For the Artists Who Like to Remain Strictly Out of the Box
Justine Johnston Hemmestad’s novel, Visions of a Dream, is a story about how the spiritual life of Alexander the Great intertwined with his military conquests and world vision. Hemmestad is also the author of Truth be Told, a novella that symbolically reveals the struggles in the mind of a brain injured person through a fictional story. For a wonderful Al Cole nod toward Visions of a Dream go to Justine’s website: http://jhemmestad.wixsite.com/justine-j-hemmestad
1) When did you know that writing is what you were called to do? What is it about being a writer that you love the most?
I knew after I was in a car accident when I was 19 and writing was helping me to recover from the severe brain injury that I sustained. Also, the more I wrote the more I wanted to learn, and learning itself was the best rehab for my injury. I love most the healer that writing has been to me, and how I can learn by writing. I love the different things that writing always leads me to learn about. I love how writing connects me to higher planes of thought.
2) Can you tell us a little about your book(s) and where our readers can find out more about them and you? What projects are you currently working on?
My books are listed at https://www.amazon.com/Justine-Johnston-Hemmestad/e/B01DHSLN0M?ref_=pe_1724030_132998060 and my writing website is at http://jhemmestad.wixsite.com/justine-j-hemmestad. My latest book is called Visions of a Dream, and is about the spiritual journey that Alexander the Great undertook while at the same time conquering kingdoms. I’ve currently been writing several short stories, poems, and novels, and I’m also working on my Masters Degree in Literature through Northern Arizona University. Within literature, I’ve been focusing on various cultural disciplines, which is also what I love to write about in my own work.
3) What has been your most significant achievement as a writer thus far? How have you dealt with rejection within your writing career?
I love that my art story is listed by the National Endowment for the Arts 50th Anniversary https://www.arts.gov/50th/stories/justine-johnston-hemmestad as well as the Iowa Writers Workshop courses I’ve taken through The University of Iowa. One of the things I’m proudest of is having my oldest son’s artwork on the covers of both my novel, Visions of a Dream, and novella, Truth be Told. With a lot of soul-searching. I’ve had to determine if the failure was due to misalignment with markets, or my need to learn more about my craft or even the business aspect of writing.
4) Do you have a schedule for when you write? Do you outline your novels? How long does it generally take you to finish a novel?
I write while the inspiration is strong and I trust that it will come back to me if I have to stop the physical act of writing (I still write in my head). Not really, just generally. I write notes as I ideas strike me that outline my story. A few months maybe for the original draft, then re-writing and revisions have taken up to twenty years (working on several books at one time).
5) Where do you see yourself within your career in the next five years?
Hopefully I will be able to use my Master’s degree in Literature in a teaching position and continue to write, or even teach writing. I would also love to acquire a professional agent and/or publisher.
6) Do you believe that there is ever a point in life where it’s too late for an aspiring writer to become successful in this industry? Do you feel a late start would hinder their chances?
I hope not, because some of the greats didn’t achieve success until after their deaths. No, a late start is simply having had more time to learn about life.
7) What’s the first book you ever read that really touched you emotionally and moved you? What’s the first book you read that made you know that you could do this for a career? What book are you currently reading?
Désirée by Annemarie Selinko completely captivated me in high school. The Bible, and specifically The Song of Solomon, was what made me think of writing after my car accident. I felt it was a natural form of spiritual communication.
I’m currently reading Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen by Liliuokalani, Queen of Hawaii (1838-1917) and I’ve just finished reading Typee by Herman Melville, both for my current Cultural Studies literature course which is amazing.
8) So many writers say that they hate reading their own work? Do you ever just sit down and curl up with your own book?
I may once the pressure is off, but for now I have so much material to read for my classes that I love – I love going to different parts of the world through reading and writing, and I love how the world then seems like a neighborhood rather than distant.
9) What are your thoughts about how the publishing industry is drastically changing?
It’s too crowded. I’m focused on standing out for the literary merit of my writing. To me, the best way to do that is to keep learning. Are you more of an e-book person or a traditional book person? Traditional book.
10) I feel like so many of us writers, us artists in general, are made to conform to other people’s idea of what we should be. I think we creative types should be unafraid to be whoever it is that we feel we have the right to be. So what is your write 2 be? What unique quality is there about you, about your art, that you feel represents your authenticity?
My eagerness to learn helps, because the storyline I write in a sense teaches me as it moves forward. I write to learn and I write to connect.