Jeanine Joyner became a Foundling House editor in January of 2020, a mere month after releasing her first novel, Paper Dolls: Trust Your Instincts. Jeanine has brought us several new writers this year, and has helped to grow our audience, as well as doing a standout job editing. We’re excited to let you know a little bit more about her and her unique work as a mother, writer, and advocate.
FOUNDLING HOUSE: Tell us about your writing life. When did you get started as a writer? What do your writing days look like as you parent and homeschool your kids? Do you have any interesting writing quirks?
Jeanine: I started writing when I was in middle school, around the 6th grade. I would write short stories. I kept a diary (like every girl of the eighties!), and I also wrote occasional poems. When my now-adult kids were preschoolers, I started my first blog. I intended it to be something for grandparents, aunts, and uncles, but as I shared stories about my kids I also started to write more descriptively. I began to branch out and share things I was learning as a wife and mom, especially the lessons I was learning about God and faith through the process of raising my children. Over time, I gained readers and people began to tell me I was a good writer.
Interesting quirks? Hmmm. Well, I cannot write with music playing. At all. I have to be in complete silence in order to focus. Since I have five kids and still homeschool the youngest three, that makes finding time to write for long periods of time quite the challenge! I usually write either early in the morning or late at night. I go through seasons with it. I’ll write regularly for a while, then life and other demands get in the way so I put it aside until inspiration hits again. My most intense writing sessions are usually born out of a need to work out a problem. I call it my cheap therapy. There’s something about putting words on a page that helps me clarify things and get my thoughts straight.
FH: When did you first realize you wanted to write this particular book? Do you have a personal connection to the story it tells?
JJ: I’ve wanted to write a book for years, but never could nail down a topic longer than a blog post. After we moved to Tennessee, I got to know a woman who worked with survivors of sex trafficking. Realizing that children and teens were being used as sex slaves right here in Tennessee was a shocking revelation to me. I learned story after horrifying story of what goes on in neighborhoods and motels all over the United States. The statistics are staggering, and they only reflect the cases that are reported. I had the privilege of going out with her to local motels several times and seeing, first hand, the problem with my own eyes. Then, about four years ago, I found out a childhood friend had been molested our entire lives and none of us knew. Because of what I had learned through my work with the ministry, I was able to recognize signs of sexual abuse as I looked back on that friend’s life, though I hadn’t realized it at the time. I stayed up late at night, wondering what would have happened if we had known what was going on. Could we have helped her? I began to imagine that scenario and then, one day, I “saw” the first scene in my mind and ran to my computer to write it out.
FH: How long did it take you to write this book?
JJ: It took three years from start to publication. I wrote two chapters the very first day, then waited for the next scene to come to me. I wanted the story to play out naturally and not feel forced or “supernaturally” resolved (aka, cheesy) so I would leave it alone until something would trigger an idea. I would “see” the next chapter, like a movie in my head, and I would just write what I saw.
FH: How did you research this novel?
JJ: My friend, who worked with trafficking survivors, was my go-to for questions. She helped me find trustworthy resources, websites, etc. I researched and printed out page upon page of statistics. At one point, as the story neared the climax, I got stuck. I knew how it needed to end but I couldn’t figure out how to get it there and feel believable. I sent what I had written so far to my friend who not only read it and loved it, but was able to tell me why my characters were there, where they had come from (some of those details I hadn’t even figured out yet!) and what needed to happen to make the story believable (including a few “bad” words). She told me, point blank, “Survivors will read this and it will give them hope.” She encouraged me to write boldly and not worry about what people thought about the topic, much less the language, because (let’s be honest), a young person who’s been through what the girls in my book endure is not going to be offended by a few cuss words.
FH: What’s been the response of your family and friends to this book?
JJ: Their response has been 100% supportive and enthusiastic. My mom is my biggest cheerleader (and an amazing publicist!)
FH: What’s one of the most surprising things you’ve learned on this journey?
JJ: The most surprising (and wonderful) part has been how God has used this story. I’ve received countless messages from people who have had their eyes opened. One lady recognized that there was a potential trafficking ring in her neighborhood, teachers have told me they now look at their students with more discerning eyes, and other readers have become involved in fostering or serving at-risk kids because it is one of the best ways to prevent kids from becoming victims. Unfortunately, children are usually trafficked by family members, but many children are at risk due to poverty. We have a huge opportunity to help them rise out of that and stay safe by ensuring they have basic needs met, which allows their parents to do what they long to do…be with their kids instead of working three jobs to put food on the table.
FH: Would you like to write another book in the future, maybe something for adults?
JJ: I’m already on chapter five of the next one! It’s a bit of a sequel (loosely) to Paper Dolls.
I would definitely like to write for adults, but my heart has been drawn to young women and teens, due to the incredible pressures they face today that just didn’t exist when I was a young girl.
FH: What do you think makes a good story?
JJ: Character development and dialogue is so important. I had my oldest daughter (then 18 years old) read some of the dialogue when I was writing this book. She was quick to say, “Mom, we would never say that!” Thanks to her, I changed quite a few conversations to make them more relevant to today’s young women.
I also believe in letting the reader’s imagination fill in a few blanks. I try to be descriptive and clear, while still allowing for the movie in their heads to vary a little when compared to how someone else’s imagination sees it. It’s okay not to tie up every loose end. I’ve had fun speaking to book clubs and hearing the women go on and on, speculating about the “why’s” of some characters’ choices in the story. It’s so much fun to hear people get emotional about characters that I completely made up.
FH: Thanks so much for letting us interview you, Jeanine. We’re all big fans, and we look forward to seeing more from you in the months ahead!