Q&A with Ella Johnson, Part 1

What is the last book you read?

Moon Over ManifestHeart of a SamuraiThe last two children’s books I read were this year’s Newbery Award winner, Moon Over Manifest, and one of the Newbery Honor books, Heart of a Samurai. Both are historical fiction and middle grade novels. Loved the writing, loved reading about a story of a plucky girl set during the depression and about the first Japanese to arrive in America. I recommend them both as great summer reads!

What were your earliest memories of writing?

I’m a late bloomer. I honestly do not remember feeling connected to my own writing until I was in high school. I was sixteen years old, and somehow, through writing essays for political science, Russian History, and World Literature, I discovered how powerful words are as a bridge between writer and reader. 

Were you encouraged to write or was it something that came naturally to you?

I have a little talent and lots of “want to.” My love of the writing craft helped me get through college with a degree in English, and it helped propel me after college to learn from other published authors at various writing workshops and conferences. Along the way, a college instructor said I could make it as a freelance writer someday, if I wished. Those words of encouragement carried me a long distance. And later a mentor and author friend, Pam Conrad, expressed her belief in me that I would eventually be published. It meant a lot, especially since at the time I hadn’t yet finished writing one book.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Regularly. If I feel stuck, I take time away from my computer. I go for a horseback ride, play the piano, read a book—sometimes take a day or two off from a project. Generally, I believe writer’s block is about fear of failure, fear of imperfection. That’s why I try to write rough drafts fairly fast, and then I return to revise more carefully and critically. I have learned to toss the critic off my shoulder when I’m creating something new. Of course it’s not going to be perfect. Of course it’s going to need revision. But I have to get the concepts down on paper first. Fear surfaces, but I try not to take it seriously and instead, Trust the Process.

What is the most difficult part of writing?

 Getting started. Writing the middle. Closing in on the ending.


The second part of Ella Johnson’s interview with Mary Casanova will be posted September 1, 2011.