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February 3, 2011

In addition to Birth of a Novel, I participate in the Avalon Authors blog with other writers whose mysteries, romances and westerns have been published by Avalon Books. We’ve recently given that site a complete overhaul, offering readers more information about the authors and their books. And we’ll be including a short story by one of us on the first Thursday of every month. I invite you to check it out and let us know what you think.

One of the other Avalon authors is Joani Ascher. Like me, Joani writes mysteries. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime and Romance Writers of America. Her series revolves around the crime-solving adventures of Wally Morris, a nursery school teacher, mother and grandmother with a penchant for solving puzzles. A lot of her writing has been done with a warm puppy asleep on her foot. For years, the Ascher family was involved with The Seeing Eye®, raising puppies as guides for the blind. Now Joani, along with her therapy dog, Misty, can often be found in the children’s room at the local library, where children who are reluctant readers gain confidence by reading aloud to Misty. Joani’s books all have “vengeance” in the title, but I can’t imagine a less vengeful person. In fact, she … well, I’ll let you be the judge. Read on.

SANDY CODY: What prompted you to become a writer?

JOANI ASCHER: When my son was young and my husband and I were searching for answers to his problems, I started trying to write an article about children with learning disabilities. I felt there was a lack of information in parenting and women’s magazines. I took courses to try to write better and basically caught the bug. But in reality, I’d always enjoyed writing stories, letters and inventing backgrounds for people I’d pass on the street. The article never got published–the universal answer from the editors was that if they wanted an article on that subject they would get a professional to write one. To my credit, though, articles about various learning disabilities, and finally the autistic spectrum, began to appear, informing and helping parents to cope.

CODY: What part of writing do you find the most satisfying?

ASCHER: I love it when I surprise myself with something my character does or says. It tells me that I am in that person’s head convincingly enough to have her evolve on her own.

CODY: What part do you find the most difficult?

ASCHER: I write in multiple viewpoints which also means both genders. Sometimes I find it hard to write from a man’s point of view. Luckily, my writing group keeps me in line.

CODY: What comes to you first? Characters, story or setting?

ASCHER: I would have to say plot comes to me first. A situation, such as a young child saying she got a call from Grandma, when Grandma has been dead for almost thirty years, popped into my mind and I wrote a book last year about it. I had to figure out who would be most impacted by such a statement, what her story would be and, of course, what would really be going on in the book. It was the same with all my Wally Morris books, including the first Vengeance Beyond Reason, which was inspired by a dream of someone getting hit over the head.

CODY: Where do you find inspiration?

ASCHER: It’s all around me. Vengeance Runs Cold was inspired by water damage in my basement, while Vengeance on High was a story about politics. Vengeance Cuts Loose referred to a neighbor’s child’s issues and Vengeance Tastes Sweet was motivated by a day of communal cooking in our local synagogue. The many other, unpublished books I’ve written (I’m much better at writing than at submitting and following up) all had similar starts or were stories about people dragged up from the past.

CODY: Do you find it difficult to keep the stories fresh when you write multiple books with the same main character. How has Wally Morris changed as the series progressed?

ASCHER: I try to vary the basic premise of each book. As stated above, the books were all inspired by different things. Wally herself has become a more active person and has less trouble convincing people that she can help in a bad situation. She’s proven herself and everyone in town is a believer–that is, except for the criminals.

CODY: What other projects are in the works?

ASCHER: I have another series started, as well as the suspense I wrote last year, and I’m currently working on a caper. I love writing funny books and that’s what I’m hoping the new one will be.

CODY: What other authors do you especially admire?

ASCHER: Janet Evanovich, for one. She writes funny and sexy and so much! I like Harlan Coben, Sophie Kinsella, Kate Mosse, Katherine Neville, Greg Iles–and many more. I also like to read books suggested by others, especially people who read books I wouldn’t ordinarily pick up. They sometimes turn out to be among the books I love most.

CODY: What do you do when you’re not writing?

ASCHER: I am not currently raising a Seeing Eye® puppy because Misty, my change of career dog, is fifteen and a half and doesn’t need a puppy swinging from her ears. She did not become a guide dog because she lacked confidence, but her huge heart made her a wonderful therapy dog who also enjoyed listening to reluctant readers read books to her.

I miss having a puppy in the house. There are guidelines for taking care of the pups and expectations for their training which are important to follow. It is a huge responsibility, also loads of fun. Imagine having a seven-week-old puppy delivered to your front door. The area coordinator brings the puppy inside, hands over a bag of food, a collar, a brush and a bit of paperwork. The puppies are so small you want to put them in your pocket and so squirmy you know that would never work out. They fit into the crook of your arm and you want to carry them around like babies. They fall asleep often that first day, exhausted by the excitement, sometimes right on your foot if you’ve stayed in the same place long enough. By the next day they are ready to get into everything and you must stay vigilant.

Aside from the obvious house and obedience training, we puppy raisers have to do everything we can to ensure that the person who gets the puppy, who relies on her to guide her around the streets and in crowds, will be a good citizen. We teach the pups not to bark, not to go on furniture, not to eat people food or tear up people belongings. We take them on outings and to training sessions, in cars, on trains and even to the airport where they practice getting on airplanes. We take very good care of them by not exposing them to strange animals. No dog parks for us.

I’m not the strictest of trainers. I must admit I defer some of that to others while I do what I perceive to be my part in the puppy’s upbringing, pouring in the love. And, because I’m home more, I get to see most of the antics that the puppies can get into. It’s a blast.

CODY: Do you have a schedule for writing or do you squeeze it in when you can?

ASCHER: I try to write on my days off from the library. I find that I can edit on days I’ve worked, but writing new stuff requires a more rested brain.

CODY: What refreshes your creativity?

ASCHER: A nice long walk. I find that I can think through sticky parts of my books while walking around my neighborhood. I come home ready to write.

CODY: What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?

ASCHER: I know that people will enjoy reading my books. I wasn’t at all sure about that when I was first writing them.

CODY: Anything you’re glad you didn’t know?

ASCHER: Yes, I’m glad I didn’t know how hard it is to do promotion and it’s why I’m very grateful to you for interviewing me. Thank you.

CODY: Thank you, Joani! And, readers, if you want to learn more about Joani, her books or her dogs, you can visit her website:

6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 3, 2011 2:40 PM

    Joani, it’s very nice meeting another Avalon author. Raising puppies as potential guide dogs is such a worthy endeavor. I have a friend who got his first seeing-eye dog this year. He and Charlie have really bonded, and it’s gratifying to know my friend is no longer as restricted as in past years. All your mysteries sound wonderful.

  2. February 3, 2011 5:37 PM

    Thanks for stopping by, Loretta.

  3. February 3, 2011 7:48 PM

    Great interview, Sandy!

    Joani, I’m jealous (in a good way). You are so much prolific than me.

    Good luck!

  4. February 6, 2011 8:11 AM

    What a nice interview! The puppies hooked me right away, but I enjoyed reading how Joani writes and about her books. That really would be the best of two worlds–raising puppies and writing. I like the way she does the Vengeance titles too.

  5. February 6, 2011 9:09 AM

    Thanks, Carmen and Ellis, for checking us out. There are a lot of things to admire about Joan. I had a good time interviewing her.

  6. February 6, 2011 9:41 AM

    Great interview, Joani.

    I can relate to the days you work at the library and can’t write new pages. It took me a couple of years of doing NaNoWriMo to understand that the brain can be too tired to write but not too tired to edit or work on rewrites.

    Having known two people who had seeing eye dogs, I totally appreciate what you do. Me, I could never give the puppy up once I had him or her. I commend you for being able to do that.

    I wish you all the best with you new series.

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