I recently had the pleasure of meeting Renee Miller Johnston over at the GoodReads community. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for me and I am glad to share her responses with you here. Please welcome Renee as today’s author Q&A guest.
Hi Renee. Can you tell us about your children’s books?
My Courtney Logan Kennedy books began as an exercise of sorts to get me back into writing. I hadn't done it in a long time so I wanted to start with something small. I came up with the idea while brainstorming with my daughters and just began to write. There is so much of their personalities in the characters that it was easy to create. My goal was to make them an easy, fun read for kids that weren't as excited about reading as my kids. Since then I've had several parents tell me they enjoyed reading them too, which is always a bonus.
What inspired you to write for kids?
I have a small daycare that I run out of my home. I've always loved kids, so the first idea obviously had to have something to do with them. I find it easy to relate to them. What that says about me I'm not sure, but children's books are always fun to write, they take me back to being that age, and help to reconnect me with my own children.
You did some booksignings and had really great local press. Can you tell us about how your local community embraced the series?
The residents here in Tweed were fantastic. They supported me 100% when they found out I had published and went out to pick up their copies as soon as they arrived. The local papers I had to contact initially, but after the first conversation they went all out to make sure they gave me a great story. We joke now that I'm Tweed-famous because everyone knows about the books now. I have to say though, it's not much of an accomplishment since everyone knows everyone anyway here. It's just nice to use the word famous.
What plans do you have to continue the series?
I do have plans to continue with one more book, it is outlined and ready to be written. There is an issue holding me back, and I'm working on that. I want them to be more easily obtained here in Canada, and with the current publisher it has been extremely difficult. We'll have to see what happens there.
You also write under a pen name for another genre. What can you tell us about that?
I write under the name R.J. Miller, for the horror genre I love so much. None of these have been published, but we're getting close. I decided to use the pen name because I wish to continue writing in both genres, but I felt using the same name would be confusing. I'd hate to see a parent pick up a horror book somewhere and hand it to their child, unaware that I write in both genres. It's also handy because readers that don't know me (which is nearly every one) don't know if it's a male or female writer, and that's better when reading. I've been shocked to find a writer I thought had to be a woman turned out to be a guy. The writing convinced me that it had to be a woman, I hope that my writing is as good.
Tell us a bit about your journey as an author.
I have always written, short stories, poems, journals, silly emails and letters. I enjoy writing anything. But I've always had to work, as we all do, and never had the time to do more than 'dabble'. Last spring (March 2008) I decided it was best for my kids for various reasons for me to be home. I stopped working full time and began to take kids into my home for the income we were still needing.
A friend of mine listened to me moan about the boredom, I wasn't used to the home routine day in and day out, and she asked why I didn't try to write seriously. I had never thought about it, it didn't seem to be something that I could ever hope to achieve.
She pointed out I had nothing to lose, so I started. First with Courtney Logan Kennedy and a few weeks into that, I had an idea for a horror story. We have an old desk top computer, not very pretty and slower than a snail, so all of my writing was first by hand, and then I'd transfer it to the computer. That was not fun. I finished the first draft of Happiness Hills (horror) in late November 2008 and began searching for publishers. I didn't realize the editing process would take so long, or that it was so important. Since then I've learned so much, I know now that without that edit, it won't get looked at. Why would they? There are hundreds of others who took the time to clean their work up, so a messy manuscript full of errors is not worth the time.
Now I have three finished manuscripts in horror fiction, and I've written two more children's books as well as started a few other projects. I have found something that I love, I am passionate about it. If I don't write each day, I feel I've forgotten something very important. I love creating the story, character and the fantasy. If I never get another book published, I can't see stopping. It's too much a part of me now. I think an author has to write first because they love it, if that isn't a priority, I don't see how he/she could become successful or keep at it when it seems like such a steep hill to climb.
I hope that all made sense, it's early here still.
What are some of the challenges you have faced as an emerging author?
The first challenge I faced was finding a reputable publisher. Wow, what a sea of confusion out there. I've learned what to look for since and it's become easier. It was nice to find out that rejection didn't have to be a negative thing either. I have had several that have encouraged me to continue writing and to resubmit. That is something a new author needs. Some are even nice enough to tell you what they did and did not like.
I've also had some challenges with agents which I won't get into. I'll just say you must research that agent thoroughly, don't assume they are doing you a favor, you are paying them after all. I haven't found an agent yet, they are as hard to pin down as the elusive publisher. I will use an agent in the future though, it makes it so much easier. So many good publishers don't accept unagented authors, and that's hard. Last, I've learned to trust my gut in everything. If only I'd done that at first, I'd have avoided a lot of setbacks.
How do you connect with other writers?
I have found a great site, Goodreads.com. Since joining this site I've met authors from all different backgrounds and genres and all have been extremely helpful. There are many other sites for authors out there, but this is the one that worked best for me. It's nice to find a group of people who think like I do and love this writing things as much. I've found I'm not the only one with voices in my head, we're all crazy like that.
Tell us about your current work-in-progress/upcoming projects.
I just finished a manuscript titled Getting Away With It; The Legend of Jackson Murphy. I talk about it all the time now because I am very excited about it. I love this story and this character.
I'm working this minute on a story about a girl from the bayou, I'd say early 19th century. It's still 'in progress' so that may change a bit. Her mother is ill, and sells her to a 'madame' to ensure her daughter's safety once she's gone. It turns out to be a nightmare, the girl is raped and abused and just beaten down. She has a basic knowledge of voo-dodo and begins to seek revenge through this. I'm toying with the spirit she calls having nothing to do with her voodoo gods at all, he's something much worse.
I've also got three other works in various stages, one about a serial killer, another about five friends on a holiday to what turns out to be a haunted cabin, the twist is that one of them has set the rest up out of greed. The other is new yet, I'll stay mum about that one.
As a reader, what are some of your favorite books?
My favorite books? Hmm...such a long list. I'll start with children's authors - Beverly Cleary, Dr. Seuss, and books like the Narnia Chronicles, all of VC Andrews books, the Hungry Caterpillar, Nancy Drew series, Hardy Boy, any Disney story, and seriously, I can't name them all.
Adult fiction authors - Stephen King (of course), Nora Roberts, James Patterson, Belva Plains, Dean Koontz, Carlos J. Cortes, Michael Sullivan, Sherilyn Kenyon, and the list could go on and on.
How can readers learn more about you?
They can check out my website at www.rjmiller.weebly.com. I hope to have more excited features very soon. They can also find me on Goodreads (www.goodreads.com), Twitter, Facebook, and I think that's all.
Thanks, Renee! I appreciate you taking the time to talk about your journey as a writer.
Thank you for inviting me to your site…
Be sure to visit Renee over at her website…. And stay tuned for more author Q&As next week.
Until next time….