Interview with Joanie Schirm

When did you first start writing?
Around four years old on yellowed, cheap paper with big wood chunks still raw in the paper sheet. Padi, my grandfather, had an old wooden writing board he'd made, which I still have, where I spent time drawing circles and faces before I'd squirm away to go swimming in our salt water pool on the Florida island where I grew up. Not until January 2008 did I start writing 'for real" so that five years later I could announce: I'm an author!
What's the story behind your latest book?
From the discovery of a treasure trove of 400 World War II letters that my Czech-American father hid away after the war, comes a gripping, thoughtful, funny, sad, uplifting, inspiring, exotic tale of seven of the letter writers. Friends and family writing from places like Great Britain, France, China, Nazi-occupied Bohemia, USA, and Ecuador detail their circumstances in letters that reached my father as he traveled through five continents seeking safe harbor. Taking a side of the story seldom told of the Nazi-caused disruption of millions of lives, the story encompasses both vast geopolitical settings and intimately personal dimensions of the lives of seven displaced persons and what it took to rebuild lives after the war.

In my quest to locate the writers or their descendants around the world, I found I'd been given by my father the gift to bring the writers to life. I could give them a final say in what it was like when humanity turned a blind eye to human rights and dignity. Along the way I realized the importance of protecting both rights and dignity should matter to us all, every day and that became my message I also had the rare gift of getting to know my young father, the dashing young Jewish doctor from Prague who escaped the Nazis at nearly the last minute possible to China where he met and married a lovely American Protestant missionary - my mom. Their story is the topic of the companion book: My Dear Boy: The Discovery of a Lifetime.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
The story needed to be told and it couldn't wait. To move a story forward quickly today, an author has that opportunity without hoping and waiting for the traditional agent-major publishing house to see the light.. But I believe, at least for nonfiction endeavors, the author needs to be prepared with time, money, and wisdom to ensure the subject-matter is accurate and well presented.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
By being available to many outlets in many formats, an author increases their chances for their story to reach the masses. Smashwords "coupon code" allows me to promote the book in a variety of ways, somewhat unique as an offering. I've been able to send a free coupon to reviewers, translators, potential sponsors, and other people who want to help me spread the word.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Finding the words that move people. Hearing heard recently from one reader in Israel that was reading my book for the second time made me feel very joyful that my assemblage of words must be resonating with the important messages that I hope for:
"may be you remember your devoted reader, an old woman, born and lived in the Czech lands, lives in Israel.
I love your book so much that I am reading it again.
I am on page 248 page again, how true it was, that we were not accepted, not at home in the Czech lands. I was lucky to grow up in a Zionist family, since I was tiny girl I knew that we were Jews, that Eretz Israel is our land. I was unbelieveably lucky to survive three years in Theresienstadt, since 1949 I live here. I feel so completely at home, living in our ancient land in the midst of our people. Am looking forward to read your new book. With my best greetings and wishes." Michal Maud Beer
What do your fans mean to you?
It's funny but I don't think of the word "fan". I think of "reader" and the honor it is that people would spend their time reading my words and come away moved in some way to lead a better life. My hope is that one reader at a time can learn what's important to building a more peaceful world, regardless of heritage and our differences. I hear from readers on my author email often that this is how they feel. How fortunate I am to have readers who care. I only ask that they tell one other person to please read the book.
What are you working on next?
This next book is actually the first book I set out to write before I was drawn to write Adventurers Against Their Will because of my curiosity as to whether I could find seven of my dad's WWII letter writers still alive.

This next book once again brings forward what I learned from the old letters, photos, film, and other ephemera that my dad saved from WWII. It is a companion book to the first book, the 2013 Global Ebook Award winner for Best Biography.

This book, My Dear Boy - The Discovery of a Lifetime, is my father's epic WWII tale. It is written as a two part memoir, Part I his own story in his own words and Part II, my story of discovery - meeting my grandparents through 44 letters (they perished at Sobibor Death Camp); getting to know my young refugee father, the man my missionary mom fell in love with and loved for sixty years until their death two days apart; what my father believed; ; what his father's last letter in 1942 gave my dad as a wish on how to lead his life; and more. It is a magical story which I believe readers of all ages and countries will like. My dad was a great story teller and he tells his own story well! It is inspiring. My story is about the adventure of learning and understanding one's own family heritage. It takes you on a journey of discovery and I think will inspire others to do the same while you can.
Who are your favorite authors?
I mostly like nonfiction writers like Anne Lamont, Nora Ephron, and Madeleine Albright. I like writers like Abraham Verghese with Cutting for Stone. For the past six years I've been writing, I've hardly been able to read a book because I've been doing so much reading of archival materials to best understand the period and places my father encountered.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Each night things start rumbling around in my head. Whether it's "whatever happened to this person or that" or "I need to learn more about residents of Benesov" (my dad's hometown) or "how can I get the word about my book out more - who, what, where?"...I'm inspired every day to do something related to my writing and I always write something every day.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
With my extended family of great husband, children and grandchlldren and terrific friends...or World travel, photography, speaking about my writing. My mind is never far from what I write about...
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Visiting Smashwords and other sites which offer up a lot of choices - mostly ones that you never see advertised because that goes to famous people, not the rest of us who just have a great story to tell but no big name.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
What I call "The Meeting Story" ...the story of how my parents met in Peking (Beijing), China in September 1940. Five weeks later they married and lived out a sixty year love affair. I never tire of telling this unique story. It was the best one to write about when I was little...after all, who else had a dad who'd escaped the Nazis to China where he met the love of his life?
What is your writing process?
Up early, quit late. Many times I forget to have lunch. Not good for the brain. I have a great writing room with big window that overlooks from our second story house the front yard with big trees and green as far as you can see. If I need real inspiration, I walk downstairs and look out over the lake we live on. Sometimes we have inland pelicans that dive in to the water right in front me. I believe they hold a spiritual meaning for my mission.

I write on the computer, free flowing and edit as I go. Experts mostly say not to do that, but I can't resist. Of course I need to edit over and over. Then have my editor, Alice Peck, edit (and clip through) the proposed manuscript and the copy editor, Ruth Mullen, do the final run over to ensure it is properly polished and ready for prime time.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. Happenstance, one of my best friends from when I was 5 years old until now is Ann Sewell so the author's name drew me to it first. The story taught me about respect and kindness and how we all need to remember to treat each other well. That is the theme of my books now - just from another direction. So Anna Sewell, you impacted me for sure!
How do you approach cover design?
I found a fine graphics artist, Kim Leonard, at Saw the company name in a 'how to' book for writers and it turned out she lived within 20 minutes. I knew what I wanted, working with a wealth of graphic materials, it was clear what it needed to resemble - an envelope with telling photos. I did a sketch, provided the images, and she brought it to reality. But for me it wasn't just the cover - it was the interior design importance. I knew that words would emotionally impact readers and I wanted a quality from that period to accompany the words. Kim did a good job.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Black Beauty - a child's way to understand about how to treat animals as well as people
Prague Spring - Madeleine Albright's own book about her Czech roots. I relate so much to what she wrote and how she told her story - and I appreciate her for a big helpful & nice reason: after reading my manuscript for Adventurers Against Their Will, she gave me my cover quote!
Bird by Bird - Anne Lamont's book about writing - I pick it up over and over and over as I so relate to what she reports about being a writer
Help Thanks Wow - Anne Lamont's reminder of what we all need to do as we walk through life - I love her honest humor
I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections - Nora Ephron's book for my current age group; I miss her
What do you read for pleasure?
A gazillion magazines (Travel, Investment, Readers Digest, National Geographic, People and the like, AARP, Ladies Home Journal, and many more), the Sunday New York Times
What is your e-reading device of choice?
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Constant contact lists...when I send out a mass notice to a big list I've compiled- things happen
Sharing my book trailer on YouTube which won the Best Book Trailer in the 2013 Global Ebook Awards
Facebook Page for my book - post, post, post
Tweeting to my faithful followers - but I need more!
Writing a Blog - but not really sure anyone is reading but me when I check it over
Speaking Engagements
Describe your desk
Messy but piled up with relevant materials
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
Sandy barrier island on the east coast of Florida - Indialantic-by-the-sea, Florida during the 1950s and 60s...Influenced me totally because what I write about is what I discovered that I didn't really know when I was growing up. It's the rest of the story after an idyllic childhood. I love water and beach. It taught me to go with the flow - the tides of life.

I also had an awesome Melbourne High School English Teacher - Mrs. Barbara Bixby. She influenced me a lot through her serious nature and encouragement to just write. I bet, however, she would be shocked that I won the 2013 Global Ebook Award for Best Biography!
What do you dream of happening with your writing?
Honestly, I dream of receiving a Nobel Peace Prize for Literature - having my grandfather's 1942 letter with altruistic wish for my father on how to live his life be widely publicized to the whole world. Frankly, if we lived our lives like my grandfather Arnost Holzer wished for my dad, Dr. Oswald "Valdik" Holzer - Peace would rule!

Read my second book and tell me what you think about this wish, my dream, and about my books! Start a campaign for a Nobel Prize - not sure if that will help bur surely can't hurt. Peace, Joanie
Published 2013-11-25.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Adventurers Against Their Will: Extraordinary World War II Stories of Survival, Escape, and Connection-Unlike Any Others
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 86,540. Language: English. Published: April 2, 2013. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Cultural heritage, Nonfiction » History » Holocaust
2013 Global Ebook Award Winner: Nonfiction Biography Sorting through her parents belongings after their deaths, Joanie Holzer Schirm discovered an extraordinary lost world. Hand-written on faded and brittle stationary, stamped by censors, were 400 letters from 78 correspondents-along with carbon copies of the letters her Czech father had sent to them during World War II. An unforgettable story!