The Long and the Short of It is very pleased to have Jennifer Johnson with us today. Jennifer's newest book, The Clergy Affair, available now from The Wild Rose Press.
Jennifer has been writing since she was an early teen, carrying around notebooks with her stories in them. The first story she remembers writing took place at a beach camp, and another early story also took place at the beach. Obviously, the beach inspired her with her early fiction. She asks, however, that we don't tell her mother-in-law.
"She keeps trying to drag me there, and I don't want to go," she explained. "The beach is a romantic place unless you go with your small children. As a mother, I worry too much about every possible danger from the drowning to getting lost to cutting one's foot on a broken shell."
When Jennifer is writing, normally a scene or image comes to her first and she creates the characters around that scene. For The Clergy Affair, she had a scene in mind of a bride-to-be weeping in a darkened sanctuary. It became the opening scene of the book.
Her next book to be released will be Holding Out for a Hero from Respendence Publishing in April 2010.
"It's about a woman who falls in love with a homeless man. It has strong comedic elements, like my other two books, and it is in first person. I'm quite excited about it!" she told me. "I'm, also, writing a sequel to The Clergy Affair. The main character is Amy Mann, Lon's daughter. Lon was a memorable secondary character from The Clergy Affair. He was too good not to do something else with."
"When did you first consider yourself a writer?" I wondered.
"I sent in my first completed manuscript to a major publisher and got a rejection letter. A friend called me and left a message on the answering machine, and she said, 'You write for God.' She was referring to my call as a minister and the sermons which I write and preach. That was when I realized I was a writer, and even if I was never published, that was okay, because I was writing for the best audience there was."
Jennifer has three completed novels and asserts there's no way she can pick a favorite.
"How can you ask me that?!" she cried. "They're all my babies! What kind of mother would I be if I had a favorite?!"
She did admit that there are times during the editing process you can hardly stand to read the manuscript one more time.
"By the time it's published and you see it in print, you've had enough time away from it that it's fresh again."
Her husband frequently catches her reading one of her books and will quirk an eyebrow and ask, "Don't you know how it ends already?"
"He doesn't quite understand why I keep reading the book," she said. "But this was my dream. I'm holding it in my hands. I can't help it. And I don't mean only being a published author, I mean my life in general-my job, my calling, my family, my faith.
"In the movie Broadcast News, William Hurt asks, 'What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?' The other guy-Albert Brooks, I think-says, 'You keep it to yourself.' See, I know that feeling of my life exceeding my dreams, and I can't keep it to myself. It's too wonderful. And it seems more real when I can share it with someone else, and they can celebrate with me what a wonderful life. Not the Jimmy Stewart-ready-to-jump-off-a-bridge-until-Clarence-Angel-shows-him-so-Clarence-can-get-those-wings kind of Wonderful Life. But the realization that this is my life, and it is pretty wonderful, and yes, I do realize it."
The hardest part about writing a book, for Jennifer, is finding the time to write.
"Between my job and my family, it is very difficult to carve out writing time," she told me. "At times I experience insomnia so I write from about two to four in the morning, but lately I've been sleeping so well that the dark o'clock hours haven't been available."
And, from time to time she suffers from writers' block.
"I've hear house cleaning cures it, but I've never been that desperate to find out," she admitted, adding that raking leaves, going for walks, brainstorming with a critique partner, or working on another story also helps.
On a personal note, I asked, "You can erase any horrible experience from your past. What will it be?"
"Ugh! I don't want to dredge up any bad memories even to erase them. I'd rather think about cheesecake. Yuummm!"
Along with being a cheesecake lover, Jennifer is very much a Coke girl.
"I've been to the World of Coca Cola in Atlanta, and I lament the fact that most restaurants where I now live mainly carry Pepsi products," she said. "In the deep south where I'm from, pop is called 'Coke' no matter if it's Pepsi, RC, or Sprite.
"Here's a funny story. On a field trip in elementary school, we toured the Coca Cola bottling plant in my hometown. We posed hypothetical questions to the tour guide about the four people who knew the secret Coke recipe. What if they all were in the same plane, and it crashed? What if they were all kidnapped? What if one got amnesia, one had a stroke, and two died in unrelated accidents? Our teacher lambasted us for the absurd questions and forbade us from asking any more questions. I included this memory in Holding Out for a Hero. I'm hoping the editor lets me keep it in there."
Some things you may not know about Jennifer:
Shirley, the dog she and her family had for fourteen years, died recently, and Jennifer's not yet ready to get another one.
She sometimes brushes her teeth in the car—while she drives.
A saying she uses a lot is "This is the life!" and it's also the name of her blog.
She's never eaten a crayon, but from time to time she does sniff them. "I got the idea from Randy Pausch's book The Last Lecture," she explained. "It reminds me of my childhood—go ahead and try it."
If she could know the future, she would like to know the numbers to a big lottery. "I'd like the opportunity to demonstrate that winning a bunch of money wouldn't ruin my life."
Jennifer not only cries at movies. When I asked her if she did, she replied, "Oh, please. I cry at commercials. Need a crying buddy? Call me."
You can keep up with Jennifer on her blog, http://booksbyjenniferjohnson.com/blog.aspx