Hi everyone! Let’s give a warm welcome to Tara Johnson who has kindly agreed to join us for an interview today! Her debut novel, Engraved on the Heart was released July 1, 2018 and I have to tell you, I have read it and absolutely loved it! In fact, that is exactly why I asked her to do this interview. I wanted to know more about the woman who could create such a beautiful story.
Reluctant debutante Keziah Montgomery lives beneath the weighty expectations of her staunch Confederate family, forced to keep her epilepsy secret for fear of a scandal. As the tensions of the Civil War arrive on their doorstep in Savannah, Keziah sees little cause for balls and courting. Despite her discomfort, she cannot imagine an escape from her familial confines―until her old schoolmate Micah shows her a life-changing truth that sets her feet on a new path . . . as a conductor in the Underground Railroad.
Dr. Micah Greyson never hesitates to answer the call of duty, no matter how dangerous, until the enchanting Keziah walks back into his life and turns his well-ordered plans upside down. Torn between the life he has always known in Savannah and the fight for abolition, Micah struggles to discern God’s plan amid such turbulent times.
Battling an angry fiancé, a war-tattered brother, bounty hunters, and their own personal demons, Keziah and Micah must decide if true love is worth the price . . . and if they are strong enough to survive the unyielding pain of war.
A Little about Tara
Tara Johnson is an author, speaker and passionate lover of stories. She enjoys traveling to churches, ladies retreats and prisons to share how God led her into freedom after spending years living shackled as a people-pleasing preacher’s kid.
Tara’s debut novel Engraved on the Heart (Tyndale) earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly, as well as numerous other accolades. She has articles published in Plain Truth Magazine and Live It Loud Magazine and has been a featured guest on Voice of Truth radio, Enduring Word radio, television and podcasts. Tara is a member of ACFW and is represented by Janet Grant of Books & Such Literary Agency. She, her husband, and children live in Arkansas.
Welcome, Tara! I always like to start with something a little fun and what’s more fun than being a kid?
Can you share with us which is your favorite childhood book?
When I was nine, my parents bought me the entire Little House book set. I read it through a dozen times. After that, it was the entire eight-book set of Anne of Green Gables. I still have all of them. They have been read so often, the spines are held together with duct tape. Looking back, Little House and Anne Shirley taught me more about life than I realized. And of course, like a true eighties’ child, I also had a big collection of Sweet Valley Twins, Nancy Drew and Mandie books too.
As you can see in this photo, Tara, we have a lot in common. (I sold my SV collection a few years back.) You can also see that my children have had access to the Little House Collection which is the same set my dad read to my sister and me when we were in elementary school. Can I borrow your duct tape? 😉
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I never have. I understand why many people do. Privacy is so incredibly important, especially in this day and age when personal information is at everyone’s fingertips. Still, I’ve always desired to just be myself.
That’s a really interesting way of looking at it. I know some authors also use it as a way to branch into different genres without confusing their readers.
How many unpublished and/or unfinished books do you have?
Other than the two books set to release with Tyndale in the next two years, I have seven more unpublished fiction stories, another one that I’ve just started and ideas for three more. I’ve written an unpublished Bible study for young teen girls entitled Beyond the Fairytale, and another incomplete nonfiction work about understanding pastors and their families.
Wow. You’ve been busy! I am so excited that you have two more books coming out in the next two years!!!
How do you select the names of your characters?
Picking names appropriate for the time period is important. I always do a census search of names for the time period. There were some pretty creative names in the 1800s! Sometimes when I’m stumped on a name, I turn to my social media friends for help. Their creativity is astounding!
You’re so right about the unusual names. I’ve come across some in those census records that made me think, “If I used this my readers would never believe it was a period accurate name.”
What is your research process like?
Once I have an idea for a story, I spend a month or two learning as much as I can about the subject. I’ll read a ridiculous number of books about the event, time period or person, watch Youtube or Netflix documentaries and search up as many podcasts as possible. When I feel fairly confident in the subject matter, and know the characters well, I begin writing, but continually have to look up more research as the story unfolds.
Our processes sound very similar.
What was the most challenging part of your research for Engraved on the Heart?
Researching the Civil War is tough. There is so much blood and gore. Having to immerse myself in that world for weeks on end is probably the most challenging part of the research process. When I start writing a new book, my dreams resemble horror movies. Some of the most bizarre research I encountered were oddities like Secesh goods—bowls and goblets made from Yankee skulls. Confederate tradesmen actually sold them on the streets of Southern towns.
Despite the harshness of this period in history, to forget it would be tragic. Who we are, what we’ve learned, the inventions, innovations, cultural changes and broken barriers are because of the Civil War. Though the research can be grueling, I won’t allow myself the luxury of looking away. To look away is willful ignorance, and ignorance always breeds fear.
Very wise words.
Why this setting?
The spark of the idea for Engraved on the Heart began when our family visited Savannah, Georgia several years ago. I was entranced with the history and charm of the town. Secrets seemed to ooze out of every corner.
My family opted to take a historic riding tour of the city. I was especially intrigued by a fact rattled off by our tour guide. “Many of the older homes and buildings in and around the outskirts of Savannah were built by slaves. In fact, if you look closely, you can find some of their fingerprints in the bricks.”
Later that day, we walked down the cobblestone streets, admiring the elaborate iron fences guarding beautiful homes trimmed with colorful flowers. As I passed a home, a darkened impression molded into the crumbling brick snagged my attention. I sucked in a surprised breath over the precious detail. There it was, staring back at me. The fingerprint of a slave.
I ran my finger over the scarred impression, marveling that such a small mark could tell such an exquisite story. Running my fingers over that precious print linked me inextricably to the past, binding an invisible cord between the nameless slave and me. God slowly unfurled a story in my heart. I’ve loved Savannah ever since.
I love that story!
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
I don’t really hide any secrets, but I do have a secret way of building each story I create. I can’t give you the details though. It’s a secret! 😉
Oh, come on. Not even a hint? 😉
Are there any deleted scenes from this book that you can tell us about without giving any spoilers?
There was a major scene my editor and I struggled to delete. We went back and forth trying to decide if we should leave it in or cut it. In the end, we thought the story would be much more realistic, and a bit poignant, to leave it out. I won’t say where the scene was placed for those who haven’t read it, but I had originally intended for Hiriam to be reunited with his long-lost daughter. Cutting that scene was extremely difficult.
Having read the book and loved that character, I can imagine how painful that decision was. While I can understand and can’t really argue with the reasoning behind the decision, I have to admit I’m curious to know how it would have played out. Maybe you could share it someday. It would be like the deleted scenes they sometimes give as bonus material for movies. 🙂
What do you want readers to expect when they read Engraved on the Heart?
Great question! My main purpose in writing Engraved on the Heart was a spiritual one. I grew up with a seizure disorder, just like my heroine Keziah did. All of us face hardships of some kind or another, whether physical or emotional, but if we aren’t on guard, the enemy will tell us we have no worth.
A lie is only harmful if we believe it. The truth is Jesus thought we were so valuable, He died to keep us. I want my readers to know they are loved. They are wanted. They are cherished by the God of the universe. The scars in His hands prove it.
Amen. I love how you shared that message through the story without a hint of preaching.
Can you share with us a new or new-to-you author whose book you read this year and are excited about?
Two new-to-me authors are Carrie Turansky and Cynthia Roemer. I recently read Carrie’s novel Across the Blue and was struck with how tenderly she addressed tough issues. I’m currently reading Cynthia Roemer’s Under This Same Sky and am having a hard time putting it down. Such engaging characters!
Which writers’ conference would you most recommend to writers in your genre?
There are several excellent ones, but two of the best are Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference and American Christian Writers Conference. Both have deepened my understanding of the craft, connected me to amazing industry professionals and allowed me to forge lifelong friendships with other authors. Best of all, both conferences point my heart to Christ for creativity and direction.
I agree. Both great conferences!
What other authors are you friends with and how did they help you become a better writer?
Wow. There are so many. Too many to name, but I’ll mention a few.
Francine Rivers and Allen Arnold have taught me my relationship with God is more important than anything else. Without that life-giving connection, writing is an empty endeavor. Laura Frantz is kindness personified. She has loved me into the writing community with such grace. I think kindness is a hallmark of all her relationships. Jennifer Major has taught me laughter is not just a gift for the journey…it’s vital. Savanna Kaiser and Cara Grandle are my critique buddies, but more importantly, they are my spiritual warfare partners and prayer warriors. We lift each other up when the enemy throws his tough stuff our way. Though I haven’t known Tamera Alexander long, she taught me something invaluable. Her gentle reminder that “My books aren’t my babies,” was deeply profound in helping me understand these creative things we produce are just that…a product. They have no affect on our worth, our relationship with God, or anything else. And it greatly takes the sting out of any criticism that comes when I keep that simple fact forefront in my mind.
There are so many others. Sweet friends like Jocelyn Green, Karen Barnett, Kim Sawyer, Robin Lee Hatcher, Sarah Sundin and more who have shown me incredible kindness as a newbie. They were willing to offer reviews, critiques and encouragement when they had nothing to gain. I’m forever grateful to them.
Often the writer’s journey is depicted as a solitary one, and sometimes I suppose it is, but for most of us, we need the support of others to help us along the way. I’m so glad to know you’ve found those people.
Tara, thank you for taking the time to share so much about yourself and how Engraved on the Heart came to be! I’ve enjoyed getting to know you better. Please keep us updated on your writing journey – particularly when you know the release dates for your upcoming books! 🙂
I loved this book so much that I want to share its wonderful goodness with more readers! So I have decided that in celebration of getting to know Tara a little better today, I will giveaway an eBook copy of Engraved on the Heart to one of you! All you have to do to enter is:
- Sign up to become a member of Kathleen’s Reader’s Club,
- Share this post on either Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook (share must be public & tagged @KathleenDenly), and
- Leave a comment on this post telling me which part of Tara’s interview you enjoyed the most!
DEADLINE TO ENTER: Midnight, November 16, 2018
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