Christine Elizabeth Johnson achieved a goal few romance writers have: she double finaled in the Romance Writers of America® 2008 Golden Heart®. Her medieval Secrets of the Blackwood was a finalist in Novel with Strong Romantic Elements; The Lightkeeper’s Wife claimed a finalist spot in Historical.
Books are an integral part of Christine’s life. She began devouring them as a child. After reading everything of interest in the children’s corner of her hometown library, she dared to check out a Mary Stewart novel from the adult section and fell in love with romance.
Literary novels and textbooks took precedence during Christine’s college years when she earned a Bachelor’s in English and a Masters in Library Science. These days she’s surrounded by books at home and in the library. She loves the smell of a new book when it’s first opened and hopes one day to experience that delightful sensation with her own work.
Christine lives in northern Michigan with her husband—a Great Lakes ship pilot—and a very spoiled cat. She loves the area and its rich history and set one of her books there. When she’s not writing, she enjoys quilting, hiking and exploring new sights and places.
Join me as we learn more about Christine and her writing journey.
The Journey Begins
•You’ve devoured countless books over the years. When did your love of reading a great story grow into the dream of writing one?
First of all, thank you for inviting me to Romance Writers on the Journey! I’ve read some fabulous journeys here and am honored to join them with my own humble tale.
I like to tell people my growing-up years were a lot like living in Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show. My hometown was tiny. Everyone knew each other, and the public library was headed by a wonderful white-haired lady who didn’t mind that I checked books out of the boys’ section (yep, there was gender separation) and adult section as well as the girls’ section.
By the sixth grade, I’d started writing down stories. I’m sure it began earlier, but that year sticks in my mind because that was when I decided to write a novel. I was a “pantser” in those days, writing the story on every scrap of paper I could hide inside a textbook during class. I remember collecting a shoebox full of scraps, but that was it. I never took that story further.
In high school I wrote short stories and continued that on into college. Though the dream of writing a novel still lurked in the background, the task of actually finishing one seemed insurmountable for a great many years.
•What was your first book about? How did you come up with the idea for it? Did you let others read it, or is it hidden in a dark corner never to see the light of day?
I made a number of aborted attempts at “the great American” novel through the years but never finished any of them. One day I decided to write something fun, something I’d like to read, just so I could convince myself I could actually finish a book. Naturally I wrote a historical romance, filled with outrageous adventure in exotic Spain and India. I had tons of fun writing it, and that experience taught me I could actually complete a book.
Since the family and friends who read my story said they loved it (it’s still my husband’s favorite), I sent it out on submission to a few publishers and agents. Of course it came back, and my optimism was crushed. Now I understand why they rejected it and marvel at how kindly those industry professionals worded the rejection letters, but back then, the rejection was hard to take.
•Ouch! Rejection hurts. You were brave to send your “firstborn” into the world, Christine. How did you work through the discouragement and doubts? What gave you the courage and determination to return to your writing?
I didn’t cope very well, I’m afraid. I gave up writing fiction for quite a while, about ten years, and was absolutely miserable until I figured out I had to write. It didn’t matter if I ever sold the stories. If one reader loved the story, it was worth writing. I still remind myself of that.
Publication is a business, but storytelling is about touching someone’s life, and that life may be as close as your friend or neighbor. Who knows? Faith has also played a key role. I believe God gave us the talent, and it’s our responsibility to use it.
•Self-doubt plagues most writers at some point. How do you deal with rejection these days? What motivates you when you receive another pass letter?
What happens in the publishing world is beyond my control, though I have developed some coping mechanisms:
•Chocolate. I celebrate each rejection with one square of dark chocolate. By the time it’s melted, I have to let go of the disappointment and move on. I’m almost ashamed to admit that during lull submission times, I miss those rejection letters.
•I’ve been blessed with wonderfully supportive critique partners and beta readers who’ve pulled me out of quite a few pity parties. Many people can point to a specific turning point in their careers. For me it was the death of a dear friend from ovarian cancer. After her diagnosis, she lived each day to the fullest, learning, doing, and encouraging others. I realized “someday” had to be “today.” Each day is a gift. Use it well.
•List the good stuff. I keep a list of the encouraging comments I’ve received on contest entries and rejection letters and post it above my desk. When the doubts creep in, I read those comments and get an instant boost.
•When you began writing again, you’d learned a great deal. Your stories began to final in contests. And they placed. How did you feel when you learned of your first placement? How many awards have you added to your collection since then?
A first contest placement is one of those huge moments in a writer’s life. I literally screamed when I read the email. And then jumped up and down. And then blathered on and on while my bewildered husband attempted to make sense of what had happened. The poor guy probably thought I’d sold a book considering all the fuss I was making.
Contests offer such encouragement and high points in the midst of all the toil and rejection. Celebrate every positive and discard the negatives!
•Congratulations, again, on your double Golden Heart final, Christine. That’s quite a gem in your writer’s tiara. Since you finaled in two separate categories, you received two calls from RWA®. When did the first come, and how did you react? The phone rang a second time. What was your response to that news?
Wow, I wish I had a “call” story, but the truth is, I was in Florida at the time, and the phone calls went to my Michigan phone number. I thought the contest had the Florida number, so I was totally bummed that I didn’t get a call – again – and went to bed pretty depressed.
The next morning I checked my email, and discovered that Secrets of the Blackwood had finaled. I’m so thankful the wonderful lady making the phone calls decided to email me when she couldn’t reach me by phone.
I just about fell off my chair. I’m pretty sure I screamed (again), bringing my husband running. He probably thought I’d had a heart attack. I told him the news, which he only half understood because I was pretty unintelligible, and then I contacted my critique partners.
Before I’d come down from the excitement of finaling, one of my critique partners emailed that I was a double-finalist. Thank heavens she had the wits to check the RWA website. I never thought to check there or my answering machine back home. LOL! I think there’s a lesson in here about patience and thoroughness. In any case, I wouldn’t change a thing, because the drawn-out way it happened extended the magic for hours.
The Journey Continues
•How many manuscripts have you completed? Are any out on submission? What are you working on now? And what are your plans for the near future?
I have completed five manuscripts, and two are out on submission. I’m currently working on two historicals. One is near completion, and the other is in the beginning stages. Believe me, those two books will keep me busy in 2009.
I’ve enjoyed having you as my guest, Christine. And now I’m turning the tables. What question do you have for your visitors?
In addition to that positive statements list, I like to collect inspirational quotes to help get through the tough times. I love “Never give up. Never surrender” from Galaxy Quest, and I’ve recently added “The brick walls give us a chance to show how badly we want something” (Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture).
I’d love to hear what quote inspires you or what special thing you do to get past the low points. We can never have enough support.
Most of all, thank you for visiting today and keep writing!
Learn More About Christine
Visit her Web site: www.christineelizabethjohnson.com
Leave a Comment for Your Chance to Win!
I’ll choose a winner from those who leave a comment for Christine on 3/19 or 20 (and include an email address when prompted, which I don’t share), and will post the winner’s name 3/21.
Anna Kathryn is the winner. She had her choice of one of three metal bookmarks from Hallmark with words of motivation . . .
You could also win a First Sale Scrapbook!
If you’d like to have a chance at winning a First Sale Scrapbook created by your blog hostess, Keli Gwyn, leave a comment on any post between now and March 31. Make sure to include your name and email address when prompted if you want to be entered in the drawing. (Your information will not be shared.) Click red link above to see samples of covers and pages.
On April 1, Keli will choose one person who will have her choice of five covers on an 8×8 inch, twenty-page scrapbook in which s/he can document that long-awaited first sale. The pages will cover various milestones including The Call, signing the contract, receiving the first advance payment and holding your “firstborn” in your hands.
(No scrapbooking skills required. You just add your photos and journaling.)