CAFE: A gathering place. A place of refreshment.

Thirsty for the latest releases in Christian fiction? Ready for a peek into the world of publishing and writing conferences? Hungry for spiritual and real-life nourishment? Pull up a seat; you're in the right place, and I'm so glad you've stopped by.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


I’ve anticipated having my friend, Myra Johnson, here at the café for months. This time last year we both lamented whether we would EVER be published. Myra got the first contract, and honestly, I couldn’t have been happier. I’m looking at her to pave the way!

Myra’s first book – from Abingdon Press – officially releases TODAY, but it’s actually been available on Amazon and in bookstores for a few weeks. So, let’s hear it for Myra!!
Welcome to Carla’s Writing Café.

Café: Congratulations on the release of your first book, One Imperfect Christmas. I’ve read it (SEE REVIEW AT THE END OF THIS POST) and am so proud for you. Great job! I know you’ve been writing for a long time, so tell us how your first “publishing” deal came about.

Myra: In July 2008 during my daily check of several favorite blogs, I saw that Brandilyn Collins had just returned from ICRS, where she’d met Barbara Scott, the editor heading up a brand new fiction line from Abingdon Press. Barbara had agreed to accept e-queries from Brandilyn’s blog readers. With hours my query was on the way. Barbara asked to see a proposal, and by August I had a contract offer!

Café: Why this particular book? Where did you get the idea?

Myra: Several years ago I got the bug to write a heartwarming Christmas story, the kind they make into Hallmark movies. The germ of the idea came to me in the middle of the night—a couple ready to celebrate their 50th Christmas together until something intervened. It took some brainstorming to come up with the right characters and plot, and then several incarnations of the basic story until it evolved into what it is today.

Café: Which comes first for you – the characters or the plot (premise)?

Myra: In this case, it was apparently the premise. I can’t use the word plot because I am a confirmed seat-of-the-pants writer! I have no idea what’s going to happen scene by scene until I’m in the midst of writing. Often, though, I start getting ideas about certain types of characters, who gradually flesh out in my imagination. I ponder what kinds of situations would cause them the most trouble, which areas they most need personal growth. Character and premise play off each other until I find the right combination and the story begins to take shape.

Café: How do you develop characters? Charts? Interviews? Or do you just start writing?

Myra: Most recently I’ve tried simply free-writing my characters’ biographical sketches in their own voice. It’s sort of like an interview because I pretend they’re talking to me, but I don’t ask specific questions. I just let them tell me whatever they want to. I like to find representative photos so I have a real person to picture as I write. In fact, even just browsing photos on sites like iStock and Getty Images can spark ideas for character and plot development. Once I get started writing, I do try to keep a chart of basic character details for the sake of consistency.

Café: I know you’ve won a few contests. Has that helped you on your road to publication? And what is the most important thing you’ve learned from contests?

Myra: I can’t quantify how much contests helped toward publication, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt to have a few successes in my résumé. Contests also help a writer build a tough hide for editorial criticism. The most important thing I’ve learned is that judging is highly subjective. What one judge praises, another will have problems with. That’s real life. You can’t please everyone, so you have to trust your own instincts—but only after you’ve honed them through study, practice, and extensive reading of authors whose work you admire.

Café: What advice do you have for new writers?

Myra: Don’t be in a hurry. Learn your craft. Attend conferences. Join a critique group. Read. And write!

Café: Building a platform is something we hear a lot about these days, and you are on a number of blogs. Please share with us the benefits of blogging – both personally and with a group of writers.

Myra: I have my own blog, but it’s hard to keep it updated as often as I’d like. And besides, I don’t think of my everyday life as all that interesting! Not to mention the blogosphere is growing more crowded every day. Who has time to read everything that’s out there, much less leave witty comments? That’s one reason there are definite advantages to the group blog. At Seekerville, there are 15 of us, each assigned one day a month, plus we always have several guest bloggers on the schedule, so no one gets overburdened. A group blog is also helpful for unknown writers because of the shared information and extended outreach. The key is to find a niche and then make your content as interesting and relevant as you can. A little humor goes a long way too—and in Seekerville we always have plenty of cyber-snacks! ;>D

Café: What other book projects are you working on? Titles and release dates?

Myra: Coming out in mid-October will be my contemporary romance Autumn Rains (Heartsong Presents). This is the first of three novels set in Missouri. Next up, some time in 2010, are Romance by the Book and Where the Dogwoods Bloom.

Café: Coffee? Tea? Sparkling mineral water? Or . . .

Myra: I enjoy a pot of Earl Gray green tea every morning. Iced tea with meals and Diet Caffeine-free Dr Pepper for an afternoon refresher. And the occasional diet cherry limeade from Sonic!

Café: It’s your turn. Any closing thoughts?

Myra: This past year has been an amazing whirlwind adventure! Sometimes scary, sometimes exciting, always a learning experience. More than once I’ve used the phrase “Be careful what you pray for because you just might get it!” I’m thrilled to have achieved this lifelong dream, but the reality is that there is so much more to being published than I ever imagined. Every day begins with a prayer for wisdom about priorities and guidance about each next step.

Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Carla! You are a true friend and a fabulous critique partner. I can’t wait until next year when I’ll be interviewing you about your debut novel on my blog!

Café: Myra, my friend and critique partner extraordinaire, I’m so happy for you!! I wish you much success with One Imperfect Christmas and your future books. I’m so glad to be sharing this writing journey with you. Thanks for stopping by.

CARLA'S REVIEW: One Imperfect Christmas puts together all that is perfect about Christmas—family, faith, celebration of life and the birth of Christ. It also gives us a glimpse into life’s imperfections—loss, guilt, self-doubt, and the pain of having a loved one suffer in illness.

Natalie Pearce faces the same frustrations many busy women do—the responsibilities of maintaining a home, trying to quell her temper with a husband whose job is top priority, and providing guidance for an adolescent daughter who can be a handful at times. Add to that a budding career for herself and helping out with her retired parents, and it’s easy to see how Natalie falls into the “guilt” trap when her mother has a debilitating stroke. Blaming herself for not being there, Natalie erects a wall around herself, alienating her family and giving her father more worry instead of help in caring for the mom who’s confined to a nursing home.

One Imperfect Christmas is a family’s journey through broken marriage, misunderstood feelings, and the lengths to which a young teen will go to bring her parents together and be the catalyst for healing and peace. Warm and heartfelt, the writing is deeply introspective, and there were times I didn’t like Natalie very much, but as we are all vulnerable to life’s traumas, she was also relatable. Who among us is always likeable? And even more, who hasn’t experienced the need for divine intervention more than a few times in our lives?

Myra’s debut book is one to ponder, to reflect on our own relationships, and to celebrate the joys of Christmas.

Order One Imperfect Christmas here.


Erica Vetsch said...

What a wonderful interview, and congratulations to you, Myra.

Myra Johnson said...

Thanks, Erica! This publication business is a wild ride, isn't it?

And thanks again to Carla for having me today! You are one special lady, girlfriend!