About Me


So glad you found me.

I’ve been writing since the age of nine. When I was a fourth grader my parents were called to school because I filled my hours writing stories instead of listening in class. I believed I kept my work well hidden by crouching low over my desktop and hiding my paper behind a textbook.

I’m a Wisconsin native. I grew up in an area known as Pheasant Branch–a wonderland of willow trees, chokecherry, sandhill cranes and open waters.  I spent many nights huddled beneath my covers  in a dark bedroom, my bed against an open window,  listening to the evening chorus of crickets and killdeer. I refused to sleep–forcing my eyes to remain open–until I heard the 10 o’clock whistle of the Milwaukee Road rumbling through the other end of town.

I grew up with 4 siblings. When very little we slept 3 to a bed, until I turned 10 and we became 2 to a bed. I shared a bed with a family member–usually my grandmother–until I reached 21 and left home to marry.  My brother and I were very close. I trusted him completely. We were raised as twins, only to learn at the age of 10 that we weren’t twins–we weren’t even brother and sister.

I was taught at an early age to lie about who I was and who my parents were. As a result I had various last names while growing up–Cornelius, Guzinsky, Mathewson–until eventually at the ripe old age of 32, I learned my correct surname, Woodford.

My love of reading began at the age of 11 when wanting to escape disapproving relatives–all of whom I’d learned earlier, of course, weren’t actually relatives–I walked out of a wedding reception, crossed an unpaved road and entered the town library.  Inside it was quiet. Much cooler than the August heat on the opposite side of the street. I was overwhelmed at the surrounding books and spent the afternoon flipping through pages, stumbling over words I couldn’t pronounce and hadn’t a clue as to what they meant. I’d never been inside a public library before and I realized I’d never stay away again. I had found a true treasure–survival in another world.

And I’m happy to admit that growing up shrouded by secrets made for great writing material! I was taking a third year creative writing class at the University of Wisconsin in Madison when my professor seriously suggested I drop out of school and do nothing but write. Following her advice, I took a job as press editor in the Communication’s department at the University and when I wasn’t working, I was writing.

I won both first and second place in the creative writing category at the University of Wisconsin Writer’s Institute. My short stories, poetry and essays have appeared in various local and national publications—Finding Voices, Free Verse, the Medical Encounter and newsletters.  I’ve also been invited to read my fiction on WORT, a local radio station in Madison and in both local and national bookstores.

I have a completed manuscript (adult/women’s fiction) titled A Sparrow’s Song.  Please read about it on the following page.

I’m currently working on the first draft of another novel I’ve titled Riffraff. An adolescent girl and her brother believe they are twins until one of them stumbles upon a dead body while struggling to find their way across a dark prairie in North Dakota.


Books and Synopsis

A Sparrow’s Song by JoAnn Woodford

Set in the mid-1950’s in the tiny, midwestern village of Branch Creek, a married woman and mother of two, 25-year-old Eve Byrd, is haunted by her past when her supposedly dead father, Burke, re-enters her life. Eve’s father had been a cruel and abusive man. His abuse began when Eve was a small child, shortly after her mother committed suicide and ceased when her father left home, leaving Eve to fend for herself at the age of fourteen. Not hearing from her father since, Eve is convinced he is dead. And her father’s abuse? Eve has promised herself she’ll take that secret to her grave. 

Eve and her out-of-work husband, Paul have two children—eight-year-old, Lolly and 11-year-old, Mark. Eve keeps her promise and remains silent about her father’s abuse. When Paul allows Burke to live with them in exchange for money, Eve becomes frantic. She must get her father out from under her roof and away from her young daughter, Lolly. Believing extra money will help and, without her husband’s permission, Eve takes a waitress job at a local tavern, the Red Feather. 

Lolly is excited to learn she has a grandfather, but worries he’ll favor her much smarter and older brother, Mark. She is thrilled when she realizes Grandpa Burke prefers her, but soon becomes frightened by his strange behavior. He runs his tongue up and down her neck, tickles her without mercy and presses her uncomfortably close to his body. Lolly attempts to tell her mother and Mark about Grandpa Burke’s unwelcome behavior, but Mark loves his grandfather and refuses to listen and her mother’s infatuation with the town doctor, Gerald Levi, as well as her increased bouts with alcohol prevent her from  accepting what’s happening in her daughter’s life.

Winters are long and harsh in Branch Creek and when spring arrives,  Lolly is thrilled to learn she has won a school contest.  She dares to think that perhaps she is no longer a drab, puny, not-too-smart Sparrow, but a beautiful, smart, red-breasted Robin, singing a Robin’s song.

A carton of rat poison disappears from the Red Feather’s kitchen, and shortly after Grandpa Burke’s health severely declines. When Dr. Levi insists Eve  spend more time caring for her father, their romance dwindles and her emotions are shattered. 

In the middle of the night, following an attempt to end her life in a nearby lake, Eve is rescued by overnight fishermen and returned home. She is defeated and can no longer keep her secret. Eve confides in her only friend, Ruth, an elderly, yet feisty co-worker at the Red Feather. After sharing the details about her father’s abuse, Eve’s life changes. Her secret is out. She experiences a new way of living and a freedom she’s never known before.  

While Eve is regaining her strength, Ruth remains in the household. She works secretly, preparing Grandpa Burke’s food. A day later, after asking Eve for forgiveness, Grandpa Burke dies. Eve is silent, withdrawn, confused by her pity for him. Lolly is overjoyed. She has been set free. After examining Burke’s body, Dr. Levi comments that if he didn’t know any better, he’d think the “old man had been poisoned.” Lolly is shaken by Dr. Levi’s comment and that afternoon, she discovers an empty carton of rat poison hidden beneath the kitchen sink. 

At her grandfather’s wake, Lolly dares to look directly at her grandfather’s body. After all, he’s dead. He can never hurt her again. And Eve? She is stunned by his death and remains silent, finally grateful for the husband she has at her side. 

And how exactly did Grandpa Burke die? Did Ruth poison him? What about Dr. Levi? Did he poison the old man? Or was Burke beaten to death by his own guilt and shame?