Q & A with Tara Johnson

Dear Readers,

Tara Johnson authors beautifully written books with loads of history to them. The stories inside the covers will keep you engrossed in the story to the end.

I love reading books that force me to go look things up. The books that make me do a bit of research myself. Johnson’s books do that.

I did a little q & a with her and she has a lot to say. Enjoy, I did.

Happy Reading,

1. What inspired the story line and characters found in Where Dandelions Bloom?What inspired the story line and characters found in Where Dandelions Bloom?

The inspiration for Where Dandelions Bloom was birthed as I read the journal and multiple biographies of Sarah “Emma” Edmonds. This incredible woman enlisted as a female during the Civil War to escape her abusive father. Emma, a hardworking farm girl, found herself disguised as a male and teaching the young city-bred recruits how to load and aim a gun. Her abilities were so impressive, she was soon pressed into the delicate but grueling work of spying for Allan Pinkerton, head of President Lincoln’s intelligence service.

Yet despite her fiery independence and bravado, Emma carried deep scars from her childhood, and that was the story I wanted to tell. Cassie Kendrick is a fictional character inspired by the wounds and fortitude of countless women like Emma who enlisted to hide from their pasts or escape futures more terrifying than the horrors of war.

2. What is your favorite type of character to write? Why?

My favorite characters to write are the funny comic relief types . . . the endearing, lovable characters who can lighten dark moments with a quirky observation and common sense. They breathe such beauty and joy into each story.

3. What role does faith play in this story?

Cassie leaves everything she’s known and throws herself time and again into danger, trusting that God will show her the next step, even when the pathway seems dark. Although she struggles with deep wounds, her childlike faith in his ability to carry her through impossible situations gives her the courage she needs to face down formidable enemies.

4. Tell us about some of the core themes of Where Dandelions Bloom.

Cassie faces abuse at the hands of her alcoholic father. Gabriel Avery has grown up in the slums of New York, unable to care for his ill parents or erase the ugliness from the world around him. Both he and Cassie struggle with the bitter sting of unforgiveness—both with forgiving the ones who have hurt them and with being able to forgive themselves for poor decisions they’ve made. Another central theme in Where Dandelions Bloom is relentless hope, especially amid pain.

5. How do you hope these themes will resonate with and challenge your readers?

All of us have struggled with forgiving someone who has hurt us or our loved ones. The inability to let go of the offense, or the desire to replay it over and over or even to seek retribution, is a very real emotion. Harder yet is forgiving ourselves when we mess up. I want my readers to know there is freedom and life-changing power in forgiveness beyond anything they can imagine. I also want them to know there is hope, even in the darkest time of their life. Tragedy often births beauty, though our eyes may be blind to it at times. So much of how we live our life depends on our perspective.

6. How is the perspective of Where Dandelions Bloom unique compared to other novels in the Civil War genre?

There have been some amazing novels and biographies written around heroic women of Civil War, but I believe Where Dandelions Bloom is unique because it delves deeply into the emotions and wounds driving the choices these women made, as well as the trauma they endured while serving.

7. What is the value of fiction and storytelling in today’s society?

There is a wonderful Israeli folktale about Story and Truth that goes something like this: Story and Truth both decided to walk down the streets of their village to see who could attract the most attention. Story was greeted with smiles and joy everywhere she went, but to Truth’s dismay, the villagers cast suspicious looks her way and even turned their backs on her. Thinking her wardrobe must be the problem, she cast off all her clothes and strolled down the street as naked Truth. Doors slammed. People shouted. Truth was in tears.

“Why do they reject me? I’m Truth! I’m honest! They need me.”

Story smiled. “Yes, they do need you. Here. Wrap yourself in my clothes. When you are wrapped in the clothing of Story, everyone will accept you. I promise.”

Truth discovered when she was clothed in Story’s pretty attire, she was welcomed with open arms.

Story has a beautiful way of revealing deep, hidden, and raw things to our hearts and minds in an incredibly impactful way. Our society is so fast-paced, so cluttered, and we are lied to so often, that people are yearning for truth . . . but truth is hard to accept in its raw form. Wrapped in story, it tugs the heart and transforms lives. It forces us to put down the cell phone and the to-do lists and just breathe in what our spirits are crying for.

8. Can you tell us about some of your upcoming projects?

I just finished the draft for my next novel with Tyndale, tentatively titled A Song for Cadence. It’s a story loosely based on the life of Elida Rumsey, a woman denied the opportunity to nurse wounded soldiers by Dorothea Dix but who found a way by singing her way into the hospitals. Her life becomes entangled with a surgeon battling a powerful enemy . . . a secret society determined to end the clandestine activities the surgeon has unknowingly led to Cadence’s door.

I’m also finishing up the draft of a second story based on Sheridan’s burning of the Shenandoah Valley. The working title is When Fireflies Dance and explores the life of a deserter from the Union army, one of Sheridan’s personal spies, who unknowingly seeks shelter in one of the homes he helped destroy. This story has been the most difficult and raw for me to pen, but I pray my readers will be able to grasp the life-transforming truth that there is no condemnation for those in Christ. He removes sin as far as the east is from the west.

9.What role did photography play in the Civil War?

The American Civil War is considered to be the first war in history to have photography extensively deliver the reality and horrors of war directly to the public through newspaper printings, album cards, and stereographs.

Photographers would follow troops in their own traveling darkrooms, complete with chemicals and supplies needed to carry out the complexities of the latest photographic achievement at that time: the wet plate process. Traveling with, or near, the soldiers allowed the photographers to take pictures the soldiers could send home as keepsakes to their mothers and sweethearts. Military leaders on both sides hired photographers to gain intelligence about enemy placement, roads, bridges, railroads, and land slope.

Even more telling, it allowed photographers, for the first time, to capture images of the dead and wounded immediately after battle. When renowned photographer Alexander Gardner displayed his photographs of the dead of Antietam, it set society back on its heels. They couldn’t get over their shock of the brutality of it. Opinions changed. Alliances shifted. Editorial pieces in newspapers reflected upheavals in thinking based on the images being shared. In short, photography shifted public opinion. It was no longer something they could ignore.

Mathew Brady, the most celebrated photographer at that time, said this: “My greatest aim has been to advance the art of photography and to make it what I think I have, a great and truthful medium of history.”

10.Are any of the characters based on historical figures from the Civil War? What did researching these lives teach you?

Several aspects of Cassie’s story are based on the life of Sarah Emma Edmonds. Reading Emma’s journal, as well as accounts of several other Civil War women, taught me what it truly means to have courage. They left everything—their homes, family, and identity—to forge a new life. Sometimes they enlisted out of fear. Others served out of a sense of patriotic duty. One woman couldn’t bear to be away from her new husband and fought alongside him, disguised as a male the entire time. Each woman was different yet their resilience and grit was the same. Renowned photographer Mathew Brady also makes a cameo appearance. Including him as Gabriel’s mentor and employer was so much fun but it took an incredible amount of research. Writing a cameo is difficult because I feel a great responsibility to write a historical figure, not a character, as accurately as possible. Mathew Brady adds a special touch to Where Dandelions Bloom. I was especially impressed with his earnest strive for truth, knowing he was playing a great part in history.

Caleb Breakey – Book Review

Dear Readers,

I am a sucker for great mystery.  One that keeps me on the edge of my seat, guessing and second guessing who-dun-it all the way to the end.  Creepy is good and if it makes me read it in the day—all the better.  Now I am not talking horror, but I like it when there’s a bad guy I need to know gets caught in the end so I can rest easy at night. 

The String by Caleb Breakey proved to be one of these books.  I second guess my bad guy off and on to almost the very end.  I loved it and am looking forward to reading more by Caleb. 

Markus Haas is quietly minding his own business grilling hot dogs for an event on campus when he gets a message on his[JS1]  Ipad from someone calling themselves “the conductor.”  The message reads, “if you don’t do what I want you to do, I know where your loved ones are, and they will pay the price.[JS2] ”  When Markus bulks at the message, the conductor blows up the grill and sets in motion a chain of similar [JS3] events all over campus. 

So, what would you do?  The mysterious sociopath seems to have eyes everywhere.  He seems to know your deepest darkest secrets and is not afraid to use them.  If you even look like you are going to bring in law enforcement, he strikes.  Do you comply and break the law?  Do you fight back?  What if he shows you a video of your beloved pet that he is going to torture until you do comply?

This book gave me chills in more ways than one.  I first thought I would fight back, but would I?  How do you fight back when everything you love and hold dear is at risk?  Well written with believable characters, I found myself completely caught up in the mystery of who the conductor is and why he seems set on destroying so many people. 

This is a great read for men and women. I recommend this book to anyone who likes straight up good mysteries and enjoys a good chill with their book.  This well-developed story is easy to read cover to cover in one sitting because you have to know that the bad guy is caught.

Happy Reading,

 [JS1]“an” makes me wonder what Ipad.

 [JS2]Check the grammar in this quote and cite it.

 [JS3]Is this word accurate here? It just felt like something was missing, so I added it, but I want to make sure it fits with the book.

New Releases – July 1 – 6

Dear Readers,

Today is my first day back from vacation. We took the grand-kids, along with their parents, to Disney in Florida. Yup all 13 of us for a week and we had a ball. So I am a bit tired, a bit confused and definitely not ready to get back to work.

Thankfully I have some great new titles to get my week off to a great start.

Happy Reading,

Over the Line – Kelly Irvin – When a college student dies at Gabriella’s feet after muttering her brother’s name, vicious gun smugglers believe she knows too much. And they’re determined to make sure she suffers the same fate. With no one else to turn to, Gabriella reunites with her former fianc , homicide detective Eli Cavazos, to investigate the dead man’s murder and her brother’s disappearance. In a desperate race against time, Gabriella and Eli are determined to clear her brother and find him before the gun smugglers can kill them both. Bit by bit, they tear away the masks worn by men masquerading as law-abiding citizens. No one can be trusted. Working as a team forces Gabriella and Eli to face the problems that ended their relationship. She realizes she’s the one who needs to learn to forgive, but Eli must also learn to trust her with his secrets.

Underestimating Miss Cecilia – Carolyn Miller – #2 Daughters of Aynsley – Cecilia Hatherleigh has many secrets in her shy, sweet heart–but none bigger than her unrequited love for Edward Amherst, the earl’s son next door. Her love has persevered over many years, even when he grows to be a bit of a rake. Yet despite his fondness for females, he never seems to see her as anything more than the quiet younger sister, and nothing Cecy does has changed that. Rather than pining after his perhaps unworthy love, she decides to turn her focus toward living out her newfound faith. Now she’s determined to follow God’s leading to make a better world for the poor and dispossessed around her.

Summer of Author Visits

Dear Readers,

This has been the summer of the fiction authors.  We have had three authors in the store already and more to come as the summer moves on. 

May ended with a bang with Susie Finkbeiner having a book launch here for her newest release All Manner of Things.  Not only did we learn about the book and the research that went into it, she brought along her own “throwback” band.  They entertained us with songs of the era. Oh, and listening to Susie play the Ukulele was the highlight of the evening.

We quickly moved to Amanda Barratt who has just release a stellar book, My Dearest Dietrich.  Not only did Amanda tell us all about what it took to write about one of the greats of the Christian world, she plied us with goodies and recipes that she discovered during her research.

Tosca Lee was up next.  Her writing style is as unique as she is.  I have loved her books for many many years, and it was such an honor and pleasure to finally meet her and hear about her writing experiences.  She told us stories about, not only her latest book, The Line Between, but also regaled us with delightful and funny stories of her writing experiences.

Coming soon is Bethany Turner.  On July 11th Bethany will be telling us stories, which I am sure will keep us all in stiches.  Her books are laugh out loud funny and, even though they are romantic comedy, she has many words of wisdom for us all, no matter our age.  If you have not had a chance to meet her before, set aside the date now and come meet an author you will not soon forget. 

On August 9, here at Baker, we are hosting an event called Selfies and Signings.  There will 14 fiction authors here to meet with you, sign your books, and pose for selfies.  It is the highlight of the Fiction Readers Summit, which is 3 days of hanging out with the 14 authors and creating lifelong friendships.  Click here  for details.

Then one last party before the end of summer.  Sharon Brown will be in the store to talk about her work on her new and very powerful read, Shades of Light.  This book is a must read, so if it is not already on your TBR pile, you must add it.  Tickets are available here.  A portion of all proceeds will be donated to the Surprised by Hope African ministry.

If you have found yourself wondering what to do throughout the week, always check Baker Book House’s event page. We always have something going on, and you just may find a new favorite author.

Happy Reading,