Interview With Joelle Steele

Photo of Joelle Steele, 2005

The Life of a Writer and Artist:
A World of Creativity in Self-Publishing and the Internet

by Barbara Cabot
Freelance Magazine, 2005

I now have complete creative control over my own works by self-publishing them and then taking advantage of the Internet as a vehicle for marketing them. -- Joelle Steele

I moved to San Francisco in 1999, but I have kept in touch with Joelle Steele over the years. I drove down to visit her at her house in Monterey, California, just a few miles south of the San Francisco Bay Area. We sat on her patio in the shade of a trio of pine trees, looked out over her garden, and talked again about her art and writing, and her upcoming relocation to Washington state.

Barbara Cabot: You live in a house now. What a change from your tiny studio apartment in Venice Beach.
Joelle Steele: Oh yes. Big change. Even bigger change on the way because I'm moving to Washington state in just a few months.
BC: But isn't Monterey a great artistic inspiration?
JS: Yes, in some ways it is, but it's not the right place for me. I intended to spend the rest of my life here, but instead it has turned out to be a transitional place, and I'm now done here and ready to move on.
BC: So what has been happening over the past 13-1/2 years since we last spoke? What are you creating these days?
JS: Lots of how-to books. Just finished my fourth for the year. It's about how to create a successful Web site. I wrote it for the horticultural industry, but I plan to expand it sometime in the future for small businesses in general.
BC: I notice you have a few extensive Web sites yourself.
JS: Yes. I started the first one in 1994, and I just developed it more and more over the years. It is a tremendous creative vehicle for me. I split it into two Web sites, and then spun off a third, etc. I'll spin off more as time permits.
BC: I see you have pages for all your creative pursuits.
JS: Pretty much. I am very drawn to the horticultural stuff, so that's kind of my priority. That and looking for more cover illustration work.
BC: Where do you find the time to do it all?
JS: It's about all I do work-wise. I spend at least five hours every day writing or designing stuff. I've got more software now that helps me creatively.
BC: Do you draw on the computer?
JS: No. I like the feel of traditional drawing and painting tools and materials. The feel of the pen on the paper, the creaminess of the paints. But I have a scanner and image management software, so I can do things for myself and my clients that I could never have done all on my own when we last spoke in 1992.
BC: For example ...
JS: Well, many years ago, if I was designing a cover I would paint a picture or take a photo, and then I'd have to find ways to make it look the way I envisioned it, then get the fonts done, then lay it all out manually and have it shot, and it was just a long and tedious process. Now I do it all from start to finish on my computer and it is very fast and easy by comparison. I can even superimpose the typesetting.
BC: Are you still writing poetry?
JS: Of course. I even self-published a book of poems called "A Tapestry of Eden."
BC: Self-publishing appears to be a significant part of what you do these days.
JS: Yes, and I find that the entire process, from writing the books to typesetting them, doing illustrations for them, and even the marketing, is extremely enjoyable and fulfilling. Self-publishing is definitely not for everybody. But, for me, I now have complete creative control over my own works by self-publishing them and then taking advantage of the Internet as a vehicle for marketing them.
BC: How much client work do you do?
JS: Well, I rarely edit the way I used to, still do some writing for hire, but mostly I focus on my book sales and illustration and design work.
BC: So how are your book sales?
JS: Well, they were very slow a year ago, but now they are greatly improved. I've been working at boosting my Web site rankings in the search engines, and that is making me a lot more visible, so sales have gone up considerably.
BC: How many more books are on your list of books to write?
JS: Oh, that list! It has really grown. There are about 40 in various stages of completion. I just kind of pick one, work on it for a while, go on to another one, finish it, pick out another one ... and I also do new books that aren't even on the list. I'll never do all of them, but I never run out of ideas.
BC: What will be your next book?
JS: There are three for the horticultural industry that I'm trying to decide on at the moment. I'm also working on developing more contract templates that I can sell from my Web site and deliver by E-mail.
BC: You've got more outlets for creativity it seems.
JS: Definitely.
BC: And you have a garden.
JS: Yes. It was bare dirt just five years ago. I'll be sorry to leave it. So much of my heart went into it. But, oh my aching back!
BC: Is there a garden for you in Washington?
JS: With all that rain, you can count on it. My house there is almost three times the size of this one and it's on a third of an acre, so there's more room to garden. It also has more than a dozen 180' tall Douglas fir trees on it. I can't ever seem to get enough trees!
BC: You said that back in 1992.
JS: Well, I guess that means I'm consistent!
BC: What will you be doing in Washington?
JS: I'll continue my self-publishing business and expand it. And I will still be doing illustration and digital photo restoration, facial features analysis, probably still do a little landscape design. I'm trying to keep my options open for everything.
BC: You said that before too.
JS: Well, keeping your mind open to all the possibilities is part of being creative.
BC: I see you even wrote a book about expanding creativity.
JS: That would be "Unblocked." I'm very happy with that book. Unfortunately, I don't have any time to market it. It has only sold about 100 copies, so I need to do something with it soon.
BC: Are you teaching?
JS: Not as much as I did in southern California, but I plan to teach again when I'm settled in Washington.
BC: Will you miss California?
JS: I doubt it. Some people in California, definitely! But all my family is in Washington and that's the main attraction for me. That and the fact that it's such an incredibly beautiful part of the world.
BC: Do you have any updated advice for would-be writers and artists?
JS: For writers, yes. After more than 20 years of editing, all I can say is, please take classes in grammar, spelling, and vocabulary building. Learn how to write and communicate intelligibly. For artists — and for writers too — learn to use the Internet. It is a fabulous tool.
BC: Years ago you told me you always have a plan. Do you have one now?
JS: I'm working on one ... there are so many options, so many opportunities.
BC: So you don't suffer from the creative blocks you wrote about in "Unblocked"?
JS: I can honestly say that I am never blocked. Can't even recall the last time I was. Must be back in the early 1970s.
BC: You don't ever hit a dry spell?
JS: I wish. I could really use a break sometimes!
BC: How about art? All those abstracts you were going to paint?
JS: They are coming up in the very near future.
BC: So life is good.
JS: Yes, it's great!