Kim: Welcome! I offer you a cup of Hawaiian Fruit Tea. Can you share a few tidbits about Gibraltar? Covent Gardens? I have not had the opportunity to visit either famous locale.
Karen: Although I was born in Gibraltar, I was barely six months old when we returned to the UK so I don’t actually remember anything. But I do feel a certain connection with the Rock.
And I can tell you that Gibraltar is a British territory on the tip of Spain (built on a limestone mountain—hence the name, the Rock of Gibraltar), and has a very large population of tailless monkeys. My father recounted many times how the monkeys would drive him mad by jumping on his car bonnet, sorry, hood, and pulling off his windscreen wipers.
As far as actually getting published, I couldn’t have achieved my success without the help and support of my fellow writer friends (published and unpublished), and my supportive family (golly, this is starting to sound like an Oscar speech).
But, my greatest asset, I believe, is my thick skin. Because this industry is so subjective, you truly have to believe in yourself, work hard, keep writing, keep reading, and keep submitting, and shh--break a few rules. I received many rejections, but like the proverbial squeaky wheel, I kept editing, rewriting and submitting, until finally, a publisher enjoyed the story, and I got the call.
Kim: You live near Civil War Battlegrounds and the CIA Headquarters. Did your proximity contribute to the THE WITNESS TREE AND THE SHADOW OF THE NOOSE and BIG BOYS DON'T SPY?
Karen: Absolutely. Being a Brit, my knowledge of the American Civil War was somewhat limited. My facts came straight from the script of North and South and Gone with the Wind. If Rhett hadn’t said it, it wasn’t true.
|The original Alpha hero|
So when my children covered the Civil War in their social studies class, I was very little help to them (although I could tell them what Rhett gave Mammy to drink to celebrate the birth of his daughter). Living a few miles away from historic Manassas, and dragging my boys out to the Manassas Battlefield Museum at every opportunity (open fields with carefully placed cannons—a boy’s heaven), I soon came to understand that there were two sides to Scarlet’s story—and she didn’t always tell the truth! I’d got the Civil War bug.
Oh, and the answer to the above question: It was rum.
With my children’s novel, BIG BOYS DON’T SPY, a humorous mystery about a twelve-year-old boy obsessed with spying, it certainly didn’t hurt that we live around the corner from Langley, the CIA headquarters. My eldest son, (on whom I based my main character Will Wand), was totally obsessed with James Bond and anything spying related, and it was he who pointed out the Langley headquarters whenever we drove in that vicinity. So it got to a point where I could not not write about a boy desperate to be recruited by the CIA, and Wand, Will Wand, was born.
|The orignial 007|
Kim: You also have live-in beta readers. Do your children help you research, serve as critique partners, and/or review your books?
Karen: At the beginning, in the early heady days of writing the first drafts and coming up with an edge of the seat, explosive story, my kids were right there. Offering plot twists, impossible hooks, and gory details, but as rewrite followed rewrite, and I would stress for three hours on the color of a character’s iris, my kids’ eyes would glaze over, they would roll their eyes, and vacate the room faster than a bullet from General Robert E. Lee’s musket.
But I will add, just by observing and listening to them, they really are my living research, and they will tell me if a certain scene is plausible or totally off base--and they have friends, too, who are also happy to review my books and give me indispensable feedback.
Kim: What's next for K.E.M. Johnston?
Karen: I am very excited to say that I recently finished a Young Adult novel (with romantic elements) and signed with a literary agent at Curtis Brown. And while the novel is being submitted to publishers, I am working on a follow up YA novel. With a houseful of teenagers telling you to “move it, hurry up, come on, Mom, run, run, no stop. STOP!” who can resist the challenge of capturing that teen voice.
Mahalo, Karen, for joining us today at SOS Aloha! It is ironic that we moved from the Baltimore to Hawaii almost two years ago. I made an effort to visit the Civil War battlefields before we left the area. Plus my we lived on Fort Meade, home of the National Crytologic Museum.
In honor of Karen's visit, I am giving away a Spy Gift Set from the National Cryptologic Museum. To enter the giveaway,
1. Leave a comment about Karen, thieving monkeys, James Bond, Rhett Butler, and/or your favorite historical site.
2. This giveaway is open to all readers. Comments are open through Saturday, March 5, to be considered for the giveaway. Winner will be posted on Sunday, March 6 (weekly winners are posted each Sunday).
3. If you are new to SOS Aloha, please make sure I know how to contact you. If your Blogger profile does not provide your email address, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. (I have several unclaimed prizes because I do know how to contact the winner).
Kim in Hawaii
The greater Washington-Baltimore area is rich in Civil War history. I offer you a sample:
Manassas National Battlefield Park: Located west of Washington, it hosted two major battles from the Civil War - the Battle of First Manassas in July 1861 and the Battle of Second Manassas in August 1862.
Harper's Ferry National Historic Park: Harper's Ferry came to national attention when radical abolitionist John Brown raided the arsenal on October 16, 1859. It became the site of several Civil War battles as well. Today, it has been restored as a "quaint, historic community, at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers" with picturesque streets, exhibits, shops, and trails.
Antietam National Battlefield Park: Located west of Baltimore, "23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after twelve hours of savage combat on September 17, 1862. The Battle of Antietam ended the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia’s first invasion into the North and led to Abraham Lincoln’s issuance of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation."
Gettysburg National Battlefield Park: Located northwest of Baltimore, "the Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War, the Union victory that ended General Robert E. Lee's second and most ambitious invasion of the North in 1863. Often referred to as the 'High Water Mark of the Rebellion', it was the war's bloodiest battle with 51,000 casualties and the setting for President Abraham Lincoln's 'Gettysburg Address'."