Hey, everybody! Welcome back to “Through a New Wardrobe”, where we sit down and chat with some of today’s hottest writers who have been influenced by CS Lewis and the Land of Narnia. For today’s interview we sit down with author Jennifer K. Johnson and discuss her debut novel The Dark Mountain Chronicles: Book One: The House of Envy and her love for the Narnia books.
NARNIAFANS: Tell us a bit about yourself, for our readers that might not know much about you.
Jennifer Johnson: I live in rural Minnesota with my husband and five daughters. I have a BA in Pastoral Ministry and Biblical Studies. I am a stay-home mother and I homeschool my children. I love use writing as a tool to minister to children and teens.
NF: Wow! You certainly keep busy! How do you find time for writing?
JJ: It seems like God provides opportunities. There’s just different moments where God provides times to work on the book. I also like to try and use it as personal devotion time.
NF:Growing up did you have a favorite Narnia book? Why that one?
JJ: My favorite Narnia book is The Magician’s Nephew. I love how it tells the back story of how Narnia was created and that there are other worlds besides Narnia.
NF: Who was your favorite character?
JJ: I like Reepicheep, especially the scene where Aslan restores his tail. His character is small and some would consider insignificant, but Aslan finds value in him.
NF: In what way would you say that CS Lewis and the Narnia books influenced you as a writer?
JJ: They were the first fantasy books that I loved. It influenced the genre that I chose for my novel.
NF: What was it that you loved about the Narnia books?
JJ: I’ve always loved the story from the Bible of the prophet Nathan telling David the story of the sheep after his sin with Bathsheba. When Nathan finishes the story David gets upset about the story and its only when he is told he is the man, that he really repents. By using a story, David was forced to confront the truth about what a horrible thing he did on his own.
In that same way with you can be a part of the story and have it apply to you. Like say with Edmund betraying his siblings and being forgiven by Aslan. I also loved how you fall in love with this made up other world, and with CS Lewis, well it is real, Aslan just has another name. It shows that in a way, something that is fantasy can also be a reality.
NF: Can you give us a quick teaser for The Dark Mountain Chronicles Book One: The House of Envy that will give us an idea of what we’re in for?
JJ: Stripped of her wealth and power, Lady Angeline embarks on the journey of her life as she joins a young girl named Ellie on dangerous adventures to save lost people, all the while discovering the truth about her phony world and the possibility of something greater than herself.
NF: What were your inspirations for the story of The House of Envy?
JJ: The Bible and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.
NF: For those of our readers who may be unfamiliar with Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave ( yes, it’s surprising to me too), could you give us a quick recap of The Cave and tell us why it was so inspirational to you?
NF: In Plato’s The Cave he describes how all of us are trapped in a cave and looking at a wall and occasionally we see shadows on the wall of the outside world. Occasionally someone breaks free and sees the real world. But once they are able to see they are completely enamored with a new world and there new found freedom and they never want to go back to the cave . Then every so often someone, a teacher, goes back to help set others free and show them what the real world is about. I found that was very applicable to the Christian faith and what we are called to do. We can either enjoy our freedom or go back and help set others free.
NF: You have a really eclectic mix of names for your characters in the book from English sounding names like Julia, Ellie, and Angeline to more Greek sounding names like Aristus, Celestra, Drimus, and Trinzic. How did you come up with them?
JJ: I chose names that I felt fit the character’s personalities and place in society. Most of the names are real, except for Trinzic. I just made that one up. Some of the names have special meaning to me. Angeline is named after my daughter, Angela. Ambrose and Uriah were twins that I miscarried.
NF: I noticed there was on section of your book that seemed to be dealing with a very real world, hot button political issue. Why tackle this issue in the form of a fantasy novel and not do a more general fiction novel focusing on the topic?
JJ: Books that have stuck with me over the years are those that deal with real life issues. Examples are The Giver by Lois Lowry and Tillie by Frank Peretti. Since the book is based on scripture, I wanted to address moral issues in a way that teens would find interesting and engaging.
NF: But why fantasy? Tillie is an excellent book on its own right, and is not a fantasy novel. What was it about the fantasy genre that made it such a perfect fit for dealing with these issues?
JJ: I just feel like allegories and fantasy are a very beneficial way of talking about a truth in a different light.
NF: One thing CS Lewis said was that he felt fairy stories could sometimes say better then what a sermon could. Would you say this was the case for your own writing?
JJ: Absolutely! I brought up David before, and I think CS Lewis was exactly right. Like if Nathan had gone up and confronted David outright he might not have taken it the same way, or he could have denied it. I think we are so quick to judge others that we fail to see our imperfections. In a story you can see your own by looking through these other characters. Let me know how many biblical parallels you can find.
NF: Though it’s worth mentioning that at this point in my life I can still find plenty of parallels in Lewis’ Narnia and Tolkien’s Middle-earth that I didn’t notice before…so…that conversation could go on for a while.
JJ: That is one of the things I love about those books, each time you read them you can see something new:)
NF: Readers will notice quickly that the characters in your book have wings. What significance do they have? Are these people in your book human or a separate race like elves?
JJ: The characters are based off angels and fairies. One is real, and the other is not. I wanted to blend reality with imaginative elements in my book.
NF: What themes did you try to convey in the story?
JJ: This book focuses mainly on the issues that females struggle with in our culture: pride, vanity, sexual purity, jealousy, honesty, and abortion. The second book in my series will deal with the issues that males face.
NF: On the topic of themes “The House of Envy” is book 1 in your series. Would it be fair to guess that the other books in your series will deal with another house named for one of the other Seven Deadly Sins?
JJ: I considered doing a series based on the seven deadly sins, however, I didn’t want to be constrained by those topics. The next book will be called The Colosseum of Power. It will focus on issues such as the role of men in society (protector vs. predator), fear, strength vs. weakness, sacrificial love, as well as pride and sexual purity.
NF: How did you come up with the title?
JJ: Pride and vanity were the main themes I wanted to write about, and once I came up the House of Envy as an institution that promoted these traits, it seemed appropriate to name the book after it.
NF: Are any of the experiences in the book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
JJ: There is a scene where a mother adopts an infant in the book. I always wanted to adopt a child, and years after I wrote the book, my husband and I adopted two of our daughters. I also did sidewalk counseling outside an abortion clinic for a couple of years. The scenes outside the orb handler’s shop are based on my experiences. I was able to talk some of the women out of going into the abortion clinic.
NF: Who designed the cover art?
JJ: Tonja Sell, an artist from Oulu, WI. You can see more of her artwork on her website: http://doartworx.wixsite.com/tonjasell
NF: What was the hardest part of writing The House of Envy?
JJ: Finding the time to sit down and write out the stories I had churning around in my head.
NF: Did you learn anything from writing The House of Envy? What did you learn?
JJ: Much like the character Aristus, my husband sustained an injury while doing God’s work. Through his injury and recovery, I developed more compassion for him. I was able to learn from my own characters in my book and follow Honna’s example of being encouraging and supportive of my husband.
NF: When and why did you begin writing?
JJ: I have been creating stories since before I could write. My mom used to record me telling stories as a young child.
NF: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
JJ: When I finally finished my book and got it published.
NF: What inspired you to write your first book?
JJ: Reading Max Lucado’s Cure For The Common Life.
NF: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
JJ: Frank Peretti.
NF: What was it that made these books and writers so influential to you?
JJ: In a lot of Peretti’s books deal with spiritual warfare, and they made me think differently about my faith. They are books that stuck with me because they were more than just stories.
NF: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
JJ: I don’t have as much spare time as I used to, so I haven’t had time to search out new books.
NF: What are your current projects?
JJ: I am working on the second book for my series.
NF: Do you have any advice for other writers?
JJ: Develop a team of professionals that believe in your project. Don’t do it alone. Also, fall in love with criticism. Everyone has room to grow.
NF: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
JJ: Thank you for joining me on this journey. I would love to hear from you. Check out my facebook page: www.facebook.com/darkmountainchronicles
NF: Thank you very much for your time!
JJ: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview!