Myra Johnson’s writing career began in 1985 with her first sale to a children’s magazine. While enjoying steady success in magazines and devotionals, she honed her craft as a novelist, earning American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America® contest awards including the coveted Golden Heart®. Her first published novel, One IM-Perfect Christmas, is slated for a September 2009 release from Abingdon Press.
Recent transplants from Texas to Oklahoma, Myra and her husband, Jack, share their home with two lovable dogs and a snobby parakeet. The Johnsons have two amazing daughters, both married, four rambunctious grandsons, and a precious granddaughter who knows how to work those dimples!
I first met Myra when I was invited to guest blog at The Seekers. One of the founding members, Myra, along with her Seekerville sisters welcomed all four 2008 Golden Heart finalists. Since then I’ve subscribed to their award-winning blog, which focuses on all things contest related. Myra is the latest Seeker to leave what they refer to as Unpubbed Island. Myra also “friended” me on Facebook, a social networking site where many romance writers hang out.
I invite you to learn more about Myra’s amazing dedication in the face of discouragement and delays, her long and laborious journey to her first book contract, and how folk music led her to the man of her dreams.
•When I visited The Seekers on Saturday, August 23 and saw Snoopy doing a jig on behalf of your first sale, I had no idea how much had gone into getting that contract. Yours is a story of perseverance if ever I’ve heard one. If I have my facts straight, you’ve been writing twenty-five years, have completed fourteen manuscripts and have received (shudder) over 200 rejections letters. Please tell us what went through your mind when, at long last, you got The Call and what you did afterward.
That’s right, Keli. Call me crazy, call me tenacious, call me committed . . . or maybe HAVE me committed. All I know is, writing is so much a part of who I am that I simply could never give up on the dream of seeing my name on the cover of a novel. After Barbara Scott, my editor at Abingdon, called with the official news, I’m sure the neighbors considered calling the cops about the hysterical screams coming from inside this usually quiet house. 🙂
•The Call came and you were understandably ecstatic, but there’s always a story behind that monumental event. What events took place leading up to the life-changing call from Abingdon Press? Did you have any idea you were so close to receiving a contract for one of your novels?
Actually, I had a pretty good feeling. My usual morning routine includes skimming my favorite blogs—and there are so many that I don’t have time to read each one thoroughly. One day last July, the opening lines of Brandilyn Collins’s blog mentioned a brand new Christian fiction line she’d learned about at the International Christian Retail Show. I immediately clicked through and read the info about Abingdon Press.
Within a couple of hours I fired a query off to Barbara Scott. She replied within a day. The novel I proposed (my 2005 Golden Heart winner) wasn’t long enough for her line, but she checked the blurbs on my Web site and requested proposals for three other books. She rejected two of those pretty quickly (I’m talking days) but asked for the full of the third. Within a week she contacted me about additional details to present to the marketing team (no promises yet, but hopeful). After another week she presented some general contract terms.
On August 22 Barbara called with the official offer. I’m telling you, NOTHING in the publishing business happens this fast, EVER! God was hard at work because He knew how much it meant to me to be contracted before I attended another ACFW conference.
•You’re no stranger to publication, as some of your visitors may know. You’ve sold more than twenty magazine articles, fifteen short stories, two pieces in anthologies and almost 100 devotions. In spite of your success, a contract for novel-length fiction eluded you for a quarter of a century. What/who kept your spirits up during the inevitable bouts of doubts and discouragement?
The only answer I have is that God didn’t want me to quit. And I thought about it many times. But somehow God always came through with the right encouragement at the right time. An unexpected sale. Another devotions assignment. A contest final. All I could do was keep trusting His perfect timing and the belief that through each disappointment He had something to teach me about myself and my faith.
I must also give credit to my long-suffering husband, who never balked at the cost of another writers conference or the never-ending postage and contest entry fees. If he hadn’t been so supportive—both emotionally and financially—the dream would have died long ago.
•Your articles sold to a variety of publications, among them such names as Brio, Highlights for Children and Today’s Christian Woman. Do certain pieces stand out as favorites, and why are they special to you?
My first sale, a short story to Alive! For Young Teens, will always be a favorite since that’s the editor who gave me my first taste of success and followed up with several more acceptances. Also dear to my heart are the articles I wrote for Today’s Christian Woman. I was so touched by the reader letters I received from women going through many of the same struggles.
•Not only did you have your first piece published twenty-two years ago, but you spent nine years working as an instructor at the Institute for Children’s Literature, plus several years writing and editing for your church’s publications and also as part of your job at a Chamber of Commerce. Surely all that experience helps you produce clean, tight manuscripts, but do you find it difficult to turn off your internal editor, or are you able to let a rough draft flow freely?
The internal editor never shuts up. I write, edit, write, edit—it’s got to be right (or very close to it) or I can’t move forward. Every book on creative writing says this is wrong. Too bad. It’s the way I work. And I’m a firm believer that every writer must discover what works best for him or her and then go with it. Don’t ever think you have to write the way “everyone else” is writing.
•You spent your first fifteen years producing eight children’s books and the next ten completing six works of inspirational women’s fiction and romance. What led you to write for children initially? What brought about your genre shift?
When I started writing, my daughters were 11 and 10, the perfect age to supply me with more children’s story ideas than I could keep up with. And, like so many beginners, I assumed writing for children would be easier than writing for adults. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE. I learned so much through the ICL course about story structure, characterization, tight writing, and market study. When the girls grew up and I no longer had my live-in inspiration for children’s stories, that’s when I decided to try my hand at women’s fiction and romance.
• I know The Seekers are firm believers in entering contests, which you’ve done. Your romance and women’s fiction manuscripts have earned you nine placements/finalist spots. What do you consider some of the most valuable advice you’ve received from contest judges? With your years of experience as a published writer and editor, what advice would you offer those judging contests?
Tough question, Keli! I don’t think I could narrow my answer to one piece of advice, at least nothing any writer couldn’t pick up in a class or craft book. If contests have taught me anything, it’s that every reader comes to the story with something different. In the same contest with the same manuscript I’ve received perfect scores and bottom-of-the-barrel scores. Anyone with the guts to enter contests must learn to sort through the conflicting opinions, decide which critiques actually benefit the story, let the overly harsh criticisms slide, and move on.
To judges I would say: Be gentle but realistic. Be tactful but honest. If the story isn’t to your taste, focus on technique, not content. And for heaven’s sake, COMMENT. Don’t return the entry with nothing but a numerical score. That isn’t helpful at all.
•One contest result tops all the others: your 2005 Golden Heart win in the inspirational category. What an incredible achievement! What was your reaction when your name was called at the Awards Ceremony at RWA® Nationals in Reno? How did winning the Golden Heart affect your writing?
With the three other fantastic writers in my category, I honestly did not expect to win. We had all become such great friends by then that my prayer leading up to the awards was that the Golden Heart would go to the person who most needed this validation at this time. Guess God decided it was me. 🙂 Afterward, I thought surely the manuscript would sell right away, but it didn’t happen. Despite some very close calls, that manuscript remained unsold until just last week. On October 2 I was delighted to receive an e-mail from JoAnne Simmons, Heartsong Presents editor, that she has accepted Autumn Rains for publication. The Golden Heart remains the highlight of my contest career, but as you can see, it is no guarantee of overnight success.
•Not only did you win the Golden Heart, but you also made close friends of your category finalists, the “Fab Four.” What part have Janet Dean, Julie Lessman and Tina Russo played in your life since?
With all the prayers we said for each other (and still do!), with all the ups and downs we’ve shared, Janet, Julie, Tina, and I will be friends for life. They continue to be my go-to girls when I need advice, encouragement, or a kick in the pants. Shortly after RWA 2005, my connection with these ladies led to an even wider circle of friends who came to be known as The Seekers. Ruth Logan Herne is credited with joining us all together and keeping us in line—fifteen writers on the contest circuit, all with one dream, and now over half of us are published or contracted. At first our banter was limited to our private Yahoo group. A little over a year ago the idea of a group blog began to percolate, and the rest is history.
•Your Seekerville sisters know a great deal about you, but I wonder if you’ve ever shared the story of how you met your own personal hero and what it was you first noticed about him? Do aspects of his personality make their way into your stories? And is he a better cook than you, or is he barred from the kitchen?
Do you believe in love at first sight? I knew Jack was the guy for me from the first moment I laid eyes on him, looking tall, blond, and handsome the night he arrived to join our Christian folk-singing group. New in town, he’d attended a church ice cream social where we performed, and the pastor got him an introduction to our group leader. Jack plays string bass so he fit right in. That was in October 1971. We were married in May 1972.
Without a doubt, Jack’s calm, outgoing nature and head for numbers have found their way into my story heroes. Now, if I could just nurture a little more story hero romanticism in him, I’d be thrilled.
And oh, how I wish he could cook! Jack is semi-retired now, consulting from home, so it’s not like he doesn’t have the time. I’ve tried to teach him a few more cooking skills (not that I’m all that great myself), but so far his repertoire is pretty much limited to spaghetti with sauce out of a jar, burgers on the grill, or grilled cheese sandwiches. Still, I wouldn’t trade him for anything!
•And now, my final request: Please tell us about your debut novel, One IM-Perfect Christmas, set for a September 2009 release from Abingdon Press.
Christmas has always been graphic designer Natalie Pearce’s favorite time of year, until her mother succumbs to a massive stroke while taking down her decorations. After all her mother has done for her, Natalie blames herself for not being there when it happened. The monstrous load of guilt soon drives a wedge between Natalie and everyone she loves—most of all her husband Daniel. Her marriage is on the verge of dissolving, her prayer life is suffering, and she’s one Christmas away from hitting rock bottom.
Junior-high basketball coach Daniel Pearce is at his wit’s end. Nothing he tries is able to break through the wall Natalie has erected between them. And their daughter Lissa’s adolescent rebellion isn’t helping matters. As Daniel’s hope reaches its lowest ebb, he wonders if this Christmas will spell the end of his marriage and the loss of everything he holds dear.
•It’s been wonderful having you as a guest at Romance Writers on the Journey, Myra. Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share, or perhaps you have a question for your visitors?
I’ve had a great time visiting with you, Keli! Thanks so much for having me. How about we take a poll of everyone’s favorite Christmas movie? Mine is White Christmas, the Bing Crosby classic. It just isn’t Christmas at our house until we’ve watched it again at least once. Oh, and our three-year-old granddaughter can sing every single song by heart, in movie script order and perfectly in tune!
Leave a Comment for Myra
All those who leave a comment for Myra between now and October 11 will be entered in a drawing for some Christmas-themed goodies in honor of her debut novel. We’ll hold the first drawing the evening of October 9 and the second on October 11.
You may choose from one of the three prizes below.
Congratulations to Carla Stewart, winner of the first drawing, who chose the Christmas tree dish towel and angel ornament. Congrats, also, to Erin Young, winner of the second drawing.
If you don’t see a comment form below, please use the link by the post title.
If you don’t wish to participate, note that in your comment, and your request will be honored.
Learn More About Myra by Visiting:
Her website: www.myrajohnson.com
Her Personal Blog: Writer at Random
Her Group Blog: The Seekers