Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Writers' Wednesday Welcomes Sophia Johnson

Please help me welcome Sophia Johnson, whose medieval romances I adore. Sophia and I met serendipitously a couple of years ago at the RWA National Convention in Orlando. We introduced ourselves in the hotel lobby, sat down, and the conversation went roughly this way:

“What do you write?”
“Historical romance. Medieval.”
“So do I.”
“Have you published?” I asked.
“Yes. I write as Sophia Johnson.”
At that, my mouth dropped open. “Sophia Johnson?” (I sounded like a parrot.) “Oh, my gosh. I love your books.” We spent a long time talking about writing, and the era and how much we liked it. And how difficult it was to place medievals. Even so, she said, she was at work on another series, still medieval.

She was a delight. Humble, even self-deprecating, and funny. A few months later, I learned she had decided to self publish those new medievals she’d talked about. This weekend marks the release of the third, RUTHLESS.

Now, I’ll be quiet, Sophia. Tell us a bit about your first trio of novels.

ALWAYS MINE, MIDNIGHT’S BRIDE, and RISK EVERYTHING are published by Kensington, Zebra.

I set the tales several years after the Norman Conquest. The first book, ALWAYS MINE, was a time travel with a twist. A modern woman's soul went back to the eleventh century while her body was in a coma in the present time. When she discovers she's in another body and century, it was heaps of fun to write. The second book was MIDNIGHT’S BRIDE. This was light and fun, though it had a sinister part to it. RISK EVERYTHING ended the trilogy. It was the most intense. It also came out as the first book in 2005. You confuse readers when a trilogy starts with the ending book, then the beginning of the story and finish with the middle tale. Now, Zebra publishes them as ebooks. I call them the Blackthorn Castle Trilogy and warn people to read them in sequence.

Since then, I've written a four-book Raptor Castle Series taking place in the middle of the twelfth century.

What draws you to this era?

I've always been fascinated by historical books and films. I started with Alexander Dumas and THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK. I went through all the usual books by men. I think schools influenced me into believing only men's books were true literature and romance writers were inane and sexually deprived. *snort* Then I realized I couldn't buy a book until I read the last two pages fist! I believe you're cheating the reader when they develop feelings for the characters only to have it end with some terrible tragedy. If I wanted to cry, I could read the newspapers to be depressed. I needn't pay $10 for it.

I discovered historical romance books held a lot of information. I can't count the times I read a
book with encyclopedias beside me. I enjoyed the new vocabulary from different times, too.

I absolutely agree. Please tell us a little about your writing process.

I'd like to have a dollar for every time someone has said to me, "Your writing is a labor of love. It can't compare to working." Well, let me you something. People who haven't written anything longer than three page letters should try writing twenty pages. I worked as a Computer Systems Analyst and it was a heck of a lot simpler than writing a long historical tale of 100,000+ words.

I take at least a month to research the time that I want to place the story in and hunt for something in history as a background. Then there's finding characters and selecting the correct name for the time and country. Once that's done, I write a two-page biography so I'll know what's in the mind of the character and how he/she should react to any circumstance. Only then do I start to think of how to get the story out of my mind and into a book.

There's something you should know about me. I write long. For the NY Publishers, I've always had to cut at least 11,000 words.

You’ve been published in print but your new titles are available as ebooks. What made you decide to move into epublishing?

I wrote the Raptor Castle Series. Each one has a unique beginning and story to tell. And they were long medieval stories. Like I said, each one was too long, so I cut and cut and cut. I had two wonderful agents, Jenny Bent and Holly Root. Zebra turned them down. Neither could find a publishing house for me because the editors said they liked the books but didn't know how to place them in a category, or how to publish it in a big way, or the story was too unique, etc. Both agents said they loved the stories and didn't understand why they couldn't get them published.

Well, the series sat in my hard drive for four years and I finally decided to ePublish in September of 2011.

Would you mind telling us how that’s going?

Don't let anyone tell you it's easy, because it isn't. Some of the many things I miss are an editor, a cover artist, a skilled writer for the inside teaser and back cover, advertising, mass market books and easy-to-get reviews.

What I don't miss is having someone tell me I can't write a story where the heroine isn't heroic because she wasn't a virgin in the beginning of the book. Or a story can't begin with a monk who ends up having children after he's forced to leave Kelso Abbey. I won't tell you why. Read Forbidden. Or, I can't write a story about a woman whose elderly husband convinces her to seduce a man younger than he is, or… You get the drift.

I love looking up (every day, if I wish it) the royalty statements to see how many books I've sold in the last day, or week or month. I never could get a feel for how many books I'd sold each month by the publishing house statements. And why should an author receive 8 percent of what remains after they pay themselves for everything else? I like having 70 percent of the profit. After all, it took me ten months to write the tale, so why should I take the leavings?

How long have you been writing? Do you have a special place where you like to create?

I've been writing since 1999. It seems like only yesterday that I started ALWAYS MINE. In 2002 I finished RISK EVERYTHING. It was the first book I'd entered in the Golden Heart, so I was very surprised when I came home from vacation and found a letter that I was a finalist. I didn't win the Golden Heart, though. I didn't expect to.

We converted a small bedroom into an office for me. It's my favorite room in the house. Huh! Probably because I spend 80% of my time in here. Awake time, that is. I can't write anywhere else. Not even on a laptop. I can think only here in front of my screen. I have poster boards with pictures of people who look like my characters, one on each side of my CPU, so I can look at my heroine or hero and ask. "So, what trouble are you going to cause today?"

Your Golden Heart story about receiving the letter is interesting. Now people gather around the phone to await that call, while they check different loops for announcements. Actually this year's ‘golden’ day is coming in less than two weeks.

So now that three of your Raptor Castle series have been published, what’s next?

FORBIDDEN and SEDUCED are on Amazon Kindle, B&N, Smashwords and others. The third book, RUTHLESS, came out this weekend. Soon I'll start reading through SURRENDER again before I have it edited.

I send a letter called Sophia's Ramblings (that's what I do – ramble on and on) once a month after writing. That's something else that I miss. Time. This do-it-yourself thing eats away at your time to write.

What one tip would you offer writers?

Don't take rejections to heart. They harden your feelings. When you get a rejection from an editor or a low review, you can laugh about it. Sometimes you can tell they haven't even read the book, else they get their jollies from tearing someone else down.

I hope you brought us a peek at the new release.

I did. Below is the teaser that'll appear before Chapter One in RUTHLESS.

Muriele rose to her feet. Magnus did not move. Just stared at her. His eyes narrowed to cold slits. Promising something. What? The room became deadly quiet. No one moved. The dancer stood still, her eyes studying them.

Muriele took a step, then two. She didn't dare look behind her. When she reached the doorway, the sound of his footsteps matched her own.
When she started up the stairwell, she grabbed her skirts above her knees and ran up the stone steps like all the wolves in the forest nipped at her heels. When she turned a corner, she hesitated. Listened.

Had Sir Magnus returned to the great hall?


He slowly climbed.

Each booted step rang an ominous warning.

Muriele burst out onto the landing. She rushed past the torch flickering in its wall bracket, her eye on the doorway, her hand outstretched far ahead of time.

She chanced a quick glance behind her. Oh, Saints! She wished she had not.

He stepped out of the gloom into the light as he stalked her, his steps measured, his lips set in a grim line. His large hands clenched and relaxed as if they longed to wrap themselves around her neck.

The length and tempo of his stride quickened, eating up the distance between them. Her heart thudded. She reached the door. Frantic knowing he was so close, she fumbled with the latch. With all her might, she shoved the door until it was open enough for her to squeeze through. Turning, she pushed with both hands, her feet anchored to the floor. It near closed. With a sharp, loud noise, his boot slammed against the outside edge. She was but a finger's width away from latching it.
Now, relax and let your imagination take you into this tale of love through the ages.

My favorite cover is also on RUTHLESS. Now, I dare you to tell me he isn't sexy! And don't say I didn't warn you about rambling once I get started!

LOL, Sophia. And no argument about the cover. That's one luscious hero. Thanks so much for being here and best of luck with the books. I hope you'll come back to visit when SURRENDER is ready to go.

You can reach Sophia's publications, and Sophia, with these links.

The Blackthorn Trilogy and Bks. 1 thru 3 of The Raptor Castle SeriesAvailable now at Amazon Kindle, Smashwords, B&N and all major distributors.http://www.sophiajohnson.net/ ; http://sophiajohnsondotnet.wordpress.com/ http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1216026114http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=37441594


  1. Hi Sophia, I'm so glad you're here today, and I'm happy the epublishing route is working for you, as it is for many others. Keep writing the medievals.

    Go, castle crew. LOL

  2. I love to read medievals and these sound great. I've added all of your books to my TBR list. Best of luck with the self-publishing. I imagine it helps that you've already got a following from your previous traditionally published books.

    1. Allie, I agree about the medievals. And do search out Sophia's early books, too. You'll enjoy every one of them. Thanks for stopping by.

    2. I just got back in town from visiting our daughter in Bradenton, Fl. I think it does help that I have a following from the Blackthorn Trilogy. But, there's a catch to that. Out of about 500 women, only a few have eReaders of some kind. Most of the rest have said they'll wait for the Raptor Castle Seriess to come out in print.
      I'm beginning to get some news from others who have taken the plunge and bought a reader of some kind. They're enjoying the experience, thank heavens!

  3. Nice blog, but there was one question you should have asked her that you missed. "Sophia, how do you come up with your medieval curses?"

    You'd love the answer.
    She is a sweet friend of mine, and I know the answer. :)

    1. Thank you, Irene. You're a very good friend and I appreciate you so much. Your encouragement is one reason I keep on writing.
      Irene is a fellow author, and I love her writing. She has more gumption in her little finger than I have in my whole body!

  4. Ah, Irene. That's certainly a question I wish I'd asked LOL. Thanks for the tip. Next time, I'll remined her you suggested that one. Glad to 'meet' you here.

  5. I've heard about Sophia since Barbara met her, and now I understand why you thought she was so intriguing. I love the belief you have in yourself, the grit. My kinda lady. Your books look fascinating. Can't wait to read them. Best of luck, however you publish. Those who think writing books is easy are not writers.
    Diana Locke

    1. Thank you, Diana. I wish I had a tenth of the grit the women in my tales have! Now, that is really kick*** belief in themselves. I won't have a TSTL heroine in any book. They'd give me a hizzy fit and I'd kill them off in a hurry!

  6. So wonderful about your books! Good for you to dive into self-publishing. It's hard to be stuck in a mold and be told it's not "saleable". I hope you prove them all wrong! All the best to you :)

    1. Oh, my, I hope I prove them very wrong! Thank you for your good wishes, Kellie.

  7. Hey Barb and Sophia...great interview and I'm a day late as usual. Sophia, I loved your statement about the usual writings from the men..."If I wanted to cry, I could read the newspapers to be depressed. I needn't pay $10 for it." AMEN! And that's why I dread reading a Nicholas Sparks novel. Would it kill him to write a happy ending every now and then??? Is he THAT afraid to be labled a writer of romance rather than fiction?

    I've also taken the self publishing road and I'm completely satisfied. I had to force myself to quit checking my downloads every fifteen minutes...it was starting to cut into my writing time. :) It's funny...to all those agents/editors/publishers who told me there was no market for my type of writing, well, I'm finding a pretty good market without their help. So yeah, good luck and I hope the best for you!


    1. Lori, I love your Cajunflair name tag. I wasn't fooling about men's books. Ack! I used to hate to come to the ending because I knew it would be depressing. I've often wondered if they try especially hard to write tear-jerking endings so no one would think they had a soft spot. And, yes, they are afraid of being labeled a "woman's" writer. Well, crud on them.
      I'm glad you're taking the self publishing road yourself. I think big companies treat authors like they're expendable. They'll soon worry that they'll lose the upper hand. Even the elite authors are putting their back lists up. I'll bet they're not waiting a year to get their latest books out, either. The publishers will be giving them an answer sooner to keep them from self publishing.
      Best of luck to you, too.