Spotlight on Renee Canter Johnson, Novelist
I’m pleased to introduce a new section on my blog, where occasionally I will feature interviews with some of my Writing from the Heart “alums.” Today’s post features novelist Renee Canter Johnson.
Renee participated in her first writing workshop with me in Essoyes in the fall of 2010, an experience she wrote about here. From her first somewhat hesitant–though gutsy–steps toward making her writing public, she has taken off! She has won awards for her writing, been a visiting writer in residence at Noepe Center for Literary Arts on Martha’s Vineyard twice, and has attended additional writing retreats in Italy and France. Bonjour Paris, Storyhouse, and Study Abroad have published her articles and essays, and she maintains two popular and very active blogs: http://writingfeemail.com for sharing her travel experiences, and random insights, and Renee Johnson Writes , which features her journey as a writer.
Though she is kept quite busy with a full-time job; homemaking and spending time with her family; promoting her books; and continuing to write new work, she agreed to take the time to answer a few questions about her writing career via e-mail.
JH: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
RCJ: I wrote my first novel, in pink ink on lined paper, when I was nine years old. Living through the main character, becoming the person in the story, was nearly as fulfilling for me as the actual experiences might have been. What followed was a stream of journaling, bad—seriously bad—poetry, and novels pieced together from the notes I scribbled on scraps of paper and old notebooks. But it was my personal secret. I didn’t tell anyone about this habit.
JH: How would you describe the path from when you first had the desire to be a writer, to when you became a published author?
RCJ: It was a gated pathway through a secret garden. Although a college professor had praised my work, even invited me to join the creative writing club she belonged to, it was the 1980s, a time for start-ups, dot-coms, excessive everything. Writing as a form of career wasn’t suggested or encouraged, except as a hobby. I suppose it was this lack of respect for the craft that caused me to hide my writing compulsion, and I allowed access to it to no one until my son left for college and I ran away to France to participate in Writing from the Heart in Essoyes, under your direction. When I first slipped an excerpt of my writing to you, I was really nervous about how you would respond. I was first shocked, then relieved beyond measure, when you validated my scribblings. The confidence you instilled in me was all I needed to pursue my writing with unending fervor.
JH: What do you love most about writing?
RCJ: My favorite thing about writing is creating life where none existed before. When I’m journaling or writing essays about my own life and travels, I’m documenting proof, and truth, of my existence. When I’m writing novels, I’m acutely aware that I am giving birth to words and worlds which didn’t exist on the planet before my characters were called into being and given tasks. Writing also helps me to make sense of the world around me, to work out conflicts—internal and external—through my characters and their issues.
JH: What is hardest about it?
RCJ: For now, the hardest part is finding blocks of time which I can dedicate solely to writing. With a full-time job, a home and husband, and animals to care for, I have found the only time frame in which no one bothers me is from 4:30 am to 6:30 am. Yes, this is often difficult. But it works.
JH: What is the most surprising thing you have learned about it, along the way?
RCJ: The most surprising thing about writing is when people tell me how much they enjoyed reading one of my novels or blog posts. For someone who hid her work for decades, it is still amazing to know people actually want to read what I’ve written and then enjoy it.
JH: What advice do you have for other aspiring writers?
RCJ: Aspiring writers are likely already writing, so I’d say to them to remember that it is not the acquisition of a publisher or agent which makes them writers, but the act itself. They are writers, and must keep reading, writing, attending retreats and workshops like Writing from the Heart.
JH: Can you tell us a little bit about your two published novels?
RCJ: Acquisition, my first published novel, is a spicy contemporary romance with layers of mystery and intrigue. The hero, Reece Jordan, and the heroine, Amanda Lassiter, both have a lot at stake, and they often clash in the office of the building supply company Amanda’s Chicago based firm is in charge of acquiring. Faced with the dilemma of doing the right thing, or that which will guarantee her promotion, Amanda discovers that nothing is quite as it seems.
The Haunting of William Gray is my second novel with The Wild Rose Press. A Southern American Gothic, it takes place in Georgetown, South Carolina, an important historical town that is often overshadowed by its two neighbors, Myrtle Beach and Charleston. Listed among the most-haunted cities in the United States, its roots reach back further than the Revolutionary War. Within a backdrop of Spanish moss, old seafaring wealth, and a spooky old house on a privately owned island, William Gray seeks evidence of the ghost he believes is haunting him by employing a photographer, Madeline Waters, to capture the image. A single shot of the apparition is all he needs to prove he isn’t losing his mind; and the promised private journals of the first William Gray, the sea captain who built the house, are hers, to complete her thesis, if she succeeds.
JH: What is the one thing you wish you could have known much earlier in your life as a writer?
RCJ: To respect the muse instead of hiding it beneath the sofa cushions, and then to have confidence in the resulting work.
JH: What’s next for Renee Canter Johnson? Any new books in the works?
I’m still blogging at my two websites, http://writingfeemail.com for random observations, photography, and travel pieces, and http://reneejohnsonwrites.com for a more focused insight into my journey as a writer. There are four novels in the works at the moment. One, an international suspense story, is finished, and has just been submitted to my editor at The Wild Rose Press. Its sequel is in the works, as is a young adult novel, and a Christmas novel. Stay tuned for updates on how they are working out!
Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, and teacher of writing, and of literature. She divides her time between the Washington D.C. area and Essoyes, a beautiful little village in the Champagne region of France, where she offers Writing from the Heart workshops several times a year.