I had the pleasure of interviewing Lynn Johnson, the author of “Warriors of the Forgotten Front,” a novel based on his father’s true accounts of WWII. Mr. Johnson was truly a joy to speak with, and anyone who is a fan of WWII historical fiction will appreciate the amount of care and dedication he put into his novel.
Interview from 04/10/14:
Me: I am very fortunate to be sitting here with Mr. Johnson, he is the author of “Warriors of the Forgotten Front”. Mr. Johnson, thank you for meeting with today.
Lynn: My pleasure, glad to be here.
Me: I really appreciate it! So tell me a little bit about your book.
Lynn: My book is based on the actual experiences of my father in World War II he was a combat infantryman in Italy in the Italian campaign. He was drafted in 1943 just a few months after he and my mother were married and landed in Italy just in time for a big battle that took place against the Monte Cassino line which had been attacked three times previously by the allies with no results, the only result being very heavy casualties. In the fourth assault in which my father participated, the allies finally took that line and pushed the Germans back towards Rome. So that’s the gist of the book and it continues on with his unit fought all the way up the Italian boot right up near the Austria line.
Me: So your dad told you about these stories as you were growing up?
Lynn: Exactly. It’s kind of interesting looking back. When I was around eleven, twelve years old, during the summers it was hot in North Carolina where I grew up, and we had no air conditioning and he and I would sit on the front porch a lot of evenings and start talking and I had a lot of interest in the war movies I had seen and so forth and I would start asking him questions and he would tell me things and over the years he told me lots of thing that I just remembered and after he passed away in 1998, for some reason I just sat down and wrote down everything I could remember that he had ever told me and that came out to about fifty pages so just no organization no flow just paragraph after paragraph.
Then it was almost like it was fate, I was nearing retirement, with my government job here locally and I happened to see a notice in the paper for some writing courses at the Adult Learning Center and I was interested in writing, I always liked writing, it was one of my better subjects in school and I thought, well I’ll take some of these courses just for fun and luckily the instructor was a wonderful lady; is a wonderful lady named, Lauren Strait, who is now the president of Hampton Roads Writers here locally, and between she and the instruction she gave and the help of the other people in the classes because we all critiqued each other’s work, and writing about my father’s exploits it over time became a book, and I can’t say enough to credit them for the help that they gave me.
Me: That is fantastic. Speaking of writing, I’d like to ask you some things about being a writer, because I think others can probably learn from it. Did you do self-publishing? Or did you actually go out and do query letters.
Lynn: I did query letters initially and I sent out lots and lots of them. What I very quickly learned was, if you’re not an established writer, or if you don’t have and MFA or a writing background, chances of getting an agent with the economy like it is these days is very slim.
Me: Yeah, I’ve experienced that.
Lynn: I’m sure, I think many of us have, so after a period of time, I reached a point where I had to decide, do I want to keep hoping I can find an agent or do I want to get this book published before the men who fought with my father had passed away. Because after my father died, I joined his reunion group; WWII reunion group, and I had the pleasure, the distinct pleasure of meeting the men in his company that he talked about so much.
Me: I bet they were amazing.
Lynn: They were the most amazing group of fellas I have ever met and in talking with them at the reunions over several years, they began to tell me their stories, and I wove their stories into my book as well.
Me: That is excellent.
Lynn: Oh it couldn’t have been more wonderful.
Me: They say that, you don’t find people like that anymore, from that era or generation.
Lynn: I truly believe that. These men were so wonderful and they accepted me right away and they just became wonderful friends, and unfortunately now out of the eight or ten that I met, there are only two remaining alive, but I am so pleased that the book was published before they passed away, and I was very proud to give each of them a copy.
Me: That’s wonderful. You said you knew you wanted to be a writer when you were younger, but what was that moment when you were like, this is exactly what I want to do.
Lynn: I guess it’s just a natural instinct with me. In all of my education background, English was always my favorite subject. I just loved writing things and doing the best I could with it, and I was always so interested in it. In fact I actually considered being a journalism major in college but the more I toyed with it the more I decided I would get a business degree, which I did and that turned out well as far as employment and getting a paycheck, but in the back of my mind, I never lost that dream for writing and interestingly, the job I had, I was a federal auditor with the government, and so much of the job consisted of writing. I wrote audit reports all the time, and I would ask for the opportunity to write the reports because a lot of accountants don’t like to write, they’re fine with doing their work, but they don’t want to write, and I wanted to write. So I got a lot of experience with writing and editing, and rewriting, and rewriting, and from that and it served me well when I did the writing for the book.
Me: What was the first story you remember writing?
Lynn: You mean in my whole life?
Me: (laughs) In your whole life.
Lynn: I guess the first thing I wrote was an incident about my brother and I not listening to my mother during a snow day when we were home from school and she worked third shift and she came in from work, she said I’m going to bed, you boys, don’t you dare go out in that snow. I’m gonna sleep awhile, when I get up in a few hours, you can go out, well of course my brother and I were having none of that because when she went to bed, we went outside had snowball fights, got all wet, and muddy, and dirty, and when we came in, there she was waiting to discipline us, which she did. (laughs)
Me: (Laughing) She got ya!
Lynn: She got us! (laughs)
Me: How do you tackle the rewriting process when you’re going about writing your books?
Lynn: It’s interesting, in my career as I mentioned, we did a lot of rewriting, and we had to answer comments from legal, from policy, from editors, from whoever, so I was familiar with rewriting, but I found when I took the courses with Lauren Strait, that it was even more demanding than what I had experienced.
Lynn: At first I was almost offended that they had challenged me and critiqued my writing and over time though, I learned to appreciate it so much because you get eight or ten people to read your stuff and they tell you their thoughts, and when you incorporate those thoughts and don’t take it personally, and use it to improve your writing, it’s a godsend.
Me: How do you pursue writer’s block?
Lynn: The biggest thing with writer’s block, and I had a course in my job about writer’s block previously and basically it’s called free writing where you just sit and write. I mean you just sit there and you write about the weather, the birds chirping outside, or whatever is on your mind and then you just sort of keep going until you get into your story again, and I have found that, that works for me.
Me: Do you ever have those moments where you have so many ideas, but you don’t know which one to start on first? How do you buckle down and decide, this is the one I’m going to start on, and this is the one I’m going to do next?
Lynn: That is a natural occurrence. I would wake up at three or four o’ clock in the morning with, how am I going to approach this? How am I going to approach that? Am I going to write about this? Or am I going to write about that today and it was amazing, I would lie there awake and ponder those things and it would be all jumbled up in my mind and somehow in the morning when I woke up and went to the keyboard, it would begin to flow and there’s no rhyme or reason to it.
Me: What is your favorite part about the writing process?
Lynn: For me it’s just getting that first draft down. It’s just getting all those thoughts in some coherent flow. Now you always know that this isn’t going to be the final, it’s not going to be the ultimate, but for me, just getting it all out there first, and that was another thing I learned with the writer’s courses is, don’t overly critique yourself as you go. Get it down, get it on paper, and get someone else to read it then, and not your mother! (laughs)
Me: Right! I’ve heard that too because your mom is going to be like, “Oh, this is great!” (laughs)
Me: Who are you reading right now?
Lynn: I am actually reading a Jack Reacher action novel. I tend to read those things, a guy named Childs writes them, and I’ve read a number of them and that’s typically the stuff I read.
Me: What inspires you to keep writing?
Lynn: I think just that natural tendency I have to want to write. People keep asking me, “What’s your second book going to be about?” And actually I’m still pondering that myself. I’ve thought about writing a sequel to my dad’s life, picking up after he gets home from the war, with my mom and infant brother there waiting for him, and I have actually written a couple chapters on that. I’ve just sort of roughed them out and I’ve written some short story things, and just some things for myself so I just can’t stand it if I’m not writing something.
Me: That’s true! You feel kind out of sorts if I’m not writing, yeah I get that. Okay so a couple more questions, what is the best piece of advice you can give to writers?
Lynn: This is kind of strange, it might strike you odd, but when I was in the writing courses, I stopped at Starbucks and they have slogans on the side of the cup, and I was going down the road with this cup and I happened to read it. It said something to the effect of, “If you think you want to be a writer, what’s stopping you?” And I thought the only thing that might stop me is myself! So if you wanna write, just write. Just do it, and don’t worry about, “Will I be successful?” Don’t worry about, “Will I get a publisher?” Just write what’s in your heart and soul and things will work out from there.
Me: That’s a great piece of advice and so where can we find your book?
Lynn: It’s available on Amazon.com and it’s also on Kindle. It is “Warriors of the Forgotten Front” and I self-published it through CreateSpace.com and they were fantastic to work with.
Me: Well Mr. Lynn Johnson, I really appreciate it!
Lynn: It was my pleasure, I really enjoyed it very much!
Me: This was a lot of fun, thank you.
Mr. Lynn Johnson gives credit to Lauren Strait of the Hampton Roads Writers, the Adult Learning Center in the Hampton Roads area, and CreateSpace.com. If you are interested in purchasing his book, “Warriors of the Forgotten Front” you can find it at Amazon.com, Kindle.com, Barnesandnoble.com, and Nook.com, and if you would like to follow Lynn Johnson, you can visit his website at LCraigJohnson.com.