Q&A: Myra Johnson
The author shares about her 3-in-1 romance collection Gateway Weddings: Three Missouri women enter the gateway to life, love, and longing. Will these three couples be open to the plan God has for their lives—and loves?
Q: Your 'Romancing America' book started out as separate titles for the Heartsong Presents readers. Tell us how the individual novels are linked together into a larger picture.
Really, the only connection is that each of these novels is set in Missouri. Autumn Rains takes place in a fictional town outside St. Louis, similar to the charming rural community where I used to visit my grandparents. Romance by the Book is set in a small town I invented between Springfield and Branson, which was fun because I really wanted to include a Branson show in the story. For Where the Dogwoods Bloom, I chose a scenic Lake of the Ozarks setting. These three locales offer a taste of the variety and beauty Missouri has to offer.
Q: When you were originally writing the series, how much were you focused on each individual title -- and how much were your eyes on how each piece fit into the larger story?
Each story came about independently. Autumn Rains was actually written several years before it finally found a home with Heartsong Presents, and I learned a lot as a writer from critique partners and contest judges -- in 2005 the book won the prestigious RWA Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Romance Manuscript. When my editor first expressed interest in the story, she requested two more proposals with a Missouri setting, so I had my work cut out for me! Romance by the Book and Where the Dogwoods Bloom were already well under way by then, but with some extra research and editing I was able to alter both stories to incorporate Missouri settings -- which, I'm happy to say, added new and intriguing dimensions to both character and plot.
Q: What was your inspiration for the original series? (And how much did your original plan change over the course of the arc?)
Since the stories each stand on their own, each had its own inspiration. Autumn Rains, which will always be my favorite, was inspired by a real-life ex-con in need of assistance. Traveling south in the heat of summer to follow up on a job lead, the man had stowed his possessions in a bus station locker during a layover and then lost the combination. When he sought help, someone referred him to the church my brother-in-law was pastoring at the time, so the man hiked or hitchhiked over 20 miles to get there. My brother-in-law gave him money to tied him over, and we learned some time later that he'd found work and was making a new start.
For Romance by the Book, I was intent on creating two unique and very different characters. A male hairstylist who only thinks he's comfortable in his own skin falls for a shy water aerobics instructor who has no idea how beautiful she really is. The fun part was bringing to life the romance author my heroine has a crush on, and showing how you truly can't judge a book by its cover!
In Where the Dogwoods Bloom, again, I was looking for characters a little bit out of the ordinary. The heroine is a tennis pro with a broken ankle who returns to help the foster parents who broke her heart ten years ago, and the hero is a seminary professor who's good at helping others but not so good at dealing with his own pain and heartache. The story deals with the sacrifices we make for the sake of those we love.
Q: How does your faith influence your writing?
I don't think of myself as a writer of Christian fiction so much as a Christian who writes fiction. Which simply means that no matter what I write, my Christian faith is going to be a part of it because it's a part of me. I've never cared much for "preachy" fiction. I'd rather read about true-to-life characters dealing with real-life issues -- not always successfully, not always with neat, happily-ever-after endings, but always growing in faith and drawing closer to God through their struggles.
Q: What do you most hope readers get out of your fiction?
Naturally I hope my readers enjoy a few hours of escape from their daily routines. But on another level, I hope they can see pieces of themselves in my characters and stories. The best fiction is both entertaining and thought-provoking, encouraging readers toward a deeper look at their own lives and to keep progressing along their own faith journeys. That is my ultimate goal as a novelist.