Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author Joan Long about her career, what inspires her, and the work that went into her new book, The Finalist.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I am a third-generation Floridian—which is rare here—and earned a bachelor’s degree in English/Creative Writing and a master’s in Journalism and Communications. I’ve written for universities, public television, healthcare corporations, anthologies, a magazine, and more.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I first knew I wanted to write a book when I was ten years old. After reading every Nancy Drew book I could get my hands on, I still wanted more. I thought I should write one. But after the first two paragraphs, I had no idea what should happen next!
When did you take a step to start writing?
While in college, I began to write a novel set in New Orleans in the 1800s. I wanted it to be a sweeping epic! Seventy-five pages later, I realized I needed a better plot and to do a lot more research. I didn’t finish that manuscript, instead setting aside my dream of becoming a published novelist for more than a decade. Eventually, I completed a couple of “practice” novels—learning from each—before beginning THE FINALIST.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
It took almost exactly five years from the initial spark of an idea until I was offered a contract, followed by another thirteen months before the book would launch.
What made you want to write The Finalist?
While attending a writers’ conference, it was announced that a well-known author had been chosen to continue a thriller series begun by the late Robert B. Parker. The idea of a legacy contract interested me, but I was busy at work on another book. That novel eventually became a finalist in a writing competition but did not sell. I needed something new to write, put the legacy idea together with a competition, and began THE FINALIST.
What were your biggest challenges with writing The Finalist?
My biggest challenge was point-of-view. Because THE FINALIST is a locked-room-style mystery featuring a small group of people on a remote tropical island, it was important to choose the right narrator(s) for the story. I chose to use more than one point-of-view, and I think it works well.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
The protagonist is a thirty-eight-year-old widow with a young child. She’s not based on a specific person but on countless mothers whom I’ve seen struggling financially to raise their children.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
Without revealing too much, let me say that the antagonist is a composite of people I’ve known—of all ages—who, unfortunately, believe that what they want is more important than the well-being of others.
What is the inciting incident of The Finalist?
One of the finalists is found dead less than 24 hours after arriving on the island.
What is the main conflict of The Finalist?
The external conflict is the solving of the crime. My protagonist’s internal conflict is whether or not she will ever make it home to her child.
Did you plot The Finalist in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I plotted my book in advance but revised the story as I came to know my characters better.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Finalist need?
I submitted my first draft to a developmental editor. The result? I added more mystery and suspense, deleted one character, and changed the point of view.
I believe a novel can never be edited enough.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
I would suggest writing a logline. A good logline should identify who the main character is, what the problem or obstacle is, and what’s at stake. If any of those parts is missing, fix it before beginning to write.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
My current work-in-progress is a suspense novel set in Florida, along the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. That’s all I’m willing to reveal right now, but I hope you’ll check back later.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I am proud of THE FINALIST. I set out to write a novel that was neither too dark nor too light. I think I’ve accomplished that. It’s a traditional mystery with strong, entertaining characters and an unusual premise. Seeing THE FINALIST in print is worth the effort.
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Launch date is March 15, 2022.
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