I would like to thank Shelli for her time, and such a great interview! Thanks Shelli!!
Would you tell us a little about yourself?
Well, my name's Shelli Johnson. I used to be journalist and an editor (well, still am free-lance), but what I mainly write now is novels. I'm married, have two boys under the age of 11, and I just moved to South Carolina. I love cooking in my crock-pot (recipes up on my blog). I also like running, which I’ve been told repeatedly is an oxymoron ~ lol.
What inspired you to write this book?
I was writing about the main characters ~ sisters ~ for about 4 months, both of them as adult women. The story wasn’t really going anywhere, and then one morning (about 2 a.m.) one of them showed up as a 10-year-old in a barn, scared out of her mind, her father with a gun to his head & threatening to pull the trigger. That scene ended up being the first chapter of the book. Once I got that idea, the rest of the story just came along with it.
Which character was the hardest to write for? Favorite character?
The father was the hardest to write: for being a man, a Korean war veteran, and finally for having schizophrenia ~ all things I have no personal experience in at all.
My favorite character is Jolene. She’s headstrong & stubborn but loyal to her sister to a fault.
Did you have to do any research for this story?
Yes, a lot of research. I knew nothing about schizophrenia or Korea or being a veteran. I didn’t know what it was like physically or mentally to be in any kind of battle at all. So I read a lot of personal stories & interviewed veterans. The story takes place in the 1960's. I wasn’t even born in the 60′s so I had to interview people who were around back then. I’ve never had a sister so I had to talk to people about that. When I first started, I didn’t have any kids, so I had to talk to moms about parenting & about being overwhelmed.
Let me tell you a cool thing, though, & why I believe the universe is a friendly place. I’d jot notes in my journal like, I need someone who knows about schizophrenia, and a week or so later, I got introduced to a woman who had lived with an adult schizophrenic & who graciously answered all my questions about how it was to be with him when he was off his medications. Later, I jotted, I need help with the medications, and shortly afterward I met a man who’d been a pharmacist in the 1960’s & who knew all about what drugs were used to treat schizophrenia back then and how severe the side-effects were. That kind of thing happened over and over again while I was writing that book. It made me trust & believe that I'd always get what I need.
Can you tell us what book you are working on/ recently finished now?
The book I recently finished will be coming out in 2012. It’s still untitled as of yet. Here’s a synopsis: When Rose Harlen struts into PJ’s Tavern in the scorching heat of an Illinois summer looking to cool herself off, she ends up discovering Danny, a charismatic man who alters the trajectory of her life forever. Instead of following her dream of acting on stage, Rose chooses the stability and comfort of marriage. But Danny has a life-changing secret. While Rose’s world careens toward catastrophe, Helena Basinski’s life in Poland radically changes when her husband’s activities in the Resistance trigger their family’s deportation by the Nazis to Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Helena is selected to serve in the camp’s brothel where one of the guards falls obsessively and dangerously in love with her. She survives the war but with memories that are bone deep and forever. Years later, after Rose’s world has been splintered and Helena’s shattered, the two women quietly but forcefully collide. You can read an excerpt here: http://shellijohnson.com/excerpts/unpublished-work-in-progress/
Currently, I’m writing my third novel. It’s about World War II from the point of view of a German soldier. I hope to have it out by 2014.
What advice do you have for inspiring authors?
- Don’t write for somebody else, write for yourself.
- Don’t pick a topic you’re not passionate about.
- Don’t force traits on your characters. Let them be who they are.
- Don’t try to force the story along because you’re in a hurry & need to get done.
- Don’t try to make someone else happy at the expense of yourself.
- Don’t ignore your gut.
- Don’t give up. Really, that’s the easiest thing to do when the years go by & the rejections pile up & you’re not where you want to be.
- Don’t listen to everyone else’s rules. Find what works best for you & do that.
- And the biggest one (so it bears repeating): Don’t give up.
- Finally, my blog’s about following your dream. Many people have found something to spur them on there: http://shellijohnson.com/blog/
Review: I didn't read the summary before I started this book, so I wasn't sure what I was getting into. This book turned out to be incredible. Its not something that I wouldn't usually read, but from the minute I started I just couldn't put it down. The first chapter just captured me completely. It is emotionally gripping with characters so real. Ann Marie was the character I connected with most. Always holding emotions inside. She had to carry so much grief, and eventually had to learn to let it go. Go find a nice comfy spot before you start this book, because you will not want to put it down until its finished. A story full of struggle, heartache, faith and forgiveness. Small as a Mustard Seed was such a powerful novel, one that I'm so glad to have read.