Feb 01, 2018 02:22PM
● By Ashley Madonna
Everyone thinks they have a book in them, but only some successfully transition from readers to authors and even less get positive feedback on their first pitch. But Jen Geigle Johnson is not your average writer. Her first book, The Nobleman’s Daughter, made its debut back in November, the second comes out in May and three more projects are in the works, so it’s safe to say a successful career has begun. This is all on top of taking the time to care of six children, orchestrating a local writing group and organizing a local literary conference happening this month. Through it all, Jen pushes herself to keep creating books and characters she wants to see on the shelf.
FINDING HER GENRE
After attending Brigham Young University where she received her English degree, Jen dabbled in different roles within the industry. Whether it was blogging or copyediting, they always stayed close to her passion: writing. Regardless of her title, the Southlake mother of six has always been an avid book lover. After reading classics like Pride and Prejudice over and over again and exploring England’s past while living there as a teenager, Jen untapped a passion for history and the genres that told its stories.
But it wasn’t until her youngest child went off to kindergarten that Jen found time to really dive deeper into the historical romance genre in earnest. But once she started, she couldn’t get enough. Jen picked up one book right after the other until she had read hundreds of these narratives.
“I went on a historical romance binge once I started reading more in the genre,” Jen says. “Once I finished one, I downloaded the next. Once people start reading these books, they read them all. You get addicted to them real fast.”
Jen found many romance novels had their go-to tropes and leaned on the fervor within relationships, so she started exploring the wholesome historical romance novels as a way to find greater complexity in storylines. This subgenre, also referred to as clean romance, still has that passion found in the broader genre but did not share any explicit details. And, if those interactions aren’t intense enough, they are written with historic backdrops including times of revolution and uprising throughout the world.
“I always like romance, but I like for those stories to have a little more to that,” Jen says. “There’s so much to take from history because the best stories are real.”
DETERMINING HER MARKET
As Jen kept reading, the different beats in the novels’ plots created a clear pattern. She knew how some of the greats, like classic names such as Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer or more modern novelists like Julianne Donaldson and Jennifer Moore, built up tension that made for engaging stories readers would follow until the end. Also, epic benchmarks like A Tale of Two Cities and Far Pavilions acted as tomes of goodness in the literary world that made their mark without mentioning salacious information.
“I prefer a plot line that’s not directed by the steamy side of romance,” Jen says. “It needs to stand alone on the story, on the relationship and on the emotional pull of the characters.”
So, with a breadth of the genre’s work and an understanding of the market’s audience, Jen started to write. It took 18 months to write and edit her first book, but by the end of it, she had a passion project she wanted to share with the world. It’s also something she wanted to share with her children, so she fashioned family-friendly content that would be appropriate for a variety of ages.
“My 11-year-old daughter read [The Nobleman’s Daughter] three times. She quotes it, which is cute,” Jen says. “I finally had to tell her it was okay if she wanted to read something else.”
When Jen finished the book, she brought it to the LDStorymakers Conference. While there, two mid-sized presses heard pitches about the story and both were interested in reading more. She ended up partnering with Covenant Communications, Inc. to bring her work to fruition. The publication’s other work excited Jen and she knew she could trust what other work her book would sit alongside on the shelves.
The Nobleman’s Daughter falls into the Regency romance subgenre with its 19th century London setting and high society main characters. However, it challenges the idea of typecast protagonists by following the characters’ efforts to fight for the commoners in their community. The power struggle between heroine, Lady Amanda, and her suitor, Lord Nathaniel, carries into the time’s overall theme of overcoming obstacles through the revolution.
“I thought I’d just write a book I’d want to read,” Jen says. “My goal is craft beautiful sentences and great literature through my writing.”
CREATING HER CHARACTERS
While Jen pulls her sceneries from history, she finds inspiration from her grounded characters in her loved ones, like her most dear relationship with Dustin Johnson, her husband.
Jen met Dustin during their undergraduate college years at BYU. They both attended a social event together and met playing the game Mafia. He then took her for a ride up in the mountains in his Jeep, with the top up and doors off, letting the warm wind rush behind them and the stars above shine above them. As she says, the rest was history.
“There’s a lot of my husband in all of my guys,” Jen says. “That’s where I pull my romantic experience from, a really good man.”
Readers will also meet her first born, Amanda, in her first book. The 20-year-old was instrumental in the book’s creation, working closely with her mother throughout the editing process. While fictional Lady Amanda faces different complications in her time, Jen infuses her daughter’s problem-solving tactics into Lady Amanda’s spirit.
“She will see a problem and work to solve it in her own one-on-one way,” Jen says. “Amanda works to help those who can’t help themselves.”
Amanda isn’t her only daughter you’ll meet through Jen’s work. She finds the individual qualities that make her children distinct and infuses her characters with their essence.
In Scarlet, her second book coming out this May, the story centers on a young woman named during the French Revolution. The heroine reminds Jen of her 18-year-old daughter Sarah who has a passion for acting. So, this main character tackles arising problems differently than Amanda would and has a flare for the dramatics that come with the period. Because of this time’s violent history, Scarlet also includes starker details than her first project. Readers should prepare to face some of the darkest times in this country’s past.
“I wanted it to be real but nothing too bad. I’d still let my child read it,” Jen says.
PROVIDING FOR HER COMMUNITY
When she’s not reading or churning out her next book, Jen runs the local writing group, Southlake Writers. They get together to improve their own craft, edit each other’s work, connect with other writers and share tips of the trade. They are always looking to expand their network of passionate people eager to learn more from other local writers.
In her – if you can call it that – spare time, Jen also acts as the chair and instruction coordinator of the first ever Lonestar.Ink Writing Conference. From February 8 to 10, writers of all genres will make their way to the Dallas Central Library to learn about the craft and business aspects of writing from some of the industry’s best minds.
“I was looking for excellent craft classes, and I just hadn’t found it here,” Jen says. “I wanted to hear these people talk myself, so I got to work and started planning.”
Attendees should expect the two-day conference to include courses in topics ranging from strengthening character development to marketing your completed project. They can choose between the event’s many intensive workshops and master classes depending on what they need help with to plan out their ideal weekend with the pros. The classes’ instructors include the conference’s special guests like award winning, bestselling author David Farland and L. Perkins agent Ben Grange.
“A beginning writer could show up and walk out knowing the entire process behind writing a book,” Jen says.
The conference will also hold a first five pages contest where writers can submit their work for published authors to review and comment on. If people want a taste for the conference without committing to the two-day agenda, they can attend the boot camp on February 8 to gain insight on where you can grow in your work and in the industry.
While these responsibilities can be demanding, Jen says she is always a Southlake mom first. She manages the family’s home and ensures her children are cared for. She also has strong ties to the community with by acting as a substitute teacher at Carroll High School and a regular volunteer at her church.
But, that passion for writing continues to push her forward. She currently has both women’s fiction and children’s literature projects in the works. And, she will soon be releasing a sequel to the first novel set in Colonial America. But, until then, she will continue to travel through time by writing new narratives.
“There’s a hungry group of readers wanting more of this genre,” Jen says.
So, Jen will continue to feed her audience and her passion for the genre, one love story at a time.