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Joe’s Ghost took second place in Best Book category in Missouri Writers’ Guild annual contest, April 2012.
Joe Murray had a life in California for thirty years–in films. Oh, he was never the hero, but he had steady work as the hero’s sidekick. Then he suffered a stroke at age 52. Could have been worse, he knew that. He could walk, he could talk, but he had difficulty remembering lines. His career was over. Five years earlier he had inherited his aunt’s old home in Missouri, where he had visited every summer of his childhood. Now he retreats there to open a bed and breakfast with an older friend, Scott, a former pilot, who is gay. No one is straighter than Joe, but the two men form a strong bond, a new take on an odd couple.
Buster runs the contracting company hired to remodel the old Pope place into a bed and breakfast. Working in what the town has always referred to as a haunted mansion doesn’t scare him. But he wonders, is it just superstition or is something supernatural going on in the old house?
Claire owns the local bar on South Main Street. The Idle Hour is only blocks from Joe’s house, a great place for Miller Time. She’s a single mom, a former schoolteacher, and is a disappointment to her mother. But Claire wants to own her own life, not a life laid out by someone else.
These lives are intertwined as they search for the secrets in Joe’s new home. Joe’s Ghost is a story of hope and forgiveness as these folks come to grips with where their lives are heading and how to deal with changes they didn’t choose.
Q & A with Veda Boyd Jones regarding Joe’s Ghost:
Q: Why did you set this book in Joplin, Missouri?
A: I live here. Some of the places are actually here in Joplin, the streets, the historical society, the bar (although renamed), the theater out by the mall. This was written before the Joplin tornado, so there are no reference to it. I did throw in a little weather, since you can’t live in this part of the country without unexpected weather.
Q: This novel is a departure from your books for children and your romances. Why did you tackle a book on relationships and issues?
A: Like most writers, I take a pinch of my own life and build on it. My husband had a stroke five years ago and has worked painstakingly to recapture his life. He’s doing great, but he still can’t translate numbers well from his brain to his speech, and that’s critical for an architect. I just took his struggle to cope with the end of a career and gave it to Joe. He searches for words, so memorizing lines and delivering them with the correct emphasis curtailed Joe’s acting career.
Q. Why make a straight guy and a gay guy housemates?
A: I think sexual orientation isn’t important and those who make it a big deal are probably protesting too much, as Shakespeare would say. I have gay and lesbian friends, and our friendships are the same as with my straight friends. I like people with good hearts and good souls, and sexual orientation just doesn’t enter into that.
Q: How did you learn so much about the bar business?
A: Like with all my writing, whether for fiction or nonfiction, I research. To create The Idle Hour, I went to a bar in my neighborhood and set up an interview with the bartender for two in the afternoon, the slow time, I learned. I went behind the counter to see how mugs were washed in three sinks, how to ice down bottles of beer, and how to stock lime slices and olives. I later talked with the owner and learned more about the business end of it.
Q: How did you pick the title of Joe’s Ghost?
A: Because this is a ghost story, I wanted ‘ghost’ in the title, but the word has double meaning for this book. We all have ghosts in our lives, things that haunt us and influence our choices. Joe’s ghost is his life before the stroke, and he must let it go so he can establish a new life and yet understand that his past will affect how he makes choices in the future.
Q: There’s romance in this book, but it is very subtle. Why didn’t you play it up more?
A: I wanted this book to be more about relationships than a typical romance that has the two leads flirting, dancing around each other, and then something coming between them, many times a simple misunderstanding that could be solved if they sat down over cups of coffee.
Q: Buster is quite a character. Why is his viewpoint in the story?
A: His viewpoint is fairly typical of straight men towards gay men, and I wanted to show how a person could change his biases.
Q: Why put some of Claire’s thoughts in parentheses?
A: I wanted the reader to see a real demarcation between the thoughts of Claire and the thoughts of Joe, although their outlooks are similar. Parentheses are simply printer marks, but they show the reader that Claire is adding asides to her own thoughts.
Q: You’ve presented two different takes on unplanned pregnancy? Which one do you favor?
A: I don’t have an answer for that. The decision to have a child or not is up to the parents and not to any outsider. The abortion issue has so many gray areas, it’s hard to see any black and white.
Q: What do you hope readers will take away from Joe’s Ghost?
A: Good question, but the answer isn’t easy. Readers get out of a book what they bring to it. If we identify something we can relate to, we get more out of a book. If the character situations and beliefs are foreign to us, we read a book only for plot and not for something the character learns that we can apply to our own lives. I guess I want readers to learn to respect others’ choices and beliefs that may differ from their own.