Interview with Johnnie Alexander
About the Author
Johnnie Alexander is the award-winning author of Where Treasure Hides and Where She Belongs. Johnnie is an accomplished essayist and poet whose work has appeared in the Guideposts anthology A Cup of Christmas Cheer. In addition to writing, she enjoys reading, spending time with her grandchildren, and taking road trips. She lives near Memphis, Tennessee.
1-How did you get started as an author? What or whom inspired you?
Even though I’ve wanted to write for about as long as I can remember, I put that dream on the backburner while raising my family, working full-time, and taking college classes off and on throughout those years. I dabbled with writing, read lots of writing books, and jotted down ideas for nonfiction topics. But I rarely submitted anything despite early success with poetry and a couple of essays.
Then in 2003, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I wrote my 50,000 unedited words and ended the month with two things: a gloriously messy draft and a strong belief that I could write fiction. I loved creating characters, watching the story grow as they took over, and being surprised by what they did.
As much as I loved the process, I was still busy with kids and a job though I’d finally graduated by then. In 2007, I attended my first major writers conference and clicked with a few other women who became my critique partners. It was still a long journey till my debut novel, Where Treasure Hides, released in 2013. But definitely a worthwhile journey.
2-What writing projects are you currently working on? What can you tell us about these projects?
I’m very excited about the release of When Love Arrives, the second story in the Misty Willow Series. The third story, What Hope Remembers, is in the editing phase. It releases next May. Though the series has ended, I’d like to write a collection of short stories about the characters and the ancestors. I’m not sure that will happen, but it would be fun.
My imagination is occupied with a couple of other unfinished drafts for historical novels these days, so I’m busy with research and brainstorming. I also have a heart-tingling idea for a screenplay. Since I’ve never written one, I have some studying to do!
3-What does your writing process look like?
This has changed over the years. My first two published novels started out as NaNoWriMo messy drafts. Very messy drafts that required rethinking, revision, and polishing before submitting to a publisher. I had a shorter time frame to write my latest, already contracted stories, and the “write fast, no edits till you’re done” method didn’t work for those.
I begin by writing notes and answering questions in a small artist’s sketchbook. Throughout the writing, I jot down ideas, note certain details, and keep track of the timeline.
As for the writing itself, I evaluated how I completed a polished story and now I’m more deliberate about using that process. I write about a fourth to a third of the book—till I get stuck and don’t know where to go next. Then I start over, editing and refining and fixing the glitches/contradictions that have occurred and I keep writing till I’m between halfway and two-thirds finished. And yes, usually stuck again. Then I start over. I may make it to the end this time or I may need to start over one more time. And I always re-read the completed manuscript two or three times to make additional minor changes.
A story begins with a lot of unanswered questions and a broad width of possibilities. But as the story progresses and questions are answered, the possibilities narrow. So I spend much more time on the earlier chapters—getting them just right—then I do on the later chapters which seem to reach their natural conclusion.
4-What are some of your favorite books/authors?
I like the old stories—ones by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. Earlier this year I read Middlemarch and Silas Marner by George Eliot and loved both stories.
Once Beyond a Time is my favorite Ann Tatlock novel, though I love everything she writes. I’m currently reading the Poldark series of books by Winston Graham, The Knight by Steven James, and The Patmos Deception by Davis Bunn.
A few of my favorite all-time books are Les Miserables, The Secret Garden, and The Silmarillion.
5-What period of history interests you the most? Does this influence your writing?
I’m fascinated by World War II. Browsing through my small-town library several years ago, I found a book called Hitler’s Soldiers in the Sunshine State about German POWs imprisoned in Florida. Astounded by this unknown history, I delved into that aspect of WWII then into the Allied spying operations which led to the Nazis’ massive art looting.
My first WWII story, still unpublished, includes the imprisonment and spying; my second centered on protecting art (Where Treasure Hides).
6-When did you write your first novel? How old were you?
As I mentioned above, I wrote my first novel in 2003 for NaNoWriMo. My age? Well, my oldest child was engaged and my youngest was a brand new teenager. Let’s leave it at that!
7-What did you want to be when you grew up? Did becoming an author ever cross your mind?
When I was a toddler, I wanted to be a dog when I grew up.
Seriously, about the only thing I ever wanted to do was write but I wanted it so much I was afraid to pursue it as a career. Because of fear, I let decades go by while I dreamed and dabbled. I wish I’d had more courage though I also appreciate the experiences I had in the job I kind of fell into—I worked for two different Members of the Florida House for several years each.
8-What hobbies do you enjoy when you are not writing?
Only about a month ago, I was bemoaning to anyone who would listen that I had no hobbies except writing and reading. A lot of unfinished needlecraft projects—oh, yes! Plans to scrapbook all those photos stored in boxes—you bet!
But in recent weeks I’ve returned to something I enjoyed as a kid. My year-old collie, Griff, and I are attending classes so we can participate in obedience and agility competitions. He’s a quick learner and it’s a lot of fun.
Books by Johnnie Alexander
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9/27/2016 10:46:11 am
Sydney, thanks so much for sharing the interview and for the giveaway. I loved your questions! And I'm so humbled to be in a giveaway with Jane Kirkpatrick! LOL!
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