I’ve gotten a lot of questions from my beta-readers over the course of the story that only my first readers know the true about. I’m a pantser- in writing terms it means that when a novel comes out most of it is unplanned and written by ‘the seat of my pants’. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Yes, there are authors out there that write by seeing where the story goes.
When I first started writing, all the advice I got was plot the novel out. And I really truly tried. I have many writing friends that are brilliant at this. Their plot charts are so colorful they are a work of art in and of themselves. Mine consisted of a white board and lots of squiggly lines. I tried to plot beforehand, I really did, but once the plotting happened, I knew what was going to happen, and it lost most of the magic for me. That story fell into the plot graveyard, which continued to grow larger the longer I tried.
Enter nanowrimo. For those of you not familiar with it, it stands for Nation Novel Writing Month. I thought my friend was joking when she told me about it—50,000 words—basically a short novel—in one month. Crazy! But I lean toward a little bit crazy when it comes to books- I think most of us do. (Who wasn’t reading Harry Potter until the wee hours of the morning when the final books came out?)
Well, I was going to try this plotting thing one more time. All my friends were plotting, I should too. So I did it, I plotted my little heart out and come Nov 1st I was ready. Two hours in, I was off my painstakingly beautiful plotline and flying by the seat of my pants again. And you know what- what came out was much better than anything my planned plot had in it. Success! Most of the book I was reading as fast as I was writing it. It allowed me to have the experience I love most as a reader. I’d call my friends at two in the morning and say, “You’ll never guess what just happened.” Followed by another phone call ten minutes later, “It got better.”
When I finished, I ended up having to edit more than my plotter friends. I cut scenes I secretly loved but didn’t work in the final book. The most important part: the book didn’t end up in the graveyard. So, if you are wanting to write, but you’re not a plotter, write it anyway. Whether your time is in the plot or the fixing afterwards still get those words on paper. My first rough draft is more of a glorified outline anyway.
For the readers out there, I hope you enjoy the story, and know that in those moments where you’re thinking, “No way!” I was probably thinking it too.
Author C.K. Johnson grew up in Oklahoma. She loved the beautiful sunsets and wonderful people. During a summer visit to New Hampshire, she fell in love with the East Coast and the miles of forest straight out of a fairy tale. In college, she had a chance to travel and added Scotland to her list of places she is certain magic exists.
She loves Star Wars, Dr. Who, and old fairy tales. She also loves chocolate and running (but only so she can enjoy more chocolate). Her passions include reading, writing and listening to an ever-growing list of music.
She lives in Utah with her yappy little dog, Lorelai, who reminders her of Toto from The Wizard of Oz.
Q. Where are you from? Does the area you live in influence you writing?
I grew up in a little town in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma. Oklahoma definitely influenced my writing. The third book of the piper series even has part of it set there—different small town of course. I spent a summer on a study abroad to Scotland and that influenced the whole music battle scene between pipers at the end of A Piper’s Song. I have books that will never see the light of day that I wrote while I was living in New York. I currently live in Utah and my most recent project is set here. I hiked a trail with a strip so narrow I had my back pushed up against the rocks to keep from falling and the next day put the details into the story.
Q. Tell us your latest news?
A Piper’s Song just came out April 17th and thanks to all the beta readers out there I’m hoping to have the second book come out this year.
Q. When and why did you begin writing? What inspired you to write your first book?
I’ve been writing for years. It started with becoming a book-a-holic. Once I started reading I couldn’t stop and when I couldn’t find a book I loved in my age group I started sneaking into my dad’s books. I can still remember reading the Bourne Identity and thinking- this is awesome! Somewhere along the way the reading lead to writing and I’ve been hooked ever since. What inspired me to write A Piper’s Song?
I was listening to music while waiting for an appointment. As I listened, I found my mood lighten and thought how amazing it is that music can shape how we feel. I thought wouldn’t it be sort of cool if there was someone out there that could use the music we listen to in our cars, ipods, phones, homes, movie, etc to control us. And then I thought—there already is a story out there—the Pied Piper. My grandmother used to tell me the old German fairy tale. When I researched a little more I found out there was a small town in Germany where the children really did disappear.
The second thought that came to mind was a study my mom had told me about years ago. Paraphrased a lot, a doctor did a study on water. One sample he played soft calming music and the other he played harsh discordant music—then froze each sample. The sample that received the ‘nice’ music produced beautiful crystals. The other one: murky and broken. Wow, and we’re each made up of how much water?
Each of these thoughts in their own way took me down a path to combine writing and music in a tale for the modern reader.
Q. What book(s) / author(s) have influenced your life and writing?
It’s hard to pick just one but if I were to narrow it down I’d say I often go back to Robin McKinley and Tamora Pierce. I find myself rereading their books over and over.
Q. Tell us about your characters and how they came to be?
Have they been in your head for a long time? I knew a little bit about my main character Kyra when I first started writing the book. I knew she had a hard life and that shaped her. I knew she felt fiercely protective of her younger siblings and wanted more for them. I also knew her brother Kelly was the favorite older brother. He was going to be the sibling that everyone loved, cared about, took care of everyone. I was fun to see McKennan the other old brother that I considered gruff and standoffish take shape. By the end, he became a big teddy bear that had actually done a lot for the family but in remained unnoticed. I also knew a Mark character would come in. We all have had a Mark in our schools but I didn’t know about Ben until I started writing. He came out of nowhere. The moment Kyra runs into him and he’s introduced I wanted to know who he was and loved their interactions. Forget Mark, Ben’s the one who’s there for her.
Q. What motivates you to write?
My readers. After I get a few drafts in I sometimes forget some of the magic until a reader comes back to me and says—I loved this part. Then I remember, oh yeah, I loved that too. When I’m writing the first draft it’s because I want to know what’s going to happen next. I’m a fly by the seat of my pants kind of writer so although I have a rough idea of the end goal most of the details in-between come as I’m writing. It’s closer to what a reader would experience when they’re reading the book for the first time. I love that ‘no way’ feeling.
Q. What is the hardest part of writing?
Most of the writing roadblocks I have encountered have been learning the business side of things. Coming into the writing world, I didn’t realize how many hats an author has to have beyond getting the story down. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of friends to help me on the journey. Join a writers group, go to conferences, and never stop learning.
Q. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I’ve learned a lot from writing this book. Not only about the history of the pied piper tale but also about writing. Thank you to everyone that took the time to teach me all the little rules of writing you don’t learn in school. So for all you new writers out there—don’t be afraid to ask. You can learn a lot from other writers and your readers. Most of mine are book nerds like myself.
Q. Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere. I’ll be in a car and hear a siren and think, “they’re coming for us.” Then I have to think backward toward the who, what, where, and when stuff to work up to that sentence. Sometimes it will be something random someone says that will make me go—there’s a story in there—I just need to find it. Sometimes it’s ideas I get while writing one book that I know won’t work there, but could be somewhere.
Q. What does your family think of your writing?
They have been very supportive. My little sister has read all of my books and my oldest sister has read most of them. Though my mom prefers biographies she’s read my book many times.
Q. What is the best advice you would give to inspiring authors?
Start writing. Write now and as much as you can. Find a writer’s group, go to conferences, and makes friends. There are some awesome writers out there willing to share what they’ve learned. Keep reading, some of the best writers I know are constantly reading.
Q. What book are you reading now?
I’m reading Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, Sensible & Sensational by Jenni James (she’s still writing it but you can get a sneak peak on Wattpad), and the first Dresden Files book by Jim Butcher.
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