Joan Koonce – Integrity in a Box of Chocolates: Consuming Life’s Hardships One Bite at a Time

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

The title of my book published December 1, 2009 is Integrity in a Box of Chocolates: Consuming Life’s Hardships One Bite at a Time. The book is a personal memoir that begins with me walking across the stage at The Ohio State University to accept my third college degree (Ph.D.). It describes how I thought accomplishments would free me from years of self doubt, low self-esteem, and lack of confidence that developed from a past of poverty, abuse, and hardship. Through my life and the life of my son, I share my gripping story from poverty to discrimination, to alcohol and drug addiction, and sexual, emotional, and physical abuse, and ultimately how my life was restored. The booked is packed full of emotions. You may be crying one minute and laughing the next.

Tell us something about yourself.

I grew up in rural North Carolina on a tobacco farm where my father was a tenant farmer. I am the 9th of 10 children. I currently live in Athens Georgia where I work as an Associate Professor and Financial Planning Specialist at the University of Georgia (UGA). I taught undergraduate and graduate financial planning courses at UGA for 17 years. I currently develop financial planning educational materials, train county employees, and conduct workshops and seminars for the general public in the area of financial planning. I have been writing in my profession for over 20 years. I started writing in graduate school, and writing has always been and still is a part of my job. I have published research articles in journals and conference proceedings. I had only written professionally until I started counseling a number of years ago to deal with unresolved issues from my past. As a result, my personal memoir: Integrity in a Box of Chocolates: Consuming Life’s Hardships One Bite at a Time was written.

What inspired you to write this book?

My now deceased husband encouraged me to write the book. After giving it a lot of thought, I believed, as he did, that my life story could encourage, inspire, and motivate others who are dealing with difficult situations. By writing the book, I hope to communicate to others that no matter what they have gone through, they can live a fulfilling, rewarding, and happy life. I honestly believe that if you look for the good and hope for the best in every situation, despite any hardships, life can still be great. We can’t change our past, but we can change how we allow our past to affect our lives. Hopefully, my story will help others to use their past to make positive changes in their lives and encourage others.

How did you choose the title?

As I tried to make sense of my life and reconcile the events of my past, Forrest Gump’s famous adage came to mind: “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get”, so I decided to let a box of chocolates represent my life. A box of chocolates has many different kinds (chocolate with nuts, caramel, fruit, etc.) of chocolate in the box. When we buy a box of chocolate, we don’t always know if we will like each kind. Some pieces we like, and some we dislike. When we are born, we have no idea what kind of situations we will face in life and whether or not we will enjoy each of these situations. My book is a collection of stories that represent the different situations I have encountered in my life. By the way, I love chocolate, but honestly that was not a factor in my decision. The subtitle was recommended by the publisher, and I liked it.

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

I was really fortunate because I did not encounter any obstacles in getting my book published. I submitted to one traditional publisher, and after five months, I received a contract. I was surprised because I publish in my profession, and I know how difficult it is just to get a journal article published. Because I know how difficult it can be to get published, I had originally planned to self publish, but decided to try a traditional publisher. I am glad that I did.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

I did not grow up wanting to be a writer, and I never thought I would write a book. My desire to write stems from wanting to help others. I want to write books that will encourage, motivate, and inspire others.

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

My book is a true story, and my characters are real. However, I did not use their real names, but used their real names to decide on my character names. For example, if the person’s real name was Marilyn, I gave that person a name that started with the letter M such as Michelle.

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

I learned that writing and publishing a book is a very time consuming task from beginning to end. From a writing standpoint, I learned that the first draft does not have to be perfect. Trying to make the initial draft perfect can hinder the creative writing process and prevent you from ever completing the book. From the publishing standpoint, the publishing process for a book is not a speedy process. There are many channels you have to go through after your book is accepted for publication (copy editor, conceptual editor, back matter writer, cover design, etc.) before you have a finished product, so it is important to be patient.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?

I don’t really have any favorite authors. I like to read inspirational books. For me, inspirational books are typically nonfiction books about people who have overcome difficult situations. I always like a happy ending.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
As mentioned earlier, I want to write books that encourage, inspire, and motivate others. I have started writing a book about me and my deceased husband’s emotional and physical battle with leukemia. I also plan to write a story about my journey with my son’s addiction to drugs and alcohol. In both of these tragic situations, I have learned many good lessons, and I want to pass these lessons on to others.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

The best advice I can give others about writing is to just get it on paper. Many times we want a perfect, polished book when we finish the first draft. Don’t worry about how it sounds. The most important thing at this point is to get the ideas on paper. You can always make it better later. Also, know that it is time consuming to write, so don’t get discouraged. With respect to publishing, don’t give up if you are turned down by a publisher. If a publisher does not accept your work, it does not mean it is not good work. Keep trying.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

The perfect reader for my book is anyone, especially women, who have dealt with poverty, sexual molestation as a child, discrimination, alcohol and/or drug addiction, abortion, sexual, emotional and physical abuse, and the resulting feelings and emotional turmoil that comes from dealing with these issues.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

It can be purchased wherever books are sold and at If you want to purchase your copy from a bookstore, and it is not in stock, the bookstore can order it for you. It can also be found at online bookstores.