Author JP McLean clouds the line between dreams and reality

JP McLean

by Timothy Pike

When award-winning author JP (Jo-Anne) McLean sat down to write her very first novel, it had been a while since she’d experienced the cold.

She and her husband had just spent the last five winters in much warmer climes—Arizona, Costa Rica, and the Mexican Baja among them—and they were now back on Denman Island, a rugged (and currently frigid) outpost situated just off the coast of Vancouver, British Columbia.

“I recall sitting in our living room with the wind howling outside and the rain hitting our windows horizontally,” Jo-Anne says. “It was cold and dark, and I didn’t know how I was going to get through an entire winter cooped up in the house.”

What she did know is that it would almost certainly involve books. “While I’d been traveling,” she says, “I’d been reading. A lot. At the time, I was gobbling up urban fantasy with a side of thrillers.”

The story that most intrigued Jo-Anne, however, was one that didn’t exist in any book. “I had a scene in my mind that was fashioned on a recurring dream I’ve had since I was a kid,” she says. “In this dream, I can fly. It’s an uplifting dream, and feels so real when I’m in the middle of it. I set out to recreate in words not just a scene where someone flies, but the sensation and awe of the experience.”

Looking around the room, Jo-Anne decided this was the perfect moment to start writing that story. “While a storm surged outside and a hockey game played out on the TV,” she says, “I fired up my laptop.”

As it turned out, that moment marked the birth of an entire series of bestselling books, even though at the time it was only meant to be a distraction. “It was a challenge,” she says, “something to occupy my sun-starved brain. I never intended for it to grow into a book, let alone develop into the seven-book Gift Legacy series.”

Secret Sky, the first book in the series, opens with Emelynn Taylor waking up in the emergency room with mysterious injuries. She’d been found in the middle of a park, having seemingly fallen from a great height, and seemingly out of nowhere. The ability to fly, we learn, was one she’d been gifted as a twelve-year-old, but had yet to master.

“I had no idea what I was getting into when I started writing,” Jo-Anne says, “and the biggest surprise that came out of it was how much I loved it. Writing nourished something in me. It made me happy, and holding the finished book in my hands was deeply satisfying.”

Brilliant authors & free books direct to your inbox. Subscribe (for free) to get it all!

How Jo-Anne ended up on Denman Island in the first place is also quite a story. After graduating from high school in a suburb of Toronto, Ontario, she had to set aside her plans to go to college due to a lack of funds. But ten years later, when an opportunity arose to attend the University of British Columbia on Canada’s west coast, Jo-Anne jumped at the chance. Once there, she fell in love with the campus, the snow-capped mountains, and the many beaches that dotted the shoreline. “This is a city where you can ski at your choice of mountain in the morning,” she says, “and picnic on a beach or go sailing in the afternoon.”

“I had no idea what I was getting into when I started writing,” Jo-Anne says, “and the biggest surprise that came out of it was how much I loved it.”

A few months later, Jo-Anne met her future husband. It would be several years before they started dating, but she learned that he had an interesting project in the works. “He was building a home on Denman Island with a view to retiring there in the distant future,” she says. “We would spend weekends working on the property, clearing brush, or lending a hand with whatever phase of construction was happening.”

Eventually, the back and forth to the island slowed down, and the couple looked toward living there full time. But Jo-Anne still had a job that required her to commute by ferry, taking a huge bite out of her writing time. “Carving out the time to write was perhaps the biggest obstacle I’ve dealt with,” Jo-Anne says. “I’d also learned that I couldn’t write in short windows of time. I needed at least an hour, and preferably three.”

Once she made the difficult decision to give up the job, she started finding other ways to add hours to her day. “Bit by bit, I carved out time to write,” Jo-Anne says. “The first and easiest time sink to carve out was television. I used to be a news junkie and followed a half-dozen TV shows as well as the late-night show circuit. I used my new evening hours to write book two.”

But soon, even those extra hours weren’t enough. “When book two became book three, I needed more hours to do the marketing half of the job,” Jo-Anne tells me. “So, I gave up the veggie garden, which easily took a few hours of my time each day. That one was more difficult to give up because I love to cook, and I also made pickles, relish, salsa, and jam. I justified giving it up by replacing the fresh produce I would have grown with produce and products from local farm stands.”

One problem, however, still remained. “That freed up my mornings for writing, but it took time to train those around me to respect my writing time,” Jo-Anne explains. “It was difficult, and I felt selfish, but every interruption cost me a day’s writing, and when the interruption was unnecessary, I resented it. Eventually, my friends and family learned not to interrupt me in the morning hours unless it was something critical.”

Whether it’s dreams of flying that turn into real-life novels, or characters who have nightmares that affect the past, it’s always fascinating when the line between dreams and reality gets cloudy.

Jo-Anne also learned that she could get quite a bit of work done without writing a single word. “Writing a book doesn’t always involve fingers on the keyboard,” she says. “Sometimes I’m ‘writing’ when I’m daydreaming out the window, hiking through the woods, or walking along the beach. This is when I’m working out story ideas, new characters, and plot points. It’s just as critical to the process of telling a story, and in the early stages of putting a book together, I do this type of ‘writing’ every day.”

And when she does sit down to write, unlike many authors, it’s not word counts she’s after. “On average, I probably write five days a week,” she says. “When I write, I don’t hold myself to a daily word count. Instead, my goal for each session is to write a scene. Some days that takes one hour, other days it takes four. And then there are those days when I’m in the zone and the ideas are flowing faster than my fingers can keep up. I love those days when the story seems to write itself.”

These days, Jo-Anne uses any time she has left over to give back to the tight-knit community that has been such a big part of her life. “I volunteer for a few organizations on the island,” she says. “One is the annual Denman Island Readers and Writers Festival. My role is a minor one, coordinating the local writers who are given time slots during the festival to read their work. I got into the position because of my role as coordinator of the local Denman Island Writers Group, which I did for six years.”

Since that cold, rainy day on Denman Island when Jo-Anne sat down to write her very first novel—thus bringing one of her recurring dreams to life—she has finished that seven-part series and started another: the Dark Dreams series.

In Blood Mark, the first book in the series, Jane Walker is tortured by nightmares when she sees into the past. In the newest installment, Ghost Mark, we learn that Jane’s nightmares aren’t imaginary. “She’s still plagued with dreams of the past,” Jo-Anne writes in her teaser, “dreams that are dangerous because they’re more than dreams—they’re time slips. She learned this the hard way when she inadvertently changed the past and ruined lives.”

Ghost Mark is slated for release on November 1st, and you can download a PDF of the first three chapters for free.

Whether it’s dreams of flying that turn into real-life novels, or characters who have nightmares that affect the past, it’s always fascinating when the line between dreams and reality gets cloudy.

And all eyes are on this bestselling author as she continues to make that line even cloudier.

JP (Jo-Anne) McLean is a bestselling author of urban fantasy and supernatural thrillers that readers call addictive, smart, and fun. She is a Global Book Award winner, a CIBA finalist, and has received honors from the Eric Hoffer Book Awards, the Wishing Shelf Book Awards, the Whistler Independent Book Awards, and the Victoria Writers’ Society. Jo-Anne is a graduate of the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business and makes her home on the coast of British Columbia.

You can visit Jo-Anne at her website, and while you’re there, be sure to sign up for her newsletter. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Brilliant authors. Free books. Sign up to get it all!

We have a strict no-spam policy. All e-mails are sent through MailChimp, a reputable e-mail service. Unsubscribe anytime.

Are you a writer?        

Share this article! Select your favorite social site below: