Interview with Varian Johnson

Most writers have a day job. Varian Johnson is no exception. He writes in the early morning and then works a full day as a civil engineer. But Varian is exceptional when it comes to his writing. All three of his novels have won awards and met with both critical and commercial success. Now hard at work on a sequel to his latest novel, Saving Maddie, Varian found a few minutes to visit about his busy work day, his inspirations and his advice for new writers.


Where did you grow-up and where do you live now?


I was born and raised in Florence, SC, but now live in Austin, TX with my wife and two cocker spaniels. We’ve been here for almost seven years, and I don’t see myself moving anytime soon.


What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?


I like to get my writing done early in the morning, when I’m freshest. On a good day, I’m up and out of the house by a quarter after six, which allows me to get about an hour and a half of writing done before I go to the day job. There are days when it’s really hard to get up in the morning, but I love the feeling of knowing that I got my writing in—I don’t have to stress about trying to find time later in the day or at night to write.


Where do you get your inspiration?

I don’t know if I get my inspiration from any one place. I’m usually inspired by stray phrases from the news or a novel or a friend or an old memory—anything that catches my interest and makes me want to question things.


Who are your favorite writers and why?

My favorite writer at the moment in Melina Marchetta. I loved her novel Jellicoe Road (2009 ALA Michael L. Printz Winner), and I’ve made it my mission to read all of her books—I’m reading her latest, The Piper’s Son, now. As a writer, I love the way she uses language, especially in dialogue. As a reader, I love the way her characters make me think. I know they aren’t real people, but I find myself rooting for then, nevertheless.


What advice would you give aspiring writers?

To read as much as you can. Then read more. Then more. And then, write as much as you can. Then more. Then more. Then revise as much as you can…and you get the drift. It’s a never ending cycle, but if you do it enough times, you begin to figure out what does and doesn’t work for you.


What are you working on now?

I’m slowly but surely working on a companion novel to Saving Maddie. And in order not to jinx myself, that’s all I’ll say about that.


If you want to learn more about Varian, check out his website www.varianjohnson.com. All of Varian’s books are available for sale online or at your local, independent bookstore.



Gift Ideas from Texan Authors and Illustrators

It’s December and the holiday season is upon us whether we like it or not. Here’s an easy way to knock some of those items off your “To-Do” list. Celebrate the wealth of artistic talent in Texas by buying books created by Texan authors and illustrators. You’ll find something perfect for both the kids and grown-ups on your list. Here is a small sampling of books that are available in your local bookstores or favorite online bookseller.


Books for Children 4-8 years

Merry Christmas, Merry Crow by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Jon Goodell
Celebrate the holidays with an industrious crow as it flies through a small town gathering bits and pieces to decorate its own outdoor Christmas tree.


Santa Knows by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman
Every younger brother or sister will enjoy this original tale of a nasty older brother who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus and is proven wrong in the end. Sibling revenge fantasies aside, parents will also be relieved to discover a few “scientific” facts to support the existence of Santa Claus.


Three Bears’ Christmas by Kathy Duval, illustrated by Paul Meisel
In this twist on the Goldilocks tale, Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear go on a walk at Christmastime through the snowy woods in order to pass the time until their gingerbread has cooled off enough to eat. When the Bear family returns, they are surprised to find the gingerbread eaten, chairs broken and bed covers rumbled. Kids will love discovering the clues the Bears’ mysterious guest leaves behind.

 Gingerbread Man Superhero! by Dotti Enderle, illustrated by Joe Kulka
Another traditional tale with a holiday twist! As the oven door opens, Gingerbread Man leaps out, shouting "Flour Power"! Then the cookie crusader takes off to save the world and sweet adventures commence!

Moose and Magpie by Bettina Restrepo, illustrated by Sherry Rodgers

It isn’t easy growing-up – even for a moose. Luckily Moose has his good friend Magpie to help. Kids will love the jokes while learning interesting animal facts.

Books for Tweens and Teens

Front Page Face-Off by Jo Whittemore
Twelve-year-old Delilah James is a top reporter at Brighton Junior Academy. Her biggest ambition is to become a Junior Global Journalist. But when a new girl moves in, steals her crush and takes over in the newsroom, Delilah must turn to an unlikely ally for help.


Trudy by Jessica Lee Anderson
Trudy hates math, doesn’t understand her best friend anymore and then suddenly her dad starts acting strange. In this heart-wrenching drama, Trudy discovers her own strength by working through the seemingly insurmountable troubles in her life.

The Emerald Tablet by P.J. Hoover
In this first book of the trilogy, Benjamin and his best friend Andy adore their unique psychic gifts. But when Benjamin’s mirror starts talking, they realize their abilities are more than just tricks and games.

My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson
When scholarship student Rhonda is forced to tutor beautiful and popular Sarah in trigonometry, she discovers Sarah has a secret that for Rhonda is all too familiar


Shadow by Jenny Moss
If you are tired of vampires, don’t miss this fairy tale/ fantasy /romance that will leave you wanting more!

Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble
Anne’s life is turned upside down when she discovers her dreams of Baba Yaga and the Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov are true.

Books for All Ages


A Christmas Carol Pop Up, illustrated by Chuck Fischer, paper engineering by Bruce Foster
Charles Dickens’s timeless fable, A Christmas Carol: A Pop-Up Book features artist Chuck Fischer’s richly painted depictions of the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, brought to life in intricate pop-up scenes by paper engineer Bruce Foster.

 Our Shadow Garden by Cherie Foster Colburn
A heart warming story illustrated by children who are battling cancer. When ordered through www.childrensart.org, 100% of the profit goes to M. D. Anderson Hospital.

Voices of the Alamo by Sherry Garland, illustrated by Ronald Himler
Through prose and paintings, this book captures the many cultures–Spanish, Tejano, Texan, Mexican, and American–of the people who lived on the land that became Texas.

Art From Her Heart: Folk Artist Clementine Hunter by Kathy Whitehead, illustrated by Shane Evans
The story of Clementine Hunter, who overcame prejudice, poverty, and hard times to create art that is celebrated around the world.


 Happy Holiday’s everyone! Wishing you and your family the most peaceful of new years!