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Liz Johnson Interview

by C.J. Darlington

"I loved how a book could draw me into another world, and I’ve been head over heels for them since." -- Liz Johnson

After graduating from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff with a degree in public relations, Liz Johnson set out to work in the Christian publishing industry, which was her lifelong dream. In 2006 she got her wish when she accepted a publicity position at a major trade book publisher. While working as a publicist in the industry, she decided to pursue her other dream-being an author. Along the way to having her novel published, she wrote articles for several magazines and worked as a freelance editorial consultant.

Liz lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she enjoys theater, ice skating, volunteering in her church’s bookstore and making frequent trips to Arizona to dote on her nephew and three nieces. She loves stories of true love with happy endings. The Kidnapping of Kenzie Thorn is her first novel.

C.J.: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Liz: Writing has always been a part of my life. I wrote my first story about a bear when I was 7. I signed my first contract at 27, and all through those years, I was busy writing. But it wasn’t until after college that I really thought about trying to have a book published.

Were books a big part of your life growing up? If so, what books would you say influenced you most as a child?

Oh, books have always been a big part of my life. Some of my favorite memories from my childhood are of my mom reading to my brother and sister and me before bed every night. Invariably I’d fall asleep, but I loved those books that my mom read. Little House on the Prairie, The Secret Garden, The Chronicles of Narnia. I loved them all. And when I first read The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, I fell in love with books. I loved how a book could draw me into another world, and I’ve been head over heels for them since.

I hear the basis for your first novel The Kidnapping of Kenzie Thorn was based on corresponding with a friend in prison. Could you tell us about that experience and how the story shaped over time?

Sure! I was a senior in college when my best friend from high school asked me to write to her brother who had been recently sentenced to 5 years in prison. I was a little hesitant at first, but I realized it was an opportunity to show him God’s love in a time when he really needed it. We wrote for 5 years, and it really made me wonder if there is anything that would make someone willingly go behind bars. From there, the idea just started bouncing around in my head, and it slowly took shape, adding in how God was teaching me to rely more on Him.

What sort of research did you have to perform to write this novel?

I read a bunch of books about FBI agents, both fiction and nonfiction, doing my best to get a feel for the alpha male role. I spent a lot of time on the FBI website, reading about policies, procedures, etc. But I’m pretty bad about research as a whole. I read a bunch, study up on stuff, and then I have a terrible habit of throwing it out the window for the sake of the story.

The Kidnapping of Kenzie ThornHow do you balance your day job as a book publicist with your writing? Any tips you implement to make it all work?

Balance is tough, especially when I have friends I want to hang out with, church commitments, and family I want to talk with, let alone a full-time job. It’s not easy to make time for writing, but it’s all about committing to priorities. It’s hard telling my friends that I can’t spend time with them or turning down social invitations. The thing that I’ve found most helpful is setting aside time that is for my writing and my writing only. I also have a writing buddy that I write with every Monday night. It keeps us accountable and is great for bouncing ideas off of.

What is the biggest misconception aspiring writers have about book publicity?

Hmm … I’m not sure. I was already working in publicity when I started trying to get published, so I already had a feel for what to expect. But I do think that some aspiring writers undervalue publicity. In my humble opinion, it’s super-important and can definitely affect sales. I suggest first-time writers do their research, make some good connections, and be prepared to invest some time in promoting their books.

What would you say has been the hardest part about writing The Kidnapping of Kenzie Thorn?

The hardest part about writing anything for me, is the writing part. The actually sitting down and writing is tough for me. Always has been.

When did you start running, and do you often find yourself working on plot problems or characters as you run?

Oh, I’m a terrible runner. I really hate it! But I know that exercise is important, so since college, I’ve tried to stay active. But I certainly can’t work out plot problems while I’m running. Walking, yes. But running … oh, that takes far too much effort. :) If I’m just out for a stroll, I do enjoy thinking through plot problems, talking aloud to myself. Or sometimes a character will tell me what’s about to happen to them. That always makes me hurry home faster though, so I don’t forget what I’ve just learned.

What motivates you to get out of bed and head to your keyboard?

I think I’d get fired if I didn’t. :) I have to get up to go to work. And I never write early in the morning. I’m too much of a night owl. But I’m definitely motivated to write because I feel like it’s a talent I’ve been given and need to use to God’s glory. I want to use the gifts I’ve been given, so I’m eager to keep writing and see what God does through it in my life.

Where is your favorite place to write?Liz Johnson

I write best on my bed, leaned up against a pile of pillows, laptop across my legs. It’s terrible posture, but I’m surrounded by bookshelves and all the pages of inspired writing. When I’m comfortable, I feel ready to write. But it’s a terrible habit. :)

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?

I wish I’d known that rejection is more of an open door than anything else. I wish I’d known that I didn’t need to fear rejection. My book was rejected several times by Steeple Hill before I was offered a contract. It turned into an opportunity to show my editor that I was willing to make changes and willing to be flexible. It’s made our working relationship really easy.

Are there any authors or books you consistently turn to for inspiration?

I don’t have any go-to authors for inspiration. If I’m looking for a story idea, I typically look at the things that God is teaching me. I’ve written a proposal for a story about humility after God taught me that the hard way. And as I mentioned, the theme from The Kidnapping of Kenzie Thorn came from God teaching me about relying fully on Him in every situation.

What’s next for you novel-wise?

I’ve recently finished another book for Love Inspired Suspense. It’s not under contract yet, but my editor and I are busy working on revisions. It’s a follow up to The Kidnapping of Kenzie Thorn, telling the story of Nate Andersen, Myles’s boss. It’s a fun romp through fictional Crescent City, Colorado. I’m also working on a proposal set in my home state of Arizona.

Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?

A huge thanks to CJ for having me! Also, if anyone would like to visit me online, they can keep up with my writing adventures—or misadventures—at www.lizjohnsonbooks.com.

What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?

I’m a big football fan! I love the Colts and the Giants and follow them closely all through the fall. And I was homeschooled from kindergarten through 4th grade. My mom was a great teacher, and I think I had a head start when I started public school!

When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

I love movies and, of course, reading. I enjoy spending time with my friends and volunteering in my church’s bookstore.

What did you eat for breakfast this morning?

A blueberry muffin and yogurt. My usual. :)

Three things always found in your refrigerator:

Apples. Yogurt. Ice cream of some variety.

You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?

Low-fat berry coffee cake. It’s so moist and yummy! And I’m not much of a coffee drinker.

What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?

Oh, so many! But definitely seeing a live NFL game. The Giants are playing the Broncos in Denver on Thanksgiving Day this year. I’m still trying to talk my roommate into going with me. :)

When was the last time you cried?

Oh, dear. Really cried, or just welled up? A couple weeks ago I walked into one of my bookshelves and hit my kneecap. It stung so badly that tears streaked down my cheeks. But the time before that that I really cried was on June 17th. It was the anniversary of my nephew’s death. I called to talk to my sister, to encourage her, and we ended up sobbing on the phone together. Sisters are good for that.

Three words that best describe you:

Relaxed. Klutzy. Strange.

What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?

I’m always cranking Brandon Heath for relaxed afternoons and Third Day for the gym.

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C.J. DarlingtonC.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.