearing!

What do you hope your readers take away from your work? What are you trying to achieve?

Connection. Hope. Resilience. Oh, and at least a bit of laughter. My memoir, This Is How We Leave, explores how people have left (addictions, affairs, literal running away) my life and examines how I’ve left—and how I’ve stayed. My hope is that readers who resonate with the words find connection in the pages, recognize their own resilience, and discover additional ways to lead their best lives. I love when readers let me know their thoughts about the book and invite them to contact me (and/or leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads).

How do you approach a new project? Are you a plotter or a pantser, or somewhere in between? Where do you get your ideas?

I’m a big believer in creating an outrageously crappy first draft. I want to throw down every bubbling word  as quickly as possible when I have a new idea. After that I’m quite the plotter. I shape the material through multiple drafts over months, even years. When I’m just about done I have a list of words (those dang darlings) that I search for and replace as necessary. 

My ideas hit out of the blue—I’m not too good at advance planning of a project. I find it important to start writing when the ideas hit. If I wait very long I start getting negative about all the reasons the piece won’t work.

How did your relationship with Vine Leaves Press begin? 

I love my VLP origin story! On a dark and stormy night I received an email from them. Of course, I expected a rejection—but no! It was a note asking if they should assume I wasn’t interested in their offer. What?? Ends up their very kind offer—which included such a close read of my manuscript that I felt they knew the material better than I did—had gone to spam. Yet, somehow, this final note made it to my in-box.  So, moral of the story, always check your spam. I now have a reminder set on my electronic calendar to check every three weeks for the rest of my life!

Wow, that really makes me want to check on my spam folder more often – I might have to set a similar reminder! Thank you so much for talking to me today, Joanne.

You can find Joanne on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin

6 thoughts on “Interview with… Joanne Nelson

  1. Hi Annalisa – what a great review and write up between you and Joanne … she’s obviously settled into here creative writing abilities. Good luck to you both – Hilary


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