Making Yourself Vulnerable on the Page


Jo Watson Hackl grew up just outside a ghost town in the middle of the Mississippi piney woods in a county where storytelling is a major form of entertainment. This tradition inspired her passion for writing. She spent her childhood inventing characters, roaming the woods, and picking way more than her share of butterbeans. She lives with her chef husband and three children in Greenville, South Carolina, where she writes every day and takes to the woods whenever she can.

How does it feel to release your debut novel SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE OF MAYBE out into the world?

Releasing SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE OF MAYBE has been an amazing experience. I wanted to create a layered book that would appeal to both young and older readers. I was able to find a way to include a ghost town, a reclusive artist, a poetry-loving dog and a clue trail. The reader response has been everything I hoped it might be, and more.


What project are you currently working on? Can you give us a sneak preview or any details?

I’m currently working on another outdoor adventure in which two cousins from feuding sides of the family have to survive on their own outdoors and work together to solve a clues trail, all the while why deciding if they can trust one another or not.


What aspect of writing SMACK DAB did you find the most challenging?

In order to make the outdoor survival scenes realistic, I trained in outdoor survival and camped out a lot. I studied everything from how to make a fire from scratch, how to gather water from trees, what plants are edible, what plants you can use for medicine, and what plants can kill you, to how to make rope out of honeysuckle vines.


 “By making myself vulnerable on the page, I learned to trust my instincts and to write the scenes that I was most afraid of writing.”


 What was one of the most surprising things about yourself or your work you learned working on SMACK DAB?

I put my whole self into the novel. I keep a writing journal. I keep details, notes, and ideas for projects. In addition, whenever I feel a strong emotion, I take careful notes of how that emotion translates physically. I tried to make every scene as honest and authentic as possible. By making myself vulnerable on the page, I learned to trust my instincts and to write the scenes that I was most afraid of writing. Hopefully, this creates a more satisfying experience for the reader.


What were the highlights of your editorial work with Free Expressions or attendance at a workshop? How would you describe its overall effect on your professional/creative trajectory?

Working with the enormously talented Lorin before submitting helped me take my writing to the next level and then working with the amazing Tracey Adams of Adams Literary and my brilliant Random House editor Shana Corey all helped bring the novel to its full potential.


What advice do you have for writers in terms of seeking out editorial services or determining what workshops or conferences would best suit their needs?

I definitely advise writers to seek professional training and advice. An outside perspective helps you refine your work.


“An outside perspective helps you refine your work.”


What outside hobbies or interests feed your writing?

I love spending time in nature and have started a website outdoorosity.orgto provide a free resource with information and inspiration about the benefit of spending time in nature and practical advice about fun things to do outside.


Do you fuel your writing with a favorite food or drink?

I fuel my writing with water with lemon, American walnuts, and a fresh flower arrangement from my garden on my desk.

 Find out more about Jo at her website, and on her Twitter account,@JoHackl. Her book is available at Amazon and your local independent bookstores. 




Share your success stories with us so we can help you spread the word and celebrate all your achievements. Make sure to let us know what workshop(s) you’ve attended or if you’re a Free Expressions editing client (Or both!).

If you have a picture, send that along too. We'll share your good news in our newsletter, on our Facebook page, and on the Free Expressions website.

Send to:


Las Vegas, NV
March 1–3, 2019

Hood River, OR
June 3 - 9, 2019

San Antonio, TX
September 23–29, 2019


Free Expressions is booking editing clients for early 2019.
 Whether you’re looking for story development help or want comprehensive feedback on a complete or partial MS, we’d love to work with you. We’ve helped hundreds of people achieve publishing—and sometimes bestselling—success.

Let us help you!

Click here to learn more about our editing services.