Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Interview: Dean Johnson

Today, I'd like to welcome Dean Johnson, author of Moondreams, for one of my grillings. You can read my review of Moondreams here.

How would you describe Moondreams in a tweet (140 characters)?

A warm, toes-in-the sand, beach read about how relationships are the bricks and mortar of your foundation, but you must build your own house. (with a character to spare!!)

How did the story of Moondreams come to you?

When I was younger, there was a time when I was, I suppose, a bit aimless. I had dropped out of college, was working in an auto garage, was doing some stringer work for a couple of local newspapers, but really had no idea what or where I wanted to be.

The fragmented nature of the novel reflects that theme.

I took that, mixed in a little of when I met my wife, added a dash of a few childhood experiences, stirred in quite a bit of imagination, and cooked up Moondreams.

Both Kirah and Bryan are very strong voices, how did you come up with their characters?

I’d have to say that both Kirah and Bryan are composites. Each have some qualities of people I know, but neither is based any one individual. What gives them strong voice is that they both have a little part of me in them, I suppose.

What kind of research did you do for Moondreams?

While I was raised in the region where Moondreams takes place (Southern New Jersey), I had to make sure my landmarks were accurate and my descriptions precise. I visited a few sites for notes. I even pulled to the side of the road once to write out some notes on details of an old highway motel.

What are your writing habits? Are you the kind of writer who plans everything or are you a seat-of-your-pants writer?

I write a lot in my head. I have a tablet nearby at all times to jot down an idea or a detail of a unique setting I run into. I use my phone quite a bit to record ideas – especially when driving. I don’t know what’s worse: writing down notes on paper while driving or talking into my cell phone.

I usually have a scene in mind when I start out, but what I had in mind at the beginning isn’t always what’s there at the end. I love when this happens. The scene takes a life of its own.

What’s the most challenging and rewarding aspects of writing for young adults?

Writing for young adults is a balancing act. You have to be careful not to insult them by being too “young,” that is – your themes and scenes too antiseptic, you know, stuff Grandma would expect a young adult to read. On the other hand, your audience is still children and the adults that help make the decisions what their children (their students) read.

When and why did you decide to take the plunge and self publish your book? Did you always plan to publish it?

After I had written this book, I had a few friends read it. I made some revisions and sent it out into the wild, wild world of a dwindling publishing industry. I received a couple of wonderful rejections; you know, not a form letter. Had an agent show some interest, but for whatever reason, that didn’t pan out. So, I put the book aside and worked on other projects.

When I saw how the indie book world was growing and how more people were becoming interested in taking a chance on reading new authors, I decided to dip my toe in the water.

What’s the story behind the cover?

My wife took this picture. It is on the beach in Ventnor, NJ. I photoshopped in the moon and darkened the picture a bit. When my wife and I were dating, she lived in Ventnor, and she and I walked that beach countless moonlit nights.

If you had room on your shelf for only 3 books, what would they be?

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe and The Bible

What are you working now?

I am working on several pieces. I’ve finished a memoir called Winter of a Furious Season. It’s the story of a 17 month period when my wife and I were just married and had to deal with the illnesses and subsequent death of both my parents and my wife’s mother (her father had passed away before I had met her). It’s a story of survival amid a tsunami of cancer.

I also am writing a lot of small pieces. I recently had essays published in the Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, and the Atlantic City Press. I’ve had pieces in many other newspapers as well including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Philadelphia Inquirer to name a few. I will be collecting some of the pieces I’ve done over the past ten years or so and will probably publish them as ebooks.

I also have two other pots on the writing stove, both in the young adult genre. One is an historical piece about a young child misdiagnosed with a mental disorder in the late 1960s. The other is about a middle school young man who is a middle child of middle aged, middle class parents and how he develops an identity after borrowing a few others.

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