Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Interview with Author, Joylene Nowell Butler

Today, my guest is Joylene Nowell Butler discussing her release, Broken But Not Dead.

AUTHOR:  Joylene Nowell Butler
BOOK TITLE:  Broken But Not Dead
PUBLISHER:  Theytus Books

Please tell us about yourself?  
I’ve been writing for 28 years. When my sons were little I would write at night while they were sleeping. In the summer I’d put a rickety old table outside and type away on my IBM. I didn’t expect to ever be published, I just couldn’t stop because I was hooked on the process.  

Tell us your latest news? 
Theytus Books are releasing my second novel Broken But Not Dead in a few weeks. MuseItUp Publishing is releasing my first novel Dead Witness as an ebook this summer. Both releases are very exciting. But for the big news: I’m going to be a grandmother in September!

When and why did you begin writing?  
My mum bought me my first diary when I was eight, and almost immediately I experience total joy writing it.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?  
It’s been so long I can’t remember. Probably mid-90s.

What inspired you to write your first book? 
My father died in 1983, and I thought if I could write his story, he would live forever.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? 
That rage is counterproductive no matter how justified you feel.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?  (Has anyone ever realized it?)  
My stories have an element of my attitude and life experience in them. No one as yet has ever realized the significance of that.

What books have most influenced your life most?  
There are quite a few: Marilyn French, John le Carre, Leo Tolstoy, Lawrence Sanders, James Lee Burke, Margaret Lawrence, and Charles Dickens. I learned about loneliness, pride, death, rage and humanity in these books.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?  
I read Marilyn French’s Bleeding Heart when I was a young woman, and I was profoundly moved. It’s the story of a woman trying to find herself after she loses her daughter to suicide. It’s about conquering madness, loving without boundaries, and accepting someone who is your total opposite.

What book are you reading now? What do you like, or not, about it?  
I’m reading mostly textbooks. Ie. How to Write the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. A must read. I’m reading both War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy and The Russia House by John le Carre again.  I love the way these writers inspire me to write better. I appreciate the way Tolstoy understands human nature and is able to teach me something new about transcending the human condition. I admire le Carre’s ability to write ordinary yet profoundly intriguing characters.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?  
So much time spent editing that I haven’t had a chance to read any of the books piled on my desk. I do like Christopher Hoare’s Asklander series centered around a wonderful female lead character.

What are your current projects? 
Three other suspense thrillers and a children’s book.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? 
Keeping a diary made me realize the joy that writing gave me. I know it sounds crazy, but writing is like breathing.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? 
Theme and logline is always a challenge. I took a course with Alex Sokoloff on the 3 Act Play and it helped, but it still doesn’t come easy for me.

Do you ever have problems with writers block?  If so how do you get through it? 
I catch up on my chores and gardening. I’ve had it so many times that I know it’ll pass.

What do you do when you’re not writing/editing or thinking about writing/editing? 
I spend time with my 4 best friends. I read, garden, practice T’chi, and do yoga.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work? 
I love Margaret Lawrence’s work. I’m in awe of your characterizations. They’re never perfect, yet they’re unforgettable.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?  
Disciplining myself to write when I didn’t feel like it. I’m not a big fan of marketing, so the closer I got to the finish the more I dreaded the idea I’d have to market it soon.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it? 
I learned how not to write while writing my first book. I started in 1984 and didn’t finish until 1991.

Do you have any advice for other writers? 
Write. Read. Write. Never stop learning your craft. And never send it out to publishers or agents until you’re absolutely certain it’s the best it can be. Join an established writer’s group first and have it critiqued by at least 3 writers.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers? 
Thank you for your support. It means more than I can ever say.

Any special appearances or events coming up that you want to mention? 
I’ll be doing several signings in Penticton, Kelowna on the July long weekend. I’ll be in Prince George most of the summer. I’m doing a reading in New Brunswick in the fall.

Who is your publisher and how did you connect with them? 
The publisher for Broken But Not Dead is Theytus Books in Penticton, BC, Canada’s oldest Indigenous publisher. They were recommended by the Nancy Wise of Sandhill Books.

How can we find you? Website, Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc. - please share your public links.
My Dead Witness Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dead-Witness-the-novel/20686985924

Brendell Kisêpîsim Meshango is of Métis heritage and a PhD university professor in Prince George, British Columbia. When Brendell resigns from the university and retreats to her isolated cabin to repair her psyche, she is confronted by a masked intruder. His racial comments lead her to believe she is the solitary victim of a hate crime. However, is all as it appears? After two bizarre days inflicting a sadistic captivity, the intruder mysteriously disappears.
Taught by her mother to fear and distrust the mainstream-based power structures, and with her stalker possibly linked to a high level of government, Brendell conceals the incident from the police. But will keeping quiet keep her safe?
Then her beloved daughter, Zoë, is threatened — and Brendell takes matters into her own hands. To save Zoë, Brendell searches for the stalker and confronts not just a depraved madman but her own fears and prejudices.

(EXCERPT taken from chapter 3)
Faint, inconsequential sounds outside. Children playing on the street, shouting and laughing, their bicycle tires squealing. Vehicles rumbled by as neighbours returned home from God knows where. Evening service. Grandma’s house. I thought of my mother's lashings, the times she'd burned me with her cigarettes. Had Agnostine's cruelty prepared me for this? What if she'd hired him? That made no sense. My mother died twenty years ago.
Doors slammed. Dogs barked. And daylight vanished. Automobile tires squeaked. Shadows danced across my ceiling; and I studied their shapes. Why hadn’t I replaced my drapes for those thicker ones I’d always wanted? Could he see through these? I shivered and wrapped my arms across my chest. My favourite quilt was back in my study. Down that hallway. I strained my neck around the living room’s corner wall. The room was so far away. I crawled on my hands and knees, reached the study, grabbed my blanket and crawled into the closet; I was too exhausted to go back to the living room. My body felt as if I'd come off a weekend drunk. My muscles throbbed. My head spun. My stomach gurgled.
Not until the next morning did I budge. I had to pee. I crept out into the gloomy daylight, pulled myself up and limped to the bathroom. My legs felt numb while my face burned.
For the first time in thirty years, I locked the bathroom door.
The cold tile floor beckoned. I flushed the toilet and slipped down onto my knees. I doubted that he would want me going anywhere today. Or any day. We’d both agreed I was a stupid frog-squaw. Better for Zoë's sake that I stay home.
Yes. Stupidity and ugliness should stay hidden.
I gripped the counter’s edge and pulled myself up. I saw a reflection in the mirror and jumped. But it wasn't the intruder, it was me. He'd picked me because I'd done something wrong. Terribly wrong. What else could it be? I'd screwed up. Messed up. A man doesn't break into your home, stay with you for the weekend ... unless he thinks you deserved it.
In my bedroom, I tested the phone. A dial tone hummed. Was he listening? Should I say something?
"Tell me what you want me to do."
The line continued humming. I placed the phone back on its cradle. Better to do nothing than to anger him. But I had to check on Zoë. I pressed the code for her home number and let it ring ten times. Fifteen times.
I heard a noise. A car's engine. I set the phone down. There was a vehicle outside. I held my breath and listened. A door slammed.
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear—could I make it to the front door? Run!
I opened the bedroom door and peeked out. Footsteps creaked across the worn planks on my back deck. Keys jingled and suddenly air was sucked from the house. Swoosh. Somebody opened the back door. He was here. He was in my house!
The furnace in my stomach blazed.
Breathe. Breathe. He was checking up on me. He was making sure I could be trusted.
I wiped my face, dropped the quilt and stepped out into the hallway. I dismissed the urge to run, until a thought occurred to me. What if he changed his mind and came back to kill me?
Zoë flew around the corner. We both gasped.
"Damn, Ma, you scared the piss out of me!"
I pressed a hand to my breast and peeked behind Zoë. "Are you alone?"
"No, Dennis is outside," she said in Cree before switching to French. "He followed me over so I could drop off your car. And I even replaced your keys back on that doohickey. Why are your clothes wrinkled?"
I glanced down at my lint-covered joggers and unkempt blouse. "I … slept in them."
"Kita'hkosin na?"
I nodded at my daughter, impressed that she’d learned a new word. Good for her. "Yes, I am sick."
"Just sick, Zoë. It’s no big deal." I shuffled past and entered the kitchen. Mouth dry, throat drier, I swallowed with difficulty, then gagged on the oily metal taste on my tongue. I filled a glass from the tap and gulped back half of it. "How was the wedding?" I wiped my chin.
"It was beautiful. They were married in the Sikh Temple and then right afterwards in the United Church downtown. They left on their honeymoon right afterwards" Zoë opened the fridge door, flipped her long ponytail over her shoulder and studied the contents. "Jasmine was a complete mess. Her asshole husband punched her after the rehearsal. I think it had something to do with me telling him to f-off after he called me a typical native." Without looking back at me, she added, "Don’t ask. The guy’s a jerk and was jealous because Jas was a bridesmaid and he was simply tolerated.” She continued studying the contents of my fridge and shook her head. “It took tons of make-up to hide her bruise. Everybody in the bridal party was upset. We all tried talking to her, but she kept making excuses for Mr. Asshole. Can you imagine believing you deserve that shit? That’d be the day I’d let some bastard break my spirit." Zoë looked back at me, her perfect sculpted eyebrows raised. "One good nîmihto and he’d be peeing through a tube. What’s that on your chin?"
"Where?" I asked before remembering how my intruder had punched me twice.
Deliberately staying away from the tender spot, I touched my cheek. Part of me wondered whether I should correct Zoë's misuse of the word nîmihto. It meant to dance in Cree. Unless that was her intent.
Zoë straightened up and touched the bruised skin below my jaw lightly. She'd been biting her fingernails again. "It looks like a contusion."
"I was splitting wood."
She glanced from the dining room blinds to the shutters over the sink. "Why's it like a tomb in here?"
"Oh, uh … my head. I had a bad headache."
She nodded as if my explanation made perfect sense. She switched her attention back to the refrigerator’s contents, settled on an apple and swung the door closed. Then she gave me a peck on the cheek, took a big bite of the apple and walked to the back door. "I gotta go," she mumbled, her mouth full. "I’ll stop by tonight and bring you some Boulette soup."
No yelled in English was bad enough, but in Cree it sounded so harsh.
Zoë peered back at me with furrowed eyebrows and hooded narrow eyes, the look of a mother when her child has misbehaved.
"I’m sorry, Sweetheart. I feel lousy. I just want to sleep. Call me later, okay my apisîs waa-boos."
Referring to Zoë by her childhood nickname little rabbit resulted in a familiar reaction. She rolled her beautiful blue eyes and smirked. "Don't forget to change your clock," she said in French.
"What do you mean?"
"Ma, it's daylight savings." She smiled and left out the front door.
I listened to Zoë's footsteps down the short sidewalk to my driveway. A car door slammed and an engine started, no doubt the property of the Grand Panjandrum himself. That whining sound his car made when he backed up followed quickly. Tires reeled on the asphalt in front of my house. Dennis was always in a hurry.
I continued staring at the space where Zoë had stood. The air around me was imbued with the fragrance of apple and ivory soap. My daughter’s scent lingered and so did her words: That’d be the day I’d let some bastard break my spirit.
A sob broke from my throat. Tears poured down my face and my body shuddered. My daughter’s words stung like the weal from the intruder's whip across my skin. Pressure built inside me, and I imagined an embolus bursting an artery in my brain. Sobs racked my body. I crunched my shoulders forward until finally I was crying like a little girl. One long wail.
That’d be the day I’d let some bastard break my spirit. That’d be the day….
I wept until I hyperventilated. I grabbed a paper bag from the kitchen drawer, strangled the opening and sucked for air. "That’s right!" I gasped between breaths. "That’d be the day I’d let some bastard threaten me or my daughter. Did you hear that, you fucking piece of shit! You’ve messed with the wrong woman!"


  1. Thank you so much for this opportunity, Penny. It's kind of you to feature me today. Hope your week is great. Cheers.

  2. Wow! What an excerpt. I'm now wanting to know more about this story.

    Loved the interview, too. Thanks for sharing your inspirational journey.

  3. Thanks, Penny and Joylene... great interview! I always seem to learn something that I didn't know... this time it was your favourite author. :)

  4. You're so welcome, Laurel. Thanks for visiting me and Penny. Wish I could offer you some tea.

  5. We have a lot in common about when we started to write. I loved the excerpt! I'd love to read the whole book. I'm putting it on my To Buy list. I'm going to have to win the lottery to buy all the books I want to read.

  6. Great interview, Penny & Joylene! I loved the excerpt. It makes me want to find out more. I'm going to have to get this book & put it on my to-be-read list! Does it come in Kindle format?

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Carol, forgive me if this is a duplicate; the window disappeared before I was finished.

    I once visited Ms. Laurence's home in Nepawa. It was an ordinary house. I made my husband wait patiently while I scrutinized every nook and cranny. I had a lot in common with her, and I was saddened by her death. I knew then I'd never get a chance to meet her in person. Her words moved me deeply and stayed with me for a long, long time. That kind of effort is priceless.

    Thanks for stopping by, Carol. Hope your day is going well.

  9. @Hi Roseanne. I know exactly how you feel. I want to read everyone's books too, but I better sell a few of my own first. LOL. Thanks so much for stopping by.

    @Hi Deb. Broken just came out, but I'm not sure if the publisher is thinking ebook just yet. It would be nice though. Thanks for visiting. My first novel, Dead Witness is being released as an ebook by MuseItUp this fall. I'm very excited.

  10. Joylene, it's been a pleasure having you as a guest today. Glad you could stop in to chat.

  11. Thank you, Penny. You're a wonderful host, and I had a great time. And wow, my cookies are delicious!

  12. "That rage is counterproductive no matter how justified you feel."

    I like that a lot.

  13. Writing news aside, Joylene, congrats on your pending grandmotherhood! I enjoyed both the interview and the excerpt. All the best to you.

  14. Great post Joylene, Broken but not Dead will be going on my to buy list too. Sadly I need to wait for the ebook. But wow... it will be worth waiting for.
    Great interview Penny. Joylene thanks for sharing.

  15. It was my pleasure, Penny. Thanks for making me feel so at home. It was a lovely visit.

  16. Hi Martha. How's it going? Thanks for stopping by. Glad you had to chance to meet Penny. Happy writing.

  17. Inspirational interview! Thank you Penny and Joylene. Inspirational on a personal and writing level. So much to love about all of it.
    Your excerpt has the 'wow' factor. I felt it came from more than the imagtination. I loved the suspense and the mother/daughter relationship. I wish you every success, Joylene.

  18. Great interview Penny. And, great excerpt Joylene. The mother/daughter relationship is so complex, great writing and reading material.

    And, congratulations on becoming a 'grandmother to be' - how exciting!

  19. Great interview! Wow on the book excerpt. Definitely makes you want to read more, to find out what happens next. CONGRATS on the grandbaby news!

  20. Joylene, your book looks very intense and emotional.
    Congratulations on the grandbaby. I'm expecting my second great-grandchild.
    Hi Penny, thanks for sharing the cookies.

  21. This looks like a great story, and what a wonderful interview.

  22. Enjoyed your interview. Loved your comment the really big news is becoming a grandmother! That is so true...LOL...Best wishes on your books..

  23. Janet, glad you enjoyed the interview.