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Interview with Sherri Wilson Johnson

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum…wait, that was the title of a musical from the 1960s. I couldn’t help but think of it during my recent conversation with author Sherri Wilson Johnson who told me about her farcical adventure to travel to ACFW’s 2016 Conference in Nashville, Tenn. Let’s just say it involved trying to park in the rental car drop off garage instead of long-term parking at the Atlanta airport, often named the busiest airport in the world. But to quote Shakespeare, all’s well that ends well. It’s a sentiment that applies not only to Sherri’s traveling adventures, but her publication journey as well.

Sherri’s new novella,
The Bridge Between Us, set in Albion, New York in 1859, will be released by Barbour Publishing on March 1, 2019 as part of the Erie Canal Brides Collection: 7 Romances Develop Along Manmade Waterways of New York and Ohio. We recently talked about the reward and challenges she’s experienced in seeing this project come to fruition.

I love story collections. How did you become involved in Erie Canal Brides?
Author Rose McCauley asked me to be a part of the collection. I was thrilled to join in.

Did each author do her own research for the collection, or did you have a group session to make sure you were all on the same page?
We did a little of both. One of the authors found an old book on the Erie Canal and we all read it. Then we each researched to find our settings for our individual stories. We helped each other along the way whenever questions came up about the canal. It was so much fun! We created a private Facebook group so we could talk to each other. We uploaded pictures we found and posted true stories.

I had friends in my Bible study praying that I would find the right setting for my story, which could be any town along the Erie Canal. One friend asked if I'd ever heard of Albion, New York where a bridge collapse in 1859 injured hundreds of people. I read about the incident and said, “that’s it!” I talked to the historian in Albion and read newspaper articles about people's reactions to the bridge collapse. It was easy to jump right into the story.

Did you have to do additional research to create authenticity for a story in the Northeast?
Most of my books are set in Georgia or Florida, so writing something set in the Northeast was definitely different for me. In October, I visited New York City with my daughter for the first time.

I wanted to be known as a Georgia writer initially. I was advised that if I do that, I should consider a publisher that focuses on Southern fiction. I am working on proposals now for a story set in Greenwich Village in New York, as well as a story set in Mobile Bay, Alabama.

You had a new take on the “love triangle”—a young woman caught between the love for her father and the love for her beau. How did you come up with that idea?
Well, that’s a good question. It just came to me. My character Susannah wanted to have her own life and make her own choices, but she still had a deep love for her father. It was the basis for conflict in the story.

Do you create your plots ahead of time?
I usually have a general idea for where things are going, but I’m always surprised by how they end up. It’s hard for me to write a book summary or a book blurb. I hate doing it, especially after the story is written because I think everything in the story is worth putting in the summary. So, I started doing the summary and book blurb first. Readers tell me they’re surprised to find out who is the bad guy in The Bridge Between Us. I tell them I was amazed to find out, too.

I’ve never heard of wax flowers like your character Susannah created. How did you learn about the craft?
I researched pastimes for women in the 1800s. I wanted to find an art object Susannah could make herself and sell for money. I found a blog with details for making wax flowers, and photos that show the different types of elaborate flower arrangements.

How does your own faith influence your storytelling? Was it the basis for creating your story with a strong theme of reconciliation and forgiveness?
God has moved in mighty ways in my life, always providing for all my needs. I can’t help but let that bleed through in my writing. I always want the reader to know of God’s great love. I’ve seen God do so much in my life through forgiveness and reconciliation. It’s natural to write about these topics.

Sometimes readers can learn more from Christian fiction than a Bible study or a sermon. People are beaten up by the world, their jobs, and strife in relationships. Families aren't as close as they were. With social media, is so easy for someone to get their feelings hurt, to feel inferior, or to get in an argument with somebody. Readers can relate to characters in the story who experience what they are going through.

Why do you think readers love stories with a “happily ever after?”
Happily ever after is such a subjective thing. We all know that finding true love is just the beginning of the story, not the end. But it does our hearts good to know that closure has come and that love has been found.

What do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
A willingness to accept a no from an agent or publisher as a good thing, as encouragement to keep pressing on, to keep learning the craft. I haven’t always been patient and trusting of God in the process. I have, at times, put my faith in publishers or agents instead of waiting on God’s perfect plan for my career.

I published my first two books with a small publisher that folded. I went through a period of bitterness. Other authors had the same problem. I had to ask for my rights back so I could self-publish the sequels. The whole process has taught me that there is no such thing as “you've arrived.” Then out of the blue, God gave me a book contract with Barbour. He likes to keep me guessing!

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
Making writing a priority. I always say I don’t have time to write but the truth of the matter is I don’t make time to write. But work and family responsibilities do sometimes zap my creative energy, so even when I have time and make time, I’m not always able to write. I’m learning to grab the creativity when it hits me and write even if I’m not done with work yet.

I write when it hits me (usually late at night), and when I’m not writing, I’m usually plotting another story (I’m working on four right now). I do often write using the voice-to-text feature on my phone while I’m driving. A lot of my dialogue scenes are written this way. I also am often inspired in the middle of the night, so I keep a notebook on my nightstand and I write in the pitch dark if I’m woken up with something to write. Deadlines are always a good incentive.

If you could have coffee with an author you admire, who would that be?
Carrie Turansky. She's such a sweet and Godly woman who has always been so kind to answer questions about writing and about life struggles. I've met her twice briefly, but I would love to spend some time with her over a cup of tea. I’m not sure what I’d ask her. I’d probably just let her talk. I saw her in Atlanta at a book signing she acted like she was just excited to see me as I was to see her.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
I love to hang with my husband, my adult children, my friends. I love to put jigsaw puzzles together and recently began trying my hand at oil painting landscapes. We’ll see how that goes. My husband has been sick, and we’ve watched Bob Ross videos because they're very calming. I told my kids for Christmas I wanted to Bob Ross starter kit. I think it would be fun if I could paint the settings in my book.

What books are on your nightstand right now?
Blind Betrayal (Defenders of Justice Book #3) by Nancy Mehl
Mind Games (Kaely Quinn Profiler Book #1) by Nancy Mehl
Fort Point (Maine Justice Book 2) by Susan Page Davis
Out of the Ashes (The Heart of Alaska Book #2) and Under the Midnight Sun (The Heart of Alaska Book #3) by Tracie Peterson and Kimberley Woodhouse.

Any sage advice for new or aspiring ACFW authors?
Remember your love for the craft and don’t lose yourself in the quest for success. Success looks different to every writer.


Teresa Haugh, a graduate of the University of Montevallo, is a recently retired public affairs specialist with the U.S. Forest Service. She and her husband enjoy life in Alaska, the Last Frontier. She takes pleasure in talking with other authors about their writing journeys, and is completing her first full-length novel.

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