In the Spotlight: An Interview with Journalist & Nonfiction Author Jo Ann Mathews

 by Suzanne Lieurance

Journalist Jo Ann Mathews

In the spotlight this month is a writer who writes nonfiction books but also writers for newspapers and other print publications. 


Jo Ann Mathews lives and writes in North Carolina, and I wanted to find out more about her life as a writer.


Read this interview to find out what I learned about Jo Ann.


Suzanne Lieurance: Tell us about yourself, Jo Ann. How did you become a writer? What kinds of things do you write?


Jo Ann Mathews: Like all writers, I always loved to read, so I wanted to be the next Carolyn Keene and write my version of Nancy Drew. 


Who had time to write anything other than essays and research papers while in high school, college, and graduate school? 


Then, while teaching, I had to READ students’ essays and research papers. 


It wasn’t until my youngest son entered kindergarten and I was teaching part time that I decided to use my mornings to write my novel. 


It took two years, and it never sold! 


A quirk of fate started me on the path to writing feature stories. 


Our brand new, month-old Buick was stolen from a movie theatre parking lot. 


Rather than write about the inconvenience and disruption to our lives, I wrote a humorous piece about the benefits of being without a car, how neighbors and friends came to the rescue, bought our groceries, took our sons to their activities, how my husband and I could relax and dictate what we wanted everyone to do for us. 


I included how friends offered cars to us, and we got picky on which cars we liked the best. 


I started investigating other stories to write, and I learned that a neighbor of mine was the fiancé of Otis Wilson, a linebacker for the Chicago Bears, and that another player from a 1960s Bears winning team and his wife lived nearby.


I thought the story was from the women’s point of view. 


Both women consented to an interview. 


I compared the two women’s experiences and sent the story to my local newspaper.  


I got a call from the features editor, who asked me if I wanted to write as a freelancer for the paper.  


That started me on my journalism career.


SL: What is a typical writing day like for you?


JM: I go to my office by 8:30 Monday through Saturday and check the schedule of activities I wrote for myself the night before. 


I work on my assignments or my novel until noon, except on Monday when I attend the Monday Morning Shove via Zoom at 11am Eastern. 


I come back to my desk around 4pm to finish whatever writing I designated for that day. 


I finish by 5:30.


On Sundays I usually work on my novel or assignments in late afternoon.


SL: How did you decide to specialize in writing about women and adversity?


JM: Men get credit for accomplishments, but women are often overlooked.  


I wrote a list of my interests and realized I wanted to know how famous women, especially women writers, overcame the obstacles in their paths. 


I come from a family of women, my mother had four sisters and I have two, so I thought women should be recognized.


SL: How do you find primary and secondary sources for your articles for newspapers and magazines? 


JM: I do searches online to find out more about my topic and the person(s) I’m writing about.


I read published articles and contact people or topics mentioned in those articles when appropriate.


I call or email people where the subject of my story works. 


For example, recently I wrote about a woman who owns a window cleaning/commercial business cleaning company.


I knew of one company that hires her on a contract basis, so I called the business manager there and asked her some questions.


I find information on Facebook. 


Another recent story I was writing posted facts on Facebook about the event, so I got information there.


SL: What is the most difficult part of writing nonfiction for publication?


JM: Getting the facts correct. 


I contacted two people who were subjects of an event I covered recently to find out if what I wrote was accurate. 


It turned out I was given incorrect information to begin with. 


I was told one person was the chair of the event. NO. She was chair of a committee. 


Go to the source, confirm the facts and information.  


SL: What do you enjoy most about writing nonfiction?


JM: The broad scope of the topics I cover, and the people who have the information I need. 


The first assignment I ever got was on autism--which I knew nothing about—and I saw firsthand what autism is. 


I felt the emotion of the mother as she talked. 


I was riveted watching her son.


SL: Can you share a few self-editing tips for nonfiction writers?


JM: Reread and reread. 


Use the “Read Aloud” feature on your word processing program. 


Any questions about spelling, capitalization, usage? 




If you question something a person/s you interviewed said, call, text or email them to verify. 


SL: What writing projects are you working on right now?


JM: Two young women bought a building and turned it into a marketplace for vendors to sell their wares. 


A man sells his vinyl records, a photographer sells her photos, a nonprofit organization sells lightly used women’s accessories. 


There are about 10-15 vendors and a restaurant and bar. 


I want to know how they came to buy the building, why they wanted to have the marketplace, how their husbands reacted when they proposed the idea. 


I always look for stories to suggest to my editor.


I want to interview the president and CEO of a hospital, so I will propose that idea.  


I write the blog Women and Adversity and post twice a month, on the second and fourth Thursdays. 


I know. It should be more, but I tried more, and it wasn’t working. 


My post on Thanksgiving Day will be about Anne L’Huillier, who won the Nobel Prize for physics. 


I have already written about the other three women Nobelists. 


In December I will feature Friends Come to Call, the latest in the Tow Truck Murder Mysteries by Karen C. Whalen.  


It has a Christmas theme. 


The other post will be about Amy Vine, who sells wares in Michigan. 


I have a few more stories that are in the developing stages.


SL: What is your best overall tip for nonfiction writers?


JM: Besides being accurate with facts, including the correct spelling of people’s names--look around for stories. 


They surround us. 


What business just opened?  


What trends are grabbing teens? Young women? Older women? Men? 


People love humor.


Think of a humorous twist to a situation that will make people roar.


Sports are big.


Is there an ice skater, snow boarder, skier, swimmer who deserves recognition —especially if she or he is under 18 or over 50?   


SL: Where can we find out more about you and connect with you online?


JM: My website is


My blog is there, but a direct line is is a good contact.


Texting? 312-213-5638.

Jo Ann & Members of Her North Carolina Writers Group

For more author interviews and writing tips, visit and get your free subscription to The Morning Nudge.

Suzanne Lieurance is an award-winning author with over 40 published books and a writing coach. 

She lives and writes by the sea with her husband, Adrian, on Florida's beautiful Treasure Coast.



Terry Whalin said...


Thank you for writing this profile on Jo Ann Matthews. I loved the details in this interview about how she found her writing niche as well as how she works her schedule. Each of us can gain insights and learn from her example for our own writing life.

author of Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success (Revised Edition) [Follow the Link for a FREE copy]

Suzanne Lieurance said...

Thanks, Terry.

I always find I learn something of value for my own writing when I interview other writers.


Karen Cioffi said...

Suzanne, very interesting author interview on Jo Ann Matthews. It's helpful for writers to learn how other writers got started, how they found their niche, and how they create a writing schedule that works. Thanks for sharing.

Angela said...

Great interview Suzanne. JoAnn I enjoyed hearing your story. It's interesting how our projects and paths sometimes find us, quite the way the newspaper wanted you as part of their team. I like how your writing time is scheduled and consistent. Kudos to you.

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