TNA: Hi, Johanna, thanks so much for being here with us today. Why don’t we start out by having you tell us a little bit about yourself? Hobbies, interests, odds and ends things that make you, you.
JP: Thanks so much for having me! I’m honored to be here.
So…about me. I’m a middle school language arts teacher and curriculum writer by day, YA lit author by night. I’ve been called quirky, and I take that as a compliment. I ski badly, but I do it anyway. I read A LOT. I love football. I recently had to retire from a pretty solid fantasy football career because of its adverse effects on my blood pressure. I have a super supportive husband who seems totally fine with my writing obsession. Oh, and I grew up on a dairy farm, so I have mad cow-milking skills. Really.
TNA: Your new Young Adult novel Here’s to You, Zeb Pike has just recently been released by Harmony Ink. Is this your first published work, and if so, what made you decide to make your first book not only YA but also M/M?
JP: This IS my first published book—and as I often say, I can’t thank the fine folks at Harmony Ink enough for taking a chance on it.
I definitely never decided to write YA. I just always…have. I’ve always loved reading young adult fiction, so I’ve always gravitated towards writing it. Then I started teaching middle school, and all I ever had time to read was YA, so the pattern continued. I have attempted a few adult short stories here and there, but every novel-length work I’ve ever written has been for young adults.
How this story came to also be an LGBT novel is another tale entirely. I wrote a blog post for Madison Parker’s blog (www.madisonparklove.com) about how the main character in this novel came out to me…and I’m not really kidding when I say that’s what happened. I actually didn’t intend, when I started writing this book, to write a story with LGBT characters. Emmitt and Dusty just ended up being so perfect together–the more scenes I wrote about their friendship, the more I realized that they weren’t just friends.
With that said, I pushed to publish this book and have written more LGBT characters since because I strongly believe that teens need more LGBT role models in their libraries and classroom readings. Authors like Alex Sanchez and David Levithan are doing a great job of breaking more LGBT YA characters into mainstream lit, but it’s still a grossly underrepresented field in terms of what teens are encouraged to read and given direct access to.
TNA: Do you remember the moment you came up with the idea for the story? What drew you to Zebulon Pike as a source of inspiration?
JP: I still remember the first time I heard Zeb Pike’s story. I didn’t live in Colorado yet, and I was visiting the area with a friend who’s a native. We were driving past Pikes Peak, the mountain named after Zeb Pike, and my friend mentioned something about what it would be like to be in Zeb Pike’s shoes and come across an amazing mountain like that…and then not be able to get to the top. That image stuck with me. Later on, when I started writing Dusty’s story, I decided I wanted to explore Zeb Pike’s story through Dusty.
TNA: What’s the most interesting fact you discovered about Zeb Pike that we may not know?
JP: The man’s actually a mountain of weird facts. (Get it?) I still think the most fascinating one is that he never made it to the top of the mountain named after him, but there are plenty of others. He joined the army at 15. He got lost a lot, but being lost usually led him to interesting adventures. He really was (as Dusty mentions in the book) captured by the Spanish during his travels in Colorado. He really did (as Dusty also mentions) record his explorations in journals that were very popular with the public.
TNA: Would you like to tell us a little bit about your protagonist, Dusty Porter? What is it about him, do you think, that will appeal most to readers?
JP: I think Dusty’s pretty real. He’s based on a lot of teenagers that exist in my own real world. He’s sometimes self-conscious, usually well-intentioned (but not always), and generally just trying to figure out who he is and how to mesh that with who the world wants him to be.
TNA: If you could bring him off the page and into the real world, what’s the one thing you think he might try to change?
JP: Ha! I love that question. He might try to re-write himself as a little taller. He’d also want to be a much better skateboarder. But I think that by the end of this book, Dusty’s actually become pretty happy with who he is.
TNA: Would you care to share an excerpt from Here’s to You, Zeb Pike with us?
JP: I’d love to!
This is one of my favorite scenes—it’s the first time Emmitt and Dusty meet.
Excerpt from Here’s to You, Zeb Pike
A tall kid, who I can only assume is Emmitt, is waiting outside Jack’s office when we arrive at Colby. “Hey, Emmitt.” Jack puts down his bag to unlock his office and motions for us to shake hands. “Emmitt LaPoint, this is Dusty Porter. Not Dustin. Dusty Porter, this is Emmitt LaPoint. Not Emmy.”
He seems to think that’s pretty funny, but I’m not amused. Emmitt cracks a little bit of a smile, but he’s all business in a matter of seconds. “Nice to meet you, Dusty. You sure look like Coach Morton.”
I guess I’m going to be hearing that a lot around this school, considering we’re mirror images.
“Hey, Coach, do you know his locker assignment?”
Jack frowns as he finally gets his office door unlocked. He fishes around inside his bag for a moment before he comes up with a green slip of paper. “Here, Dusty. It’s the total enrollment package. Locker assignment, homeroom location, schedule.”
Emmitt looks over my shoulder at the paper in front of me and nods. “Cool. Okay, Coach, I’ll start taking him around the school before everybody gets here.”
Maybe I suddenly have a deer-in-the-headlights look, because Jack puts his hand on my shoulder. “Is that okay, Dusty? I mean, if you guys can give me a few minutes, I can come around with you.”
Excellent—my uncle baby-sitting me on my first day. “No, Jack, I’ll be fine.”
A few minutes later, Emmitt and I are walking down the wide school hallway. Emmitt studies locker numbers as he looks for mine, and I study Emmitt. He has dark-blond hair that’s kind of curly and hangs down around his ears. His eyes are really green, as green as—well, once I start thinking about it, my dad’s. Even though he doesn’t look that big, you can tell he’s pretty built. Must be the hockey. He’s wearing khakis and a button-up shirt. I look down at my black polo and old jeans and wonder what the other kids at Colby are going to be dressed like. The fact is that this guy is really good-looking, and I can’t keep my eyes off him as he explains what the classrooms are on each side of the hall we’re walking down. I’m definitely going to get lost at some point during the day.
It was probably late last school year—the end of eighth grade—when I got really worried about the fact that I just didn’t think girls were all that amazing-looking. Race could babble on about them for hours. Jasmine has the most amazing boobs, I’d love to get to second base with her and Did you see those jeans Erin’s wearing today? Holy shit, that ass, Dusty. Jasmine’s boobs and Erin’s ass never did anything for me, but when I had my first PE class with Daniel Garcia-Allan, I started to realize why. I got a B in that PE class only because I missed most of the directions Coach Cartwright gave us.
At first it completely freaked me out, and I spent about a month trying to figure out what I was going to do. Then I realized there wasn’t much to do. I was so busy taking care of Matt and Julia that it wasn’t like I had time to date anyway, and Race always just assumed that was why I didn’t ask any girls out. I’d still dance with a few of them at Prescott dances, and nobody ever seemed to guess that if I had it my way I would have been dancing with a six-foot-three basketball player who definitely did not have C-cups.
Emmitt finds my locker for me, and I tear my eyes away from him long enough to get it open. It isn’t too far away from my homeroom—only about two hallways—so mornings will be a breeze.
Emmitt proceeds to lead me on a tour of my schedule, taking me to each of my classes one by one. He’s thorough. He hits every detail of the school, which is big, right down to where I am welcome to sit with him and his brother in the cafeteria. He’s so thorough that I manage to forget how amazing his eyes are long enough to actually figure out where my classes are.
“So, do you do this as a job or something?” I finally ask him. “You really have a routine.”
Emmitt starts laughing. “Nah. I just did this at the beginning of the year for my little brother, so I sort of repeated it for you. I think that’s why Coach asked me to do it.” By this time we’ve circled back to my locker, but he hangs around and keeps talking. “Coach is a cool guy, but I didn’t think you’d want your uncle showing you around on your first day or anything.”
Very true. Since “Wanna go to the movies this weekend?” probably isn’t an appropriate question to ask at this point, I decide to ask something else I’ve been curious about. “Is your brother really into skateboarding or something?” I haven’t seen any skate parks around town or any kids with skateboards coming into school, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. I like to skateboard, and I sure don’t carry a board around with me—I don’t even own one.
Emmitt rolls his eyes. “Obsessed, for about the last two years. Why, you into boarding too?”
I start unpacking my backpack and loading notebooks into my locker. The notebooks are all empty, white, brand-new and newly purchased by Beth. Already I miss my old history notebook from Prescott, completely covered with the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons I’ve been drawing on the cover since August. “Yeah, a little. I’d love to find out where there are some skate parks around here.”
“Sure, no problem,” Emmitt answers. “I’ll make sure Casey sits with us during lunch so he can tell you all about that scene. Me, I’m just into hockey.”
By now it’s almost time for homeroom. The hallways have started to completely fill up, and people are yelling hello to Emmitt from every direction. “Man, I gotta get my stuff,” he says. “You gonna find your homeroom okay?”
I look around at the giant crowd of people that seems to have materialized around me. “I’ll be okay.” I grab my books and start pushing my way through the hall as Emmitt heads in the opposite direction.
TNA: Did either of your main characters give you fits as you were writing, not wanting to cooperate with where you saw their story going? If so, which one?
JP: I think Dusty coming out of the closet on me was about the biggest plot twist I’ve ever had occur during my own writing process. Emmitt’s pretty happy about it, though, so it was definitely worth the epic rewrite.
TNA: What would you say are the best and worst parts of the writing process for you?
JP: I am what some might call a “binge” writer. I tend to write for large chunks of time and then go on hiatus for a while. (This is also partly because I have a really demanding day job that requires a lot of weekend writing.) In some ways, this is awesome—I generally feel very accomplished at the end of a large chunk of writing time. On the other hand, I sort of exist in a perpetual state of NaNoWriMo, which can be exhausting. (And is also probably the reason that when everybody else gets so excited about NaNoWriMo, I’m like, “what’s going on?”)
TNA: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Whichever you are, why do you feel that method works best for you?
JP: I think I’m a little of both, actually. I usually have my plot thought out when I start writing something, but I end up changing said plot so many times that I eventually just feel like a pantser. (Also, I had to look up the terms “plotter” and “pantser” because I’d never heard them before. I will now proceed to use them constantly, because they are fun.)
TNA: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
JP: The ability to freeze time! I’d get so much more writing done. I’m sighing with happiness just imagining the possibilities.
TNA: If time travel were possible, where would you go and why?
JP: Wow, that’s tough. I think I’ve been teaching history too long—every time I think of some really cool time period to visit, I think of a horrible downside to said time period. (Example: “Would be kind of cool to go hang out with Hemingway. Oh, wait, I don’t wanna end up in a world war.” Or, “Hey, I could go travel the Oregon trail! Hold on. Why would I want to do that? Minimal reading material AND they had to kill their own food.”) I can’t go into the future because then I’m just in the plot of Back to the Future, and while that plot’s fun to watch, who wants to actually go through it? (Hoverboards aside, of course.) As such, I’ve decided to stay in 2013, thanks.
TNA: Would you care to share a little bit of information on any of your current WIPs?
I’ve got one in the works that is, quite possibly, the most angsty story I’ve written. And that’s saying something, as I write a lot of angst. I’m also perpetually working on the sequel to Here’s to You, Zeb Pike. I’m really enjoying writing it, but it’s taking some time. I just love these characters so much that I want everything about their next chapter to be perfect. The durn thing might not see the outside of my computer for several years at this rate.
TNA: Where can readers find you on the internet?
I recently learned how to tweet (no big deal), so I’d love if people want to join my approximate six Twitter followers. Right now, to paraphrase a friend of mine, I feel like I’m talking to myself. And frankly, I felt schizophrenic enough before Twitter. @johannawriteson. Same with Facebook, if you’d care to like my page (hopefully you’d like me in real life, too).
THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED