Sharing the tips I've learned about writing and publishing.
Timing and Writing Ability: Author Interview with Tara Johnson
Today's interview is with a romance novelist whose stories revolve around the Civil War. Being a big fan of Gone With the Wind (book and movie), I knew we had to have a chat. Her debut novel Engraved on the Heart earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly, as well as numerous other accolades. 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 let's learn about her writing story.
you to writing historical romance?
grew up reading Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables.
When my Mom started bringing home books by Lori Wick, I was entranced. I’ve
loved historical romance ever since.
of research do you do in writing a story with a historical base? Tell me about
I read as
many books as I can find on the particular event, location, and/or person who
inspired the story I’m wanting to write. I also read journals by people from
the era. Internet research helps tremendously if I get stuck finding obscure
“artistic license” do you use in creating locations for your stories?
I tend to
try to use real locations in my books. If possible, I try to visit and get
acquainted with the scenery, layout, flora, and atmosphere of the town where the
story is set.
readers complained that your area descriptions aren’t correct?
never had any complaints yet, but no author can be correct all the time. I can
only strive to write the best story possible and make every effort to respect
you go about finding a publisher?
Frantz, a very talented and extremely kind author, suggested I approach her
amazing agent Janet Grant. I was so green and did everything completely
backward in my interactions with Janet, but she was incredibly gracious. After
several months of chatting with her, she signed me as a Books & Such
several different projects, both fiction and nonfiction. Janet submitted
several, at least two or three, to multiple publishing houses during the first
year or two. Several of them came close to being picked up but then the market
not to be discouraged and give in to the temptation to write for the
ever-changing whims of the publishing market. It’s far too unpredictable.
Instead, I focused on writing what I loved.
later, I sat across the table from Jan Stob (Tyndale House) at the national
American Christian Fiction Writers Conference and pitched her my latest
project, a Civil War story about a girl with epilepsy. Tyndale picked it up a
few months later. God has been so incredibly kind.
did it take you to write your first book? How many rewrites did you do on it?
me about five months to write the draft of my very first story. When I came to
understand the craft of writing, I think that story went through at least seven
major rewrites to get it into shape. No one had eyes on the manuscript other
than me, but a host of people contributed to its rewrites: instructors of the
writing conferences I attended and authors of the craft books I devoured. Julie
Lessman and Laura Frantz were huge encouragers during those early days.
ever want to give up writing your first book?
my first book purely for the fun of it. I had no desire to quit. Looking back,
I had no idea how terrible it was! But that’s okay. We start where we start.
Once I figured out writing was something I wanted to pursue, I dove headlong
into learning the craft. I attended as many conferences as I could afford and
gobbled up as many craft books as I could get my hands on. My writing improved
dramatically in just a few years.
does it take you now to write a book? How do you write?
the research time, it usually takes me around seven or eight months to write a
book. I immerse myself in research for a month or two before I begin the actual
writing process. I also spend that time delving deep into my main characters,
learning their wounds, fears, goals, and history. I follow a very loose skeletal
outline. I generally know what the inciting incident will be, some of the major
obstacles and the midpoint crisis. Everything else I discover as I go.
some of the more difficult aspects of writing a historical novel?
research for Civil War stories is incredibly intense. Every detail must be
checked and double checked.
other novels been started and stopped along the way?
never given up on a novel partway through writing it, although it was a
temptation during the last story I finished! The setting was wrong in the
beginning and it went through several major rewrites.
What do you know now about writing/publishing you wished you had known sooner?
writers drive themselves crazy, riding the pendulum of emotions and insecurity
in trying to get published. Once the craft is solid, so much of it is just
about timing. A publishing house may pass on a project because they have
another author writing in a similar genre, they have just picked up another
story too similar to yours (even though your writing may be better), or their
general overarching long-term strategy as a business might be changing,
affecting how many authors they can sign.
ahead of God’s plan is a recipe for disaster. Be patient, and wise enough, to
wait for that perfect timing. So many times, authors feel they need a contract
for their own personal validation, but in truth, timing plays as critical of a
role as ability.
other books do you have in the works?
currently working on edits for my next Civil War novel with Tyndale,
tentatively entitled A Song for Cadence, as well as finishing up the
rough draft for a brand-new story based around the burning of the Shenandoah
What is the best advice you’ve been given about writing or that you’ve learned
that you would like to pass along?
received two great pieces of advice early on in my writing career. The first
one came from Tamera Alexander. She said, “Your books are not your babies. They
are a product. Never confuse the two.”
It was such a terrific observation.
Keeping this distinction in mind takes the sting out of criticism, and helps me
remember my worth has nothing to do with how well or poorly my latest story is
second piece of advice was, “Villains are always the hero in their own story.”
I’ve never forgotten it. This simple thought prevents me from writing cardboard
characters. We are all deeply flawed, yearning for significance and desperate
points! If you’d like to learn more about Tara’s writing and what’s coming up
next for her, here are some links to get you started.