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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Letting Go of the Fear of Writing: Author Interview with Tara Johnson

My interview today is with an author who has published three novels and has been a finalist in the Carol and Christy Awards. She has articles published in Plain Truth Magazine and Live It Loud Magazine and has been a featured guest on Voice of Truth radio, Enduring Word radio, television and podcasts. Now read on to learn about her books.

Four years ago, you published your first novel. What drew you to writing that story? 

The spark of the idea for Engraved on the Heart began when our family visited Savannah, Georgia several years ago. I was entranced with the history and charm of the town. Secrets seemed to ooze out of every corner. My family had opted to take a historic riding tour of the city. I was especially intrigued by a fact rattled off by our tour guide. “Many of the older homes and buildings in and around the outskirts of Savannah were built by slaves. In fact, if you look closely, you can find some of their fingerprints in the bricks.”

Later that day, we walked down the cobblestone streets, admiring the elaborate homes guarded by moss-draped weeping willows. As I passed a house, a darkened impression molded into the crumbling brick snagged my attention. I sucked in a surprised breath over the precious detail. There it was, staring back at me. The fingerprint of a slave.

I ran my finger over the scarred impression, marveling that such a small mark could tell such an exquisite story. I wondered whose hands had formed the old brick. What was his name? What were his dreams? Running my fingers over that precious print linked me inextricably to the past, binding an invisible cord between the nameless slave and me.

The next day, we visited the Georgia State Railroad Museum where I found several books in the gift shop about famous women of the Civil War. Courageous heroes like Elizabeth Van Lew who fought against the norms of her culture to give freedom and hope to those trapped in darkness. I devoured their stories, many of whom I'd never heard of in school or otherwise. God slowly unfurled a story in my heart...the tale of a girl who battled epilepsy as a child, just as I did, but grew to understand her worth in the eyes of a loving God.


Who encouraged you along the way?
I had so many encouragers...family, friends, writing buddies. ACFW Arkansas and two dear writing friends, Savanna Kaiser and Cara Grandle, were special sources of prayer and inspiration.

Who helped you with the editing?
Shaina Turner and Danika King, my editors at Tyndale, were invaluable treasures as we worked to craft the story into the image embedded in my mind.

How did you go about finding an agent / publisher?
After I had spent several years working to learn the craft of writing, I began toying around with the idea of querying agents. A dear friend of mine, who is a successful writer, suggested I start by talking with hers. I was so green, I actually did everything I wasn't supposed to do! HA!

I contacted the agent through Facebook instead of emailing her, accidentally sent her my rough draft instead of the polished version I had slaved over, but she was incredibly gracious and kind. After several emails and a couple phone conversations, Janet Grant of Books & Such signed me as her client.

From the point you were offered a contract on that first book, how long did it take it to make it to print?
From the time Tyndale House offered me a contract, I believe it took around a year and three months to see it in print.

What is the hardest part of writing for you?
For me, the hardest part is writing the first fourth of the rough draft. It's all about getting the flow started. Even though I know my characters' wounds and fears, some of them don't like to give up their secrets until halfway through the first draft. Feeling my way through those first few chapters are exciting but a slow process.

What does your editor remind you to do most often?
Writers are a very insecure lot. I'm continually worrying that my next story will bomb. My editor just laughs and reminds me that it's normal to feel that way. I just need to keep creating and let go of fear.


What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?
The best encouragement comes from readers. Emails and letters telling me that a character's struggle helped them with their own. I've lost count of the times I've opened Instagram or Facebook to find a message from a reader who felt hopeless in a situation only to discover hope and renewed determination through a story. That's the greatest gift anyone of us can receive. People need to know they are not alone. That compassion, peace, mercy and redemption are still alive and within reach.

We have all experienced rejection. How have you learned to write past it?
I don't read reviews. Reading only the glowing ones will over-inflate the ego and obsessing over the negative ones will plunge a writer into darkness and depression.

What I have to remind myself often is that when this life is over, I won't stand before a jury of my peers. I'll stand before God. He won't ask me how many books I sold or if I made a best sellers list. It will be how well I loved Him and how well I loved people. Pleasing Him is all that matters.

What has surprised you the most in writing/publishing?
The overwhelming support for fellow authors is incredible within inspirational writing circles. There are very few egos and the willingness of established authors to reach out and mentor those who are new to the craft is heart-warming.

What has frustrated you the most?
As far as things that are frustrating, I suppose the trends of the market can be disheartening at times. Instead of publishers acquiring a steady stream of diverse genres, preferences seem to swing like pendulums...romantic suspense is hot one year, then it's historical romance, then it's Amish. It creates a breeding ground of writing to the market instead of writing what is 'true'. Writing as art. Writing as innovation and wonder.

What do you know now about writing you wished you had known sooner?
I assumed knowledge of the craft would provide more ease with writing. It doesn't. It makes you thirsty to learn more. Each story I write is harder than the one before it.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received or could give?
There are three great pieces of advice I received early on that meant a lot to me. First, your stories are not your babies. They are a product. They are special to you, but they do not define who you are. If you can separate yourself from your story, it will make the rejection process, and the editing process, much less painful.

Second, every character thinks they are the hero in their own story. Villains always think they are the good guy. Remembering this will help prevent you from writing flat, one dimensional characters.

Third, write what is true. Don't write what you think people want to hear, or what's been said a million times before. Dig deep into your own shadowed places. Write from your own hurts. Write truth. That's what people will connect to.

Your bio says you are also a songwriter. What’s that process like?
Songwriting is similar to writing a story, but it's much more compact. It's like putting together an intricate puzzle. Each piece has to fit just so. Meter, rhyme, assonance...all of those things add another layer into the complexity of the puzzle. The idea is the same though. You're trying to express a single profound thought that speaks truth and tugs on the emotions. You're just trying to do it in four minutes instead of 400 pages. HAHA!

Will we be hearing any of your songs on the radio?
Yes, several of my songs have been featured on radio stations in the south.

What is the next book coming out? Can you give me a short synopsis?
I'm currently working on two new stories. One is based on the life of Dr. Mary Walker, who was a surgeon for the Union Army. She was the only woman to ever receive the Medal of Honor.

The second story is based on the Irish slave trade. The main character, Avalina, is taken from her home and sold into slavery in Barbados. After the trauma of her childhood, she suffers from mutism. The hero in this story is loosely based on John Newton, the man who was transformed from slave trader to freedom fighter.

Wow. I’m sorry to say that’s all there is for today’s interview. Tara’s stories sound intriguing and inspiring. Hope you will look into them with these links.

Website: www.TaraJohnsonStories.com

Amazon buy link for All Through the Night: All Through the Night: Johnson, Tara: 9781496428394: Amazon.com: Books

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100058188301011

Twitter: @TaraMinistry

Instagram: Tara Johnson (@tarajohnsonministry)

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/tarajohnsonauthor