Western Travel Writing Life

An Interview Revisited

Joyce in Durango, Colorado

This week, Wyoming Author Jean Henry Mead
revisited her 2011 interview with Joyce B. Lohse.
Jean’s interview is shared here for the first time.

Joyce Lohse is an award-winning biographer and journalist, who accepted induction in the Colorado Women Hall of Fame for Eliza Routt, the subject of one of her biographies. Since 2002, she has worked as administrator for Women Writing the West.

Joyce, your books have won quite a few awards, which tells me that you spend a lot of time in research and writing. Which book was the most difficult to write and which did you enjoy most?

Each book has its own set of advantages and challenges. My shortest book, Justina Ford: Medical Pioneer, the first title in the “Now You Know Bio” series from Filter Press, was most difficult to write. Although Dr. Ford was a wonderful character, research material contemporary to her lifetime was scarce. Fortunately, she received recognition and was interviewed toward the end of her life. Through those precious retrospective articles, I was able to find her voice, and learn about her experiences, obstacles, and personality.

First Governor, First Lady: John and Eliza Routt of Colorado, is a personal favorite. For years, I was a journalistic drifter, unsure how and where to apply my writing skills. Through genealogy research of my ancestral cousin, Eliza Pickrell Routt, I found my niche in the world of biographies. Extensive research of the Routt’s lives and characters took about five years. That project also helped develop my knowledge and love of Colorado history. In 2008, I attained and accepted induction in the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame for Eliza Routt. It was an accomplishment to speak on her behalf, and share her story with an audience of 750+ people.

Tell us about your journalism background. When did you begin writing?

I wrote stories and learned the power of the pen at an early age. A poem I wrote about my father riding the commuter train to Chicago each day was published in the local newspaper. Readers loved it. Soon, I was editor of the junior high newspaper, and was forevermore hooked on writing.

Later, at Northern Illinois University, I received a rock solid, old-school journalism education, producing stories with yellow second sheets on a manual typewriter. My specialties were feature writing and photojournalism. I especially enjoyed writing profiles about people and their lives.

For whom do you write?

I write for “all ages.” My titles for the “Now You Know Bios” series from Filter Press, an independent commercial publisher in Palmer Lake, Colorado, makes them accessible to many readers. My simple and direct journalistic style lends itself to a wide reading audience. However, I need to restrain myself from getting carried away. For instance, I acquired enough material about General William Palmer and Baby Doe Tabor to write two or three bios.  Although it was a sad and painful process to remove half of my work from the Palmer manuscript, the book has done well. It received the 2010 Best YA Nonfiction Award from the Colorado Author’s League.

What sparks your interest in people that determines whether you write about them?

I enjoy writing about pioneers. It is extremely important that the stories of early pathfinders are shared and preserved in western history. Women’s history is especially important and appealing to me, although I do not wish to be pegged as only a women’s writer, or a feminist. For that reason, I also write about men. I choose all my subjects carefully. More accurately, they choose me. When good stories make themselves available or known to me, I am naturally compelled to share and preserve them through biographies.

What does membership in Women Writing the West mean to you?

Women Writing the West has a hugely positive impact on my writing. When I joined the group, I had one self-published book to my credit. My seventh book has since been published by Filter Press. WWW provides innumerable ideas, education, inspiration, and networking opportunities, as well as role models, friendships, and adventures in an otherwise isolated occupation. I am so fortunate to be part of a sharing community of talented western writers.

How would you spend your time, if not a writer?

My work has always revolved around publishing and administrative skills. For fifteen years, I was a self-employed typographer and pre-press graphic artist. I have worked in sidelines of writing, research, and publishing, but never far from it. Jaunts and outings with friends have a way of turning into research and photo excursions, often to historic settings, and always great fun.

What do you enjoy most about writing and what annoys you?

Research is the most enjoyable part of writing. Finding nuggets hiding in archives, or even in plain view, then implementing them into a story makes my spirit soar. Recently, I enjoyed experimenting with recipes from Baby Doe Tabor’s cookbook. It provided a strong connection with her for my book, Baby Doe Tabor: Matchless Silver Queen.  Also, nothing beats the euphoric feeling, or “writer’s rush,” of finding long sought-after or missing research elements, or finishing the last sentence in the last paragraph of a manuscript after months of hard work.

The worst part is when I prepare my tax return and realize my income is rather paltry. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, “so it goes.”  As my publisher would say, “The intangibles, experiences associated with writing, are priceless.” In my opinion, writing is the best job in the world.

Why should the younger generation be interested in our Western heritage?

The American West was built and expanded from the collective courage, hard work, and independent spirits of pioneers, immigrants, and Native Americans. Through biographies, we learn about their accomplishments and successes, as well as mistakes, hardships, and tragedies, which all combined to create Western life and culture. To this day, people in the West maintain a strong pride and independence, which evolved from its pioneering past.

Advice to fledgling Western writers?

Maintain a high ethical standard. Do not cut corners. Respect and protect research materials, and choose sources carefully. Do all you can to locate, interpret, and preserve the truth. Be professional. Mistakes are inevitable. Own up to them, and move on. If you honestly feel you have done your best possible job, then you have.

Thank you, Joyce, for taking part in this series.

Joyce’s website: www.LohseWorks.com

Jean Henry Mead’s web site: http://writersofthewest.blogspot.com/