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Interview with Liz Johnson

Liz Johnson, like many Christian novelists, began as an avid reader of Christian fiction - an interest which began while still in junior high school. Though she briefly thought she would become a physical therapist, once Liz set her sights on a public relations degree she knew she wanted to use her PR skills within the Christian publishing industry. After moving from Arizona to Colorado Springs, CO and settling into her role as a publicist within the industry, Liz began to tackle her other dream - of being a published author herself! In March, Liz's third novel released in the Love Inspired Suspense line, entitled Code of Justice. Now a resident of Nashville, TN, she admits to being overly addicted to TV crime dramas, a fact which often leads to new story ideas, but Liz is quick to state that her stories are at their core all about true love ... and of course, happy endings!

Since your latest novel Code of Justice involves an FBI agent as your lead character, did you perform any special research into FBI practices to maintain accuracy? (If so, what did you find to be your best resource?)

I read a lot about FBI agents in order to write my first three books. The official FBI website became a favorite of mine to learn more about the role and jurisdiction of special agents. I also read a lot of novels featuring FBI agents—to see how they’ve been represented in the past. I tried to glean the good and add my own twists where I could. In the books that I read, most often FBI agents were represented as either always the champions of good or duplicitous scoundrels. It was so fun for me to write an agent who battles her own desires for revenge to figure out what justice really means.

Do you think the fact that you work for a major Christian publishing company gave you any insight into the industry that may have helped you to get published?
I’m really privileged to get to work in an industry that I love, but to date I haven’t contracted a book with a publisher that I’ve worked for. Working in this industry has afforded me the opportunity to read and be exposed to more books than I ever thought possible, and that’s definitely helped me keep up with what’s going on in the market. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with and learning from some incredible novelists. I’m really grateful for the experience I’ve gained working in the industry, but the really neat thing is that a lot of this knowledge and experience is available to members of ACFW through mentorships with established authors, conference, and more. I definitely advise taking advantage of the opportunities that ACFW offers.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
I’ve had a very public battle (at least at my office) with getting bursts of creativity at the worst possible moments—like when I’m in the middle of my workday, when I’m supposed to be concentrating on completing projects for my employer. It can be very hard to turn off that little creative voice in the middle of the day and the middle of the night—even though I know that I have to get up in the morning for work. If I have a great idea in the middle of the day, I email it to myself for later consideration. And if my brain won’t shut off after midnight … well, I know I can survive on four hours of sleep.

And how do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
My faith is a huge part of my writing. Like many Christian authors, I feel called to write Christian fiction. But it wasn’t until I looked back on my first three books that I realized how deep my personal walk with God is embedded in my stories. Looking back, I can see that the themes running through them are the things that God was teaching me at the time that I was writing them. As I struggled with some unexplained illnesses this past year, I was working on a new proposal and discovered a strong theme of God’s strength being made perfect in human weakness. I love that God is faithful to use the things that He’s bringing me through to encourage readers facing similar struggles.

What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
Wow! There have been some really amazing moments in my writing career. I think it’s a career of extreme highs and not-so-wonderful lows, and it’s hard to point to just one as the very best. But getting the call that I sold my first book was an amazing moment because I’d worked so hard writing and rewriting that book. It was by far the most emotional moment of my career thus far. I think I cried and laughed the whole evening following that call.

Where do your story and character ideas come from and what do you find to be your best method of keeping ideas from getting lost once they come to you?
All of my stories come from one question. What if? What if someone would willingly go to prison to save someone else? What if two sisters shared a really close bond that was severed? And those questions can come from a place I’ve visited or an article I’ve read. And I’m sure that I’ve already forgotten more stories than I’ll ever write. Keeping track of them isn’t my strong point, but when I have an idea, one I think might really stick, I start jotting down notes to myself in an every day word document and save it into my “books” folder. It’s nothing high-tech. Just notes and useful websites. And when I finish my current work in progress, I dive into another story already full of ideas.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
I love stories of intense mystery, suspense, and love, but I always work to infuse humor into my stories. I love a character with a great sense of the irony of a situation. One who is not afraid to make a sarcastic comment about it. I love a story that isn’t afraid to tackle the heavy stuff but keeps a good sense of humor about itself. I try to make sure that all of my stories maintain that, just as I try to about myself.

You said in your intro that you watch far too many TV crime dramas, (so do I) which ones are you most addicted to watching?
It’s good to know I’m not alone! As with many writers, I’m addicted to Castle. Who doesn’t love Nathan Fillion as the bestselling mystery writer? I also love Psych, which I suppose isn’t really a drama, but it one of the most fun shows on television. And I’m always looking for a replacement for Life, which was a short-lived, but fantastic NBC show a few years ago. Since I’ve yet to find a suitable replacement, I often pop in reruns on DVD.

Any parting words?
Thanks so much for having me! I’m so thankful to be part of ACFW.

Thanks for sharing with us, Liz!

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