Tara Johnson is an author, singer, speaker from Alexander, AR. A passionate lover of stories, Tara shares her journey through depression and people-pleasing through fiction and nonfiction work, song and laughter.
In 2004, she signed with Incubator Creative Group, a ministry-based record label out of Eugene, OR. Tara loves to travel to churches, ladies retreats and prisons to share her testimony of how God led her into freedom after spending years living shackled to the expectations of others as a preacher’s kid.
This past year has kept Tara busy writing both fiction and nonfiction and her latest book Hollow Victory: How to Identify and Disarm 5 Landmines that Make Victorious Christian Living Feel Like a Lie was released in 2014. She has won the Bronze Medal in the Frazier awards hosted by My Book Therapy and has articles published in Plain Truth Magazine and Live It Loud Magazine and has been a featured guest on Voice of Truth radio and Enduring Word radio. Tara is a member of ACFW and is represented by Janet Grant of Books & Such Literary Agency. She and her husband Todd have been married for seventeen years and the Lord has blessed them with five children: Bethany, Callie, Nate, as well as Taylor Lynn and Morgan Lane who are with Jesus.
What is your current release and (without spoilers) tell us about the new book or series.
My current release is Hollow Victory: How To Identify & Disarm 5 Landmines That Make Victorious Christian Living Feel Like a Lie. It’s a book birthed from my own pain as I struggled with depression, people pleasing and more. In 2002, I had the worst year of my life and continually kept thinking, “Lord, this is not the victorious life that you promised.” It felt hollow and empty. I had become exhausted from working so hard to keep everyone around me happy. God very tenderly showed me that those landmines that had exploded in my life were the result of, not just being a human in a broken world, but the culmination of what happens when I choose to replace God’s unconditional love with the conditional love of people. Hollow Victory is a book of hope for the hurting.
It depends on what I’m writing. For nonfiction, I’m a plotter but for all of my fiction work, I’m definitely a pantster! I like having a rough guideline of what will happen, and I develop in-depth character sheets for my main characters. (Thanks to Jody Hedlund for the brilliant character sheets.) By the time I’ve spent so much time living with my characters, the plot usually flows pretty easily. “Pantsering” can be scary though. With my first book, I thoroughly wrote myself into a corner for the climax. I stressed myself completely out! Finally, I pushed away from the computer and threw up my hands. “Lord, you’re going to have to fix this!” Boom! The next morning I woke up with a perfect finish in my mind, which was pretty cool because I knew that if I didn’t see it coming, my readers wouldn’t either! Being a pantser is faith-writing at its finest.
Once you have an idea that sparks your imagination do you research your idea or do any world-building exercises, or do you just begin to write and see where the Muse takes you?
Since most of my fiction stories are historicals, I do a lot of research before I ever start clacking away on the computer. I just recently got an idea for a story about a female Civil War spy. Typically, I spend a month reading everything I can find on the subject, as well as developing characters sheets. I try to keep myself immersed in newspaper clippings or books about that particular historical time while I’m writing the basic rough draft. As a history nerd, it’s a joy to be able to pick a topic that interests me and learn all I can about it. One of my latest manuscripts was all about women gamblers in the Old West. Now that was fascinating research!
Are you a full time writer? If so when did you make the decision and what factors led to the decision? If you are not a full time writer…Is your plan to one day being a full time writer?
If you look at the hours I log writing fiction or nonfiction, I would be classified as a part-time writer, especially since I’m a homeschooling Mom and have a speaking/music ministry as well. But between my writing, songwriting, blog posts, articles and various other things, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve morphed into a full time writer. Last month, I signed with Janet Grant of Books & Such Literary Management, which makes this writing ‘gig’ feel all the more real.
What is your daily writing time like?
I usually get up a couple of hours before my kids wake up and spend some time reading my Bible and praying before digging in to whatever is on my writing agenda for the day. Once they’re up, I spend the morning getting snatches of time here and there but don’t really get a solid chance to focus until after my little boy goes down for his afternoon nap. Then it’s another few hours of writing while he naps. One night a week, my awesome husband is good about letting me shut myself into my office for some special writing time. It works pretty well and forces me to really concentrate when I have those chunks of uninterrupted time.
Hollow Victory was self-published through Createspace but I’m pursuing traditional publication for my fiction stories. The nice thing about self-publishing is the creative control you retain. An advantage of traditional publishing is having several people adding their input to make the story as good as it can be. Both are advantageous in their own way.
Everyone likes to know where an author gets their ideas from, but what I want to know is what is the strangest thing to inspire one of your stories?
One of my dearest friends is an older man in our church who has lived a colorful life. As a precocious country boy, he dreamed up more trouble than any child I know. One Sunday morning, he and his friend got up extremely early and caught a jar full of red wasps. They pulled the stingers out and then placed the angry wasps under the key lid of the church piano. When the pianist sat down and opened the lid to play the opening hymn, a flurry of red wasps flew out. The poor pianist screamed and fell backwards off the bench, her legs sticking up in the air! That very story, and my friend’s continual mischief, inspired one of my favorite characters in Marble Falls—Timmy Jenkins. The entire book’s plot was propelled forward by Timmy’s antics and yes, the red wasps and the irate pianist make their appearance in that book.
Can you tell us about some of your other writing (fiction or nonfiction) and any appearances or signings that you have planned?
I recently finished my sixth fiction story To Heal Her Heart, based loosely on the life of James McParlin, one of the Pinkerton’s most acclaimed detectives. The three book series is based out of Astoria, Oregon and set in 1880. The previous three book series was based out of Marble Falls, Arkansas and revolves around the quirky people living there—a frustrated U.S. Marshal, a headstrong debutante, a crazy Confederate soldier, a local busybody and a little boy who terrorizes the entire town. It was a fun series to write. I hated to say goodbye to the characters. I keep an active speaking schedule and you can always get up-to-date information about upcoming events at tarajohnsonauthor.wordpress.com.
First, surrender all of it, your writings, plans and dreams to God. He opens the doors no man can open and paves the way for amazing things when we give Him control. In the meantime, make your writing time a priority. No one will take your dreams seriously unless you do first. Carve out time to write, daily if possible. Read as much as you can and pay attention to the way your favorite authors write. You can learn a lot through observation and study. Buy some craft books on learning how to write. No one in any successful profession just magically wakes up knowing a skill set. Writing is a craft and must be learned, just like any other skill. With every book you read, try to learn one or two new things and apply them to your current story. You’ll be amazed how much you can learn in just a few short years.
Who is your favorite author? Tell us what makes this author stand out in your mind and what book would you recommend to someone new to that author?
That is the hardest question yet! I have a running list of favorites but at the moment, I would say Jody Hedlund. I’m eating up her books like wood going through a chipper! The descriptive turn of her phrases and the elegant way she spins a story is both entertaining and inspirational. My favorite book of hers is The Noble Groom.