#Interview with Merida Johns, author of Blackhorse Road

Welcome to the book tour for Blackhorse Road by Merida Johns, a tale of finding oneself and love. Today, I have an excerpt for you to enjoy, plus the author is taking us behind the scenes of her book. You can also find out why I want to take a road trip to where she lives! Remember to follow the tour and ask more questions along the way. Best of luck entering the giveaway!

Under another hand, Blackhorse Road could all too easily have been a singular romance. Johns provides more as she follows Luci down the rabbit hole and out the other side of life experience, bringing readers into a world where . . . transgression changes everything and challenges carefully-constructed foundations of belief and values. As Luci lets go of her lifesavers and navigates obstacles to happiness, her story becomes a vivid portrait of hope and self-examination which ultimately moves into unexpected territory. Novel readers seeking a tale that closely considers deception and forgiveness, love gained and lost, and family ties will welcome the multifaceted Blackhorse Road’s ability to come full circle in a satisfyingly unexpected way. – D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

It’s the turbulent mid-1960s, and Luci, an eighteen-year-old Southern California girl, is on the quest for self-determination and new beginnings. Three powerful forces influence her values: the grit of her Irish great-grandmother, Lucinda McCormick; the philosophy of choice of her father, Sam; and the 1960s ideals of equity and altruism. But potent foes thwart Luci at every turn. Her budding romance with a handsome United States Air Force Academy cadet sets the stage for conflict and deception that last for two decades. When Luci discovers how her autonomy and love affair were hijacked, she struggles with anger and bitterness. But from a surprising source, she finds a forgiveness path that restores her well-being and hope and, in the end, faith in herself.

Read an excerpt:

The cranky engine revved as the driver shifted gears, and the military bus crawled forward exiting the air force base. Along a narrow and dark roadway, the vehicle increased its speed and left the MPs at the gate standing immobile and mute in the glow of the rising moon. Drifting through the open windows, the Southern California desert air blew like pixie dust across the faces of the thirty young women headed home from the street dance. A few hours ago, they were preening and adjusting their bouffant hairdos, reapplying creamy pink lipstick, and placing the last twirls of mascara on their eyelashes to prepare for a street dance with cadets from the elite Air Force Academy. Then, the atmosphere buzzed with gossip, chatter, laughter, and anticipation. Now, the glimmering night sky created the perfect backdrop that lulled each into a contented silence to fantasize about the handsome men they had met.

“This is the beginning of my story about love and betrayal and a journey toward empathy, compassion, and forgiveness. It is also a story of choice—my choice to be inspired by the resilience of a great-grandmother, the values of a father, and the wisdom of a spouse. But in the end, it is a story of how a letter of gratitude . . . reminded me to open my heart to love and kindness.”

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What was the inspiration behind this book?

Since I was ten years old, I had wanted to write fiction, but my professional career steered me in another direction. 

My opportunity to follow my dream came during a conference call in late 2017 with a group of fellow life and leadership coaches. “What would it be like to help women and men achieve a flourishing life through storytelling instead of another self-help book?” I asked them.  After that phone call, I got started answering that question.

Because of my background in women’s leadership development, there was no question that I wanted Blackhorse Road to be a story of a woman’s maturation overtime.  Blackhorse Road begins in 1966 when Luci, the protagonist, is eighteen years old and ends twenty years later in 1986. That period provides many opportunities for emotional growth as the protagonist hits brick walls, experiences love and loss, and makes some hard choices to save herself.  

When I tell someone that I have written a novel, I am asked the predictable question, “Is this an account of real events. Maybe your life?” 

When I started writing fiction, I took two pieces of advice before pounding the keyboard—write about what you know and know what you write.  So, in writing about what I know, Blackhorse Road blossoms from my imagination that is influenced by my experience, perspectives, and observations that give the story authenticity and sensitivity, helping readers connect with the characters and feel their joy, disappointment, sorrow, and happiness.  In knowing about what I write, I describe below how using research as a companion to my writing, helps me do this.

What kind of research did you have to do for it?

Blackhorse Road is enriched by the backstories that set the context for the characters and events in the story—historical incidents, politics, economics, philosophy, religion, and psychology that influence the characters’ values and, ultimately, the consequences of their actions.  I uncover these backstories from usual fact-checking and readily available historical references.  I’ve categorized and put many of these resources on my website www.MeridaJohnsAuthor.com for readers interested in digging deeper into the historical, cultural, and political context of the era.  I try to be as true to the historical period as possible in my fiction. This includes checking the details about the weather on a specific day, the moon phase, and reading old newspaper articles of the time.  For Blackhorse Road, a fun research journey was tracking down the history and pictures of sites uses as locations. Some of these included the carousels mentioned in the story, the Olmsted-designed parks in Riverside, California and Buffalo, New York, and Bois Blanc Island, Fort Malden in Canada.  

But the sources I like best to enhance the palette of my novel are first-hand accounts

So, Blackhorse Road draws upon letters, diaries, and other first-hand accounts and blends these with my experience, observations, and imagination to show how ordinary people tackle challenges, live through sorrow and betrayal, and struggle with doubt as they search for self-awareness and meaningful life.

Which character was your favorite to write?

As I wrote the story, I formed a relationship with all of the characters in Blackhorse Road. I was amazed at how the characters surprised me as they evolved from my computer keyboard. I found myself challenging them with questions. Luci, you did what?  What were you thinking, Chris? Berry, that was heavy!  Sean, you were brilliant!  Marie, how could you go so low?  I also fell in love with characters I would never have anticipated, and I was unpredictably torn between love interests—pure satisfaction that made me smile as the words tumbled across the computer screen!

If I have to pick one character who fascinated me the most, it is the protagonist’s mother, Marie, who is the most complicated. There is a mystery about Marie that engaged my developmental editor and my beta readers as well as myself.  In the focus group with my beta readers, Marie is the character that took up the most space and intensity of the discussion.  She brought up fell on various points on the spectrum between compassion and disgust.

Most readers will relate to Marie because she is familiar to them—a person they have known but have never been able to decode to figure out what makes her tick.  The following quote hints at this character’s complicated nature, why she remains a mystery, and why she has prompted such fierce discussion among my beta readers.

“To describe her mother as a two-faced personality would be the most straightforward response. But instinctively, Luci knew better. She had overheard Sam telling Adele one time, “Your mother is a complex and troubled woman.” Those words stuck in Luci’s mind and begged the question, Why is she troubled? Untangling the web of Marie’s behavior, however, was not easy for her eighteen-year-old daughter.”

Let’s say I’m coming for a visit to your area. What are some must-see places?

Readers definitely want to visit the historic Woodstock Square in Woodstock, Il.  Woodstock is where the movie Groundhog Day was filmed, and the Square has retained its same quaint feeling as depicted in the movie. This is such an outstanding location that it is used Blackhorse Road, too!  

However, what would really thrill readers is to enjoy a coffee and a browse through Read Between the Lynes, the independent book store on the Historic Square.  What’s so important that makes this bookstore unique?  Well, this is the location I chose for the climax of Blackhorse Road.   

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I’m excited to be launching a newsletter for my readers that will provide behind the scenes accounts of the life of a fiction writer.  If you want to know more, you can sign up for the newsletter on the home page of my website at www.MeridaJohnsAuthor.com   

For three decades, I was a university professor who taught classes and wrote textbooks on “nerdy” subjects centering on computer systems in healthcare.  

But a decade ago, informed by my experience in a male-dominated area, I started my practice as a leadership coach to help women break the glass ceiling and fulfill their leadership and economic potential. Consequently, during the past ten years, I transitioned from writing textbooks to motivational books on creating environments where people flourish through better leadership.

About a year ago, I was on a conference call discussing concepts of what makes a fulfilling life with fellow life coaches.  Bang! Like a thunderclap, I had an insight. What would it be like to help people understand the concepts of a flourishing life in a story instead of through a motivational book or text? After all, I thought, storytelling has been the most compelling form of communication for thousands of years. As far as I could recall, none of the great prophets fed up learning objectives and multiple-choice questions to their followers.  No!  They got their message across through stories.

Motivational books and textbooks give frameworks, theories, and ideas, but they don’t immerse us in the human experience. They don’t show us how others face challenges, embrace their passions, overcome sorrow, celebrate achievement, quash self-doubts, develop positive emotions and relationships, handle betrayal, or act on aspirations. 

Storytelling ignites our imagination and emotion.  We experience being part of the story rather than being served up a platter of facts, exercises, and information. 

This eye-opener was enough for me to take on the challenge of novel writing.  My passion is to help people catapult beyond concepts and theories and jump into the wonderment of imagination in designing a flourishing life for themselves.  Storytelling does this best.

Happily, as a fiction writer, I have jettisoned learning objectives and test questions.  Ah…the freedom makes me feel as light as a balloon on a summer breeze.

Website:  www.MeridaJohnsAuthor.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MeridaJohnsAuthor/

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/meridajohns

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Merida-L.-Johns/e/B001IU2KBS%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

Bookshop: https://bookshop.org/shop/MeridaJohns

Merida Johns will be awarding a $20 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

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11 thoughts on “#Interview with Merida Johns, author of Blackhorse Road”

    1. Thank you, Rita, for taking the time to write a comment mentioning the excerpt. The excerpt opens the story as a prologue and appears in the final chapter of the book with the addition of Luci’s insights. I hope you have an opportunity to enjoy Luci’s journey.

  1. I enjoyed reading the excerpt and the interview, it was nice getting to know you a bit! Your book sounds like an excellent read, thanks for sharing with me!

    1. Thank you, Eva, for commenting. I love connecting with my readers, and I hope you have an opportunity to share the journey with Luci, Barry, Sam, and all of the other characters in Blackhorse Road. A quote for thanksgiving from Sam in Chapter 5: “Have gratitude. Be thankful. It changes your world.”

  2. Thank you, Andi, for hosting Blackhorse Road. I’ve done a number of interviews, and this one was terrific. I loved answering the question about who was my favorite character to write about. And, being able to share what readers might want to visit in my area was really special–especially since the ending of the book is inspired by an independent bookstore on the Woodstock, IL historic square. Again, many thanks. Merida

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