Joan M Kop grew up in Cottonwood, Idaho.  After attending school to become a legal secretary, she was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency.  She later graduated from Gonzaga University with a degree in Business Administration and is the author of a memoir, Spies, Lies & Psychosis.


How long have you been

I started writing letters at age six or seven (1960) with help from my mother and later won a Letter Writing Award in secretarial school. I won an award in journalism (my first love) in high school for creative pieces I wrote for the newspaper. I learned to write essays in my freshman English class as an older student in college (1980) where I learned that authors revise their work several times (I mistakenly thought they wrote perfect copy the first time) and I was hooked. I’ve hardly had a day since when I didn’t want to write.

How have you found time to write while working full time?

I was a telemarketer/insurance agent for thirteen years and used the three minutes between calls to write. I learned to “hold that thought” and jot it down after I was through with the call. Back then I wrote every day from 9-11 p.m. or midnight and wrote on impulse. I brought copies to work the next day to revise in my spare time. My current job is more stressful and doesn’t allow that luxury. Now I spend more time thinking about my plots and the characters, rather than writing on impulse, and thereby don’t need to cut as much from my manuscripts. I write a full eight-or-ten-hour day on Saturday or Sunday and revise my work other evenings during the week.

When do you find time to do household chores?

I often don’t. I prefer not to be remembered in life as a good housekeeper. I have never forgotten what Ron Carlson, a prolific short-story writer, said at a Writer’s Conference in Whitefish, Montana. “Pour a cup of sand on the floor next to where you sit by your computer. If you feel the need to vacuum it, you’re not a true writer.”

How long does it take you to write a book?

The first drafts usually take a year and then I spend the next year revising after an edit. I spent about four years writing/revising The Freedom Chaser. In the last several years I’ve spent more time reading other books which has made a huge difference. I felt I had little time to do that before. I’ve always felt guilty reading books because my mother thought it was a waste of time. She felt we should be knitting or crocheting instead.

What has helped you most in learning the craft?

For fifteen years I worked with a writing coach, Robert Gover (now deceased), the bestselling author of the ’60’s classic, One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding. The biggest thing I learned from him was Point of View, but I struggled with plot back then and he struggled with teaching since he had no teaching credentials. My advice to other writers is to get help from more than one instructor or professional. I also read Writer’s Digest magazine cover to cover and bought a lot of self-help writing books. From an ad placed in the back of the magazine, I hired Helga Schier who has a PhD in literature and was formerly an executive editor at Random House (Crown), to edit my last book. She has been an immense help in learning how to write a better book and taking my writing to the next level.

What has helped you craft the personalities of your characters?

I believe in astrology so I have used Linda Goodman’s book on Sun Signs to help fashion my characters after their astrological signs. For example, in The Freedom Chaser, August was an Aquarius. A typical Aquarius considers everyone his friend, loves puzzles, values conversation more than a woman who is fashionably dressed and cherishes freedom and independence. Marie was a Libra. Libras tend to see both sides to everything, have trouble making decisions, enjoy fashion and love gardening.

Where did you learn to write poetry?

I’m an amateur poet. I won a state poetry contest in 1966 when I was twelve. At times I’ve felt compelled or inspired to write poems but I never had any formal training. I’ve often given my poems as gifts and at least one or two people have written me a thank you letter for it or hung it on a wall in their home which made me very proud.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

My mentor, Jack Hashian, (aka Trevanian who is now deceased), said, “If you want to be a writer, sit on your butt and just write.” Practice every day. I would add, write what you are passionate about. It will show in the book you write. Those who make it in this business are the ones who keep persisting no matter what. Travel and experience large cities and small, U.S. and foreign cities, so that you’ll find out what you have to offer potential readers. Know your target audience and write something that is unique which could only have been written by someone with your background or expertise. If you lack motivation or inspiration, attend writing conferences. I assure you you’ll come back from them with a new determination to write a book. Don’t be afraid to take criticism, but seek it out from a professional. There are plenty of well-meaning critique partners who sometimes give you the wrong feedback. Find the best editor you can afford who will give you the best return on your money, often teaching you something about the craft to take your writing to the next level. Think of the money spent on an editor as part of your education to get better at your craft and become a better writer. It is certainly cheaper than getting an MFA degree.

List of Favorites


  • Educated by Tara Westover
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  • All of David Sedaris’ books
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • Full Disclosure by Stormy Daniels
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio
  • The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
  • Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson
  • Mennonite in the Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
  • Code Girls by Liza Mundy
  • The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz
  • The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • Time Flies by Bill Cosby
  • Dear World by Bana Alabed
  • Option B by Sheryl Sandberg
  • A Common Struggle by Patrick Kennedy
  • Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
  • Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
  • The Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews
  • The Attack by Yasmina Khadra
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  • The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter
  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Quiet by Susan Cain
  • Zealot by Reza Aslan


  • Fiddler on the Roof
  • The Sound of Music
  • Amadeus
  • Immortal Beloved
  • Argo
  • Red Sparrow
  • Gone with the Wind
  • Evita
  • Rain Man
  • Forrest Gump
  • Sister Act
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • Grumpy Old Men
  • Tootsie
  • Les Miserables
  • Erin Brockovich
  • The Help


  • 60 Minutes
  • Two Broke Girls
  • Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
  • Jeopardy
  • M*A*S*H
  • Seinfeld
  • KHQ Nightly News
  • KREM 2 Weather Forecasts with Tom Sherry