Q & A with Michael Joll

Michael Joll was born in England. He arrived in Canada in 1973 and has spent most of those years in Brampton, Ontario, working in both the public and private sectors. On retiring from business in 2004, he began writing plays for radio and has had three plays recorded and broadcast. Around 2008, he decided to concentrate on writing short fiction.

CommuterLit: What goals do you have in mind when you sit down to write a story? What do you want to accomplish?

Michael Joll:  I am not a goal-setter. I tend to go where the wind takes me rather than fighting it. I have been described as an “organic” writer who sees the work as a whole before setting pen to paper. I start with my ending, often the final sentence and even the exact words that I will use. Once I know where I am going, my end point, I can look down on my story from above, choose a start point and navigate my way through the story. Sometimes my characters object. I listen to them and decide whether they are correct and a new direction is indicated. Sometimes I have to slap their wrists and tell them to do as I say.

In the end, I want a cohesive story with believable characters dealing with realistic situations, and above all, an ending that the reader finds satisfying and with no threads left dangling.

CL: What elements do you consider a story needs to be successful?

MJ: I have a list of 10 essential elements that I keep by my elbow as I write a short story. The list reminds me to keep on track, when to introduce characters, a sense of place and an origination of conflict. These I follow with an escalation of tension, rising stakes for goodies and baddies alike and a moment when all seems lost — but not quite. Showdown time, the hero/heroine overcomes the final obstacle and a realistic sense
of transformation in the main character(s) pervades the outcome, so long as such is in keeping within the context of the story. That’s nine. And #10? Nix the subplot.

CL: What themes do you visit in your stories again and again and why?

MJ: I return to the theme of love in its many forms because I think it is the most enduring of all human emotions and one which, in some form, we have all experienced.
I write genre Romance. I write love stories of a more literary style. I write about love found, love lost, love buried, suppressed, denied, even undeserved, and love regained. Even my action/adventure and war stories contain a broader element of love, be it for buddies, colleagues or as motivation for action. And I live in hope that Henning Markell’s Inspector Kurt Wallander ends up with the (possibly unhappily) married Detective Britt Hoglund. I expect, however, to remain disappointed. It is Sweden, after all. Gloomy, incomprehensible Ingmar Bergman and all that.

CL: What authors/books are you currently reading and why?

MJ:  I read poetry on an ongoing basis because I continue to marvel at the way that, in the hands of a master, even within the confines of meter and rhyme, ideas can be compressed and crystallized into so few, perfectly chosen words yet remain accessible to the reader.

I have just finished One Day in August, by David O’Keefe, his account of the reasons for the Dieppe raid and its failure. Also recently finished is Stephen Clarke’s One Thousand Years of Annoying the French, an amusing  history of Anglo-French relations. And I am trying to keep my eyes open while I plough through Fifty Shades of Grey, but frankly… Let’s just leave it at that.