Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Meet Lisa Jones Johnson!

Lisa Jones Johnson first began writing professionally in law school. But it was as a screenwriter where she found her true voice co-writing screenplays which spanned from college comedies to murder mysteries and sitcoms. A DEAD MAN SPEAKS is her first novel.

1. Tell us a little about yourself and how you realized you wanted to be a writer.

I started out as a lawyer in New York and quickly realized that it wasn't what I really wanted to do. I felt like I needed to be in a more creative environment so I ended up working for CBS as Broadcast Counsel. And although I really liked that job, it still wasn't really the creative environment that I longed for. So I decided to take the plunge, literally and move to LA to be a screenwriter and producer, which I did full time for about 4 years. I then had an opportunity to work in the music business as an Executive Producer for Motown which was great. Ultimately I ended back in the televsion business as an executive and Executive Producer. I wrote A Dead Man Speaks during this time.

2. How did you come up with the idea for your debut novel, A DEAD MAN SPEAKS?

I had written murder mystery screenplays so I was very familiar with that format but I wasn't sure what I wanted to write about until I read this article in the LA Times quoting a famous detective. His name was Jigsaw John and he'd been one of the original detectives on the famous Black Dahlia case. He said that anytime murders weren't solved the lives of the victims were restless, they "remained with us." This gave me the "aha" moment, and I thought wouldn't it be interesting to write a murder mystery from the perspective of the victim who doesn't know who killed him. And thus the germ of the idea for A Dead Man Speaks was born. The book is narrated by the ghost, Clive January who was shot and killed from behind and must work with the detective assigned to his case to solve the crime. I had lived in NYC so I wanted to set it there in the world of investment banking, because it was a natural for intrigue and multiple suspects. Once I started writing, the story just unfolded on its own. Ironically I've never lived in the South and wasn't born during the time of segregation, so never experienced any of that, but again once I started writing this part just seemed to unfold naturally as well. Ultimately I also wanted to write a murder mystery that was about more than the crime and had a message, and thus the issue of forgiveness which is key to the victim, Clive being able to "move on to the other side."

3. Describe your road to publication.

I had probably not an untypical road to publication. It took me about 7 years to get my book published. First I tried to get an agent and after about three years of re-writing the book (I wrote the first draft very quickly in about 6 months), I finally got an agent in New York. She was very good and immediately started sending out the manuscript. Almost immediately she started getting feedback that many editors loved the book, the characters the writing etc. but because it was not a typical murder mystery, their marketing department didn't know how to market it. Also because it wasn't a typical "Black" book (whatever that is!) they didn't know how to position it. Now of course with the fascination and the supernatural and books like "Those Lovely Bones" and "Time Traveler's Wife", I assume they've figured out how to market this kind of book! Ultimately my agent got the book to Genesis Press and the book came out last September.

4. What kinds of things have you done to promote your book?

I've done a lot of book signings across the country and book clubs, I've also done radio interviews and print. I've also done the Miami Book Fair, the Capital Book Fair in DC, and the LA TImes Festival of Books in LA. I was on panels and had signings in DC and in Miami, and signings in LA. I've also been on panels in some of the local public libraries and have had readings and panels at some of the Barnes & Nobles locally. There was an article in Black Enterprise in December about the book. I should note that all of the publicity that I've done I've organized on my own. I've also done on line interviews (such as this one) and visited book stores in LA, NY and DC to make sure that my book is on the shelves. It's really important for an author to be very proactive in terms of the publicity of your book, because generally the publishers will have limited resources for promotion, unless you're a well established author.

5. A DEAD MAN SPEAKS was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. What was that experience like?

It was a great experience, from the initial nomination luncheon to the actual televised award ceremony. They had the red carpet and all of the pre-parties and after parties associated with the ceremony both before the Awards and the day of the Award. It was really gratifying for the book to be recognized particularly given the long and sometimes frustrating route to publication. Since then the book was also nominated by Romantic Times, Reviewers Choice Award for General Fiction of Color.

6. Do you have a regular writing routine?

I do. I generally try and write about 5-10 pages a day, depending upon how much time I have. When I wrote A Dead Man Speaks, I would go to the library in the morning and write for about three hours, take a break for lunch and then go back and write for another 3-4 hours until around 6PM. I gave myself a goal of 10 pages a day and wouldn't allow myself to leave until I had that. Now of course, there was a lot of re-writing but it was important to get it on the page and then the re-writing went pretty quickly.

7. Can you tell us what you're working on now?

I'm starting to formulate ideas for my next book, which will continue some of the characters from A Dead Man Speaks.

8. What kinds of books do you enjoy reading?

In terms of fiction, I really like historical novels, (I rarely read murder mysteries!) In terms of non-fiction I prefer books that have a mystical bent and tend to be more spiritually based.

9. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

I would say the best advice is to just write. A lot of writers, think about writing but then they never actually do it. Don't worry about whether it's good or not, you're going to re-write alot anyway. The most important thing is to get your book done. If you write one page a day for one year you'll have 365 pages and at least a first draft of your book. I'd also say don't be discouraged with the inevitable rejections, just keep moving forward. And finally, I'd say that once you're completely satisfied that you've made all of the changes and re-writes that you think are necessary, don't 'over-write" your book, ie make so many changes based on feedback, some of which may not be constructive, so that you lose the essence of what your book is about.

10. How can readers learn more about your book and contact you?

I'd encourage readers to check out my website www.adeadmanspeaks.com, and if they'd like to contact me they can email me at adeadmanspeaks@yahoo.com . I'm in LosAngeles and love to do book clubs both here and other parts of the country. So I'd also encourage any members of book clubs to get in touch with me because I'd love to do your book club!

Thanks for stopping by, Lisa!


patricia sargeant said...

Great interview, Angela.

Lisa, thank you very much for sharing your writing experiences with us. Best wishes for continued writing success!

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