Johnnie Alexander writes inspiring stories that linger in the heart. Her newest novel, Where She Belongs (Misty Willow Series #1), is her first contemporary romance. She has won several awards including the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Contest’s Historical Category. A graduate of Rollins College (Orlando) with a Master of Liberal Studies degree, Johnnie treasures family memories, classic movies, road trips, and stacks of books. She lives in the Memphis area with a small herd of alpacas and Rugby, the princely papillon who trees raccoons.
How to connect with Johnnie....
Facebook Author Page
Amazon Author Page
Get to know Johnnie Alexander
You and Writing
Tell us a little bit about yourself and writing...
An interviewer asked me what I would do if I couldn’t write. The question paralyzed me. Other than my relationship with God, writing is my why. (tweet this) I write about the themes that tug at my heart, especially the importance of creating cherished memories with those we love. My hope is that my stories and characters linger in the reader’s heart long after she closes the book.
Emilie here: And what better reason? Love it!
Tell us a little bit about your book...
This story fulfills a dream my protagonist and I share—to restore a childhood home where happy memories were made. Since circumstances never allowed me to make that dream come true, I created a character who could. But the cost for her was steep, and along the way she found a different dream.
What is one take-away from your book that you hope readers identify with?
Material legacies matter—heirlooms, keepsakes, cherished belongings—but our spiritual legacies, because they have eternal value, matter so much more.
What’s the theme? How did you come up with it?
Both main characters, Shelby and AJ, have been greatly influenced by their relationships with their grandparents. Their “present” is affected by decisions and events that occurred before they were born. Our actions influence and affect future generations in ways we may never imagine. (tweet this) I think it’s important to keep truth in mind.
Though my own decisions haven’t always been the best, I love creating memories for my children and grandchildren. Part of that is just being joyful in day-to-day life. This is what I hope they remember about me.
Was there a passage of scripture you came across or used while writing it that you’d like to share?
Years ago, God blessed me with two similar passages that have encouraged me in my spiritual journey:
He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me (Psalm 18:19);In the novel, Shelby is seeking the “spacious place” God has provided for her and her family.
I will be glad and rejoice in your love . . . You have not given me into the hands of the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place” (Psalms 31:7-8).
Did you get to do any fun research for the book?
The story is set where I grew up. It’s a familiar place and a mostly happy place. But I didn’t pay much attention to seasonal things such as exactly when certain crops were grown or flowers bloomed. Since I don’t live there anymore, Facebook was my research friend. I’d ask a question, such as “what time is it getting dark in central Ohio these days?” and I’d get answers. I appreciate everyone who made suggestions, provided photographs, and cheered me on.
We're your characters easy to pin down or did you discover them along the way as you wrote the book?
This may sound strange, but it’s true: my heroine was reticent. Difficult. Hard to understand. Until I changed her name. After that, we got along just fine.
What's the most random thing you had to Google for the story?
It wasn’t a Google search, but I asked Facebook friends what ice cream was best when going through a bad break-up. People really engaged with that one, and it was fun to see all the answers.
Emilie here: Ok, so I have to know! Readers - what is the best break-up ice cream? (tweet this)
Let's talk about your writing life...
What’s your encouragement for younger writers aside from “keep writing”?
My advice is to join a critique group for the fellowship and learning-by-doing aspect (tweet this), enter contests for the unbiased feedback, and attend writers conferences for the networking and education. Pray for guidance, wisdom, protection, and opportunity.
Are you a Panster or Plotter?
I think of myself as an intuitive writer, so yes, I’m mostly a pantser. *smile*
What does your writing process look like?
My writing process is as much a work-in-progress as the manuscript I’m now writing. Both Where She Belongs and Where Treasure Hides started out as NaNoWriMo novels, and both went through extensive revisions before they were contracted. The last novel I finished is the first one that was contracted before it was written. That was scary! Now I’m facing that again. Still scary!
I realized, though, that I tend to write in thirds. This isn’t exact, but I write about 1/3 of the story then start over. This time I write about 2/3 of the story then start over again. The third time through, I write till the end. This is reminiscent of writing for grad school—I spent the majority of my time getting the opening paragraphs or pages as solid as possible before finishing the assigned paper. I’m doing the same thing with my story—establishing a solid foundation before moving forward. I’m intentionally using this plan to write my current novel.
Emilie here: What a great idea! I think I do this to an extent - but not intentionally...yet!
How long did it take to publish your first book?
The short answer is about ten years though I am a published poet and essayist. I fell in love with writing fiction the first time I participated in NaNoWriMo in 2003. Where She Belongs began as my NaNoWriMo novel for 2005. I pitched it at conferences, learned more about craft, and wrote two new novels. That second new novel, Where Treasure Hides, became my debut novel and was published as an ebook in 2013, in Dutch in 2014, and as a print copy in 2015. A Norwegian edition is in the future.
Other writers can become your best friends. (tweet this) The Christian writing community is made up of amazing people who encourage, support, and truly care for one another. These relationships are priceless.
Emilie here: I fully agree!
Sometimes it begins with a heart-tug—like the love of a childhood home or the juxtaposition of saving art and saving children during World War II. And sometimes the characters and I find the heart-tug of their story together.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors for writing and/or publishing?
Finish a novel. Whether you write a fast and messy draft—which is great for getting words on the screen—or take a more methodical approach, finish the manuscript. You’ll learn so much about moving characters from one place to another, nuances of gestures, character motivation and development, being sure each scene actually has a purpose, and more by writing a full-length novel. This doesn’t mean you’ll end up with publishable manuscript. You probably won’t.
But remember this: you can’t revise a sentence you haven’t written. (tweet this)
And one more tip: so often when I get stuck, the answer is in the story. (tweet this) Sometimes I take a walk or fold laundry or wash my hair before I realize it. But there it is—something I had written, perhaps without giving it a lot of thought—that turns out to be vital. Get the words down. Learn as you go. Then edit, revise, polish.
Emilie here: Such great advice here, Johnnie!
Two of my favorite books are Story Trumps Structure by Steven James and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King.
How do you grow in your writing craft?
I believe in lifelong learning so I read books about writing, attend conferences, and critique/edit for others. It also helps to read well-written novels.
What’s one thing you are looking forward to in the New Year?
I am very excited about 2016. Where She Belongs, the first book in the Misty Willow Series, just released. My first novella, The Healing Promise, releases in the Courageous Brides Collection in July. And When Love Arrives, Misty Willow Series Book #2, releases in September. To have three stories release in one year is beyond anything I ever dreamed possible.
What are your writing goals for this New Year?
I’m working on the third Misty Willow Series story which releases in May 2017. I plan to create another multi-series proposal for my publisher, and I’d love to write more novellas.
What are you currently reading?
This is a crazy list. I’m reading The RVer’s Bible because I have this crazy idea to live in an RV (and travel) someday. I’m also reading:
- Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens
- Business for Authors by Joanna Penn
- Love Does by Bob Goff
- A Sherlock Holmes Devotional by Trisha White Priebe
Thanks so much for having me as your guest, Emilie. I enjoyed your questions and really appreciate you!
Emilie here: You're welcome, Johnnie. Loved having you as my guest! Such great advice and encouragement here.
The winner of Potluck by Catherine Stuart is: