Ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu famously said, “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.” One Portland State English major is proving the axiom true with her tenacious pursuit of success as a writer.
Joan Brown left a career in law in 2013 to press her love of writing to its fullest potential. That’s when she began attending Portland State to hone her writing skills and started publishing short stories and articles.
Brown studies English and creative writing at the university and participates in the Urban Honors College, seeking out courses that address her specific goals as an author and enlighten her understanding of socioeconomics. As a result, Brown’s writing has flourished and opportunities have continued to multiply.
But Brown’s success as a writer hasn’t been a gift of good fortune; the author works diligently at her craft and holds herself to a high standard in the thematic quality of her writing. Brown dedicates the first half of her day to writing and cites determination as the crucial factor.
“Being adamant about writing time is extremely important,” Brown said. “Most days I write four to seven hours. Unless there’s something that I have to do, I almost never leave my home before noon and preferably not until after two.”
Writing courses at PSU have also bolstered her skills, Brown said, as three of her stories originally drafted as course assignments have been published. She writes fiction based on social concerns, how we live in and create our cultures. Her goal is to create stories that infuse readers with an aspect of life they had not previously perceived.
“There are societal issues that before continuing my education I was aware of but did not understand, and now I am more and more gaining the knowledge to analyze and so write about those issues,” Brown said.
Since making the entrepreneurial leap into full-time writing and scholarship, Brown has published a dozen short stories, a novella, and a full-length novel across a variety of media. She writes special section articles for the Portland Tribune. Most recently, Brown landed a hit with “Forever an Other,” a fictional short story now cast in an anthology called Mosaics that includes several high-profile women authors.
“‘Forever an Other’ is the published story I’m most proud of because it was in a very nice anthology next to authors who have won prestigious writing awards, and because when I was writing it I was quite conscious of how I was structuring the plot yet still keeping true to my theme that my characters had to be the focus of, and heroes against, prejudices,” Brown said.
Brown got her start as an author many years ago while working for a company that published magazines. While selling advertising for the company, Brown also began writing articles and soliciting various publications with her fiction work.
“That was over 30 years ago, and after uncountable rejections I finally got an acceptance letter,” Brown said. “Those seconds of stunning hope are still crystal clear in my memory. I wanted to get up on the rooftop and yell. Today I still feel that way. Whenever I get an acceptance letter I want everyone to know. I want everyone to read my stories.”
In July 2015 Brown published Spitfire Red, a novella featuring a young, inexperienced woman faced with severe life challenges and the consequences of dangerous choices during the Great Recession of the 2000s. Now, the story will be reworked and picked up in Scars Publications in March 2017.
Still, Brown reiterates, success in the age of Amazon requires a certain toughness and perseverance. She also keeps friends close as a source of stamina.
“There are a lot of inspirational sayings and writings out there for writers, and I’ve read hundreds of them,” Brown said. “I remember what works for me, and forget the rest. Believe in yourself and be a good friend. Writing, especially fiction, can be lonely. Some days the only emails I get are spam and rejection notices, and it’s my friends who give me the encouragement to keep trying.”
Another important factor for success is balance. When she isn’t tapping away at the keyboard, Brown helps a local jazz musician with marketing and promotions, walks or bikes every day, and participates in a community garden.
Editor’s note: Joan Brown will begin as a contributor to the Vanguard news team in the coming term. The hiring process occurred independently of the assigning and publication of this article by the Arts & Culture section. After discussion and consideration, the editorial staff determined that the article falls into the scope of the section’s mission of spotlighting the arts work of PSU community members, and that it should not be pulled as Brown has not yet contributed to the newspaper.