49: Joanna Penn (Writing the Shadow)

Danielle Krage interviews Joanna Penn. Joanna is an award-nominated New York Times and USA Today bestselling author with more than 40 books across multiple genres – non-fiction and fiction (under J.F.Penn). Joanna is also a podcaster, international speaker, and award-winning creative entrepreneur. This conversation dives into Joanna’s recent book, ‘Writing the Shadow: Turn Your Inner Darkness into Words’.

Chapters

00:00 Introduction and Background

01:38 Understanding the Shadow

05:11 Embracing Your Weirdness

07:52 Pushing Boundaries in Writing

09:26 Exploring Family and Relationships

11:17 The Shadow in Relationships and Writing

15:09 Continuing Journey of Integration

19:24 Percolating the Shadow into Writing

21:27 Exploring the Shadow in Characters

23:26 The Shadow in Professional Lives

26:11 Tackling Fear and Judgment

27:07 Unpublished Work and Building an Author Platform

29:10 Using Email Lists for Fiction

31:49 Showing Elements of Yourself as a Creator

33:51 Examples of Memorable Characters and Their Shadows

38:12 Where to Find More About Joanna’s Work

You can find Joanna’s work here:

https://www.thecreativepenn.com/the-creative-penn-podcast-for-authors

https://www.youtube.com/@thecreativepenn

https://jfpenn.com

https://www.thecreativepenn.com/writing-the-shadow

CLICK HERE FOR TRANSCRIPT

Danielle (00:01.259)

I am thrilled to have Joanna Penn with me. Joanna is a bestselling author who’s written more than 40 books that span across fiction and nonfiction. And as a podcaster and award -winning creative entrepreneur and speaker, she’s helped so many authors and writers, including myself navigate that writer journey. She’s so generous with her knowledge. So I highly recommend you follow her and check out her resources.

And today for all you comedy creators, I’m thrilled to be able to delve into Joanna’s recent book, Writing the Shadow: Turn Your Inner Darkness Into Words, because I read this, loved it, and I see so many applications for comedy. So though Joanna will say herself, she’s not a comedy writer (she writes thrillers and all kinds of really helpful things), but these concepts are so helpful. So I asked Joanna to come on the show. She kindly said yes, and that’s what we’re going to delve into today. But before we start, Joanna, is there anything else you’d love to let people know about you and your work?

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (00:56.312)

Oh, well, thanks for having me on the show, Danielle. And I’m excited to talk to you today about this topic since as you say, I don’t write comedy, but I feel like there’s so much for writers in general. But yeah, I mean, I just I guess the big thing is I started writing over 15 years ago. So it’s like I do have a lot of books, but it’s been a lot of years. And also I write nonfiction for authors as Joanna Penn. And I write my fiction and memoir under J .F. Penn. So if people are wondering why Joanna Penn has no thrillers, that’s why. So a couple of different brands, which I think we know helps us all be more creative having different brands. I mean, there’s a lot of comedy people who have a different brand for their performance or their other writing, right?

Danielle (01:38.923)

Yeah, totally. That makes that super clear. Thank you. And I would love to dive into this concept of the shadow because it may be a term that people have heard from psychology or different places, but I’d love to know how you think about it. What’s one of the ways you think about it as it relates specifically to humans and writing.

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (01:57.006)

Yeah, so as you mentioned, it is from psychology. So originally, Carl Jung, the idea of the shadow, it’s this kind of unconscious aspect, the things, the parts of us that don’t match up to what is expected of us, what society says we should do, what our parents, our religion, all these things, even ourselves, like sometimes we repress things, we hide our gifts, we don’t know what to do with these aspects of our personality. And one of the metaphors that I use is I talk about the little kind of a slightly ugly seedling in a pot that maybe someone told you, no, you can’t have that, you can’t be there. And so you put it down in the basement of your mind or whatever.

And then over the years, these kind of weird tendrils sort of poke up through the floors of your house and maybe it comes out in your behavior or all these things. And you try and kill it off, you try and avoid it and you try and tamp it down, but it keeps on coming, it keeps on coming. And it might explode sometimes. We have these occasions where our darker sides kind of take over in our lives and we need to deal with it like urgently. But I guess part of the point of the book is that, and Carl Jung says this, it’s about integrating the shadow. It’s not evil.

Mostly it’s not evil or wrong or all of that. It’s just things that society tells us. But if you encourage this plant, like the wild plant in the basement, and you actually engage with it and help it grow, yes, your life will be changed. Your house will look different. But maybe it’s gonna be more happy. Maybe it’s easier. Maybe it’s embracing a bit of your weird and those darker sides of yourself and allowing that to be part of your life instead of just trying to deny it all the time.

And the other metaphor I really like is Plato’s chariot, which is thousands of years old now, obviously Plato, the philosopher, and he talks about the charioteer, which is us, and then the dark horse and the white horse and the white horse is, you know, the good girl and the all the things society wants us to be. And the dark horse is the shadow. And you have to have them both running together in the same direction in order to not be completely out of control and running off a cliff. And if you let your white horse dominate you you will feel like something’s missing in your life you’ll you’ll feel like you are denying that side and part of the message of the book is kind of let your dark horse run. Like let it out a bit. I feel like most of us suffer from repressing these things more, although as I said sometimes they will break out, and we’ll find ourselves behaving… like for me, it was definitely binge drinking as a way to avoid a job I hated. And I had to deal with that because it was a difficult time. But I guess those are some of the things. And everyone’s different. I think that’s the other thing.

Danielle (04:42.283)

Yeah. Oh, I love that. And I love both of those visuals for thinking about it. They’re super inspiring. And it’s not an easy question, but for someone that’s listening to this and thinks, yeah, I am one of those people that does tamp things down. And I would love to free things up and make them that bit weirder…. Because for example, we’ve had a couple of people on the podcast who have judged different script calls and both gave feedback that actually quite a lot of the scripts that they were reading were perfectly fine, and quite competent. But didn’t have like that extra whatever it is that could really elevate it. Not in terms of craft, but in terms of really feeling the person behind it. And I love that you’re talking about this weirdness that might come out, or the distinctiveness. If someone’s listening to this today and thinks, oh gosh, how do I start to let that weirdness out? What’s one or two ways? I know the book has loads of brilliant ways.

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (05:34.094)

Yeah, it is really hard because the whole point is partly the idea of the shadow is you can’t just grab it head on. And it might take quite a lot of therapy before you’re like, okay, so that’s my issue. That’s really interesting. But if people have already written stuff, I think that is interesting because you can actually look at your own work to see glimpses of what that shadow might be. And I talk about this in the book. I mean, for me, father, daughter is a big thing. Sisters is a big thing. Sort of second chance love is a big thing. But then in terms of the sort of one thing that specifically happened to me is I’m, and I acknowledge it now because I’ve been through this process, but I’m kind of like that Wednesday character, you know, from the Addams Family, there was the series on Netflix. I am kind of a Wednesday. I say I’m like a vanilla goth in that you look at me and I look all kind of normal. I’m the age where I don’t have tattoos, but if I had been born, if I was a millennial, I’d be covered in tattoos, wear goth makeup. Because I think about death a lot. I love graveyards, I love crypts. I write about religious relics, I write horror, I write darker books, I write about corpse arts, and I write about all these super dark things. And people are like, oh, but you’re so nice. How do you do that? And it took me a long time to almost admit to liking these things because a lot of people do think that is weird.

Where I really got into it was my fifth book and this is a real key, my fifth fiction book, Desecration. That was the first book where I started to let my dark horse run. And it means a lot to me because of that. That really was the beginning of sort of finding my voice as such. So if people’s work is too vanilla and too boring. It’s basically boring, right? That’s what it is. You have to look at what is different about you, what is unnerving. What do people react to? I mean, the reaction, whether it’s emotional. And I think the thing is, again, I mentioned this good girl because this is one of my issues and perhaps yours as well, is we try to be vanilla. We try to stop people criticizing us. We don’t want to be criticized. We don’t want to be hated. But if we are not in some way pushing the boundaries a bit, then you’re not going to get people loving your work either. So it’s kind of pushing that comfort zone into somewhere that is more than just normal.

And you’ll…I don’t read comedy, but I have watched some like stand-up comedy. And when we laugh at things, so Ricky, I was watching the Ricky Gervais on Netflix. Now he is super funny, super offensive in so many ways. And yet you find yourself, you know, laughing, even though you know you shouldn’t, it’s like this kind of wrong. And of course we don’t all have to be that extreme, but it is a case of you can’t just be middle of the road. You can’t be tepid.

And it’s very difficult, I mean, because I write about the critic in the book and this fear of criticism, but you have, we are not going to get a reaction out of people, whether that is love or hate, unless we try and put more of our honest selves into our work. And I guess you have to put some people off. People, like I know by even saying what I’ve just said, there will be some people listening, who’ll be like, oh, she’s weird that she thinks about death and, you know, she talks about death and life is short and memento mori and all this. And it’s like, okay, fair enough. But what is it about? What’s, what’s different about you? I guess. So does that help?

Danielle (09:26.219)

It does, that helps loads. And I love the term vanilla goth. That’s it, it’s so genius. That tickles me. But no, that does really help. And it’s so interesting because I am also someone that’s, if I say obsessed by death, it makes it sound even weirder than it is, but thinks about it a lot. And like, you take death into your thrillers, I take death into comedy, because I’m thinking about all the existential things, but comedy gives it this lens by which it’s a little bit less painful or there’s a bit more distance to again, look at all those absurd and really true and really painful and really human things. And I love that.

And I love that you touch there on the things that make you distinctively you and also those relationships, because one of the chapters that I’m definitely going to go back to and go back to is the one about family and relationships in the book, because it was both fascinating to me and the one that I sort of winced at the most going through the questions, which again, I think is interesting from that, like…Oh gosh, is it okay to write this? Like that feels hard to admit, but it’s kind of interesting. There was so much creative tension in that one.

And so for example, you had, to paraphrase it, this brilliant question about when family members are gathered, what role do you go into? What are the patterns that emerge? And I’m like, that’s super interesting to think about as a writer personally, and also so relevant to comedy when we’re thinking about how ensembles work or how those characters work. So for people who are listening, I recommend the book for all kinds of reasons, definitely go through it all, go to that chapter, there’s a brilliant list of questions.

And for you Joanna, I’d love to know, because you touched on it just there, if you were giving people some examples….How do you think about the shadow now in relation to your relationships and work. You touched on, fathers you touched on, sisters, how does that then translate into the writing process?

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (11:17.55)

Well, I am a podcaster and I know if you’re listening to a podcast, you love the host. So I’m sorry, Danielle, I have to put this back on you. So, this is part of identifying the shadow is curiosity or what triggers you. And you were clearly attracted to this chapter on family. So now you’re going to have to tell us what was it that, as much as you can, obviously tell us what was it about that that hit you and how do you use that in your work?

Danielle (11:19.699)

Yeah.Right. Fair question. So I think why it was so difficult is, like you say, we become a version for all kinds of reasons. And I feel, still continue to feel extreme loyalty to both my parents, one of them’s dead, one’s still alive. There was lots of very, very messy, difficult things growing up in our lives. And I definitely like, was that one who…. they were judged a lot, from the outside, lots of things were said, lots of things, lots of criticism coming their way. And I was kind of the one to either defend or at the very least not talk about it. And there was just a lot of things that weren’t talked about, which I think is probably quite common in people that grow up in environments where there’s different addictions or different things that are not sort of very socially condoned or are different from the environment.

And I think it gets like really exacerbated, because I got a scholarship to go to a private school and it’s kind of all those lives, and then I’m on a council estate with a different kind of life. So I think I feel this extreme loyalty to not give away secrets or say things that might be hurtful or talk about things that could be seen to be less than flattering. Yeah.

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (13:05.294)

But putting that another way, you would have had to lie.

Danielle (13:09.579)

Yes, totally. Or just be silent, but that’s a kind of lying. Yes.

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (13:11.438)

So you were lying. Yes, but also I also got a scholarship to a private school as a poor child. And there is a lie in things. So far I remember I never went on school trips. Like, you know, I studied Latin and they all went off to Rome and I was like, oh no, I’m sorry, we’re busy. We’re doing something else. And that wasn’t the reason. So yes, yes.

Danielle (13:28.715)

No, same. Yeah. That was the ski trip. Yeah. It’s just like, no, it’s just far too expensive.

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (13:42.158)

But we lie to protect us, but also our family from shame. Now shame, shame is huge, huge for everyone. And it’s also really difficult because we don’t want to admit to shame. So, and this is what’s so interesting. So we’re having an honest conversation and the shadow stuff does bring this out.

So when I said shame there, I remember, so when I was in that binge drinking phase in my twenties, there was also casual sex. I don’t regret casual sex, but I do regret some of the behaviour that happened around that. And I do remember one morning particularly, in Australia, sitting on a beach, just feeling ashamed of my behaviour. And it was like, and that’s the moment where you think, where you recognize the feeling and you think I have to change that. And that’s where you see the shadow because of course that behaviour is not.

It’s like, what was I trying to escape from? And that was a point where I was unhappy with my job, but also I’d left the UK to go to Australia. I didn’t want anything to do with anything. I was also a little bit estranged from some of my family and all of this kind of thing. And so escaping and then you have to face up to it eventually. So I guess the question back at you is how did you integrate that stuff, which you can talk about into your work? Are you a protector in your work or, you know, what role do you play now that means that you’ve healed from that or have you not healed from that?

Danielle (15:13.643)

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s interesting. I think because I’ve written, I’ve gone through like different phases to get to things that I’m actually happy writing. And I think when I started, it was just avoiding it completely. So it’s just writing things that were really sweet and cozy and just ignored it, just like trying to make it as feel good as possible. And I still do love comedy to still just gives me enough distance to look at those things.

But I think in the work now, I use it for those tensions and those feelings. And I think a lot about female protagonists. It was so interesting when I started, all my main characters were male, and there may be all kinds of reasons for that. But I think, again, I was trying to be like, it’s not me. They’re nothing to do with me. Whereas it’s been really interesting to think about how, for me, particularly how females function in all kinds of tense and comedic situations. So I’ve kind of made the decision as a creator to do that because I also think it makes it clearer for me to have to think about like how I fit in those roles and what strong females characters look like. Who aren’t heroic, who are extremely flawed still and who are battling and who are facing things. So I think it’s been a huge and feels quite long process of edging closer and closer and closer to confronting more than avoiding. But still clearly when I read the chapter, I was still like, oh, oh, yes.

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (16:47.374)

Yes, but the thing is, this is not a process that necessarily stops. You know, we are human, there are always things that come up. So also in the book, I talk about midlife. And what’s so funny is I’m so comfortable with the idea of death, but until I hit menopause, I didn’t even consider that I might get old or what old might mean as a woman, or what midlife was, or I didn’t tackle any of these questions around changing into this different phase of my life.

And that was like a completely new thing for me, something that I wasn’t even prepared for. And yet, and I realized some ageism in myself at judging older women about stuff I was now going through myself. And I had to kind of hit up against a shadow around age. It was almost like I thought I’d be like this forever and then die. And it’s so funny. So what I think the point is here is, things will keep coming up for us. So the moment you assimilate one thing and you’re like, okay, do you know what?

I think like, for example, coming back to the binge drinking, that is no longer an issue for me. It’s not, in fact menopause helped because I can barely even drink anymore. I have half a glass of wine. But you know, also I’ve been happily married for a long time and all of this, but in order to solve the problem back then, I had to integrate my behavior, figure out why it was happening and change my life. That’s actually how I became a writer. Because I was like, you know, I really hate this job. I was an IT contractor and like, I hate it. So I was trying to escape it every I worked really hard and escape it. And my dark horse would kind of explode out. And I’d behave badly. And then the next day, I’d go back and I’d wear my suit and I’d be a good girl again. And that was just just a not healthy environment. And of course, now I look at my fiction, I’m like, well, of course, I was trying to sublimate all that into some other way.

But so the point is that we will keep coming back to these things at different points in our life as things, challenging things happen. So the death of one of your parents presumably brought up a load of stuff then.

Danielle:

Hmm. Yeah. Yeah. And that showed up too. And it’s, and it showed up and continues to show up in, in fiction, but like through these sort of lens, because I also write elements that are sort of fantastical. I think my brain is still, well, maybe it’s also because I enjoy reading things that have those kind of metaphors in too. But again, it’s that kind of thing where it will come out in different images or metaphors. And then I’ll be like, oh,

Like I did an episode a few back where I was talking about, I did a short story challenge, the Ray Bradbury one where you write 52 short stories in a year. And do it in two hours, but that’s so interesting because there’s no time in that to sort of really censor so much. I mean, you can, but it’s like, you’re also just going so fast. And so many things came out, like Ray Bradbury talks about sort of using the subconscious, like doing that volume with the subconscious. Like you say, going back and looking at your own work. It’s like, oh.

And there’s a lot of death just dressed up in different ways here. Like there’s lots of graves,  there’s lots of zombies, there’s lots of things and lots of father figures that show up. And some of them I’m like, oh, that’s not even very hidden. Like that one that’s about a skin lamp with tattoos on is literally because my dad was like…oh, it’s a shame to waste my tattoos. You should just make a lamp out of me after I’m gone kind of thing. And it’s like, oh, that didn’t even show up subtly in one of the stories. So it’s very interesting how it all kind of percolates.

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (20:20.952)

Interesting your dad had tattoos. For a man of, I presume, his age that is kind of unusual. What did he do as a job?

Danielle (20:23.403)

Oh, loads of tattoos, yeah. He joined the Navy when he was 14. Yeah, when he was 14. So he was covered in tattoos.

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (20:33.568)

Yeah, fair enough. I was going to say he must have been Navy. But isn’t it, I mean, coming back to, I mean, in the book, I use Succession in terms of family. I use the TV show Succession. If people haven’t seen it, it is such a masterclass in family drama, but it’s so interesting because Logan is a great, the main character. If people haven’t watched it… He’s like the main character, the father of the four siblings. So you get the father to each of the siblings. The father daughter, the father sons and the interconnection between siblings and the mother daughter thing. And you get everything. It’s so rich with family shadow. But Logan, I won’t give anything away, but Logan’s a good example of someone of intergenerational trauma. So at one point he dives into a swimming pool and you see his back covered in scars.

And that just gives you the clue that his shadow, his family shadow, he never dealt with it. And thus he is the sins of the father, you know, which are waged against the children from the Bible. That’s exactly what happens. And that’s another thing that I think is great about this kind of shadow work is it gives you more empathy for people who you might judge in some other way. So if you, you know, you might look at maybe someone’s family situation, some kind of abusive parent, then if you look at how they were brought up, that might explain the way that they treat you. And that in our writing, we can use this stuff to make our characters much richer and just flesh them out a bit more, you know, and also not have happy, happy characters all the time, because that’s just not the reality of people’s lives really, is it?

Danielle (22:22.667)

No, no, that’s brilliant. And the flaws element is so relevant, whether we’re digging into our own or then translating that across to characters, because obviously comedy characters in general need to have those flaws like out full front. And also I really love that you brought in the concept of the mask that we use to kind of hide those as well. Or you were saying like, you know, at the school you would have had to kind of lie or put that mask in. Again, super interesting when we’re thinking about developing our characters out for comedy. What is the mask they’re presenting and what’s actually going on beneath it?

And so brilliant, brilliant concepts in your book that are so incredibly helpful. And I’d love to know as well, because you do have like this, that you say you’ve been writing books for over 15 years and you have this very well -developed professional context, what are some of the ways that you think the shadow shows up for different creators when it comes to their professional lives. And you can take that either where there is your own experience in self -publishing as an indie author or just more generally as a creative.

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (23:23.694)

Mm. Yeah, well, I think what’s interesting for writers, so anyone who wants to publish their work, whether they’re self -publishing or traditional publishing, we care so much. We care about books. We love books. We have dreams associated with what we want books to be. So maybe as a young child, we were like, oh, books! They become like a totem thing and to be a writer becomes this almost magical, miracle thing. And so, so many people have these inflated ideas and goals of what is not reality. And I think if you don’t tackle the shadow side of your chosen career, this is probably true in whatever career.

So let’s take an example in, again, I just think about standup comedy rather than comedy writing, but Amy Schumer. If you’ve seen, as we’re recording this, she’s been on some press and she got absolutely slated for how she looks right now. Um, which is a woman we know that’s pretty common, but she, she has a illness, you know, she’s had a baby. There’s all this stuff. There’s these reasons and some of the stuff that’s been thrown at her. I know that there will be other women who will be like, well, I don’t want that.

I don’t want to be attacked that way. So when we, and I’m sure it’s awful, I mean, just awful, but she’s been famous for quite a long time. And she was, you know, when she was young and beautiful, people had a go at her and now she’s slightly older, still beautiful in a different way. She’s getting attacked in other ways. And it’s like, you can’t win. And this is one of the downsides of being an author as well, is the more books you sell, the more negative reviews you get, the more haters you get, the more attacks you get, the more things happen. But you also want to sell more books. And on the one hand, you’re like, yes, I want the multi seven figure book deal, or I want to sell all these books. And then you realize, well, you have to give something to get that. So what are you willing to do? So for example, you want a traditional book deal? Well, you have to go through a frankly humiliating rejection process of reaching out to people and going, pick me, pick me. And then if you don’t get picked, you have to suffer the pain of rejection.

And as an independent author, you miss out that, but then you publish your book and then nobody buys it. And so you get this kind of roller coaster of happy times and difficult times. The more you put yourself out there, the more you have to face. And if you’re not aware of that and you don’t address that and you’re like, okay, so why do I feel that way? Okay. Well, what is more important and all of that kind of thing.

And I feel like most of the problems that people have in the creative career are because they haven’t tackled a particular fear. And it might be, for example, an inner critic, that voice that says your work is never good enough. Some people never publish because they’re paralyzed by the fear of judgment. And I certainly still have fear of judgment big time. I’ve pulled away a lot from social media. I think social media can be very damaging, but equally I still need to advertise my books and connect with my readers. So there’s a certain amount of this you have to do. So yeah, I think the things that you love the most, the things that are most important to you will cast the biggest shadow.

And you can think of it of, you know, when the sun is bright, the solid things cast a thicker shadow. So it makes sense. And everyone will come up against this at some point. And I do have a question for you in this area. So you have the 52 short stories. What have you done with them?

Danielle (27:20.575)

Yeah. So those I made to just be a writing challenge to get better at writing prose because I started in theatre. So used to creating one woman shows and devised pieces and all of my craft skills were around devising live things. And also as a speaker coach, it’s the like the structure of making TED talks or doing those kinds of things. So prose was new to me.

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (27:49.324)

But why not publish them? That’s what I’m asking.

Danielle (27:54.187)

Why not publish them? Because I really want to publish novels. I mean, they are published on my website.

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (27:57.326)

But why not publish what you have as well? But in a book. I don’t want to read them on your website. I want to read them in a book.

Danielle:

In a book. Okay, yeah. Yeah, I’m not averse to that at all. I think they would need more work because they’re experiments that I did in two hours and I didn’t edit. I’d really kept to that timeline. I know which ones I would want to go back and rework. In terms of sequencing, my plan is to get a book deal in traditional publishing, as scary as that might be, and to write a standalone. That’s what I’ll be submitting this year and that’s what I want to do first.

I think at one time I thought I could do it all, but now I’m quite careful about sequencing creative projects so that I do them and finish them. Yeah.

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (28:40.462)

No, fair enough. Yeah. I just wondered, I wondered about those because so many people I talk to have a lot of unpublished work and we’re living in a world where you can do whatever you want in terms of publishing. And also what I like about finishing, I mean, I publish just individual short stories. So I sell them on my site. I put them on Amazon. I narrate the audio, which I find a really good way of just kind of editing, but also connection with my readers. So this is sort of, you know, me narrating for 20 minutes, a short story is a really nice way to connect.  And it reveals so much about us.

And here’s a tip for people who want a traditional publishing deal. The size of your email list is a really good measure. So building up your email list and building up relationships with your email list is super important for selling books. And when you’re pitching a traditional publisher, as well as the work that you’re pitching, you would also have a couple of sentences. You know, I also have a podcast that has this many downloads. I have an email list of this size. This is your author platform, which is an important thing to talk about. So it would just be a suggestion as someone who thinks about this, which is maybe just take a couple of those things, put them, maybe record them, because of course you have a lovely voice and include them in your email newsletter as –  this is something you might enjoy which is some of my work. What do you think about that? How does that make you feel?

Danielle (30:13.515)

Yeah. I think that’s a great idea. I think the only reason I hadn’t considered it was because I was trying not to do too many things at the same time. And I wanted to get, my novel’s called Beth Raises Hell and it’s like until this is finished, then no more creative projects. I hadn’t thought about the fact that that could just be something that goes on the website, which is amazing. Because I think mainly I was thinking… these are going to take more work and I’ve also kind of got my eye on them for more developed work.

In general, I have to say I’m not super into short stories, even though I’ve written a 52 and I’m currently doing a reading challenge where like at the end of this week, I’ll have read 500 because I’m doing the Ray Bradbury one too.

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (30:57.614)

Well, you’re more into them than most people. But I guess the bigger point is that it is about, part of the shadow stuff is showing elements of ourselves. So for example, there’s nothing to stop you. These works are your copyright, whatever you do with them. There’s nothing to stop you. Here’s like a 10 minute thing that you wrote, you don’t need to edit it, you can just read it, send it to your email list. Later on, if you want to develop that into something more significant, you can do that. So I think this is something I want people to consider with their work is how many ways can you get your stuff into the world that people can see glimpses of you in that make them want to follow your career, that make them want to maybe buy your book when it comes out.

Danielle (31:20.619)

Yeah. Okay. That’s great. Mmm.

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (31:49.838)

Or come to your standup event or come to your whatever. And look, we’re living in a world where creating with AI, for example, is easier than ever. So you have to be more human. You have to show elements of yourself. So it could even be that you take a couple of lines and in an email to your list, you say,….even advertising this episode to your list, you send an email and say, I noticed this and so I found this in my story. Or we’ve talked about a story the one with your dad and the lampshade why can’t we read that. You know you could link to that in the notes, you could narrate that. So I guess this part of it is connection with other people that we have to do in order to have a creative career and also put ourselves out there.

Danielle (32:34.251)

Yeah, no, I love that. That’s really great advice and I’m definitely going to do that. And do you think that having an email list for fiction is important? I know I’m sold on that for nonfiction, but do you think? And particularly if you’re writing for young adults, because that’s my other question…because I’m like, do they read emails though?

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (32:49.582)

Oh, absolutely. Okay, do you actually know the audience for young adult fiction?

Danielle:

Yeah, I was going to say most of it’s adults. So yeah, yes.

Joanna:

Yes. The average age of YA readers is about 45 to 65 year old women. So I think remember, and people listening, if they’re confused, a YA book is one where the protagonist is a young adult. It doesn’t mean that the readers are young adult. Now, and I think this is the issue with kind of TikTok and all of this is it makes it look like only young, beautiful 21-year-olds are kind of writing this kind of book. But readers read everything. I mean, my Mapwalkers books, they’re they’re YA.

You know, I think an email list is important, whatever you do. And of course, it’s not just… you can just have a list for Danielle. It’s all it’s all the things you do. I think this is where we are now in the world in terms of creators. It’s like whatever people do. We’re interested in what they’re doing. So I wrote Pilgrimage, you know, my midlife memoir, and that’s under JF Penn, the same as Desecration, which is like horror, crime horror, or my action adventure, Stone of Fire. Similar people are buying this because it’s me. So I think you have to, yeah, really think about yourself as the brand and attract people who will be interested in what you’re writing.

Danielle (34:21.003)

Yeah. Amazing. Great. So I’m just going to ask you one question and then we will wrap up, which is just that you talked about thinking about memorable characters and in all different kinds of media and looking at them for what the sort of shadow might be in those. You’ve already mentioned Succession and Logan Roy. I wondered if there’s any other examples so that if listeners are kind of getting their eye in, they can be like, oh, that is interesting. Yeah. That character. Oh, that’s the flaw or the shadow.

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (34:52.142)

Oh, there’s so many, there’s so many.

Danielle (34:53.547)

I know. Or even from your own work, whichever you prefer.

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (34:57.518)

Yeah, I mean, I was, when I was thinking, and again, these are, well, in Succession, obviously Shiv as the female character and she, again, no spoilers, but ends up being very central to… and in fact, her shadow is what we question even at the very end of the series. It is her we come back to and wonder what is going on there. And the poster, I don’t know if you’ve got the poster in your head of the last season. Again, no spoilers, but the poster is exactly shadow. It’s very, very interesting. There’s a little tip for people. Go look at Succession season…what is it…four? The poster where Shiv is standing there. Have a look at that. See if you can spot what I’m talking about. But yeah, there was another film and it’s a really old one. Legends of the Fall. Do you remember that?

Danielle (35:46.731)

Legends of the Fall. That title’s really familiar, but it’s not coming to mind, no.

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (35:50.702)

It’s really now, it’s an older one. Brad Pitt in his very hot era and Anthony Hopkins as the father. And it’s basically, it’s a father son story. There’s a father and three sons. And again, it’s very similar. This is what I’m attracted to as someone who is kind of obsessed with the father issues and the sibling issues with the father. And. It’s such a great movie. It’s one of these movies that you think, I want to write that. I want to write a family epic that is that complex. So yeah, the film is Legends of the Fall and you will see so much violence in the same way as Succession, not bloody violence, but this kind of familial violence. And then just to bring it back to my own work, I’m just about to pitch for a film, my novella, Catacomb, which again is a father who will do anything to save his daughter and they’re estranged, but she’s been kidnapped by this evil cabal and taken to be sacrificed to a monster under Edinburgh. It is monster horror.

But again, he has to face his darkest fears, the things that he didn’t want to face in order to save her. And I was trying to bring in there the Armageddon, do you remember Armageddon? With Bruce Willis who saves Liv Tyler and also Taken with Liam Neeson. I love these things where there is a strong father who saves their child, their daughter. And yet why I love Succession is that it’s not what happens and that’s the reality. But of course in our work we do try and write some fantasy as well. But yeah, it does, I mean, it keeps coming back.

But what I would say to people is when you’re writing your own stuff. If you can’t spot the shadow, someone else might be able to see it for you. But also you could just try and deliberately write it in and see what happens. And you can’t just have the hero or heroine always being super good. Like they have to have a darker side.

Danielle (37:58.763)

Yeah, perfect, perfect for comedy too. Thank you. Thank you Joanna. You are so smart and so helpful. I really appreciate you. Where can people go to find out more about you and your work?

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (38:12.716)

Well, this is a podcast, so you can go to my podcast, The Creative Penn Podcast, P -E -N -N, and also I’m on YouTube, The Creative Penn, and my fiction is JFPenn .com, and you’ll find everything there.

Danielle (38:25.887)

Yes, and definitely check out Writing the Shadow: Turn Your Inner Darkness into Words. So helpful. Thank you so much for your time today, Joanna.

Joanna (J.F.) Penn (38:32.718)

Thanks for having me.