Q+A with Author Joma West
Evocative and strange, sometimes dark and often hopeful, Joma West's writing draws you in with its brilliant world-building and keeps you there with its cast of characters. I've been in the lucky position of having read Joma's work for years. We met through mutual writing friends while I was in graduate school and have been in a writing group ever since. There's probably no cooler feeling than having been an early reader for a book that finds its home in the wider world. I was one of the first readers of Joma's Face, a speculative novel set in a world where (as Joma herself says below) 'popularity is glory." Face will be published by Tordotcom in Autumn 2022. I asked Joma questions about the book, her writing process, and the tricky business of getting your book published.
In Joma West's Face, Margaret Atwood meets Kazuo Ishiguro in this sci-fi domestic drama that reimagines race and class in a genetically engineered society fed by performative fame. How much is your Face worth?
In three words, tell us about Face.
Popularity is glory.
What inspired the idea for Face?
Face started out as a short story, and I got the idea for it when I was chatting with a friend who told me they were sick of how much emphasis media put on sex. Seeing bodies and sex everywhere was kind of putting them off the very idea of intimacy. I could relate to that and I thought what an interesting idea – what if people just didn’t ever touch each other? What would society look like then? How would people have children?
What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
Getting the first draft done. It often feels like pulling teeth when I’m writing out a story in its first iteration. But then when it comes time to edit I really start to have fun. Of course it’s not always the same, each story comes with different challenges, but Face was not very fun to get down and then was a joy to edit.
What part of the book was the most fun to write?
Writing Naomi’s chapter was really fun because she was so much more relatable than a lot of the other characters. I really enjoyed writing the flip side of conversations I had already written in previous chapters also, especially writing Schuyler’s side of his interactions with Reyna. Reyna and Tam’s outfits and interactions were great. I kind of wish I’d spent more time dressing them up and taking them out to parties, but Reyna wouldn’t let me.
Let's talk about genre, which feels like such a squishy term. When you were writing Face, did you have an idea in mind for what genre it is? Has that changed since working with a publisher? What genres inspired Face?
Big question! I think from the conception of Face I knew it was going to fall into a science fiction bracket. My SF style is very soft though, and light on the science. I think Tordotcom are selling it as SF with a literary edge... But science fiction was definitely the genre that inspired Face, in particular Ursula K. Le Guin’s work – she was a huge inspiration because a lot of her work feels like questions she’s simply exploring, with no real emphasis on getting to a clear answer and that was how I approached Face too.
What music do you recommend readers listen to while reading Face? Do you have a writing playlist?
I love the idea of writing playlists and I listen to music with a lot of my work, but Face was written in silence. I think with the emphasis on fashion and performativity, music in the world of Face would be balanced on a knife edge and always changing. That’s too much pressure to handle, if I suggested anything for a reader to listen to now I feel like the song would be out of date by the turn of a page.
As a debut author, what surprised you about the 'business' of publishing?
I think everything about publishing is a surprise. I’m really learning as I go along. I was told the galleys of my book were ready and I had to google what a galley was. The other day I was so surprised when I was asked about my thoughts on voice actors for the audio book. I hadn’t even thought about the fact that there was going to be an audio book!
What's next? What are you working on now?
As for what’s next, well I’m waiting for edits on my second book which is (currently) called Shift. It’s a different animal from Face – more of a fantasy piece – but I’m playing with points of view again, although this time there are only three POVs. While I wait on those edits I am working on a third novel, aptly called The Waiting Room. The going is slow – those first drafts are murder!
If you love the sound of Face, add it to your list on Goodreads and Storygraph. You can pre-order Face in the US via Macmillan Books, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. Get it in the UK via Amazon and Blackwell's.