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Interview with Myra Johnson

This week it is my privilege to introduce Myra Johnson to ACFW. I enjoyed sitting down to “talk” with Myra, and I was interested to learn that her upcoming release, Gateway Weddings from Barbour Publishing, Inc., features the Gateway City, St. Louis, and other settings in Missouri. Myra has four books published with Heartsong Presents, the latest one, A Horseman’s Heart released in August, is set in North Carolina. What I like about Myra’s books are her authentic characters and true-to-life love stories.

How did you know you wanted to write fiction and contemporary romance in particular?

I’ve been making up stories since childhood—it’s just part of who I am! The very first story I can remember putting to paper, probably in first or second grade, was called “The Enchanted Prince.” By high school I had several “never-ending” stories going that I’d share with my closest friends, a chapter at a time. I still have one of those unfinished stories, pages and pages now yellowed with age, typed single-spaced on my mother’s ancient Royal typewriter.

Writing for publication remained only a distant dream until I enrolled in a correspondence course offered by the Institute of Children’s Literature. I was in my mid-30s by then and a busy wife and mom, and this was my chance to discover once and for all if I had what it took to be published. When I sold two short stories before completing the course, I thought I had it made! But despite regular sales of short stories, articles, and devotions, all I collected on the dozen or more children’s and young adult book manuscripts I’d completed was a stack of rejections . . . and the occasional “We love your writing but this just isn’t right for us. Try us again.”

The move from children’s writing to women’s fiction and romance seemed a natural progression once my daughters were grown. I found ACFW back when it was still American Christian Romance Writers and joined a critique group with three lovely ladies—DiAnn Mills, Kathleen Y’Barbo, and Martha Rogers. Their advice and encouragement helped hone my romance writing skills.

Even so, it was several more years before that elusive first book contract became a reality (One Imperfect Christmas, Abingdon Press, September 2009). But when the offer finally came, everything happened so fast that I like to say I’m a 25-year “overnight” success! Now I can’t imagine writing anything but heart-tugging love stories.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
Three things: First, I credit the excellent instruction received through ICL’s Writing for Children and Teenagers course. That’s where my foundation of writing, editing, and marketing skills was laid. (Kudos to my former instructor, multi-published author Kristi Holl.)

Second, my ACFW membership has been invaluable. Attending the conference every year remains a top priority. I’ve made some lasting friendships and professional connections through ACFW and especially through local chapter membership, where I met my dear friend, critique partner, and confidante, Carla Stewart.

Finally, I could not imagine continuing in this business without the friendship and encouragement of a fabulous sisterhood of writers called the Seekers. After coming up against each other too many times in manuscript contests, we banded together in the fall of 2005 to form our own support group. A couple of years later we “went public” with a group blog,, where we draw on our combined resources and experiences to share all kinds of writing advice.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
A typical weekday writing routine is to take care of household chores, email, and other non-writing tasks before lunch, and then devote five or six hours in the afternoon to my work-in-progress. Under normal circumstances this schedule is fairly easy to stick to, but this year has been anything but normal! In April we made an 1100-mile move to be closer to one of our daughters and her family. The house hunting/selling/moving ordeal definitely took its toll, but on top of that, I’m enjoying the most delightful distraction of having three grandchildren less than ten minutes away—and one of them a beautiful new baby girl born only a few days after we first arrived! So my personal deadlines have definitely been affected, and I haven’t written nearly as much in the last few months as I’d planned. Now that things are settling down, I hope to get back on schedule very soon.

And how do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
I’m a writer of Christian fiction, but even more important, I am a Christian who writes, so faith naturally finds its way into my stories. My characters are everyday people with real-life struggles, and I try to show through their fictional lives how trusting God and striving to follow Christ can make a difference, even when life doesn’t go as planned, prayers aren’t answered the way we’d hoped, and problems don’t magically disappear.

Where do your story and character ideas come from?
Every story is different. Many ideas are inspired by personal experience. Others arise from an overheard conversation, something that happened to a friend or relative, or an interesting newspaper article. Sometimes a good book or movie gets me thinking in new directions and I start playing the “what if” game. A couple of my best ideas have come to me fully formed in dreams, and I woke up just itching to get to the computer!

One very special idea source was the inspiration for Autumn Rains (first story in Gateway Weddings). The hero, Healy Ferguson, is based upon a real-life ex-con whose story I learned from my pastor/brother-in-law. Recently released from prison, the man was traveling south to follow up on a job lead. When his bus stopped in Houston for a layover, he stowed his duffel bag—along with most of his money—in a bus station locker (this was pre-9/11) and then lost the ticket with the combination.

When he asked around for help, someone referred him to my brother-in-law’s church, so, in the middle of a hot, humid Houston summer, he walked or hitchhiked some 30 miles to get there. My brother-in-law gave him some money from the church’s “good Samaritan” fund and drove him to where he could catch a bus back downtown—only learning as they drove along a dark road late at night that the man had been in prison for murder!

Thankfully the ex-con reported a few weeks later that he’d reached his destination, landed a job, and was starting a new life. The story of his faith and determination stayed with me and begged to find its way into a novel. The next challenge was creating the heroine he could fall in love with, and that’s how Valerie Bishop came about, a woman struggling with her own kind of “prison.”

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
We all come from different backgrounds, with our own life experiences and sets of “baggage.” Every tragedy, every celebration, every mundane day of our lives influences our worldview. Writers can’t help but bring all this with them to the page. For me personally, my stories reflect the need to belong, to matter to someone, to make a difference. I’m compelled to write about flawed characters trying to find their way in the world, hoping to connect with that one person who will love them unconditionally. And since only God can offer that depth of love and acceptance, the stories inevitably lead back to Him.

Finish this question. The best piece of advice I can give to a new author is . . .
Study the craft. Learn the rules before you try breaking them. Find a trustworthy and plainspoken critique partner and heed her advice!

What’s next for Myra Johnson?
That’s a good question! With the demise of the Heartsong Presents line at the end of this year, the next two romances I’d planned to write (continuing the series begun with A Horseman’s Heart, August 2011) have been put on hold. I recently completed a historical romance, which my agent is hopeful about placing soon. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to attending the ACFW conference this month, learning even more about this crazy business, and catching up with the many writer friends I see only once a year!

Any parting words?
It’s been a pleasure, Marjorie! I’m very grateful to be a part of ACFW, an amazing and continually growing organization to which so many authors owe their success.

Thanks for sharing with us, Myra!

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