Thursday, September 03, 2009

Author Interview ~ Myra Johnson

Myra Johnson’s roots go deep into Texas soil, but she’s proud to be a new Oklahoman. Her writing career was launched in 1985 when she sold her first short story while taking a course through the Institute of Children’s Literature. Myra went on to teach the magazine writing course for ICL, then retired after nine years and changed her focus to romantic women's fiction. Her manuscripts have garnered awards in both ACFW and RWA contests, including the 2005 RWA Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Romance Manuscript.
Myra stays active in her church as well as local and national writers groups. She and her husband, Jack, have been married since 1972 and proudly claim two beautiful daughters and their wonderful husbands, plus five adorable grandchildren. The Johnsons share their home with two loveable dogs and a snobby parakeet.

Hello, Myra. Welcome to Novel Journey! Time to crow: What new book or project do you have coming out?

My novel One ImPerfect Christmas releases September 2009 as part of the new fiction line at Abingdon Press. Close on its heels is my Golden Heart winner, Autumn Rains, coming in October from Heartsong Presents.

This is your debut book. I love Christmas books. Why did you choose to write One ImPerfect Christmas? How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?

Wow, let me see if I can remember that far back! OIC had its beginnings nearly ten years ago, my second attempt at romantic women’s fiction. It was during the Christmas season, when they have all those sweet, sappy Christmas movies on TV—you know, the Hallmark Channel kinds of stories. I decided I wanted to write one of my own, but with a little more depth and faith.
The idea came to me in the middle of the night, a couple deeply in love and looking forward to celebrating their fiftieth Christmas together . . . only something stood in the way. That “something” became the wife’s debilitating stroke, and I imagined her daughter bearing the guilt and what it would do to the daughter’s marriage and family. How would each of them cope? How would God bring about healing and forgiveness?

Every novelist has a journey—yours has lasted over twenty-five years! You've completed fourteen manuscripts and have received (shudder) over 200 rejections letters. Please tell us what went through your mind when, at long last, you got The Call and what you did afterward.

This journey has been so long and so bumpy that to have finally arrived at this stage has me on my knees in gratitude! I’ve been writing and dreaming of having a book published since I learned how to wield a pencil. It wasn’t until 1983, though, that I got serious and enrolled in the Writing for Children & Teenagers course through the Institute of Children’s Literature. I sold a couple of stories before ever completing the course, so I felt certain book publication was just around the corner.


Fifteen years and eight middle-grade and YA book manuscripts later—with enough “almosts” to keep my hopes up but more rejections than I want to mention, the dream remained beyond reach. It was after my daughters grew up that I decided to try women’s fiction and romance. I was blessed to discover ACFW early on, back when it was still ACRW and there were less than 50 of us on the loop! I joined a critique group with DiAnn Mills, Kathleen Y’Barbo, and Martha Rogers, and I credit them with helping me lay a solid foundation in inspirational romance writing.

I kept writing, joined RWA and the Faith, Hope & Love chapter, started entering contests, won some awards and learned even more in the process. In 2005, after my Golden Heart win, I hooked up with a terrific bunch of gals who call ourselves
“The Seekers”. When we first got together, only one of us had a book contract, but as of this summer “Unpubbed Island” is all but deserted, with 11 of us published or soon to be. I can never fully express my love and gratitude for these wonderful ladies. They have wept with me through my disappointments, kept me accountable, shared their advice, and supported me every step of the way.

To make a really long story at least a little shorter, my dreams took a sudden sharp turn toward fulfillment in July 2008, the day I read about Abingdon Press’s new fiction line on Brandilyn Collins’s blog. I immediately zinged a query to Barbara Scott. Within a day she asked to see proposals for three of my manuscripts. A few days after reviewing those, she requested the full of OIC. Three weeks later I got THE CALL!

After 25 years, often waiting six months to two years or more for even a tiny “maybe” from an editor, this all happened at warp speed—but I’m not complaining. Barbara, you are the greatest!

What a great story! But it can't always be easy. Do you ever bang your head against the wall from the dreaded writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?

I suppose I’ve had writer’s block at times. Although never a shortage of ideas. The real “blocks” have had more to do with self-confidence issues—whenever I gave in to doubts that God really gave me this talent and expected me to use it, whenever I questioned God’s ability and intention to bring this longstanding dream to fruition.

Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What's the most difficult part of writing for you?

I am a confirmed seat-of-the-pants writer, so I’m very good at digging myself into holes! One area I’ve had to work on is making my main characters likable. They sometimes tend to be too much like me—moody, prone to self-pity and doubt, grouchy. That was one of the problems with my heroine in One ImPerfect Christmas. Contest judges kept wanting to slap her around and send her to therapy! (So in the final version of the book, that’s exactly what I did!)

How did (or do) you climb out (overcome it)? Pray! No, seriously. Pray, and just keep working. I also attend conferences every year, and I’ve studied tons of craft books. And a savvy critique partner is invaluable (waving to Carla Stewart)!

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?

I do my best writing in my upstairs office. Even though I love the freedom of a laptop, I hardly ever unplug. Something about being surrounded by my reference books, pens and notebooks, and all my favorite novels, writing books, and inspirational books helps keep me focused and in a “business only” state of mind. Although I’m real good at wandering around the Internet instead of working on my WIP!

What does a typical day look like for you?

Over the years I finally found a routine that works well for me. I am so NOT a morning person, but I try to be up by 6:30 or 7. My husband is semi-retired and works from home also, so we have breakfast together, read the paper, and watch a little Good Morning America. I do a couple of crossword puzzles while I sip my tea, then devote 30-60 minutes to the Bible, inspirational reading, and journaling. Next, I try to get in a little exercise, which lately has been Wii Fit. From there I head to my office (or possibly take the laptop to my treadmill desk for a leisurely walk) and check e-mail, catch up with my favorite bloggers, and handle any busy work. I also use my mornings for necessary errands and appointments.

After lunch, it’s all about writing. New pages for my WIP, revisions, character profiles, whatever. I work until 5 or 6, when with any luck, hubby has figured out something for supper . . . or not. Either way, that’s the end of my workday. A quiet dinner, a little TV, an hour or so of pleasure reading, and lights out by 10.

Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?

I’ve experienced both extremes, and I have to say, I much prefer the free-flowing days. I keep the tweezers close at hand, though.

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.
Aaaack! You sure know how to ask the hard questions! It’s different with every book, but probably the most consistent method starts with intriguing characters and wondering how they might handle certain kinds of problems. Once I have at least a loose grasp of who they are and what they most want, I let them take over. As I said, I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer. While I never begin writing until I generally know how the story will end, getting there is always a journey of discovery.
I do tend to revise as I go. At the start of each day’s writing session, I usually back up a chapter or two, not only to edit but to get into the story flow. A few days after the manuscript is “finished” (prior to publication, are they ever finished???), I try to read the whole thing straight through over a couple of days, doing revisions while it’s all fresh in my mind. Then I’ll let it chill a week or more and go through it again. How many times I go through this process depends on the book, and I also like to get my critique partner involved, if not during the writing process, then definitely at the revision stage.

What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

My all-time favorite books are The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I credit books like Little Women and Phyllis Whitney’s Secret of the Samurai Sword for nurturing my early love of story. When I first ventured into inspirational women’s fiction, I wanted to write like Lisa Samson in The Church Ladies, and Lisa remains a favorite. I’ve also been inspired by Robin Lee Hatcher, Deborah Raney, and countless others. And I love all my Seeker friends’ books. There are so many wonderful writers of Christian fiction out there that if I were to keep naming names, I’d leave out someone important and regret it forever.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

Don’t give up. In the words of Randy Ingermanson, “If God has called you to write, then don’t you dare quit. Don’t you DARE!”

Sounds like good advice, Myra. Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share, or perhaps you have a question for your visitors?
We are all “works in progress.” There is always more to learn. There is always more growing to do. Allow God to do the work He needs to do. And be patient.
Since Myra has written a Christmas book, I thought it would be fun to talk about our favorite Christmas movies. Myra's is White Christmas, the Bing Crosby classic. What about you? What is your favorite Christmas classic?


Elizabeth Ludwig said...

I enjoyed your interview so much, Myra! Thanks for visiting Novel Journey.

My favorite Christmas classic? Well, it's hard to choose since I love all things Christmas, but if I had to narrow it down, I would have to say A Christmas Carol--the George C. Scott version.

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, Elizabeth! Thanks so much for having me here today! I love the "Scrooge" movies, too--so many to choose from! One I remember really laughing over was a farce with comedian/impressionist Rich Little doing imitations of other actors as he played all the parts himself.

Domino said...

I'm looking forward to reading your book.

Thanks for the encouragement to keep writing no matter how long the wait. I needed to hear RI's words, "...don't you dare quit." AND I agree that we're all WIPs. So maybe God's waiting on me to do what I'm supposed to just like I wait on my characters to do what they're supposed to.

You're a blessing. Thanks.

Keli Gwyn said...

Great interview, Myra. Novel Journey asks some of the best questions I've seen.

Your perseverance is inspiring. Congratulations on your release.

My favorite classic Christmas movie is It's a Wonderful Life. My favorite contemporary Christmas movie is While You Were Sleeping.

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, Domino! I keep Randy's quote on the bulletin board over my desk. It truly is an encouragement when the going gets tough. I also believe that everything happens according to God's perfect timing, and who knows what's best for us better than God?

Keli, nice to see you here! I'll never forget having my very first "sold" interview on your blog! You're a blessing to so many writers--and a great writer yourself!

Sheila Deeth said...

Great interview, though somewhat scary. I'm not sure whether to be awed at your persistence and dream of following you, or scared and just run away. Except I'd never stop writing, so maybe I'll just reread the interview more carefully and try to follow your advice.

Myra Johnson said...

Oh, my goodness, Sheila, I sure didn't mean to be scary! One thing that really helped during the long, long wait to have a novel published was continuing to write and publish articles, short stories, and devotions. Nothing like regularly seeing your byline and cashing a small check or two to keep you motivated and encouraged.

carla stewart said...

Nice interview, Elizabeth and Myra! This really IS a good book, folks!

My favorite Christmas classic? Well, there are two:
Miracle of 34th Street (the original one) and Christmas Vacation. One makes me cry every time; the other makes me laugh.

Debra E Marvin said...

Myra, I really enjoyed your post and hearing more about your pre pubbed days. I'm checking in late to Novel Journey and it was a treat to find your interview.

My favorite Christmas movie is White Christmas too. I just don't feel like It's the holidays till I see it. There is something about that time period that I just love. The whole train thing and the Vermont lodge. Oh, and the fact that people can just break into song and know all the words. Amazing!

Thanks Elizabeth!

Ane Mulligan said...

I'm with Carla on favorite Christmas classics. :) This was a fun interview, Myra and Kelly!

Myra Johnson said...

Carla, Debra, & Ane, thanks so much for your kind words!

Debra, I wish you could hear my little 4-year-old granddaughter sing BY HEART every single song from White Christmas! She even twirls around every pole she passes while singing "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing." She is truly a sight to behold!

pat jeanne said...

Loved this interview with Myra and admire her perseverance in order to realize her dream of publication. Congrats, Myra, on the release of your debut novel. You're an inspiration for me. The useful info and the sharing at the Seekers blog has been a help to me, too. Fav contemporary Christmas story is The Christmas Shoes and The Christmas Box by Hallmark Films.

Myra Johnson said...

Those are great movies, Pat Jeanne! (May I say I have a secret hope--well, not so secret now!--that Hallmark might someday do a movie of my book???)