Author Interview: Norma Tadlock Johnson

NormaMy guest today is multi-published Northwest author Norma Tadlock Johnson. She has had 12 books published over 27 years, in romance, middle-grade novels and a non-fiction about the mountain troops of World War II, Soldiers of the Mountain. Her latest is Donna Rose and the Roots of Evil, released in January of this year, a sequel to Donna Rose and the Slug War. Hazards of the Game, also a Cedar Harbor Mystery, is slated for August, 2010. Book Club editions have been purchased by the Worldwide Mystery Book Club of the two Donna Rose books.

Welcome, Norma. What motivated you to become a writer?

I always figured I’d write “someday.” That day finally came when my husband and I traveled from Canada to Mexico while he had a sabbatical leave from San Francisco State University. I’d think of my next scene while we were in the car and that night in the campground, I’d write it. My multi-published (around 70 books) and award winning daughter (she won the RITA for the best series romance last year), Janice Kay Johnson,  was also starting to write at the same time while they were living in our small cabin on Camano Island and she was commuting to her job as librarian in Bangor. Neither of us sold those first books.

What was your first published book?

Summertime Love by “Kay Kirby,” published in the Adventures in Love Series by Signat (NAL) I’ll never forget the day my husband came down the driveway carrying a Mail-o-gram. He said, “I don’t know, but this looks like it could be something important.” I was unable to reach the editor immediately — my line was busy, then he was out to lunch. What we hadn’t known, was that editors like to sign up an “author,” not one book. I was amazed when, after he said he thought we were “fresh,” when he offered a two-book contract with an option on a third.

In the beginning, you and your daughter collaborated on a number of books. Did you brainstorm together, both write parts, or how did that work?

Yes, we brainstormed during the summer and then my husband and I went back to the San Francisco Bay Area. We alternated chapters and mailed them back and forth. This was, of course, before e-mail. Bob would sneak into the copy center at the University and make copies after I’d changed them. Eventually, our work was enough alike that we couldn’t be sure which of us had written certain sections.

Are mysteries harder than other genres to write? What kind of mind-set does one have to have-devious or more of a puzzle solver?

No –I prefer them. I’ve always been a mystery reader, staring with Nancy Drew as so many of my writer friends did. Even my middle-grade novels were mysteries, with elements of fantasy. I have no idea on your second question.

Is the Cedar Harbor mystery series your first in this genre?


How did you come up with the name Donna Rose and the idea Roots.coverof a “senior sleuth” for these books?

My characters always name themselves. Writing about a senior was a natural since I am in that category. Also, my plots take turns of their own. When I first came up with the slugs, I figured Cyrus was going to be the villain, but he had other ideas. Also, Alvin just showed up. I also had no idea why. He, however, obviously had a plan.

Is first-person easier or harder to write than third-person?

I must think it’s easier since that’s what I usually use. The romances, however, had to fit the line.

Do you do a lot of research for your novels?

Very little. I did take advantage of my daughter’s better knowledge of plants. I also bought a book about slugs. You might be interested in how slugs came to be important in my books. We had enormous number of them on Camano Island. But neither of us liked to kill things. My husband had been a Naturalist in the National Park Service. The little black-Slug Warspotted ones clearly suffered when sprayed with ammonia. So — we took to tossing them in the wooded vacant lot across the street.

Your publisher is Five Star/Gale. How much marketing and publicity do they do for you, and how much do you have to do yourself?

Since they aim at libraries (the books are relatively expensive, with durable library covers), they send catalogs all over the country. Otherwise, publicity is up to me. However, this is true these days of almost all publishers unless one is a big name with a big advance. I understand that the amount they spend on publicity is directly related to the amount they’ve paid the author.

What advice do you have for writers who want to be published?

Be stubborn, have faith in yourself, and multiple submit, submit, submit, even though publishers say they don’t want you to. And join a critique group.

Norma, thank you for sharing your story and experience with us. Norma’s books are available through local bookstores. And be sure to check out her website.

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