by Merida Johns
GENRE: Women’s fiction romance
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 her 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.
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.”
A Word With the Author:
1. Did you always want to be an author?
My first recollection of writing fiction was when I was about ten years old. What inspired that effort was a picture that hung in the dining room of my parents’ home. It was a moon-lit lake scene that screamed out that mystery lurked among the shadows cast from the trees on the shoreline. At the time, like most young girls in the 1950s, I was into Nancy Drew books. So, my first attempt at fiction involved some type of scary adventure along the shores of a secluded lake. Although I had minor attempts at writing short stories in high school, my fiction writing career was interrupted by authoring nonfiction works related to my career in health information systems and leadership.
About three years ago, I got back on the fiction writing track during a conference call in late 2017 with a group of fellow life coaches. As we were talking about what makes a flourishing life, I blurted out, “What would it be like to help women and men achieve a flourishing life through storytelling instead of another self-help book?”
After that phone call, I got started answering that question. Almost three years later, the result is my debut novel Blackhorse Road, a compelling story of womanhood and the power of choice, gratitude, and forgiveness.
2. Tell us about the publication of your first book.
My first nonfiction work was published in 1997—I can hardly believe that it was twenty-three years ago! While I enjoyed nonfiction work, my true love is writing fiction.
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. 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.
But 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 values of the characters and ultimately the consequences of their actions. My experience in writing nonfiction has helped me uncover these backstories from usual fact-checking and readily available historical references. But the sources I like best to enhance the pallet of my novel are diaries and old letters that are first-hand accounts about relationships and peoples’ challenges, and their feelings of sorrow, love, hope, sadness, and happiness.
I wrote Blackhorse Road because I wanted to show how ordinary people tackle challenges, live through sorrow and betrayal, struggle with self-doubt and act on their aspirations to achieve flourishing lives. My hope is that my fiction raises readers’ awareness and curiosity and transports them to unexpected places within themselves.
3. Besides yourself, who is your favorite author in the genre you write in?
My favorite works of fiction and nonfiction highlight the woman’s journey for a fulfilled self. Currently, I’m reading My Dear Hamilton (Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie), which is a novel about Eliza Schuyler Hamilton—a woman perhaps more fearless than the man that she married. Other works that I’ve enjoyed include James Alexander Thom’s works Warrior Woman, a story about Nonhelema, a Shawnee Woman Chief, and Follow the River, an account based on the courage and grit of the pioneer woman, Mary Ingles.
And, of course, I love diaries, published and non-published. My first stop in every museum gift shop is the bookshelf, looking published diaries and letters. A couple of examples are Covered Wagon Women Diaries and Letters from The Western Trails, 1850 edited and compiled by Kenneth L. Holmes and Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey by Lillian Schlissel.
4. What’s the best part of being an author? The worst?
I believe that I am an introvert at heart, so writing sixteen hours a day in my office overlooking the Midwest prairie land is paradise. Uniting my strength of curiosity with my creativity allows me to explore, discover, and to imagine and be open to new things in my writing. In the end, this gives my life meaning by accomplishing a worthwhile task of writing stories that raise readers’ curiosity and transport them to unexpected places within themselves.
Although I would not categorize this as the “worst” part of being an author, the transition from writing nonfiction to fiction was a challenging learning curve. Writing textbooks, I was used to telling, not showing. In switching to nonfiction, I had to go about learning how to step away from a fact-based narrative and to free my imagination to reveal the virtues and foibles of characters and engage readers’ emotions and raise their curiosity.
5. What are you working on now?
I am working on a women’s fiction novel tentatively titled Suzanna that begins in Columbus, Ohio, in the mid-1980s. Suzanna has her whole life in front of her like an open freeway or so she believes . . . The story is packed with challenges and hard decisions, as Suzanna strives to follow her North Star. The ending, like Blackhorse Road, has a surprising twist—this one, though, might raise the reader’s curiosity just enough to wonder if coincidences that edge on the paranormal might be real. Stay tuned!
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Merida Johns takes her experience as an educator, consultant, and businesswoman and writes about the human experience. In 2018 Merida took an unlikely off-ramp from writing textbooks and motivational books to authoring women’s fiction. Her stories are learning lessons where awareness and curiosity transport readers to the most unexpected places within themselves. Merida hails from Windsor, Ontario, Canada, grew up in Southern California and has lived from coast-to-coast in the United States. Besides writing, she enjoys fabric arts, including weaving and knitting. She makes her home in the serene Midwest countryside that gives her the inspiration and space for storytelling.
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.
Merida Johns will be awarding a $25 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
a Rafflecopter giveaway