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Alumna pens best-selling crime novels set in Saskatoon

Posted on 2018-12-13 in Alumni

Joanne Paulson (BA'82) is the author of Adam's Witness and Broken Through. (Photo by Chris Putnam)

By Shannon Boklaschuk

The old adages “write what you know” and “art imitates life” may seem to apply in the case of local author Joanne Paulson.

Paulson, a longtime Saskatoon journalist, recently penned two crime novels that are set in her hometown. Complete with murder, mystery and a complicated romance between a tough newspaper reporter and a handsome, troubled police investigator, the books have attracted fans at home, throughout North America and beyond.

“I wanted to write something that was powerfully set here—that you really knew this was Saskatoon, because you could see the river and some of the landmarks and you could walk along the Meewasin Trail,” Paulson, a University of Saskatchewan (USask) alumna who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in political studies in 1982, said during an interview at USask’s Murray Library.

Following her undergraduate education at USask’s College of Arts and Science, Paulson built a successful journalism career in the city, working at the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, The Western Producer and, most recently, the Saskatoon Express.

By self-publishing her books Adam’s Witness and Broken Through under the name J.C. Paulson, the journalist-turned-novelist sought to add to the relatively small collection of fictional works that are situated in Saskatoon.

Novelist Joanne Paulson has worked as a journalist in Saskatoon for decades. (Photo by Chris Putnam)

“Even a lot of local authors don’t set their books in Saskatoon, right? And I always wanted to see my city reflected back to me,” she said. “I didn’t want to read endless novels about Toronto or New York or Los Angeles or Paris or London. You know, there are enough of those.”

It seems the Saskatoon stories are resonating with readers. For example, Paulson’s debut novel, Adam’s Witness, was named the best-selling local fiction book of 2017 by McNally Robinson Booksellers.

“That was incredibly exciting,” she said.

Broken Through, the sequel to Adam’s Witness, was officially launched on Nov. 21, 2018, at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Saskatoon. It, too, quickly became a best-selling book at the store.

Although she is a longtime Saskatoon resident, Paulson didn’t write the novels so that they could be set in Saskatoon, but rather because she had something to say that she couldn’t fully express as a journalist.

“When you’re a journalist, you are very, very close—always—to proving the facts,” she said, noting journalists must be objective in their reporting. That’s not the case with novelists, however.

Fiction writers are free to tell their stories as they wish, and Paulson’s books touch on important social issues in addition to weaving compelling crime tales. For example, Adam’s Witness explores homophobia and violence against members of the LGBTQ+ community, while Broken Through examines violence against women and how society responds to it.

It was the points Paulson was trying to make about social issues that contributed to her writing the books.

“I think it’s just the way my brain works, that it needs to have a point to live,” she said. “It’s just the way I am, I suppose, and why I had the career I did.”

Paulson named the journalist protagonist in her books Grace Rampling, and Grace’s love interest is Sergeant Adam Davis. But Paulson said she didn’t write about a reporter simply because she herself has been one, but rather because the character of Grace was “just so real to me."

“The whole plot, including the two main characters, seriously came to me in the middle of the night one night,” Paulson said, adding the strong female reporters she has known over the years informed her creation of Grace.

“That’s who she is. She’s an amalgam of all the powerful women journalists I’ve worked with.”

Paulson said her first book took between two to three years to complete, from conceiving the idea to writing it to selling it at McNally Robinson Booksellers and online. The next book was finished more quickly, in about a year. She is now working on the third novel in the Grace and Adam series, which she expects to launch in the first half of 2019.

Paulson has learned much by self-publishing the books, including formatting the novels, choosing cover images and creating websites.

“I have learned how to use social media. I have learned how to connect with people in a way I never have before,” she said. “I have Twitter followers from the United Kingdom—all over the place—from Denmark, from the Netherlands, from all over the United States, Canada and a couple in Australia. And that is amazing.”

Paulson credits her post-secondary education for providing her with a strong foundation on which to build a career in journalism. She originally had aspirations of becoming a war correspondent and knew that journalism was in her future when she came to the USask campus.

“I wanted a degree here that was going to advance that career aim, and so my degree was in political science,” Paulson said, adding her USask education gave her the “strong political underpinning” needed in journalism.

“To this day, I think, I have largely retained the philosophical underpinnings—left, right, up, down—of the global political landscape, and it really oriented me. I had great profs. I loved it here.”


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