Keith & Judy Johnson
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy and Keith have been married for forty-five years…and counting. They’re semiretired and live in the South Bay, Los Angeles. Both were born and reared in the same town in the middle of England and relocated to the U.S. in the late eighties. They write children's short stories.
Find Judy & Keith on
Keep scrolling to read their author interview and an excerpt from their latest book!
(Questions are from SP, answers are from JK)
SP: Tell me about yourself as a writer, anything that would interest your readers. Don’t write a book but be complete. What’s your typical day look like and how do you work your writing/promoting? Tell us about the mechanics – where do you write, any quirks, etc.
JK: We create the story line as a team, usually sitting on our rooftop garden watching the planes land at LAX. Keith does the mechanics of typing, and we both edit. The beauty about short-stories, there isn’t a complex plot. We try and incorporate a moral in each story, for example Big T is a bully. The acid test is do we want our own grandchildren to read the story? If the answer’s no, we start over.
Typical day. Keith--tweet, post, check email, edit or write, exercise, eat lunch. Afternoons are open. Early evening, we both strategize about new stories. There’s no day job to get in the way. Only conflicts are family issues and vacations.
Mechanics. We create and first pass edit using Scrivener then compile into Word. When Keith is happy, Judy edits and acts as alpha reader. We use our grandkids and friends’ children as beta readers.
Almost forgot, the illustrations take a long time and we all play our part by contributing. It does have a downside--the illustrations are all over the map from professional to rough. We are not going to change this aspect. It is a family effort.
SP: Very collaborative then. That's interesting. Tell me about the protagonist and antagonist of your latest book. What are their goals in the story? Is your hero/heroin reluctant or a willing warrior? Is your antagonist all bad or is there good in there somewhere?
JK: We’re very black and white…the names give it away—the Wicked Witch, the Good Fairy. The heroes in the story are usually the children.
SP: Tell me how and why you got into writing? How long have you been doing it? How do you go about creating a story?
JK: We’re newbies to writing and basically started after we retired. The story behind the story is…Keith also writes adult stories under a different pen name. Our eldest grandson wanted to read his Poppa’s stories and wouldn’t accept, 'wait ten years,' as an answer. We incorporated him in creating the story line and named the key character after him. He wanted a wrestling story and read an early draft. We incorporated his critique in the final version. Word quickly spread, and for our first ten to fifteen short stories, we followed the exact same model with different grandchildren and extended family.
SP: Truly a family effort. Which do you prefer, character driven stories or plot driven stories? Why should readers care?
JK: Initially, no preference. However, we do believe the longer the story, the more the characters influence…or tell…you what to write. I’m a firm believer the conflict of an unwavering plot and what the characters want is a major contributor to writers’ block.
SP: Now that's a thought I hope readers see and grapple with. Tell me about your story point of view preferences, tense preferences, and any other thing of interest to you along these lines as we delve into the mechanics of creating a story.
JK: First person is more intimate than third person. We use both. If you want the child to live the story, in our opinion, first person has a slight edge.
Our first publisher had general house rules. Thoughts present tense, story past tense, show the reader—don’t tell the reader. No head-hopping within a paragraph and even between paragraphs at a minimum use a separator.
SP: What are your all-time favorite books – top three? Why? Don’t skimp here. Explore it with us? Tell us what genre they are. Who is your favorite author, if different from your favorite book?
JK: Judy loves Thomas Hardy especially Far from the Madding Crowd. As children, we both loved Enid Blyton especially the Famous Five series. As a teenager, Keith discovered CS Lewis’ the Narnia series and JRR Tolkien’s the Hobbit. Neither of us is a fan of super-long stories. We grew up in an age when most books were under two hundred pages. That is still our preference.
SP: What do you find is the most difficult thing about writing fiction? The easiest thing? Elaborate.
JK: Writing a story when the characters don’t talk to us. A good story keeps Keith awake as the characters argue inside his mind. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a good madness and forces us to write quickly. Not a fan of editing. The process we now use is write quickly…a short story takes about a week, a novella a month. Note for children’s books, we don’t write longer stories. Then, take a break. Do something totally different. We frequently have multiple stories at different stages…for example Keith’s focus will move to creating illustrations. This allows us to be fresh when we reread the draft. Keith does this a couple of times, then Judy takes over.
SP: Readers will find this interesting as well. Thanks for sharing. Tell me about your travels. Where is an interesting place you’ve been? Do you travel to research your stories?
JK: Keith’s job took him around the globe…Europe, Asia…especially Japan, North, Central, and South America. We’ve traveled extensively on vacations…plus relocated from England to Southern California. We now travel solely to see people. I suppose it’s the, this reminds me of…syndrome.
SP: What kind of stories do you refuse to read?
JK: Keith…none. Judy…lets answer with a preference, romantic comedies.
SP: Finally, the most important question – DC or Marvel? What is your favorite comic book character ever? Don’t say none. If you don’t have one, make something up!
JK: In the UK, neither was readily available back in the fifties and early sixties. DC came first, followed by Marvel a couple of years later.
Superman has the edge over Spider-Man.
Sorry to say, when both companies moved to ongoing series, Keith stopped reading them. By the way, Judy does not read DC or Marvel comics.
Bedtime Stories - a selection of six children’s short stories with illustrations that blend reality, magic, and fantasy to fascinate your kids.
What goes bump in the middle of the night? Cuddly toys do. Something is happening downstairs, and Graham has to investigate. What he discovers shakes his beliefs to the core. All the cuddly toys are alive, but his favorite teddy bear is a bully. What should he do?
Excerpt from Chapter One of Big T:
I woke up, startled. “What’s that noise? It's the middle of the night and still dark.” I heard another noise—it sounded like someone was talking downstairs. Should I wake Mom and Dad? No. I’ll have a quick look first. I quietly got out of bed, crept to the landing, and carefully peered over the balcony down into the large living-area below.
There was an eerie blue glow. The lights were off, but after a while, my eyes adjusted, and I could see clearly. The source of the light was the big TV screen, and something was stepping through. I wanted to scream, but somehow managed to hold it in. I crouched down, peering through the banister rails. It was Big T, my monster teddy bear. Gran had given it to me for my fifth birthday two years ago.
I gasped. “He's alive. I'd recognize that orange-brown bear anywhere.” I took a long slow breath to calm my nerves. What’s happening? I squinted, trying to see better in the poor light and noticed all the cuddly toys were alive. They’re moving around.
Big T towered over the other bears, toys and wrestlers—his usually friendly face all twisted. He was a giant. His short stubby leg kicked Macho-man, who went flying and disappeared into the TV screen. The screen didn't break. It must have become a magic window to another realm. All the cuddly toys bowed and scraped before Big T, even Hulk-Hogan stepped to one side. Big T was doing exactly what he wanted to. He’s a bully.
The Easter Bunny wasn't quick enough, and Big T laughed as he picked him up by his long ears and threw him up the stairs. The Easter Bunny landed hard—tears welling up in his black button eyes. I hadn't realized the cuddly toys felt pain. I now knew better.
The Easter Bunny didn’t go back downstairs, but crawled up onto the landing. He saw me hiding behind the banister.
I put my finger to my mouth and whispered, “Shh! Follow me.”
The Easter Bunny accompanied me into my bedroom. I quietly closed the door and switched on a flashlight. “What’s happening?”
The Easter Bunny silently sat there for a minute as if he was thinking. Then he spoke, “You shouldn't be seeing this. It's our magic time, but Big T is ruining everything. He’s become a bully. We all have to do what he says or else.”
“Or else, what?” I prompted.
“He throws us into the TV. It's dark in there, and we lose our magic time. He only lets us out when dawn is breaking and then we have to rush back to where ever you or your brother had thrown us the previous night.”
“I'm sorry. I didn't realize you felt pain.”
“Don't worry. During the day, we're just cuddly toys. We only come alive at night when everyone’s asleep.”
“Big T is very naughty. Okay, tomorrow night, I'll lock him in the garage. He'll be stuck in there, and you can have the rest of the house to play in.”
The Easter Bunny sadly shook his head. “It won't work. The magic unlocks all the doors. We can come and go as we please.”
“Why don't you team up with the others and take on Big T?”
“He's four times as big as us. We're frightened.”
“What if I trained you? I have all the WWW videos and the game. It shows all the wrestling moves. If you know the moves, size doesn't matter. We'll start tomorrow night.”
The Easter Bunny's ears perked up. “I'll come to your room.”