Interview with Author, E.L. Johnson
Over the weekend I had the privilege to interview the fabulous & charming E.L. Johnson, author of historical mysteries and a rising star on the literary scene.
Her latest book, The Strangled Servant, was recently released by Dragonblade Publishing and is the first in The Perfect Poison series. I’m thrilled to have had the chance to learn more about her writing process, hopefully you’ll admire her and her work as much as I do!
E.L. why don’t you start by telling us a little about yourself.
I'm originally from Boston and miss fresh lobster and clam chowder. What some people might not know is I trained as a historian before turning to writing. I majored in history and gave papers on nineteenth-century mourning traditions as an undergraduate, then studied British imperialism and colonial America as a master's student, then went to the UK.
My love has always been history, and that feeds into my writing.
Can you tell us more about the kind of historical fiction you write?
I write historical mysteries, mostly in the medieval or Georgian/Regency era. When I came to the UK I did an MA in Medieval Studies at UCL and that massively prepared for me the kind of research involved in writing a historical background. What I love is the societal views and restrictions in some of these time periods. What's a girl to do in 1800s small town England when she gets into a public fight with her best friend and then overnight becomes a murder suspect? Will her reputation survive it? That's the premise of my first book.
Would you be willing to share what your writing and revision process looks like?
I write the first draft, usually within a month or two and then walk away from it. In that month I'm working on music with my band, Orpheum, I'm doing jigsaw puzzles, reading, running my book club or anything but writing. Then I go back and start tweaking. Then I do endless rounds of revising, rereading, etc until I'm so sick of the book I'm ready to release it into the wild (or to my editor, whichever comes first).
What’s the hardest part about writing, in your opinion?
The editing process, for sure. As writers we love our words, phrases and jokes, especially when our characters develop a sense of humour. But if you're looking at a draft you've written that is well over 200,000 words and the publisher you're submitting to wants 80,000, you've got a hefty job awaiting you.
The revision process can be daunting, especially as we grow close to our characters and fall in love with the worlds we've created.
But I think that's also one of the best things about writing too, is that you'll know you've created something really amazing when you pick it up and it's like greeting old friends again and slipping on a beloved glass slipper.
Another one of the hardest things is knowing when to stop. When to close the book and stop tweaking, polishing, cutting and finessing. There's a point where you as the author have to close the book and mentally say, 'it's done,' and move on to your next project. A piece of writing can always be better, and you'll likely be a better writer in five years than you are now. But knowing when to stop and take a breather, that's important.
Okay, so what is your favorite thing about being a writer?
The writing of course! That's my passion. I love building characters that people love to hate. Stories would be rather dull if all the characters were pleasant and lovely and nothing bad ever happened to them. That's why you start with a generally pleasant person with flaws, whose perfectly pleasant world crumbles overnight. In my stories, the murderer won't be the obvious angry fellow who shouts, it'll be the quiet librarian next door who's hiding a body beneath the petunias. That's the sort of scenario I like to explore in fiction.
Do you have any advice for new and debut writers?
Don't worry if the words aren't perfect on the page the first time around. The struggle is getting words down at all. You could have a main character with five different names, or empty white room syndrome, or a villain that's so cliche all they have to do is twirl their evil mustache. That's all fixable. Get the words down first, then you can go back and fix all the things that are wrong. It doesn't have to be perfect in the first draft. It's the final draft that everyone cares about because that's what your readers will see.
Can you tell us more about The Strangled Servant?
It stars a young woman who is a little too trusting of her friends, and finds that when she gets into trouble, good friends are hard to find. My heroine doesn't fit within the stereotypical standards for beauty, and she has to make her own way in the world. Give it a read!
I hope you enjoyed learning more about E.L. Johnson and her incredible style and writing process! Check out her website for more info and a free mini-mystery when you sign-up for her newsletter. And don't forget to download her book The Strangled Servant on your Kindle (or if you're like me and need to feel a real book in your hands, order the paperback)!