An Interview with Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Interview with Carolyn Howard-Johnson

 The author of This is the Place talks about the inspiration for her book, her characters, the difficulties involved in getting a first book published, her free e-book Cooking by the Book, and her upcoming projects.
Interview by Magdalena Ball

Magdalena: What inspired you to write This is the Place?

Carolyn: As a young girl, I had a dream of writing Gone with the Wind only about Utah. One of my recent reviewers took me up on that. He thought that the subtle bigotry experienced by the protagonist didn’t compare with the blatant ones of the south and therefore deemed them insignifcant. I felt that he missed the point. That is, it is important to catch ourselves on the quiet intolerant behaviors that we all participate in on a day to day basis, in order to prevent them from growing and multiplying in our lives. Sometimes the small acts of bias can be pretty darn corrosive to the spirit, too. Anyway, I think I was “inspired” by the fact that I always felt an outsider, even in my own family. I was also inspired by my deep love for Utah, in much the same way we see the protagonists of Russian literature drawn to their homeland.

Magdalena: Tell me about the characters?

Carolyn: Many of the characters are based on my own genealogy. Especially Gram Harriet and Sweet Crystal. The novel is about four generations of hardy Utah women and how their lives have followed a similar pattern. The protagonist comes to see how she must break that script if she is to have a fuller life.

Magdalena: Are there Mormons in your own background? Is the subject near to your heart?

Carolyn: Yes. Mormonism for me is as much about culture as it is about religion. I have several Mormon friends who feel the same way. I was never a Mormon but my Mormon heritage that goes back to the pioneers is part of my history, roots, identity.

Magdalena: This is your first published fiction. Was it difficult to get it published?
What was involved?

Carolyn: I determined that I would spend only one year “finding an agent or publisher” because I wanted This is the Place to be available before the Olympics in Salt Lake City. Luckily a small publisher accepted it. This publisher juries its submissions, pays a small advance allowance and the writer pays nothing to have his/her work published. It is printed with POD technology but is traditional in every other respect–excepting maybe its size.

Magdalena: How many years did it take you to write it?

Carolyn: Counting girlhood dream? About 4 decades! Ha! In actuality about three years. Even with a degree in English Lit and lots of experience in journalism, I found I had a lot to learn about writing a novel.

Magdalena: Tell me more about Cooking by the Book. Why are you giving it away for free?

Carolyn: Cooking by the Book is a concept developed by Kathleen Walls, author of Last Step. Twenty-six fellow authors went together and published it as an e-book as a way to promote our own books, some fiction, some nonfiction. There are excerpts from each book in it, a recipe that inspired a scene in each book, and a brief bio of the author telling a little about how that came to be. Recipes from it are not only exceptional and varied but great conversation-makers at the dinner table because of their histories. Both Gram Harriet and Sweet Crystal’s recipes are memorialized in it. They are real, old-time recipes used by real women of the pioneer and early 1900s eras.

Magdalena: You’ve got another book coming out shortly. Tell me more about that.

Carolyn: Well, I couldn’t neglect the other side of the family. Fair is fair. It’s a collection of creative nonfiction about a rather charming, dysfunctional
family that kind of comes together as a whole without really being a novel. It’s called Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered. I’m still waiting to hear from my publisher. I’m under contract to submit my next book to them. If I don’t hear soon, I will self-publish. I’m afraid I’m into instant gratification. At my age, I’ve got places to go, things to do. I don’t want to wait forever for a publisher to do its thing. Plus, I’ve learned a lot about publishing from a wonderful organization called SPAN.

Magdalena: You do a lot of your own publicity. Is this the nature of the
publishing world today? Do writers need to be good self-promoters in order to get
decent book sales?

Carolyn: Yes, I think that it is the nature of the world today. I don’t think writers HAVE to be great promoters. An occasional reclusive writer will do well. But a writer who learns to promote will be an asset to her work as well as to her publisher.

Magdalena: What other projects are you working on at the moment?

Carolyn: I’m writing a book of poetry called Skyscapes: A Woman’s Memoir of the Soul or something like that. I’m taking a couple of classes in poetry in St. Petersburg, Russia, this summer. I never wrote poetry before. But This is the Place is full of imagery so I’m familiar with that.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the author of This is the Place, an award-winning story about a young journalist who writes her way through repression into redemption For a FREE First Chapter Click Here or send to: