Author, I Never: An Interview with Joy McCullough


Joy McCullough

author of Blood Water Paint

Author, I Never is a new segment in which I interview fellow authors about the writing process, breaking into the industry, and breaking rules. I try to mix it up a little and ask some hopefully novel questions along with some of the old standards, and finish it up with a round of I Never (kid friendly version) to find out what cardinal writing rules we've broken.

Question the first: Joy, when did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

I have a distinct memory of being in first grade, and our teacher handed out those sheets of paper that are mostly for drawing a picture, but have like three lines at the bottom for writing. And I took it up to her desk and asked for a “real” piece of paper—lined all the way down—because there was no way I could tell a story with only three lines.

Question the second: What has been your proudest or most exciting moment as an author so far?

Finding out that we’d gotten an offer on the book. I mean, that’s kind of an obvious answer, but I had written ten books at that point, and this was my FIFTH to go on submission. I was convinced nothing would EVER sell. And then it wasn’t just an offer, but an offer from ANDREW KARRE. Since then it’s just been a string of exciting moments—starting edits, working with my editor, getting copyedits, first pass pages, seeing my cover, revealing my cover, getting my first blurb, and on and on!

Question the third: At what point did you think to yourself "I've made it" or at what point do you think you'll feel that way?

I don’t know what that means. I mean, I know what you’re asking, but I’m not sure how I define making it. It’s probably also a constantly shifting goalpost, or it can be. Ultimately, I want to always be challenging myself in my creative work, and finding readers who connect with what I’ve written. I’ve been doing the first half of that for a long time. The second half is coming soon!

Question the fourth: Did any experienced authors or industry people mentor or give you helpful guidance on your journey to publication?

Oh, so many! I had to work a very long time before I got a book deal. The upside of this is that many of my critique partners have had 3-4 books published by this point. So I can ask them about anything. In addition, my agent Jim McCarthy is amazing. I’m always encouraging people not to be afraid to ask their agent questions, which I feel strongly about, because you should be partners. But I’m exceptionally lucky that my agent is very approachable. Finally, Brenda Drake was instrumental in encouraging me to leave my first agent and query again, which was a HUGE turning point for me.

I love how many people are answering question four "yes." It makes me so happy. Question the fifth: Have you ever had a time when you've felt like giving up?

I’ve never had a time when I felt like quitting writing entirely. But I have had extremely low pits of despair, and times when I was certain I would never be published, and right around the time Blood Water Paint went on submission, I believe I told my CPs that if it did not sell, I would be setting fiction aside for a good, long while. I don’t think that would have been a mistake, either. I had been banging my head against the wall for a looong time and it’s emotionally brutal. I now see the master plan, as it were, but there would have been nothing wrong with the self-care of not putting myself through that. It just so happened that Blood Water Paint was the one.

Question the sixth: What was the most inconvenient time or place you were struck by inspiration?

I don’t know that I’m ever struck by inspiration. It’s not a thunderclap. It’s more a sprinkle that builds into a rainstorm until I’m soaked. I mean, along that line, I do seem to get ideas in the shower. But that’s not so inconvenient—I get them written down in plenty of time.

Ooh, I like that imagery. Sprinkles of inspiration that build in force. Question the seventh: Can you give us a hint to help us find an "easter egg" or hidden item to look for in one of your books? Maybe an obscure clue if there's a mystery thread, or a reference you threw in to a favorite book or song?

Hmmm, when I was in revisions, Elizabeth Warren tried to read Coretta Scott King’s letter about Jeff Sessions on the Senate floor, and was silenced by her colleagues. I use a word in my book that’s a nod to that incident.

I love that! And now, without warning or explanation:


I Never Round


The basic rules of I Never, the kid friendly version- I state a generally established writing rule (or at least a norm). If you've broken that rule, state your guilt for the record. 

I never made up a word in my manuscript, and stood by it during copyediting.

I never had an amazing idea right before bed, and decided sleep was more important.

I never started a story with a character waking up, looking in the mirror, or in a bathtub.

I didn’t, but I did start my first manuscript with the main character bored in class and had an agent tell me that was also overdone.

I never worked on two manuscripts at once.

Oh I’ve for sure done this. More often I’ve been working on a play and a novel at once. And I don’t think I’ve ever been first drafting two things at once. But it’s super normal for me to be drafting one thing and revising another.

I might have to change the wording to drafting. Everyone catches me on that one! I never went several days or even weeks without writing.

Oh ha, I certainly do this. I think we need time to recharge. Also there’s life and day job and family, and sometimes I’m on fire with a draft and I squeeze the writing in no matter what, but sometimes I roll with the fact that I’m not writing for a bit and that’s okay too. I don’t subscribe to the whole idea that you have to show up every day or else you might miss the genius when it strikes. I think genius is more likely to simmer, and it can do that while I’m hauling my kids around, unloading the dishwasher, and walking the dog.

I never wrote "for a long moment."

I just saw an exchange on Twitter about this. (Including a bestselling author saying, “Why not say that?”) I didn’t know it was a thing before. I certainly may have?

Ooh, I missed it. I never cheated during NaNoWriMo. 

I’ve never DONE NaNoWriMo!

Thank you so much for appearing in Author, I Never! When and where can we look for, preorder, or buy your next or most recent book, and where can we follow you on social media?

Thank you so much for having me! I have never actually played Never Have I Ever, either. J

Pre-order Blood Water Paint here: