Jenna Elizabeth Johnson
Where are you from
I was born in Orange County, California, but I grew up in Arroyo Grande, a small town on California’s Central Coast.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
I have one sibling, a sister who is three years younger than me and nothing like me at all, and I attended UC Berkeley on a track and field scholarship (throwing the shot put and discus). After graduating I moved back home and besides writing, I currently work at my old elementary school as a teacher’s assistant and art teacher. In my free time I like to go camping, practice long sword fighting and target shooting with my longbow. I’m also a big supporter of the honey bee and I have a hive in my yard.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I’ve just finished writing Lorehnin, the next instalment in my Otherworld series, and the manuscript is currently with my beta readers and editor, so I hope to have it available soon. The book bundle I’m a contributor to, Faery Worlds, is doing very well on Amazon.com at the moment, and I will be attending FaerieCon West in Seattle in February and the Tucson Festival of Books in March. In the meantime, I’ll also be working on my fourth Oescienne novel, as well as other books for the Otherworld series.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I began seriously writing in 2005, right after graduating from college. The reason I started was because I had so many stories in my head and I realized that no one would ever get to hear them if I didn’t write them down. I also think part of it had to do with the fact that my career as a student was coming to an end after a couple of decades and it was a bit daunting to me. I guess you could say that this major change in my life prompted me to take on an entirely new challenge.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I suppose when I manage to write fifty pages of my first book. Before that point it was still just an idea and a goal, but once I’d managed to write something longer than the essays and research papers required of me in high school and college, I knew that writing was something I enjoyed and would continue to work at until I had a solid book at the end.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
There was no one idea or situation that inspired me to write The Finding, the first book in my Oescienne series and the first book I ever wrote. For years, my imagination had been working on thoughts and ideas. Inspiration is all around us and I’m sure I picked up on several things along the way. I can say that spending time studying Celtic and Norse mythology in college had a lot to do with it, and all of my current books are somehow rooted in my hometown. The world of my Oescienne series is based on the geography of the Central Coast of California and part of my Otherworld Trilogy is set in Arroyo Grande where I currently live.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I’m sure that I do, but being the one immersed in it, I am probably not the best one to describe it. I’ve written in both first and third person, and with third person I think my own style shows more since I’m observing my characters and I have a little more freedom to describe what I see and feel. With first person it’s a bit different. When I’m telling the story through my character’s eyes, I have to become them in a sense, but I have to make sure I’m staying true to their spirit, not necessarily my own.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Good question. For the Otherworld Trilogy, I knew I wanted to incorporate some version of the word ‘fae’ into the title, so I simply started playing around with words until ‘Faelorehn’ came to mind. I liked the sound of it so I kept it. Yes, it might have been easier if I’d used an already established word or phrase, but at the time I wanted my book title to be unique. I didn’t want readers to search for my book and have several others pop up on the computer screen with the same title.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I’d like to think there are several messages in Faelorehn. The importance of friendship, persevering despite obstacles, learning to be more accepting and tolerant of others, and discovering oneself through hardship . . . But mostly I hope readers come away from the novel feeling that if they consider themselves different from norm then they should embrace that difference and be proud of it. After all, it is those who are different, weird, strange, eccentric, who end up writing the novels, designing the video games and directing the movies everyone else enjoys.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
All of it! Just kidding . . . The town where Meghan lives, Arroyo Grande, exists. It’s where I now live and where I grew up. The old post office and gift store where she and her friends go shopping is also real and is called the Halcyon Store. When the girls visit the old Village of Arroyo Grande, I describe landmarks that people can visit, including the swinging bridge where they have a run-in with an angry crow. Some of the antagonistic characters are loosely based on people who gave me a hard time in high school (like I hinted above, I was one of the weird kids). Even Meghan’s neighborhood and the swamp behind her house are real places in my home town.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Some of the experiences are directly based on my own, some of them not. The same goes for the characters. I often look back at my books later and notice connections, or have a friend who has read them tell me that such-and-such a character reminded them of someone. Only then do I realize I had borrowed heavily from that person’s personality to form these fictional characters without even being aware of it.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
I didn’t become a serious reader until I was in my late teens. I do remember being very fond of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books, as well as the Goosebumps series when I was in elementary school. Makes me wonder why I didn’t end up writing in the horror genre. When I got older, I started reading in the fantasy genre and it stuck ever since. Some of the earliest books I remember really getting into were the Harry Potter books.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I couldn’t pick just one. Each new author I discover whose books I love has some influence over me. J.K. Rowling, Sharon Shinn, Sherwood Smith and Maria V. Snyder have all inspired me in some way or another with their works. As for helping me grow into an independent author, I’d have to give some credit to my friend Lindsay Buroker. I stumbled upon her Emperor’s Edge series a few years ago and absolutely loved it. Going against my usual character, I sent her a fan letter and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. She has a fabulous blog with lots of helpful information on marketing your books and working your way towards becoming a better author. Of course, I’ve browsed through several websites and blogs with tips on being a successful author, but Lindsay’s perseverance and dedication to writing has been a real inspiration. Lastly, I must give credit to Anthea Sharp, the author of the Feyland books, for contacting me back in May and inviting me to be a part of Faery Worlds. The group of authors who teamed up on that project (besides myself: Anthea, Alexia Purdy, J.L. Bryan, Tara Maya and Elle Casey) are all fabulous writers whose own work and determination have helped me keep on top of my own projects.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Currently I’m jumping back and forth between A Shade of Vampire by Bella Frost, Witch Song by Amber Argyle and Lucid by P.T. Michelle. I still need to get further into A Shade of Vampire and Witch Song before I can make a sound judgment about those books, but so far they are intriguing. Lucid is a sequel to Michelle’s Brightest Kind of Darkness book, which I loved, so I have a feeling I’ll love this one just as much. It’s a YA paranormal series that have a touch of the Final Destination movies in them. Fate plays a role and there is plenty of mystery and intrigue.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
There are a few traditionally published authors I’ve discovered recently (and when I say recently I mean within the last year or so). Ilona Andrews (a husband and wife team) is probably the one I’ve enjoyed the most. I love their Edge series and all of their Kate Daniels books, as well as some of the short stories they’ve published. Another author whose books I’ve enjoyed, and someone who I think isn’t as well known, is P.T. Michelle. I mentioned her above and I’m looking forward to finding out all of her characters’ secrets.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I’ve just finished Lorehnin, the next book in the Otherworld series, and I’m trying to get back into the fourth book in my Oescienne series. I also have plans for another Otherworld Trilogy focusing on a secondary character’s story, as well as a few extra novels and short stories. On top of all that, I have several ideas for other series just waiting for me to sit down and write them.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
My two best friends, Laura and Nino (I must count them as one because we do practically everything together). Both of them have supported me through the years and have accompanied me on several of my book trips and helped set up and run my booth. They’ve also acted as proof readers for me from time to time. I don’t know what I would have done without their support.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Absolutely. I may not have known that being an author was my dream job when I was younger, but once I realized it, I haven’t wanted to do anything else. I would love nothing more than to wake up in the morning, prepare myself some tea and sit down to spend time with my characters in their own worlds. Then I might have some spare time during the day to work in the garden, work on a quilt or practice some archery before going back to a book project. Also, I’d be able to go to more book festivals because I’d have an incredibly flexible schedule. Maybe I could even guest speak at some local schools and libraries. Ahhh, bliss!
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I might make Faelorehn a little bit longer and try to add a little more depth to my secondary characters. Other than that, I’m pretty happy with the end result. Usually I get a feeling when I’m at the end of the book, and that feeling either lets me know that the book is ready, or informs me that it needs a little more work. I was having that issue with Lorehnin a few weeks ago, but then I thought of one little extra plot detail to add to it. Now I understand why I wasn’t quite ready to send it off; it just needed a tiny bit more woven into the story.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I was never interested in writing, exactly. I had story lines running through my head and I used to sketch out characters and maps to match up with those stories. Finally, it dawned upon me that I needed to write them down and put them into a book. Once I came to terms with that, I started writing. It was hard at first because I wasn’t quite sure how to piece it all together, but in the end I discovered my calling.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Sure, here is a small excerpt from Lorehnin, the next novel in the Otherworld series:
I was halfway down the lane when the chilling yowl of a feral cat cut through the air. Some hissing, followed by two battling fury shapes, one black, one grey tabby, reassured me that the nightly activity was limited to the living, breathing variety. I let out a breath. The cats had startled me but at least I knew I had nothing to worry about. Feeling a little less wary, I picked up my pace and made it to the dumpsters in no time. Lifting the lid with a grimace, I heaved the trash bag inside.
Dusting off my hands as best as I could, I stepped away from the dumpster with every intention of returning to work. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it very far. In the span of three seconds, I went from being slightly spooked to full-blown terrified. Without warning, a hand clamped over my mouth just as an arm snaked around my waist. I was jerked hard against a solid chest and dragged to the other side of the trash bins. My captor pressed his back flat against the grimy wall, taking me with him so that the shadows hid us.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Yes, banishing all the distractions from my mind so I can focus and actually write. I’m so often finding myself wandering onto Facebook to see what readers are posting on my page and to find out what my other author friends are up to. When I’m in writing mode, however, I can get a lot of typing done.
Sometimes it is difficult to start a new book or series. Not necessarily coming up with the ideas and fleshing out the characters, but figuring out where to begin. I think this is why I so often write my books in sections and not straight through from beginning to end.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I have a hard time picking a favorite since there are a few who I admire. Sharon Shinn, Sherwood Smith, Maria V. Snyder and Ilona Andrews to name a few. What I look for in a good book and a great author is the ability to weave interesting, well-developed characters with a unique and complex world. Being a fantasy author myself, I really appreciate other writers who take the time to develop the world their characters are living in. To me, it is just as important as the characters themselves, especially since a character’s environment can really determine who they are and how they make their choices.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
At this point in time, I travel by choice. I’m not too fond of flying, and I don’t have a big publisher who can set up booths for me all across the country, so I try to find festivals in California and on the west coast. I’ve been to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the local Renaissance Faire and harvest festivals in my hometown, and I’ll be going to Seattle for FaerieCon West in February and to Tucson in March for their book festival. Back in November I drove out to Las Vegas for the first time for the Vegas Valley Festival of Books. Also, I have to request time off from my day job to go to these events (if they don’t take place during the summer), so I try to only go to two a year.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
The covers for the Otherworld Trilogy are all pictures I took in my backyard and then manipulated using Photoshop. The cover for Faelorehn is a picture of the black locust tree in my yard in early spring against a foggy sky, the cover for Dolmarehn is a photo of the side of a concrete sink with moss growing on it and the cover for Luathara is some corrugated metal used to patch up an old barbed wire fence. The font, however, was designed by P.A. Vanucci, a talented font designer located in Italy. I found his work on dafont.com and contacted him about designing something unique for my Otherworld series.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Writing Faelorehn in first person. My previous books from my Oescienne series were all written in third person perspective, so taking on Meghan, my main character, and writing directly from her point of view was a challenge. It was also a little fun playing the part of a teenage girl, something I haven’t done in years.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned a few things as I wrote the entire trilogy, but most of them had to do with the characters themselves. The thing about being an author, with regards to characters, is that they are their own people and just as they are discovering themselves, so am I. A few of my characters from the Otherworld books started out as secondary characters who, by the end of the third book, ended up playing a bigger part than I had originally intended. And some of these characters will be getting their own books and series. So through writing Faelorehn, Dolmarehn and Luathara, I learned that my characters can, and will, surprise me from time to time.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
I know this has been said time and time again, but don’t give up. Of course, if writing is your passion then you won’t be able to give up. Also, it is okay to feel dismal about your work from time to time. We all go through it. So long as you have those days where you feel your writing is brilliant. Another bit of advice I have is to reach out and network with other authors. Not only might they be more experienced in the field, but they make a great support group and are the perfect people to go to if you have questions regarding writing and publishing.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Yes, I want to let them know how much I appreciate them. Being an independent author, much of the success of my books depends on word of mouth, and I know that many of my readers have gone out of their way to let others know about my books. And it also helps to have them prodding me from time to time when my Muse and I feel like taking a few days off from writing. Yes, my readers make sure I stay on top of my latest project.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
That’s a tough one. I don’t remember the first book I read, but one I remember from childhood was Goodnight Moon. My mom used to read it to me, so I’m sure at some point in time I picked it up and read it. I also read a lot of the Little Golden Books and I’m pretty sure I have a set of the Beatrix Potter books hidden away somewhere.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
Too many to keep up with. Let’s see, I enjoy reading, sewing, drawing, archery, Western martial arts (sword practice with a long sword), camping, gardening and bird watching. I also have chickens and a beehive in my yard. Oh, and I also enjoy designing bookmarks, banners and posters to help promote my books.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I’m a huge fan of the BBC’s Sherlock series and several of the film adaptations of classic British literature that station airs (any of the Elizabeth Gaskell and Jane Austen interpretations). I also enjoy the Big Bang Theory and I’ve been known to watch Jeopardy from time to time. As for movies, I would say the ones that I can watch again and again are The Princess Bride, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Hot Fuzz.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
I love comfort food (stew, soup, breads etc.) and Mexican food. Blue is probably the color I like the best, but earth tones are my favorite too (being an artist, it’s hard for me to choose). With regards to music, I prefer instrumental songs, either straight Classical or anything with a Celtic theme to it. I also enjoy Classic Rock and Americana/Folk. Two of my favorite artists in those genres are Jackson Browne and Robert Earl Keen.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
When I was in junior high, I had my heart set on working as an animator for Disney. I convinced myself that by the time I got through learning the trade, everything would be computer animated. I guess if I wasn’t a writer I’d still like a job in that field, perhaps work as a character designer/concept artist for fantasy films, like Brian Froud or Alan Lee
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Yes, I have a blog that I use as my website (though I don’t post as much on there as I should …). You can, however, read samples of my books, check out some of the artwork I’ve done for them, read interviews of other authors and artists, get some marketing tips (if you happen to be an author) and read about some things I like to do in my free time (when I’m not writing, that is). Here is the address: www.jennaelizabethjohnson.com
I just want to say thank you, Fiona, for taking the time to interview me and learn more about my books. I enjoyed answering all of your questions and I hope to hear from you again in the future. All the best and happy reading!