Meet Britt Johansson!

Luccia Gray, a wonderful blogger and author has invited me to participate in a Meet the Main Character blog hop. Check out her blog, Rereading Jane Eyre, and novel, All Hallows at Eyre Hall.

Thank you, Luccia! I’m thrilled to be part of this blog hop, and I love any opportunity to talk about my main character. Here are the answers to questions about my protagonist in my debut novel, Focused on Murder—A Spirit Lake Mystery.


1.  What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or historical?

My main character is Britt Johansson. She’s a fictional 34-year-old former Pulitzer prize-winning LA Times photographer.

2. When and where is the story set?

My Spirit Lake mystery series is set in Northern Minnesota. I’m drawn to stories that take place in northern climates, with unpredictable weather and people. I wanted to pay homage to the Native American culture, lakes and small towns. It’s my way of keeping in touch with my roots.

3. What should we know about her?

Britt has a big heart, bad attitude and wicked sense of humor. In Focused on Murder, Britt’s reckless behavior has nearly ended her career. She’s been fired from the LA Times and returns to the small town where she grew up to put her life and career back together. She gets a chance to redeem herself when she’s hired at the Northern Bureau of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Britt stumbles upon a co-ed’s frozen body, sets off to follow the killer and ends up in the crosshairs of an international crime ring, where she becomes the prey.

4. What makes her interesting?

Britt has been away for a long time photographing environmental and war disasters around the globe, but friends and family provide the stability and balance she needs. Her brother and his partner run a café in Spirit Lake, and she’s in love with forest ranger, who often thinks she’s too much trouble. She’s usually at odds with the people who love her, and yet they continue to care about her. She doesn’t believe in mystic powers, but an Ojibwe elder guides her in the right direction in spite of herself.

5. What is the personal goal of the character?

Britt’s personal goals—to stay in Spirit Lake surrounded by her loved ones—conflict with her professional goals, or calling—to document the suffering of the vulnerable of the world, usually women and children, and that means traveling to places like Iraq, South Sudan or Ukraine and putting herself in life-threatening situations.

However, even her hometown of Spirit Lake turns out to be a perfect location for all kinds of dirty deeds: easy entry points along the vast wilderness of the US/Canadian border, an Indian reservation that’s off limits to most law enforcement, and a dangerously mistaken perception that nothing happens in small towns.

6. Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

See answer below.

7. When can we expect the book to be published?

Focused on Murder—A Spirit Lake Mystery is now available for purchase at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, ITunes and Kobo.

Close Up on Murder—A Spirit Lake Mystery, second in the series is due in 2015. After that, I’ll publish a Prequel that reveals the story of what initially brought Britt back to Spirit Lake—a murder, of course, but whose?

8. Tap several more authors to highlight their books.

It’s my pleasure to introduce you to the following bloggers and writers:

Julie Williams author of Drama Queens in the House

June Gillam author of House of Cuts and House of Dads

 Kevin Cooper author of The Wizard, the Girl and the Unicorn’s Horn

 I’m looking forward to reading about their main characters!

Julie Williams—Drama Queens in the House

Julie Williams and I are lifelong friends and I’m thrilled to have her as a guest blogger this week to talk about her new YA novel, Drama Queens in the House. Recently published by Roaring Brook Press, it’s available on Amazon, B & N, and other bookstores.

front cover (2)

“Sixteen-year-old Jessie Jasper Lewis doesn’t remember a time in her life when she wasn’t surrounded by method actors, bright spotlights, and feather boas. Her parents started the Jumble Players Theater together, and theater is the glue that holds her crazy family together. But when she discovers that her father’s cheating on her mother with a man, Jessie feels like her world is toppling over. And on top of everything else, she has to deal with a delusional aunt who is predicting the end of the world. Jessie certainly doesn’t feel ready to be center stage in the production that is her family. But where does she belong in all of this chaos?”

What’s the most fun/interesting part of the writing process?

I love the beginnings of books. As odd as this might sound, mine don’t usually start with an idea. As the first coherent thought about a story I’m going to write, I don’t think I’ve ever said to myself (or to someone else) I think I’ll write something about _______ (fill in the blank: the loss of a parent, moving to a new state, conflicts between the whites and Ojibwe in Northern Minnesota, a big theatrical family, what it’s like to grow up in a fanatical religion focused on the end of the world, finding your voice, and so on and so on.)
What happens instead is that a character starts talking in my head. And when I realize she’s not going away and is really trying to get my attention (sometimes after a day or two — sometimes it takes a lot longer), I start trying to get what she’s saying down in my morning journal writing practice. This can be fragments of a conversation. Sometimes it’s an internal monologue. Or it might be a full-blown scene between this new character and someone else in the story I haven’t met yet. Usually the character reveals quite a bit about herself really fast and that’s what starts the plot going. If, for example, my as yet unnamed character is wading out of a cold autumn lake where she’s just intentionally destroyed her mother’s prize speed boat, and she’s calling her mother the Crazy Woman, I’ve got a pretty good idea of setting and main conflict. I don’t know at that point whether the character will run away or step up to confront the situation. That knowledge will come the next time I open up my notebook, take out my pen, and try to get the words down.
The down side of enjoying this part of the process as much as I do is that I have a lot of story beginnings that have never been developed into books. The up side is that I have a lot of imaginary friends.

What’s your approach to developing the plot?

I’m a big re-reader. If I love a book, I’ll read it over and over and over until I’ve practically memorized it. These reading habits began when I was very small and have grown and developed over a bunch of years of being a voracious reader. I like reading plots that feel organic, character-driven. I’m not a big fan of books that are plot-driven. When I’m reading them, I get anxious and irritated, and I usually skip to the end and read that and then go back and read in a kind of scatter-gun fashion through to the end to get the gist of the story. And I never go back and re-read a plot-driven novel. My love of re-reading informs the way I write. If the character comes to me in a particular setting and with a clear dilemma, then often the final scene of the book will pop up sooner rather than later. And that’s something to write toward. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say, it’s what the character is moving toward but she doesn’t know it, does she? Life rarely moves in a straight line. Even clearly delineated problems have a way of turning inside out and upside down and sometimes ending up the best thing that ever happened to us. I like, when I read, being reminded of this spiral dance we go through over and over and over, with problems that become solutions and goals that disintegrate and become new goals. So that’s what I like to write. The trick when you write that way is to keep track of all the plot points that emerge and work some magic in the rewriting stage of the process trying to get the action and movement of the story just right. That said, if you are a reader who adores plot-driven novels, you probably won’t like my books.

What’s your take on rewriting?

Rewriting is at once a gift from the gods and a pain in the tush. If I’m still in the story development creative flow stage, rewriting anything is difficult and painful and often not very effective. If, however, I’ve done most of that writing, have taken a break from the manuscript, and come back to it with fresh eyes and hopefully some wonderful notes from a trusted reader or editor, then the rewriting process becomes an art in and of itself. I like to view the rewriting process as a form of collage or assemblage (like the visual artwork that I do). When I’m able to get into that mind-frame and enjoy the jigsaw puzzle nature of tightening and reorganizing and fleshing out and paring back the story, then rewriting is downright fun.

Julie Williams

Julie Williams

Julie Williams is also the author of the young adult novel ESCAPING TORNADO SEASON: A Novel in Poems. She has published in many small press journals and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. For twenty years she was an adjunct professor at California State University, Northridge teaching for the communication studies and theater departments and retiring in 2003 as the Assistant Director of CSUN’s Educational Opportunity Program. She and her husband live in Minnesota. Say hello to her on Twitter @JulieKWms2013 and check out her blog:

Upcoming Novel from Julie Williams

I’m reposting a blog originally posted by Diane Kendig: “Today, as part of “The Next Big Thing” project, I am hosting my friend Julie Williams, who is a poet, visual artist, and author of a Young Adult novel in verse, Escaping Tornado Season, as well as an upcoming novel. I’ll let our interview tell you all about it. Julie says:”

“The Next Big Thing” or Blog-o-sphere Project is a fun way for writers all over the world to connect and share information about their current writing project or upcoming book. One writer tags another writer who answers a set of interview questions who tags five more writers and so on and so on. I was tagged by my fabulous poet friend, Diane Kendig, who has graciously invited me to post my answers on her blog. Thanks, Diane!


So, here goes . . .

What is your working title of your book?

All the World’s a Jumble

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve always wanted to write about a crazy theatrical family plagued by relatives who are certain the world is going to end. Originally, I thought it would be set in 1975, but lo! and behold — 2012 came along and the Mayan predictions and the new version evolved accordingly.

What genre does your book fall under?

Young adult fiction

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

The truth is, I’d love to see the whole thing cast with new or previously unknown actors. Probably because the characters are so vivid in my mind and like my friend, Linda says, she’d rather the readers formed their own pictures. That said, it’s also kind of fun to imagine who might be right for the part. So, how about this? When Quvenzhané Wallis, the young woman from BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, turns 16, she’s a possibility for Jessie. My daughter suggested Krisin Kruek and I really do like her, too. Abigail Breslin or one of the Fanning girls could play Jessie’s cousin and best friend, Bits. Maybe Brian White or Anthony Mackie for Jessie’s dad, Mark. And I’m thinking Jessica Chastain for her mom, Una. Although she’s a little young for the role, I can see Viola Davis as Grandmama. And I think Alphonso McAuley would be perfect for the wild and wacky Bartle. Now, ask me in a year when the book comes out. I may have an entirely different list.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

More than anything, Jessie wants to find her place in the Jumble Players — the award-winning theatre company her parents co-direct — but when family drama threatens both the family and the theatre, Jessie has to use her big brain and her huge heart to help keep it all together.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m represented by Jill Corcoran of the Herman Agency and the book is coming out in March 2014 from Roaring Brook/Macmillan. My editor there is Nancy Mercado.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Depends on which “first draft” we’re talking about! The book has had several different incarnations. The slightly fudged, averaged-out answer is about six months. That said, Nancy and I have been working on it together for nearly two years. I just completed a revision based on her line edits and the book has just been sent to the copy editor.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My own, wildly diverse family, especially my beautiful daughter, inspired me. My early years in the theatre here in Minnesota and many years teaching performance classes inspired me. What I’ve come to believe about the incredibly strong and resilient nature of family made me want to write this book. And then, having my main character Jessie take off with a mind of her own made we want to follow along and find out what was going to happen to her next!

Next Week

Julie tagged me for the “Next Big Thing” Blog-o-Sphere project so next week I’ll post about my book, Focused on Murder—A Spirit Lake Mystery, and tag five amazing authors I know you’d love to hear about. Thanks for stopping by!