threaded

An interview with Joy the artist? Why that sounds lovely!

So, today we have quite the treat here at threaded. We are getting to chat with the lovely Joy Givens about the upcoming release of her YA novel, Ugly Stick, on April 10th! (Applause, clinking of mugs, drinking of chais). But before the chatting begins, here is our lovely guest’s bio.
joyJoy Givens resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her fantastic husband David, their remarkable son Joshua, and their impossibly lovable dog Riley. Joy tutors high school students and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in higher education. She is also a grammar ninja, Dickens fan-girl, a cappella enthusiast, and veritable Starbucks addict. www.joygivens.com
Threaded: Joy, we are so thrilled to host your fabulous self here on threaded. To get things started, can you tell us how long you have been writing?
Joy: I wrote my first story in first grade; it was about a hen named Suzy and her chicks. My style has definitely matured since then, but I still love to write about animals and nature!
Threaded: Because those topics are clearly awesome. So, what inspired you to write your first novel?
Joy: My first novel, The Keeper of Hawthorn Garden, served two purposes: first, it was a way for me to escape real-life stress by imagining a beautiful garden teeming with life and magic, an enhanced version of childhood memories of my grandparents’ huge backyard garden. Second, it was a way for me to connect and share with my grandmother, who read chapter after chapter via email and encouraged me onward, right up until she passed away from cancer in December 2010. As difficult as it was to complete the story at that time, doing so helped me through my early grief, and I finished the draft as I had promised her in January 2011. Now whenever I revisit that story, I remember her praising a character or scene in one of our many phone conversations; it’s a wistful feeling, but also a comforting one. I know she (along with my grandfather) is proud of Ugly Stick!
Threaded: That is incredible, the connections that stories reflect and mold. So let’s talk about your most recent story. Can you give us a little description of what Ugly Stick is about?
Joy: Ugly Stick is about finding the person you are meant to be and embracing that person. April, my protagonist, is a teenager who feels invisible, ugly, and unworthy at the beginning of the novel; Ugly Stick is her journey to figure out her true self. She uncovers this huge family secret that has defined her past, but she has to decide whether she’s going to let that secret (a family curse) define her future.
Threaded: I love your protagonist. She is fiercely funny but also insecure and searching. What was it like to write her?
Joy: Thank you! I really connected with April as I was writing her – she’s got quite a bit of my teen self, heightened for dramatic effect, of course. =) The challenge came with expressing those insecurities and self-dislike in ways that weren’t heavy or depressing… so humor seemed like the natural way to balance that.
Threaded: And balance you did! April doesn’t feel very beautiful for much of the novel. A lot of women can relate to this. What led you to write a story that explores inner and outer beauty?
Joy: The search for beauty is a pretty universal idea, but it’s also a very personal concept as it relates to ourselves and our bodies. I wanted to put those ideas into a story that focuses upon teenagers in a positive way. There’s a lot of noise in the media and current literature that doesn’t encourage girls and young women to feel beautiful just as they are, and I wanted to write a story that reaches that conclusion. That’s also why I chose the 4EveryGirl campaign as the philanthropy matched to this book (find out more at http://www.4everygirl.com).
Threaded: Lovely! So, the title of this story is brilliant. Did you know the title before you started writing or did it come to you in the process?
Joy: Again, thank you! =) The title was actually the first thing that came to me: I was in the shower (where all great ideas happen), thinking about the phrase “hit with an ugly stick” (I might have been feeling less than lovely that day), and said to myself in a flip fashion, “Well, what if there really was an ugly stick?” I almost immediately realized that it needed to be a curse inflicted on a teenage girl, the most vulnerable of creatures with regards to self-image, and the title was always “Ugly Stick.”
Threaded: Gotta love it when inspiration hits while shampooing. So, the title came smoothly, but what was the hardest part of writing this story?
Joy: Definitely the editing. The story flowed really easily, especially in comparison to my first full-length project, but the editing – especially the final stretch when I had just become a mother to my beautiful son Joshua – was a huge challenge. I felt anxious about finalizing the text “for good,” and incorporating larger changes to the book’s structure, such as the characters’ Twitter war, took longer than I expected.
Threaded: What’s been the most joyous part of this whole experience?
Joy: Writing it! All the way through! And receiving the proof copy in the mail earlier this week. =)
Threaded: What an incredibly feeling that must have been after all the hours invested into your story. Did you find yourself changed through the writing of it?

Joy: Very much so. I gained awareness of my personal quirks as a writer, my natural strengths and weaknesses, and my need to stretch my characters into uncomfortable and even painful situations. Also, more recently, the push to promote the book has encouraged me to be more confident in casually discussing my work with people I haven’t previously met.

Threaded: Okay, final question, what do you most want to give your readers?

Joy: A good story! =) Relatable characters, a clear but not oversold message, and plenty of laughs. I also hope that this book will give teen readers a sense of empathy with April, as well as the knowledge that their own insecurities are not insurmountable. True beauty grows from the inside out!
Joy: Thank you for the opportunity to interview with the amazing THREADED blog! I admire the honesty and strength in your writings every time I log on!
Threaded: You are most welcome, Ms. Joy! We are so thrilled for you and wish you a very happy book release week! To learn more about Ugly Stick, make sure to check out its Facebook page.
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