Friday, December 19, 2008

FEATURE AUTHOR: Varian Johnson

Varian Johnson is the author of My Life as a Rhombus (Flux/Llewellyn, 2008) and the the Essence Magazine Bestseller, A Red Polka Dot In A World Full of Plaid (Genesis Press, 2005). Varian now lives in Austin, TX with his wife, Crystal, and is a member of SCBWI, the Writers’ League of Texas, and The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN). Varian is also the co-founder of The Brown Bookshelf, an online community charged with highlighting established and up-and-coming African-American authors of children’s and young adult literature.

My Life as a Rhombus

Staying on track at school means a boy-free equation for Rhonda Lee, who spends most evenings doing homework and eating Chinese takeout with her dad. While Rhonda needs a scholarship for college, some kids at her private high school, like beautiful Sarah Gamble, seem to coast along on popularity and their parents' money.

When forced to tutor Sarah in trigonometry, Rhonda recognizes all too well the symptoms—queasiness, puking, exhaustion—that Sarah is trying to mask. On a sudden impulse, Rhonda shares her past with Sarah. Exchanging their secrets adds up to more truths than either girl would have dreamed.

What would you like readers to take away from your book?

I’ve always been hesitant to suggest what my readers should take from my novels. With My Life as a Rhombus, my goal was to present the novel in a way so that readers could come to their own conclusions about the subject matter.

What is your favorite scene from your book?

My favorite scene is probably the scene in the novel where Rhonda finally confronts Christopher, the boy that got her pregnant.

Why did you elect to write for children?

I love looking at life through a teen’s eyes. Teenagers see the world through such a clear lens—before things like work, bills, and family begin to clutter their landscape. Also, teens know crap when they see it, and now-a-days, they aren’t afraid to tell you so. You’ve got to get the story—their story—right, and in the process of telling their story, you have to respect them.

What did you learn while writing this book?

When I first began the novel, I had hoped that through the process of writing, I would sort out my own position on abortion. If anything, all I’ve realized is that it’s a lot easier to be pro-life or pro-choice when you aren’t the one that can get pregnant.

What one thing about writing do you wish other non-writers would understand?

I don’t think enough non-writers realize that although most authors enjoy speaking at events, authors have to be selective in how they spend their time. We can’t speak at any and all events, or volunteer to participate in every school visit. Doing so would take time away from the actual job of writing books.

What is the best lesson you have learned from another children book writer?

I’ve learned that children are a lot smarter than we sometimes give them credit for. They can handle serious topics just as well as many adults.

What is the toughest test you've faced as a writer?

It’s always tough balancing the business side of writing with the actual writing.

What is something readers would be surprised you do?

Most of my readers are surprised to discover that I’m also a licensed civil engineer.

What are three things you wish you’d known before you reached where you are now?

I wish I had known just how important the craft of writing was. I wish I had realized that not all literary agents are created equal. And, I wish I had known to take more time to savor my earlier successes.

How do you reach new readers?

I find that most of my new readers find me via librarians.

Can you give us five Children book authors you admire?

I admire the following authors: Rita Williams-Garcia for her ability to tackle difficult situations in novels, Cynthia Leitich-Smith for her ability to be so giving and supportive of new writers, M.T. Anderson for challenging young readers, Walter Dean Myers for writing books about teenagers like me when so few authors were doing so, and John Green for writing literary fiction in a way that’s appealing for most young adults.

If you could have dinner with 3 authors to talk with about their writing (living or deceased) who would you invite and why?

Walter Dean Myers, Virginia Hamilton, and Judy Blume. I grew up reading novels by these legends, and I’d love to pick their brain about the state of the industry.

Can you give us one do and one don’t for those aspiring to be a children’s book writer?

DO: Read as many children’s and young adult books that you can get your hands on.
DON’T: Don’t ever give up. Good writing will eventually be recognized.

How can readers get in contact with you? (mail, email, website)

The best way to get in contact with me is via my website –

Can you give us a sneak peek of your next book?

Sure. My next novel is titled Saving Maddie (Delacorte, 2010). The book is about a preacher's son who has to make some big decisions about who he is and who he wants to be when his childhood crush returns to town.


Rhonda McKnight said...

Wow. I'm really impressed with this story and it's not because my name is Rhonda. :o)

Definitely on my to buy list for early next year. Thanks so much for featuring him.

Rhonda McKnight

Tony said...

This book sounds great. The interview was very intersting with some very good answers.

Tony Peters
Author of, Kids on a Case: The Case of the Ten Grand Kidnapping

Jessica said...

Your blurb sounds really good. This book seems like it explores some deep issues but it sounds like you've made the characters real and not some lesson.

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