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  • Writer's pictureBrandie June

Interview With Author Jackie Johnson

Author Jackie Johnson’s debut novel, Bladestay, comes out this month! For readers who enjoy No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy and Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee comes a new historical fiction about a young woman who disguises herself as a boy to infiltrate a gang that’s overrun her hometown. I recently sat down with Jackie to discuss her writing and her real-life cowboy love story.

Author Jackie Johnson

What is the premise of Bladestay?

Bladestay is a YA Western about a cunning teenager named Theo Creed who goes undercover as a boy to infiltrate a ruthless gang in order to save her family from the violent takeover of her town. As the gang terrorizes the isolated settlement to settle a long-time feud, Theo devises a con to earn the group’s trust and sabotage their plans. Her scheme, however, goes awry when she begins to sympathize with the magnetic leader of the group and fall for one of the outlaws.

Congratulations on your upcoming debut! What was your process for writing Bladestay?

Thank you so much! I’m a pantser by nature, which means I don’t write an outline before I begin drafting—which isn’t to say I don’t spend countless hours plotting my head—but my process is to throw my characters into one impossible situation after another and watch them get out of it. I always know what my characters want before I start writing, but my singular focus in the first draft is getting to know the cast and figuring out all the obstacles that stand between them and what they are trying to accomplish. I’m extremely character focused. I firmly believe that if your character is compelling enough, a reader will follow them just about anywhere. After the first draft is done, I let it sit for a few weeks while I brainstorm (obsess) about how to make the story truly shine. Several revisions later, after I’ve gotten it as far as I can on my own, I send the book to a few trusted beta readers. Implementing their notes is the last step before the manuscript is ready to go on submission.

How does your background as a journalist, BA in history, and education in armed defense influence your writing?

I got history degree with the intention of being an analyst or archeologist, but eighteen-year-old me didn’t understand that my hopes of being the next Indiana Jones or Jack Ryan wasn’t literal. My education as an historian was a total Jack-of-all-trades, master of none. I took classes from Ancient Rome, Islam, Central America, the Civil War, to the history of philosophy, the media, and history of historians themselves. I clearly had no focus, but I did walk away with a deeper curiosity for human behavior and a knack for research. So while I’m not out there chasing bad guys, hopefully it means I can write the hell out of one.

My journalistic stint was brief because I discovered my heart was in fiction, but I had an encounter that I’ll never forget. I really wanted to write a piece on Louis Zamperini, but my editor wasn’t able book me the interview (I was a twenty-two-year-old nobody) at the event I was covering. By miracle, the media director allowed me to sit in on the interview. When Zamperini comes into the room and takes his seat, he looks directly at me and gives me this big smile. I lean over to the director and ask her, “May I please just go introduce myself?” She says, “No, I’m sorry.” She hesitates, looks at me like the fresh faced idiot I was, and says, “Word of advice? In this industry, you don’t ask for permission. Don’t give somebody the opportunity to tell you no, because by then it’s too late.” Noted.

Before all this, I grew up practicing shootout simulations and running target drills with my father, a retired officer. We’re told to ‘write what we know,’ not because we’re incapable of bridging the gap between research and imagination, but because knowing what recoil feels like when you fire a weapon translates to visceral sensory on the page—you don’t have to be a mermaid to write about them, but it might suit you to swim in the ocean before you do.

What was the path for publishing Bladestay?

Long. The book I wrote before Bladestay was really close to being my debut. Long story short, it fell through in acquisitions and the process made me so disillusioned that I didn’t work on anything for a while. At that point, I had written seven books and I was starting to believe traditional publishing wasn’t in the cards for me. Eventually, I got struck with the idea for Bladestay, and while I was writing it, I got a feeling I never had before. This book was different. I can’t really describe it, but I just knew. I was so confident in this story that when the first batch of rejections came in—“We love your writing, but we don’t feel we can properly market a Western”—I pulled the book quickly. I shelved it angrily. I was ready to quit. If this book doesn’t sell, none of them will. When I started getting messages from my beta readers asking for updates, I told them I’d moved on. I got overwhelming support from them, telling me how much they believed in this book and that I had to keep trying. So I did. Exactly a month later, I had an offer.

What's a piece of advice you’d give to aspiring authors?

See above. Do not give up. This is a numbers game. Keep writing, keep reading, keep learning, keep the faith.

Your book comes out this month! Any exciting book launch plans?

I’m beyond thrilled! Yes! Mysterious Galaxy is hosting my launch event on November 30th. Details here:

I love that you have your own real-life cowboy love story! Can you tell us about it?

Absolutely! My husband and I met when we were training at the same equestrian center, under the same trainer. He’s a show-jumper, I did dressage, and we both competed in long-distance (25-50 mile) endurance races. We were inseparable from day one. The day he proposed to me, we galloped our horses to a place called Machine Gun Hill and at the top, he got off his horse, then got down on one knee. Swoon. His skills as a horseman quickly surpassed mine and he’s now a brilliant horse trainer.

Where can people get your book?

Wherever books are sold! It’ll be available in hardcover, audiobook, large print, and ebook on November 28th. If you’re interested in a personalized, signed copy, you’ll be able to order through Mysterious Galaxy for a limited time.

Where’s the best place to follow you?

I’m on almost every social media app as @jaqsattack, but I’m most active on Instagram. I post updates there as quickly as I receive them, as much as I’m allowed to.

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