SWA Presenter Spotlight: J.M. Lacey

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in June 2010.

To gear up for that, I am featuring some interviews and spotlights with this year’s presentersFor more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

Next up is professional freelancer J.M. Lacey.


Professional freelancer and former news reporter J.M. Lacey has over 14 years of experience working for both corporate and non-profit organizations, which includes serving as past Marketing and Public Relations Director for the Bangor Symphony for over four years.

The classically-trained (in music and dance) former actress writes literary and women’s fiction, poetry and articles focusing on education and music, women’s issues, business, human interest, social development, the arts, health, fashion and Victorian homes and lifestyle.

For more about Lacey, please visit her Web site.


RS:  How did you get into writing?

JML: I can’t say for sure if I discovered writing or if writing discovered me. I started writing at age six and haven’t stopped since.

After several poems, short stories and a few novels over the years, I’m still writing. I expanded into the commercial writing field a year-and-a-half ago, which commands talent for superb writing and creativity. I’ve been very successful at this latest endeavor.

RS: What keeps you writing?

JML: Hunger. But not for food, even though I love food. I can’t stop writing.

As every writer understands, writing is like breathing. If I don’t write, I cannot live. I’ve had gaps in my life where I wasn’t writing so much, and I felt like I was always gasping for air.

Once I realized this, I had no choice. I have so many ideas, characters and plots that burn through my brain that I have to get them out in the open on paper so my head doesn’t explode.

I know that probably sounds funny, but I’m inspired daily. There is so much inspiration in people—who they are, what they do, what they talk about—and so much inspiration in things I see in the world around me, that it practically begs to be written in some form. I can quickly and easily form someone’s entire life story as I see it simply by the way he smiled.

A couple of other things [that keep me writing] are encouragement and disappointment.

I am encouraged when I’ve written something that others see in print and they give me a thumbs up. But I’m also encouraged by disappointment. Yes, I might argue with a rejection letter or an e-mail from someone who clearly doesn’t see a great writer when she’s in front of him!

No, in all seriousness, rejection and disappointment pushes me to be better than I am. I am always exerting myself to be the best I can be and, then, to exceed that.

I’m not perfect, but I strive for it and learn from my mistakes along the way. I’ve become a better writer for it.

RS: What do you do when you’re not writing?

JML: Feed the cat. Laundry. Feed the cat again. Think. Study people for ideas. Think some more. And then I go out with my girlfriends and go shopping, eat food, catch up on all the latest newsy stuff. I like old movies and might watch one or two on a rainy Saturday afternoon. And naturally, I read a lot.

I attend the symphony frequently and take two of my nephews (ages 10 and 11) with me, since they still like the symphony. I play the piano and sing a bit of Italian opera. I have another nephew that’s too young for the symphony, but he’s intrigued by the piano, so we’re working on teaching him that for now.

J.M. Lacey

RS: What draws you to literary fiction?

JML: Just about everything I read as a teenager was among the great classics in literature. Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Henry James, Louisa May Alcott and Thomas Hardy, to name a few. Then there’s the poetry of Emily Dickenson, Shakespeare and my favorite, Tennyson.

This is what I absorbed in my brain growing up.  Sure, I read some teen stuff like Nancy Drew, but it was the classics that stuck with me. I have always been drawn to in-depth thinking.

I enjoy the drama of the lives in literary novels. The stories are pure and told well. I’ve always felt that a good story should involve the reader, not move so fast and give away so much that the reader feels he went on an overpriced ride at the fair only to throw up at the end.

The reader needs time to absorb the story, fall in love with (or distrust) the characters and go on this mindful journey with the characters. Literary fiction allows for deeper thought, like meditation. And when one turns the last page in such fiction and reads the last few words, it should make you sad to leave that world behind, and yet it will remain with you.

Love the story or hate it, great literary fiction stays with you.

RS: What are you currently working on?

JML: I’m working on the revisions for my current novel that I will seek representation for within the next few months, pending any dangling modifiers and misplaced commas. All I’ll say about the story: A LOT of music adorns the pages.

I have also recently completed some short stories and entered contests, but I plan to pitch other stories to literary magazines for publication. Some nonfiction articles have been published in a local magazine, and I’m pitching national magazines with other ideas as well.

RS: What’s one genre or type of writing in which you’d like to dabble but haven’t yet—and why?

JML: Science fiction. Mostly because such a genre would shock everyone that knows my writing.

But seriously, I am, I admit, a Star Trek and Star Wars fan, and I also love The Twilight Zone. I know nothing about writing science fiction, but I’m not afraid of risks, so it might be a risk I decide to take some day. Stay tuned!

RS: What book(s) currently adorn your nightstand?

JML: What book doesn’t? I read so much now I can’t keep up. I just finished Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell, and that was a very interesting fictional take on Mozart’s life just before he married. It really read like an opera to me.

Right now I’m reading Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. I’m impressed with his knowledge of the Chinese and Japanese cultures, and his background has a lot to do with this. I enjoy how the main character looks back to his childhood while he searches for what he lost and revisits his moral dilemmas he faced at that time. This is a book that draws me in to the story and the characters. I’ve felt anger, laughed and sighed as I continue to read through this. I have a feeling that when I get to the end, the story will stay with me.

RS: Name an author that helped shape who you are as a writer and how he or she had that effect on you.

JML: L.M. Montgomery. She wrote all of the Anne of Green Gables books and Emily series, among others. My favorite book of hers is The Blue Castle. I was so enraptured by her books that I visited Prince Edward Island several times (the setting for most of her books). I have also read Montgomery’s published journals.

I am drawn to her struggles and determination. She wrote like she breathed. Her difficult life was artfully expressed in her novels. And she was very passionate. Not just as a novelist, but as a woman. She made a lot of sacrifices in her life and that shaped her writing.

Her first novel, the first Anne book, was published in 1908, when Montgomery was 34 (I’m a year behind her, which inspires me to push for my deadline). When I think about her struggles, her passion, her determination—in a lot of ways, I feel I’m very much like her. She lived by her motto: “never give up,” and she was a successful author. I’m determined to not give up either, and, eventually, that will pay off for me.

No wonder Montgomery set most of her novels here!

RS:  Can you give us a quick teaser about the course you’ll be teaching at Southeastern Writers Association?

JML: I’m teaching one class called: “Writing for Businesses.”

Want to get paid a lot for a small amount of your time? Sounds like one of those “sounds too good to be true” ads, doesn’t it? But it isn’t.

Commercial writing is very lucrative and a great avenue to venture into, especially for someone who really loves to write and wants to get paid a lot of money. You learn a lot working for different companies with a variety of needs, so your knowledge expands.

Commercial writing is different from, say, magazine writing, because the wait isn’t as long, the competition is not as tight and the pay is much higher. You can negotiate with the corporate world, unlike the magazine world. You can establish longer-term relationships with businesses, too, assuring frequent paychecks.

In this course, we’ll touch on the basics—how to get started, how to market yourself, what to write and for whom, what to charge and ethics. If we have time, I’ll talk about the business of business writing, such as negotiations, contracts and copyright.

This course is designed for ones who are currently writing for businesses or have played with the idea, but haven’t yet taken the leap. The course is also for ones who want to keep an open mind about other writing possibilities. Even if it’s not THE path a writer wishes to take, at least he/she will walk away with some new ideas.


For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.  Don’t wait to sign up—and you must be registered by April 1 in order to participate in contests and manuscript evaluations, so reserve your spot today!

To learn more about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.

3 thoughts on “SWA Presenter Spotlight: J.M. Lacey

  1. Hi Johnna!
    I enjoyed your interview, thanks for sharing it. I think that you could be very good at writing humor. You have a very strong but subtle sense of humor about you and it just might translate. Who know?!
    See you tomorrow.

  2. Johnna, would love to see some Sci-Fi from you! I find that genre (though as an artist, reader and movie-watcher, not writer) to almost be easier because of the ability to play up the “suspension of disbelief”, because it is the future or another planet (or a long time ago in a galaxy far far away) and you have the ability to invent whatever machine or creature you want. To me, it is the best exercise in stretching your imagination, unlike historic fiction for example, when you have to be historically accurate.

    Thanks for the interview 🙂

    • We were just talking about this last night in our live chat of my online writing group! All the invention and worldbuilding fascinates me, but as a writer of contemporary YA, I’m not sure I’d be too good at it.

      Oh well – maybe one day!


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