writing

REVIEW & GIVEAWAY: Author Tara Johnson

BLURB (Back Cover Copy)

Reluctant debutante Keziah Montgomery lives beneath the weighty expectations of her staunch Confederate family, forced to keep her epilepsy secret for fear of a scandal. As the tensions of the Civil War arrive on their doorstep in Savannah, Keziah sees little cause for balls and courting. Despite her discomfort, she cannot imagine an escape from her familial confines―until her old schoolmate Micah shows her a life-changing truth that sets her feet on a new path . . . as a conductor in the Underground Railroad.

Dr. Micah Greyson never hesitates to answer the call of duty, no matter how dangerous, until the enchanting Keziah walks back into his life and turns his well-ordered plans upside down. Torn between the life he has always known in Savannah and the fight for abolition, Micah struggles to discern God’s plan amid such turbulent times.

Battling an angry fiancé, a war-tattered brother, bounty hunters, and their own personal demons, Keziah and Micah must decide if true love is worth the price . . . and if they are strong enough to survive the unyielding pain of war.

My Review

Well, first of all, this was a fantastic read. It became one of my summer reads because of where it fell in my TBR (to be read) pile. This was not a gentle, slow read, though.

The story whisks you away, starting with the first line! And you are in this world with Keziah, Micah, and the challenges of the historical time. I truly couldn’t put it down.

Johnson’s ability to put words together and express the character’s point of view, while remaining easy to read was spot on.

The main characters are well-developed and come across so. They are definitely the “three-dimensional” characters we all long for. The secondary and minor characters are less filled out, but that is not atypical. Johnson’s focus on the hero and heroine’s development was well-spent. And she did not commit the egregious sin of “weighing the reader down with info dumps” as can be the case when the author spends so much effort on backstory. She continued to move the story along as we see different parts of these characters.

In the end, I really enjoyed the romance, the historical accuracy, and this story of overcoming. I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves Clean Historical Romance, or just a well-tailored story in general.

Interview

Welcome to the blog, Tara! Thanks for visiting. We have become a little more familiar with your novel, Engraved on the Heart. Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for Engraved on the Heart?

The spark of the idea for Engraved on the Heart began when our family visited Savannah, Georgia. I was entranced with the history and charm of the town. Secrets seemed to ooze out of every corner.

The first spark was ignited by a still unknown soul. During a historic riding tour of the city, I was intrigued by a fact rattled off by our tour guide. “Many of the older homes and buildings in and around Savannah were built by slaves. In fact, if you look closely, you can find some of their fingerprints in the bricks.”

I walked down the cobblestone streets, admiring the weeping willows and moss hanging from the towering trees. As I passed a home, a darkened impression molded into the crumbling brick snagged my attention. I sucked in a surprised breath over the precious detail. There it was, staring back at me. The fingerprint of a slave.

I ran my finger over the scarred impression, marveling that such a small mark could tell such an exquisite story. Whose hands had formed the old brick? What was his name? What were his dreams? Running my fingers over that precious print linked me inextricably to the past, binding an invisible cord between the nameless slave and me.

The next day, we visited the Georgia State Railroad Museum where I found several books in the gift shop about famous women of the Civil War. Courageous heroes like Elizabeth Van Lew who fought against the norms of her culture to give freedom and hope to those trapped in darkness.

God slowly unfurled a story in my heart…the tale of a girl who battled epilepsy as a child, just as I did, but grew to understand her worth in the eyes of a loving God.

Absolutely fascinating. I love how history is telling, but holds so many secrets.

Did you always want to be a writer? If not, what did you want to be when you were a child?

No, first I wanted to be a singer, which is funny because for ten years I was signed with a Christian ministry and record label. I would imitate everyone from Julie Andrews and Sandi Patty to Ethel Merman and Mariah Carey. Later, I wanted to be a teacher, then a marine biologist and later a physical therapist. Writing was never on my radar, although I was a voracious reader.

What a story! I guess most writers start with being an avid reader. And remain so.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

After traveling for ten years and singing concerts in churches, prisons and for ladies’ conferences, I was diagnosed with gastroparesis, which quickly began to limit my ability to sing more than a few songs at a time. I began blogging about my frustration and the lessons I was learning. I discovered a beautiful outlet in writing.

A friend suggested I attend the American Christian Fiction Writers National meeting. I balked, still confused as to why God would let my voice disappear when it seemed He’d told me He would use it to bring others to know Him. In my very first ACFW class, the speaker taught us about every author’s voice, their unique way of spinning words and phrases together. That’s when God showed me I could have a voice and still not have a voice. I’ve been writing ever since.

That is beautiful! A voice though you don’t have a voice… Love it!

I’m always learning from others…do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer?

I received two great pieces of advice early on in my writing career. The first one came from Tamera Alexander. She said, “Your books are not your babies. They are a product. Never confuse the two.” It was such a terrific observation. Keeping this distinction in mind takes the sting out of criticism, and helps me remember my worth has nothing to do with how well or poorly my latest story is received.

The second piece of advice was, “Villains are always the hero in their own story.” I’ve never forgotten it. This simple thought prevents me from writing cardboard characters. We are all deeply flawed, yearning for significance and desperate for love.

Love both of those nuggets!

Tell us a little about your writing process. Do you have a favorite time of day to write? What about a favorite place?

My favorite time to write is in the morning or early afternoon, and my favorite place is outside. Always outside, whether the sun is shining or I’m on my porch watching the rain fall. There is something so soothing and creatively stimulating about nature.

The outdoors is inspiring for certain!

The question I most often get from people about being an author is “How long does it take you to write a book?” So, let me turn that question on you.

On average it takes me eight to nine months to write a book. That includes research time. I usually spend a month or two just doing research and developing character wounds before I ever begin to write a word.

I, too, have found as I grow as a writer that taking the time to develop the character thoroughly is so valuable.

Thank you, Tara, for being on the blog today and for giving us a peek at your process. Now, I believe it is that time to let the readers delve into your books!

Engraved on the Heart

Enjoy an Excerpt

April 12, 1861

Savannah, Georgia

Don’t fail. Tonight of all nights, don’t fail.

Keziah Montgomery placed her gloved fingers into the waiting hand of the man smiling at her with confident expectation.

Taking a shallow breath against the corset threatening to crush her ribs in its unyielding grip, she willed her fluttering stomach to calm and allowed Mr. Watson to lead her into the middle of the crowded dance floor. A colorful array of bright silks and lace flurried around her in spinning circles. The thick, sticky air carried the weight of bay rum and a nauseating mixture of expensive perfumes and rice powder. The din of chatter and polite laughter choked her dizzying thoughts.

From across the room, she caught Mother’s penetrating stare. Elsie Montgomery had been adamant Keziah be at her best. No one must know her shameful secret. The sooner she marry, the better . . . before her future husband realized what her parents were so desperate to keep hidden.

Looking up, she smiled into the youthful face of Tate Watson as he cupped his warm hand against her waist, keeping the proper distance between them as the musicians struck up the opening strains of ”The Scenes of Our Childhood”.  She noted the golden stubble lining his jaw, his brown eyes bright. A flush of heat crept up her neck.

She blinked away the grit filming her vision. It was late into the festivities and the night seemed to drag. Still, she maintained her pasted-on smile and allowed him to sweep her through the swirl of spinning couples and blurring faces.

“Are you enjoying the dance?”

Mr. Watson’s lips moved, but it took her several moments to focus on what he was saying. If only it wasn’t so warm.

“Yes. The Ballingers throw an exquisite party.”

“Indeed, although I fear all the talk of impending war may have dampened the festivities to a degree.”

She nodded demurely, though she’d never admit conversing about the possibility of war was far more interesting than being forced to make polite niceties to the elite of Savannah’s upper echelon. Her mother would faint if she allowed her tongue to spill the unladylike sentiment.

“If war is declared, will you go?”

His eyes glinted, his bearing starched as he circled her past potted palms, pulling her into the thick of the dancers. “Without hesitation. It’s my sacred calling and duty to defend the freedoms Mr. Lincoln is attempting to rip from our way of life. No man worth his salt would dare flee his duty.”

Keziah pressed her lips tight, unwilling to say anything further, knowing if she did, she would be unable to stop. The issues did not seem so starkly cut to her. Instead, she smiled and nodded again, praying her mother could understand the depths of her desire to please. She would not mortify her. Not again.

The room suddenly dipped and twisted. Her breath thinned. Stay upright. Focus.Blinking hard, she realized Mr. Watson was asking her something, though she didn’t understand what. Alarm flooded her, followed by a frisson of something indefinable tingling up her spine.

No, God. Please, no. Not here. What will Mother think?

The prayer had hardly crossed her thoughts before she plunged into the abyss, the spinning colors collapsing into merciful blackness.

Where Dandelions Bloom

Cassie Kendrick is on the run. Her abusive father arranged her marriage to a despicable man, but she’s discovered an escape. Disguised as a man, Cassie enlists in the Union army, taking the name Thomas Turner. On the battlefields of the Civil War, keeping her identity a secret is only the beginning of her problems, especially after she meets Gabriel Avery, a handsome young photographer.

Anxious to make his mark on the world and to erase the darkness and guilt lurking from his past, Gabriel works with renowned photographer Matthew Brady to capture images from the front lines of the war. As Gabriel forges friendships with many of the men he encounters, he wonders what the courageous, unpredictable Thomas Turner is hiding.

Battling betrayal, their own personal demons, and a country torn apart by war, can Cassie and Gabriel learn to forgive themselves and trust their futures to the God who births hope and healing in the darkest places?

Buy Links

Engraved on the HeartAmazon

Where Dandelions BloomAmazon

More About the Author

Tara Johnson is an author and speaker, and loves to write stories that help people break free from the lies they believe about themselves.

Tara’s debut novel Engraved on the Heart (Tyndale) earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly, as well as numerous other accolades. In addition to be published in a variety of digital and print magazines, she has been a featured guest on Voice of Truth radio, Enduring Word radio, television and podcasts. She is a history nerd, especially the Civil War, and adores making people laugh. She, her husband, and children live in Arkansas.

Connect with Tara and Her Books

Website: www.TaraJohnsonStories.com

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

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tarajohnsonministry/

Twitter: @TaraMinistry

GIVEAWAY

Tara is offering, for one (1) winner, chosen by Rafflecopter:

Winner’s choice! A paperback copy of Engraved on the Heart, or a paperback or ebook copy of her new release Where Dandelions Bloom.

Please follow the directions on the Rafflecopter to enter. This giveaway is only for those in continental United States.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

13 thoughts on “REVIEW & GIVEAWAY: Author Tara Johnson”

  1. I’m from south Louisiana and I love plantations. I’d love to read a book about one and Oak Alley comes to mind. I’ve toured it several times but the last guide was the best with the history of the home. I’d like to know more about who lived there.

  2. This book sounds like a very good read, and the Cover is Beautiful! I will be adding it to my books to be read list for sure! I enjoyed reading the interview and reading the excerpt. Thank you for this blog.

  3. I would love to see more stories on plantations, and stories on who actually worked them many, many years ago, a good fiction with some truth in it, when I was young I remember reading a book from long , long ago when they had slaves working on them, I don’t remember the name of it .

    1. I do love the old south and am inspired by the plantations. Those stories are very difficult to write, knowing the suffering people went through. I do have a novella that takes place just after the Civil War ended–“Leaving Waverly” that touches on that struggle and the plight of the sharecroppers.

  4. I would like to see more stories from the Revolutionary War era from my area. We are known for the Culper Spy Ring, The Burning of the Hay and William Floyd, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

  5. I don’t know that I have a specific time frame or event currently that I want to know more about. Usually authors cover so many things I wouldn’t think of on my own, and I love that! I have learned so much by reading historical fiction over the years.

  6. Thanks for stopping by, Laura W.! Writing Historical Fiction/Romance has taught me so much as well. And I’m, of course, an avid reader of the genre. It really does help make history come alive.

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