About the Author: Joanna Ruth Meyer has been writing since she was seven, kept writing, and published her first book, Beneath the Haunting Sea, in January of 2018. One year later, her newest release, Echo North, is sure to enchant readers. Both novels are lush with folklore and mythical legends that demonstrate the power of stories. Playing the piano since she was nine years old, Meyer earned a BA of music in piano performance, and continues to teach and inspire her students. She lives in Mesa, Arizona with her husband and son, escaping to the wintery north in her books.
Interview with Joanna Ruth Meyer: Books and Writing
Anna Gerwig: It’s November – National Novel Writing Month! Are you partaking this year?
Joanna Ruth Meyer: Not currently, but I’ve done it many times in the past. This [points to Echo] started out as a 2014 NaNo.
I first tried to write it as a short story, back before I got an agent. I was always trying to write short stories to enter into contests, and I was trying to keep it under 10,000 words. And it just wasn’t working, so I tried out a novel-length version for NaNoWriMo.
Anna Gerwig: What was the revision process like?
Joanna Ruth Meyer: Well, Beneath the Haunting Sea was a NaNoWriMo as well. It was the first novel I ever wrote back in 2006 and that went through like 5 million drafts. And this [ECHO NORTH] published version is draft like 4.5. So, not as many drafts. But the different ending didn’t come about until draft 3. The whole part with her going back into the dual timelines didn’t happen until draft 3, because the original ending was just basically the part before she goes back. And I thought “well what happened if…” and I went down a rabbit trail there.
Anna Gerwig: Yeah! Well, when I got to the end of part 1 and Echo says, “I came to find a storyteller. I came to find you.” I knew I was getting into something GOOD.
Joanna Ruth Meyer: It’s probably like the most me thing I’ve ever written.
Anna Gerwig: How so?
Joanna Ruth Meyer: It’s just filled with tea and there’s straight up piano lessons no one made me take out. It was like my love letter to winter.
I’m mostly from Arizona but my heart doesn’t belong here. I like to write about the cold.
Anna Gerwig: Does music really influence your writing process?
Joanna Ruth Meyer: Yeah. For this book, I didn’t listen to as much while I was writing it, but I did make a playlist for it as I was revising. It depends novel to novel. I’m a pianist, so, it all leaks in here and there.
Anna Gerwig: For sure. The whole time I was reading it, I was trying to guess who the Wolf’s previous guest was. When I found out it was Echo and she taught herself the piano, I just wrote in my notes: OH MY GOODNESS.
Joanna Ruth Meyer: That’s awesome. The first draft was pretty short, but it kept growing in a good way. My editor made me add tension in the last part. It was a little bit of a rambling journey, so she wanted me to add more tension – so that’s where the dreams come from.
Anna Gerwig: That relationship between editor and writer is so interesting. What has your experience been? What are some things you’ve learned and changed about your writing process?
Joanna Ruth Meyer: I think every book is different and [Echo] was the first book with my new editor. One of the funny things is that 90% of the time… they’re right, but it still makes me grumpy anyway and I don’t want to change things. With critique partners, too, different feedback is really good. It’s taking a step back and getting that outside perspective.
You try to strike that balance between staying true to the heart of your story, but accepting that outside view. My editor wanted me to cut the ball scene, but I was really stubborn about that one. I just rearranged the scene and wrote some stuff, so I could keep it. I couldn’t give it up.
Anna Gerwig: Absolutely – you had to have it in there!
Do you always see yourself writing fantasy?
Joanna Ruth Meyer: Probably. Sometimes I try to think of a contemporary idea and I get half of one and then I think of how it can be fantasy. It’s always, “what if it starts here, but then…”
Anna Gerwig: Magic enters!
Joanna Ruth Meyer: Yeah! Like this is actually a front to another portal. So I’m not sure… maybe.
I feel like, in some ways, ECHO is easier, because I’m borrowing a lot form our world and SEA is created in a completely different world. It’s cool to create your own world and then you have to follow your own rules and it’s kind of neat with the “Don’t let go” concept, because I went back to weave it in throughout the story, so that it would feel true to the world by the time you got there. Little pieces all coalesce. One of my critique partners suggested describing the house as a quilt, because I was trying to wrestle with the binding and that’s how she imagined it, and I thought that was genius.
Anna Gerwig: That outside perspective, again.
Joanna Ruth Meyer: Yeah, and it all made sense. There’s even a quilting term called a binding stitch. It all really came together. I love creating the world. I feel like my ideas often start off small, but then I think about how the world began and how magic started and how all of these things happen – so it spirals.
Anna Gerwig: It all leads to so many interesting avenues!
Is it hard to let the world and characters go?
Joanna Ruth Meyer: Yes and no. It’s really weird that in ARC form, and soon in published form, that it’s out there. It doesn’t really belong to me anymore. In another sense, I’m busy working on a companion novel for SEA so my head isn’t in that world anyways. By the time Echo is published, I’m like 6 months ahead in something else.
Anna Gerwig: You’re clearly busy with a son, piano, and writing, but is there a book you read recently that is a must-read?
Joanna Ruth Meyer: I have to plug my favorite series of all time – the Queen’s Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner.
Anna Gerwig: Okay! That’s actually on my list, along with BENEATH THE HAUNTING SEA.
What are some trends in YA that you see? What would you like to see?
Joanna Ruth Meyer: I always hear that there need to be more stand-alones. I like the poetic titles.
Anna Gerwig: I love lyrical writing and I see it in your novel.
Joanna Ruth Meyer: I don’t know if it’s the musician thing, but the cadence of the sentences is really important to me. Every once in a while, the copyeditor will rearrange my precepts and I’m like “I’m changing this back now”
Every once in a while, my editor says, “this is pretty, but I don’t know what it means” and I’m like, “I don’t care – I’m leaving it”
I also know they say the market is oversaturated with high fantasy right now, but I love it. I’ll keep rolling along.
Anna Gerwig: I’ll read it all! With ECHO NORTH, I got to a point where I couldn’t put it down – I stayed up to finish it.
Joanna Ruth Meyer: That’s the best compliment!