Topher Hoffman: Today I would like to introduce to you an author of YA fiction! I am excited to introduce her, and she’s I’m sure she’s excited to share with you her writing world, and her first full-length novel called The Inevitable Fate of E & J! So I say, enough of the small talk, let’s get the ball rolling, and let me present to you this fabulous new author! Welcome, Johanna L. Randle to the House of 1000 books!
Welcome Johanna to the pages of the House of 1000 books blog, your time is very well appreciated and thank you for taking the time to answer some questions!
As I read your profile on Twitter, I realized that you are a number cruncher with a degree in psychology! When did you know that your passion didn’t lie within those fields and that your magical world was waiting to be written?
Johanna L. Randle: Honestly, I’ve always known I wanted to be a published author. I love books so much, and they’ve helped me through my entire life. I’d stay in the classroom on recess and write stories. I have tons of notebooks with stories I wrote as a kid. I wanted to be a part of the world so badly. The world where my words can bring a smile to someone’s face, make them laugh, or especially, help them relate to one of my characters. However, crippling self-doubt was always an issue with me, along with that logical part of my brain telling me I needed a “real” career. Two of the biggest lies I ever told myself.
It’s funny, I went to school originally to become a teacher. My first class was a psychology course, and I fell in love with that field. I knew early on that I didn’t want to be a psychologist but wanted to focus instead on child development. However, in order to make a huge difference in the field, you need a Ph.D., which is just not feasible at this point in my life. Maybe someday.
The number crunching came about in an odd sort of way. You know those personality tests that tell you what career you should be in? (I obviously love those, because well, psychology.) Anyway, everyone I’ve ever taken has told me accounting is one of the best fields for me. I’ve always avoided it because I have a creative mind and accounting sounded, to be honest, utterly boring. I’m lucky enough to be in a company where the leaders understand that I get bored easily (see the previous sentence about the creative mind). Because of this, a position opened up in accounting, and they let me move departments. I ended up really enjoying the work. As far as day jobs go, it’s a great placeholder until when (if) I make it big time as an author.
TH: In your personal belief, what do you think makes a good plot in a story?
JLR: What makes a good plot in a story, to me, is one where you can fall completely into it. Where the world around you disappears, and you are living in the plot the entire time you read. This also requires that the characters involved in the plot are relatable, likable, even if you like to hate them, and entertaining. For me, the best plots have always been character driven. While I admire writers who can create a wonderful atmosphere, and describe something as mundane as a plant in so much detail you can see it, my favorite books to read are ones that the plot has me biting my nails, on the edge of my seat, or anxiously waiting for the next moment I can read more.
TH: Are any of your friend’s authors? If so, what advice did they give you?
JLR: None of my friends are authors, but many of them are readers. They did not really give me writing advice, but more advice to have faith in myself and my ability to write. I even have co-workers who have shown faith in me, and I appreciate it more than they’ll know. My family members were especially encouraging. They are always telling me to go for my dreams and that they love my writing.
There are multiple aspiring writers in my family, however, and I can’t wait for them to release their books. I’d love to get to a point with them where we’re swapping works in progress to give each other developmental edits and plot ideas. (If you’re reading this, I’m talking to you, Jennifer, Jessie and Chris).
TH: Currently, who is your number one fan, how do you know?
JLR: I have two number one fans – my husband and daughter. I know this for a few reasons. One, I don’t yet have many fans as a newly published author. And two, my husband has put up with my rants about plot points, character traits and those moments where I almost deleted my entire manuscript. I’ve actually ripped up handwritten notes before, and my husband tried to tape them back together. He’s encouraged me so much. I’ll never forget when I was at the dentist right after I got my book cover completed, and he randomly started bragging to them about it. That was probably the moment I finally and fully believed he did have faith in me. And my daughter tells everyone her mom is a writer and squealed along with me every time I made progress in my novel.
TH: This is my favourite question to ask everyone. If you had an opportunity to talk to your younger writing self, and you knew that you were going to write a book, what advice would you give yourself? Especially when it came to career choices?
JLR: If I could give advice to my younger writing self, I’d go back to fifth grade, when I wrote more than any other time in my life and would have told ten-year-old Johanna to not stop writing. I wished I’d continued the efforts I put in at that age. I didn’t actually start fully committing to writing a novel until I was in my twenties. I think if I had put more effort in the younger I was, the quicker my publishing goals would have come to fruition.
TH: Writing takes a lot of work. From what I’ve gathered online it can either be an especially exhausting, or it energizes you. What does it do for you?
JLR: It does both for me. It energizes me when I’m writing the first draft. When ideas freely pop in my head, and I can’t write them down fast enough. Or when I’m stuck in the plot development and the next scene magically appears in my brain. It energizes me when my characters speak to me, and I can picture them as clearly as real-life people.
The exhausting part comes when I re-read the first draft. When I realize I’ve used the same word 185 times. Or when I catch that I’ve done more telling than showing. And being new to the published author world, it’s been a bit exhausting figuring out how to market my book! And in full disclosure, there are times when I just don’t feel like writing, and I’d rather read. This slows down my progress immensely and then comes in the regret cycle.
TH: I have the greatest respect for authors. It takes a lot of work to write, edit, and compose your book, especially the first one. I would imagine that it has a massive learning curve. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing your first novel?
JLR: The most surprising thing I learned when I wrote my first novel is that it’s an actual job. It’s not as simple as, “I have this amazing idea, and my characters are awesome. I’m going to write a book.” I had this delusion that every great book I read was the result of that exact thing, which is part of the reason I was afraid to try myself. I believed my favourite authors were just magic and could pen a book on the first try. But after writing the first, third, fifth draft, I realized that it is a process. Ideas are great, but it takes dedication, blood, sweat, tears, your heart and soul, and your first-born child (kidding).
Every sentence you write requires an immense amount of thinking and re-working. Does this sentence make sense here? Does this contradict an earlier plot point? Have I described something enough, or too much? What is a better word to use here? Etc. Writing can be a hobby, but to get a novel where you want it, it becomes much more than that. But it’s so worth it.
TH: All writers need tools of some type. For you, what was the greatest thing you bought that has benefited you with your writing?
JLR: This is an easy question. The best tools are books. The more I read, the more my writing improves. The more words I devour, the more circulate in my own brain. Even if I read a book that I don’t love all that much, it provides me with courage because I admire every single writer who is brave enough to put their work out into the world. That and notebooks. Lots and lots of notebooks so that I always have a place to jot down notes. (I prefer handwriting notes for my books rather than using a computer).
TH: You have a fascinating finished book. Was this your first attempt at writing a book, and if not, how many unfinished stories do you have. Will you ever go finish them
JLR: This was the first book idea I’d ever had that I wanted to write. I came up with the idea when I was sixteen. However, this was not the first one I actually wrote. I had a young adult dystopian novel written and was actually acquired by a small agency. However, the book wasn’t what I wanted it to be, and I struggled to get it just right. I ended up pulling the book and re-wrote it twice. It sits abandoned in my drafts folder now. I also have seven other unfinished stories that I’ve started. As soon as I get a story idea, I immediately begin writing it now (considering it took me a dozen or so years to finally get this one released, I don’t want that to happen again). Most of them have no more than five chapters written. I plan to go back to every single one and write a full-length novel and release them to the world. Most are young adult, but I have three that are adult novels. I may eventually try to publish my dystopian novel too, but there was so much I went through with that book that I can’t look at it quite yet.
TH: That’s pretty impressive! Can you please tell the people what your novel is about?
JLR: The Inevitable Fate of E & J is about two friends, Elizabeth and Jimmy, who had a falling out in middle school and stopped talking. Until that point, though, they were best friends, practically attached at the hip. Both of them are drawn to the other suddenly around the time Elizabeth turns sixteen. She’s feeling lost in her social circle and with the life she created for herself. And he’s missing what used to be between them. And they both just happen to be experiencing hallucinations, visions, phantom pains and voices. When they discover that they are both experiencing similar ones, they start on a journey to figure out what’s wrong with them. To not give too much away, it’s their past lives coming back to haunt them. They might be soul mates, but that might not be a good thing.
TH: Your book is clearly a romance book, and with all romance books, I bet you really need to make the reader experience strong emotions. Do you think you could be a writer of this type of novel if you didn’t in someway feel emotions strongly?
JLR: There is absolutely no way that I could write romance if I didn’t experience emotions strongly. I’m a lover of what’s commonly referred to as “the feels,” in books, movies or tv shows. This doesn’t necessarily mean only romantic feels. Any strong emotion characters feel, I feel too. I think that’s why I prefer character driven novels. Honestly, my biggest hope for my novel is that readers tell me “you gave me all the feels.” It also helps that I have an incredibly wonderful and romantic husband. The ironic thing is, I love romance, but I am one of the least romantic people in real life!
TH: Now that you have written your first book has your mindset shifted towards how you will write your next book?
JLR: Absolutely!!! I mentioned that I had the idea for this book when I was sixteen. Well, I wrote the first draft in 2014 in a notebook, in my car on my lunch break. It only took me a month to complete the first draft. I didn’t touch it again until a year later. Then another year. And then another two years until I really decided I needed to get this book out into the world. I guess you could say my characters were haunting me as much as they were being haunted. A few days ago, I discovered a document in my archive folder from 2012 where I’d started this novel! It freaked me out. I realized it took me seven years to finally be dedicated enough to get it published. I have vowed to never do that again.
Another shift in my writing is to stop writing so many drafts. I confused myself with them and made a mess of it all. This is probably due in large part to the long breaks in between. Now that this first one is written, I’m dedicated to finishing the series (three books total) and novellas I have planned.
I’ve also learned how to be a better writer since the first draft. I’ve stopped writing like I’m writing an essay for school and started to write in what I hope is an entertaining way.
TH: Like I said before, writing a novel is a long gruelling process, although I bet you it is a fun one. With your job in the way, how many hours of writing do you get in a day?
See prior answers! I clearly do not get a lot of writing done in my day. I do, however, have a lot of notes in my many notebooks. I need to go back to school for my day job, and I’m a bit concerned that will get in the way of my writing, but I am making a pact with myself that I won’t let it.
I’ve never been a goal setter for my writing (which is the opposite of myself at work, I have lots of goals and I always meet them). So, I think from now on, I’ll just have to force myself to set writing goals and hope that the level of motivation I give to my day job translates to my writing. As I mentioned, the logical part of my brain often tells me work is a priority.
TH: In your novel, the main characters use to be best friends, and they had a falling out. They later meet up again and hit it off, shall we say, pretty good. What was the most laborious part of the writing these scenes into your novel, was it their early life, their later life, or something totally different?
JLR: The more difficult scenes for me were the middle of the novel. I loved writing their backstories, and their emotions from when they met up again. I even got butterflies myself on a few of the scenes. And the ending was so much fun to write. But the middle, which is the meat, was a struggle. I found myself wanting to get to the end quickly and had to force myself to add more interactions, more struggles, and more misunderstandings. They wouldn’t magically forgive one another and be in love again, would they?
TH: I bet you think pretty highly of your two main characters. Now, I’m going to put you on the spot! Out of Jimmy and Elizabeth, who do you like best?
JLR: As a female author, I should probably say Elizabeth is my favourite, but I actually favour Jimmy quite a bit more. As I was writing his character, I realized he was actually sort of funny. Something I’m not in real life. (Though my husband will tell you that when I’m mad or frustrated, I’m hilarious, as long as it’s not directed at him). But Jimmy also had a rough life and he’s overcome that in a positive way. And that was really fun to write. I believe the world needs real-life books that reflect real-life struggles, and I’m so grateful for the authors who write those. But I also believe that sometimes, people just want to escape the bad in the world by reading characters who have some positive things to share. That’s what I hope I’ve conveyed in Jimmy. I really do love Elizabeth as well. I can relate to her. She’s placed herself in this cage of a life that she thought she should want because it made others happy. But she’s completely different than that life and she’s just now finally realizing it.
TH: Is there anything else that you would like to share with the readers?
JLR: Just one thing. Thank you for all of the readers who are giving an unknown, self-published debut author a chance. It means the world to me knowing that others are out there reading something I put so much effort into, simply for the purpose of entertaining them!
Follow Johanna on Social Media! Twitter: @RandleJohanna
Pick up her new book on Amazon! The Inevitable Fate of E & J
Topher Hoffman: Hello Jamie. Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Jamie Stewart: Hi, it’s my pleasure. Well, I live in Northern Ireland with my wife and our two dogs. I am twenty-eight years old and I love to write.
TH: That’s awesome! Many kids have vivid imaginations. Running around all crazy fighting ninja’s, imaginary friends who only they can see, and monsters under the bed that your parents told you weren’t real. Were you a kid like that, and if so, do any of those ideas show in your writing? If not, where do you get your thoughts?
JS: You’ve just described me as a kid. I was always an imaginative child and I lived more in my head than anywhere else. It was actually because of this that I was reluctant to read initially because I couldn’t sit still enough to concentrate. My mind was always going a thousand miles a minute creating games to play with my friends or reacting scenes from films. Because of that energy films became a fixation first. They nourished that massive imagination in my head.
Recently, I watched an interview with a director about his childhood. He said that when he would go to the cinema, he would become inspired to make films like those that he saw. He wanted not just to film stories like the ones he saw but replicate camera angles, music and dialogue. In other words, he was inspired by the mechanics that created his favourite films and wanted to learn them in order to do the same. I was not like that. Films for me were windows into other worlds. Worlds like Star Wars, which became imprinted in my head and I would run around for days afterward pretending I was a character in it. I didn’t care about the tiny things like locations or special effects. I was in awe of the bigger picture, a bigger canvas, that needed imagination to create the worlds I was seeing on the screen. That’s why writing appeals to me. I love cinema to this day but as a writer you have no limitations, no rules. You can create as big as you can dream
TH: Some people get into writing at a young age, others when they are later in life and start going through a mid-life crisis. When did you get your calling? When did you not hold back anymore and have to share with the world your stories?
JS: I started to write at the age of nine before I fell in love with reading. Even to me, this seems odd. As I’ve already said I spent a lot of my time in my head, all kids do. The difference for me I discovered was when I’d play a videogame or go to the cinema with my friends I’d relive it for hours, days even weeks after. They didn’t. When I started to write it was partly inspiration and partly frustration. I found that I didn’t recognise anyone in all those games and movies.
It became a common thing for me to say to my friends if only that would happen to us.
That’s when I discovered the Goosebumps series by R.L Stine. My friend had a copy of some of his books, the ones with the really colour cartoonish monsters on the covers (how could I not be interested in them). Again, I struggled to sit down long enough to finish one but what I discovered was I recognised and empathised with the characters in them. They were all young kids or teenagers and the idea that they could fight off a horde of zombies or Dracula unlocked a door in my head. If they could do it why couldn’t I?
So I started to write stories. Those first few years were just exercises in recreating the things I have seen or played. And as I wrote them, I realised that my writing quality was nothing like the Goosebumps books. Writing and desire to improve lead me to become a reader. I soon fell in love with books after that, it just took the right one.
My decision to publish my stuff came from a place of frustration as well. My writing had progressed and I wanted to have feedback from people that weren’t in my social circle. Again, this was out of a desire to improve but also to see if an audience would not only enjoy my work but also love it.
TH: With all your reading, you must find inspiration from many other authors. I see you reading all the time. If you could meet any character from one of those books, who would it be and what would be the first question you would ask him after hello?
It’s difficult to choose one character. I’d chose Death from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett and ask him if he would like to accompany me for a curry. I think you’d have some pretty interesting conversation with him over a meal.
JS: As time goes on you end up picking up many different tips, ups and downs with your writing, and faced with many challenges and triumphs. If you could go back in time and meet yourself, what would you tell yourself to encourage yourself about your writing?
Don’t take the job so seriously that it becomes a negative. Of course, if you want to be a writer, you should be serious about what you write but it should always be fun.
TH: You and I have talked before about your writing. Do you have anybody in your family that doesn’t like your writing? How do you know?
JS: Not really. I have people in my family that don’t read, yet still support me.
TH: Now on to your short story. Your short story Insular is amazing! I’ve read it and reviewed it and gave you a big whopping five starts. Could you tell us where and how you came up with the idea and if there are any hidden meanings in it?
JS: I used to work in a home delivery department for a retail company. The job of picking groceries for others is very monotonous but also time orientated. We had to work fast in order for the first set of vans to leave in the morning. I noticed I would go a whole two hours without actually speaking to my colleagues. When I realised how rude I was being, I then noticed that everyone did the same thing. We didn’t socialise with each other, not when we were on the shop floor. I also noticed that if I was asked I knew where almost every item was on the shelves. I could do the job as if from muscle memory. As I was pondering this and pondering what did everyone think about as they worked from aisle to aisle an image popped into my head. It was of security footage of two people in a grocery aisle and if you peered closely you could see straight through one of them like a ghost.
My brain made the connection between how much my colleagues and I were spending in our own heads and the idea of being a ghost. I was also noticing at the time how people would fall into their phones despite being surrounded by colleagues and friends. It made me consider how as a society we have the tools to be more connected than ever in human history but how we are actually more isolated as individuals than ever before. Insular sprung out of that.
TH: The characters in the story were well done, are they based off anybody in particular? If so who? If not, where did you come up with the idea to make the characters the way they are?
JS: Thank you, it’s lovely to know that they connected with you. They aren’t based off anyone in particular. Insular was a turning point in my writing career because it was the first story that I didn’t plot before starting. I had the image of the security footage in my head and I had this idea that the main character, Peter, would narrate the story as a man in his seventies looking back to a particular time in his life. I found out the rest as I wrote. It was easy to do as I was living the life of these characters, one that was very unfulfilling.
TH: You got the character creation down. I am wondering, what do you think is the best way to create a character that you want people to like? Actually, in that case, a character you want people to hate?
JS: I don’t think you can set out to do that. You can’t set out to create the best hero or villain ever written. I think the best way to write a story is to let your characters be free to do what they want to do. That way they will surprise you and hopefully readers too.
A lot of the response I have received from people over the character of Julian Kensi is that he is a creepy villain. I never set out to make him a bad guy, I set out to tell his story. I actually feel sorry for him and I think why he creates that reaction in readers is because they recognise him and his struggles. Of course, Julian’s reaction to his struggles is not something many can recognise thank goodness.
TH: Finally, I know you have done very well on your last story Insular. I know the people reading want to is next for Jamie Stewart! What’s next Jamie? Give the fans what they want!
JS: Well, since the feedback from Insular has been so positive I’ve been inspired to write more short stories. My latest one will be released somewhere at the end of March beginning of April time. It’s called Trick Or Treat, and it’s more of a traditional horror vibe than Insular. Though, in saying that it’s traditional in the sense that it throws a particular horror standard on its head.
I am also currently sitting on a finished novel called Mr. Jones that I will be releasing sometime later in the year. It’s a coming of age story set in Northern Ireland, and it’s about books, music and friendships and how they can affect a person’s life. It’s a very different genre from my short fiction, but I’ve never felt like I have to keep in one lane.
If you are you interested in checking out Jamies Stewart’s short story? Check it out here: Insular: A Short Story of Horror.