Author Spotlight: Joanna Ruth Meyer talks Beneath the Haunting Sea
Happy book birthday to Joanna Ruth Meyer! In addition to writing Young Adult fantasy, Joanna lives in Arizona where she teaches piano. Her debut, Beneath the Haunting Sea, releases TODAY and it's been racking up some great reviews, including one from Kirkus which called the novel: “Epic, musical, and tender.”
Click on the image below to be transported to her website where you can read an exclusive excerpt from Chapter Six right now!
And now, here's my chat with Joanna!
Hi, Joanna! Welcome and congrats on your debut, Beneath the Haunting Sea. Can you tell us a little about the story and what inspired it?
Hi Megan! Thanks so much for having me! Beneath the Haunting Sea is about a girl destined to be Empress who gets banished from her homeland, and finds herself tangled up in a series of ancient myths that lead her to confront a malicious sea goddess. I like to pitch it as The Silmarillion meets Jane Austen, with kissing. :D I first drafted it eleven years ago for NaNoWriMo 2006, and it has always been very close to my heart. I was inspired by a number of things, including Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series, a single frame from the first Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movie, a ceramic serving plate that looked like a whale, and the random image that popped into my head of a tree growing in the middle of the ocean—I crafted an entire mythology to explain why it was there.
As a writer, I’m always interested in how authors craft atmosphere, and so many of Sea’s reviews applaud your ability to do this. What are your tips for honing mood and vibe in a manuscript?
Oooh what an interesting question!
For me, I think a lot of it has to do with being able to internally see the settings of my world—if I can’t, I have a really hard time settling in to write. In real life, I’m one of those people who notices things like shadows cast by pebbles on a sidewalk, or the smell of bricks baking in the sun, or how fresh snow squeaks when you walk on it. Everyone who knows me jokes that I’m not allowed to have a sunroof in my car, because I would get distracted looking at the stars or something and drive off the road. :D
I love putting those kinds of details into my writing, which I think helps to shape the atmosphere. I also generally listen to music while I write, and for Sea, I wanted to capture the mood of KEANE’s album Under the Iron Sea, and also singer/songwriter Loreena McKennitt’s music in general (I talk about that a little more down in Question 6).
And also, most of the novel takes place in a dreary mansion on the edge of the sea—the atmosphere practically wrote itself! :D
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
Before June of this year, I would have said revision—now my answer is “writing while taking care of a baby.” :D I am honestly still figuring out how to do this, with desperate while-he-naps-for-five-minutes sessions, as well as emergency-sister-in-law-babysitting-while-I-go-to-Starbucks sessions. Hopefully I’ll find a groove and be able to settle back to consistent writing very soon!
As for my before-June answer, I attack revision from several angles. My first step is generally reading through and marking up a hardcopy, while I take notes on all the problem areas and jot down ideas for improvements. Then I’ll make a scene list in Numbers aka Mac’s Excel, and I’ll format a battle plan. I’ll delete scenes that aren’t working, combine scenes, rearrange scenes, and add new ones. Sometimes, I’ll break out my trusty note cards, write a scene on each one, and plaster them all over the wall so I can physically see the pacing of the novel. When I’m happy with how the scene list/battle plan/notecard-plastered wall looks, I’ll start to apply those changes to the actual manuscript. I always re-type everything instead of copy-pasting sections I want to keep, which helps me get back in the mindset of writing/helps to recapture the voice and make new scenes or altered scenes flow more naturally out of the original ones.
The best part of revising is when you finally have a clean manuscript again, and you print it out and just read for typos/line edits.
What do you love most about Talia?
I love how loyal and independent she is, how she’s able to change her mind about things, and how she doesn’t back down when she’s determined to do something—she will find a way!!
Beneath the Haunting Sea required you to create mythologies. How did you go about this? Did you research existing legends?
I drew some inspiration from The Silmarillion, and I borrowed a few names from Norse mythology—but the rest I just made up as I went along. There were two things I wanted to incorporate: a tree in the middle of the ocean, and gods wearing stars on their rings instead of diamonds. I invented myths to explain those things. Interestingly enough, the myths have changed very little from my first NaNo draft!
Do you listen to music for inspiration or while writing? What songs would we find on the Beneath the Haunting Sea soundtrack?
Back in 2006, when I was outlining and drafting Sea, British rock band KEANE released their album Under the Iron Sea, which I listened to approximately 5,000 times and was hugely inspired by. I also listened to a TON of Loreena McKennitt—her music oozes atmosphere, and she has the most hauntingly gorgeous voice of all time. While revising Sea, I listened to the band Of Monsters and Men’s My Head Is An Animal and Beneath the Skin on eternal loop.
Top songs would be:
What has been your most rewarding experience as an author so far?
Yesterday, my final copies of Sea appeared at my door, and I still can’t believe they’re real! It absolutely blows my mind to see my words printed and bound in a real, honest-to-goodness book. It’s been a long journey, and I’m incredibly grateful to all the people I’ve met along the way who helped to make my lifelong dream a reality. MY BOOK IS A BOOK! (Okay, I need to go sob happy tears into a carton of ice cream now).
What are you reading, or otherwise currently infatuated with?
I am eternally infatuated with Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series—book five just came out this spring! #EugenidesForPresident—and I recently devoured Jodi Meadows’ Before She Ignites, and Kendare Blake’s Three Dark Crowns.
And finally, what’s one steadfast piece of advice you’d like to share with other writers?
Find what works for you and do that—if you’re a pantser or a plotter or something in-between, if you write every morning or three times a week, if you write best by hand—whatever it is, follow your own process, and don’t second-guess yourself if it’s wildly different from your critique partner or favorite author or whoever. Only you can write your stories, and only you know the best way to do that. <3
Thanks so much for the interview, Megan, I really enjoyed it!
Many thanks go out to Joanna for taking the time to tell us more about Beneath the Haunting Sea, as well as sharing some truly valuable tips on revisions, how to go about cultivating the right atmosphere for your stories, and giving us a glimpse into the music that inspired Sea. Be sure to add Joanna's epic debut to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy RIGHT NOW from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, or request it at your library, or local independent bookstore.
And, as always,