On this blog

Thursday, May 16, 2013

About Hart Johnson by Hart Johnson (and myself)

Hart at a book signing - note the covers...
I 'met' Hart Johnson in the halls of Amazon during one of the past ABNA (Amazon Breakout Novel Award) competitions.  It is a wonderful experience, and what made it worthwhile for me was the sheer amount of good advice and camaraderie that I encountered.  It was priceless. 

Writers are a generous lot.  We like to share - experiences, tips, advice, commiseration and cheering.  Hart definitely did her share then and now, with a very enjoyable, signature smile.

If you like good writing, she does it, whether you encounter it on her blog, her facebook page or in the pages of her books.  Since she has another installment in her Cozy Mystery series (Penguin) coming out, I asked her if I might feature her on my blog.  She gave a gracious 'yes' response, and here she is.

Hart is very visible (links and information are at the end of this interview) and others better than me have interviewed her.  I thought I'd just pose some random questions.  I'm glad I did:

You're a writer. Why?

I think because reality never quite follows my plan. Then again my fiction doesn't always follow my plan either, but at least when it doesn't, I'm in charge of the punishment.

Hobby, distraction or job - what is Writing to you?

I would SO love this to be my job, but sadly, I've reached a position of power in my household and now all these needy people depend on ME for a regular income *cough* Hopefully AT LEAST by the time my son finishes college (he is a high school freshman now) and that particular bill is off the table and two dependents are off my insurance, I will be able to make the switch.

If you're like many of the writers I know, you do something else to put bread on the table, at least for the moment. That takes a large chunk out of the day. How do you squeeze writing time in?
It started with filling the time that was formerly the 'read with childings' time—first my daughter, then my son, as they hit middle school, gave up reading with me and I'd been stealing just a little time to write before that, but I took first the one 45 minutes, then the other, and suddenly I had two hours a night... and I mean EVERY night. (and nobody even missed it)--And yes... initially it was almost ALL in the bathtub.

The bathtub?  When I think of the wasteland of dunked books I managed to generate during my attempts to read and soak, I am in awe! 

A word utterly escapes you. You know what you want and it is not popping into your head. The perfect word - AWOL! What do you do?
See, this is one of the reasons I love writing... I write my long description of the word I'm looking for and can't find and know it will come to me as I fall asleep or in the shower or on a power walk and I can fill it in later. This doesn't work NEARLY as well in face to face conversations, though I DO try.

People like to read books that interest and entertain them. I have noticed, though, that an interesting and entertaining author also gets a following. What is there about you that people might like to follow? Don't be shy.
Thus far, my only published stuff has a combo of humor and twisty plot. I think my characters are fun and likable, but each with an annoying quirk or two. I like smart female leads who stick up for themselves and more often rescue than having to be rescued. And while I appreciate beautiful PERFECT language choices, I think my language choice tends to be minimally intrusive... it is a story I'm telling, not a poem. Which I think makes me approachable for people who just want to take a break and escape a while.

Someone said once that a good book was a place to lose yourself happily for a space of time...

Speaking seriously about the craft of writing, what tools or procedures do you consider absolutely essential?
My advice is ALWAYS to let go a little. Just write and don't worry if it's good. No first draft is good already (well, there are probably some, but not nearly as many as there are writers confident in their first drafts)--write write write. Get the story out. Then SET IT ASIDE. Read something GOOD. Read something BAD. Give feedback to a friend. So when you come back to your work to edit you have cleansed your palette and hopefully learned a few things. You are more objective with some distance and can see what is both good and bad... Edit... THEN get feedback from somebody ELSE (and read good and bad and give feedback)... A few rounds of this is you are probably getting there. I really don't think it is possible without TIME and FEEDBACK though.

What else is in the works for you? A sequel to Begonia Bribe, perhaps? Or anything else?
I've turned in a third Garden Society Mystery to my editor at Penguin, so there is at least that, and it's DONE (well, other than copy editing). I hope they ask me to do a couple more—I have plots worked out for two others. But in the meantime, I have a couple YA novels in the editing stage, one mystery that is a little sassier than cozy (called What Ales Me—a Microbrewery based mystery in Portland: A reader called it a cross between Cozy and Noir). And then I have two Armageddon stories I am thinking about publishing serially (one adult, one YA)... the Microbrewery Mystery will probably be first out of the docket, as I think my agent and publisher will go for that as a series. The others, I have to start from scratch for selling.

OK, we have an open forum here: what would you like to say?
You know... writing is probably the greatest compulsion a person can get sucked into. It allows for escape and imagination, while encouraging us to open the wide filter on the world and see all the great possibilities. We get to push our brains into new places all the time, then rope them back in to create elegance. And unlike my former 'dreams' (first I wanted to be a trapeze artist, then a movie star) this one is largely in our control.
If we just keep working at it long enough, we will eventually be good enough to share... And not only that, it is one of the few undertakings that somebody ELSE creating something fabulous doesn't threaten us. In fact it helps us. Because the more great stories there are out there, the more readers there will be looking for still more stories. So we can love and support each other in earnest.

(Thank you, Hart.  That last paragraph needs to be set aside and written in bold.  And, perhaps, memorized.  At least for this writer.)

The Begonia Bribe is Hart Johnson's latest mystery in the Garden Club series.  For myself, aside from the interesting 'blurb', and the fact that I spent some years within smiling distance of Roanoke, I have to love a story with a radio-TV station named WONK!

Roanoke, Virginia, is home to some of the country’s most exquisite gardens, and it’s Camellia Harris’s job to promote them. But when a pint-sized beauty contest comes to town, someone decides to deliver a final judgment … 

A beauty pageant for little girls—the Little Miss Begonia Pageant—has decided to hold their event in a Roanoke park. Camellia is called in to help deal with the botanical details, the cute contestants, and their catty mothers. She soon realizes that the drama onstage is nothing compared to the judges row. There’s jealousy, betrayal, and a love triangle involving local newsman—and known lothario—Telly Stevens. And a mysterious saboteur is trying to stop the pageant from happening at all. 

But the drama turns deadly when Stevens is found dead, poisoned by some sort of plant. With a full flowerbed of potential suspects, Cam needs to dig through the evidence to uproot a killer with a deadly green thumb.
**   **   **

 Hart Johnson (aka: Alyse Carlson) writes books from her bathtub and can be found at:

Confessions of a Watery Tart: http://waterytart23.blogspot.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/HartJohnson

Thanks, Hart!


  1. "My advice is ALWAYS to let go a little."
    Hear, hear! Michael Jackson said the worst thing a dancer can do while dancing is to THINK about dancing. I feel the same goes for writing.
    And yes, it's a compulsion. It's also therapy. I just wrote 1200 words of my WIP this morning and I'm in a much better mood than when I started.

  2. Or, to quote someone who was not a writer, "Stop THINKING and just DO it!" (well done on the 1200 words...)

  3. Most writers don't view it as competition, which is so different from everything else.
    I'm in awe of all your pending projects, Hart.

  4. Loved this! A peek into your mind, Hart, is always an adventure. Let go a little...that's my problem. Control freak. Sigh. Ok, so I'll try, since you said it's important. And I need to print off those last two paragraphs and put them up in my office!!! Great encouragement, thanks.
    Tina @ Life is Good

  5. Oh, good for you, Sean! Nice to get some writing done early! And yeah--I think it is even more true for performance stuff like dancing, because THAT doesn't get to be rewritten...

    Diana-EXACTLY. Unfortunately that practice of 'stop thinking' seems to dribble into other areas of life.

  6. Alex-VERY different from everything else! I think in so many fields multiple people are competing for ONE spot or success, which makes it hard.

    Tina-HA! Just remember control is an illusion. So there. Are you fretting now?

  7. Hi Diana and Hart - good to see you here .. I was at a talk yesterday .. and the author had started with NANO.. and now was/is a New York Times best seller ... but it's the process of getting there -isn't it. Keep doing it .. or as I posted about Ebert, the film critic, it's doing what you're passionate about and keep doing it.

    Hart - sounds like you're well planned ahead .. with more books on the cards, and in the little grey cells ...

    The cover and title of Murder isn't pretty is it .. looks so interesting .. cheers Hilary

  8. Oh Tartlette - so nice to hear you waxing serious! Really! I like what you say about writing and especially the draft procedure. Now to cleanse my palate.

  9. Excellent interview Hart and Diana and nice to know Hart won't keel over in the midst from whatever was in the tea!

  10. Hilary-I love hearing about people starting with NaNo--having common roots with people who have succeeded gives a lot of hopes, though I think it was my 4th book that was my first NaNo.

    Jan-yeah... takes a bit to get me serious, eh?

    Marcy-it might have gotten me without the iocane powder!!!

  11. Hart darling, you are so wise! And what discipline you have to finish so many stories. I really agree with you about stepping back from anything we write; I get so close to my own stuff I can't see stuff, so time away from it is always helpful.

    And sadly yes, writing can be a compulsion for which there is no cure. Sigh.

  12. There's a great world out/in here for new and seasoned writers alike. It's amazing how much you can learn from someone you never even met. Writer’s Mark

  13. Andrew-I hope that serial excitement keeps in place until I am really ready to go. I am slow cleaning, so until I have a full 'season' done as a first draft, I really can't load anything. I'm thinking maybe fall...

    1. Are you going to use Amazon's new serial division for it or just publish the pieces on the Kindle as shorts?