Sunday, December 13, 2020

Andrea J. Johnson

Andrea J. Johnson is a former court reporter turned freelance entertainment writer for the women’s lifestyle website Popsugar. This love for insider gossip has inspired her to take real-life headlines and turn them into mind-bending mysteries. The Victoria Justice Series is a perfect example of this dynamic as it uses Johnson’s legal background to explore what would happen if a trial stenographer took the law into her own hands.

Johnson resides on the Delmarva Peninsula near the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays—the backdrop for her mystery series. She also holds a certified shorthand reporter certification in the State of California and is a member of the National Court Reporters Association, the Mystery Writers of America, the Maryland Writers Association, and the Eastern Shore Writers Association. Moreover, she’s earned a copyediting certification from UC San Diego and an M.F.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University.

Johnson has also written several articles on the craft of writing for websites such as LitReactor, Submittable, Funds for Writers, and DIY MFA. When she isn’t developing her stories, Johnson enjoys cuddling up with a piping hot mug of ginger tea and poring over the latest supermarket tabloids.

Her new novel is Poetic Justice.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The title Poetic Justice speaks more to an overall theme than one specific aspect of the story. Each character faces a dilemma that underscores the old adage “what goes around comes around.” This may not be apparent to readers from the first page, but the idea becomes quite clear once the book reaches its climax. In fact, the ending helped inspire the title. I knew how I wanted the novel to end long before I had the courage to sit down and write the first word. So when it came to publication, I was adamant about the name despite my mentor and critique partners insisting I change it. Their concern rested on the vast number of books and films with an identical title. Regardless of the similarities, I believe the name works because it hints at the novel’s legal setting and acts as a play on words that includes the sleuth’s last name. Character puns and repetition of this nature are common in cozy titles, so expect to see others in this series include the word “justice” and a nod to a larger theme.

What's in a name?

My main character, Victoria Justice, is the story’s moral compass, so I devised a name that would leave no doubt about her ethics. She will always do what is right, and she will always prevail against evil. Sure, the moniker is a little on the nose as are most of the names in the series. I think that’s the best way to help readers quickly acclimate to the setting and identify the conflict. Of course, there’s also some backstory to the name. In the sixth chapter, Victoria reveals that she’s adopted and that her birth mother was a teen hooked on drugs. Doctors had expected her to die from neonatal opioid addiction, but she survived and her adopted mother named her Victoria in honor of her victory over death.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

My teenage counterpart would be stunned by the release of Poetic Justice. I’m not one of those writers who has been working on manuscripts since they were twelve years old. This profession came about very late in life because, although the desire existed back then, I didn’t believe I could write compelling dialogue that moved the story forward. To be honest, that’s something I still struggle with to this day. Thankfully, I now realize that facing one’s fears is part of the long road to success.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

As mentioned earlier, I clearly saw the ending to Poetic Justice before I started writing. But even if that weren’t the case, the “begin with the end in mind” concept is key for any mystery writer— even those pantsers who don’t like to spend a lot of time plotting. Having a clear idea where you want the story to go, even if you don’t exactly know whodunit or whydunit, affords you an opportunity to reverse engineer the story by asking, “What clues do I need to provide in order for someone to solve the crime in the manner I’m envisioning?” I find it takes the headache out of creating an intricate mystery puzzle. Of course, that means I have to spend a lot more time tweaking the beginning to create the perfect setup, one that balances likeable characters with a compelling hook.

Do you see much of yourself in your lead character? Do she have any connection to your personality, or are you worlds apart?

All of my friends assume that Victoria Justice is my alter ego because I spent nearly ten years as a shorthand stenographer and because she’s a Black female like me. However, that’s really where the similarities end. If anything, we are polar opposites. Victoria loves her job and, despite the early childhood hardships of adoption and bullying, she is optimistic about working in the court system since that’s all she wants out of life. I, however, wasn’t a cheerful or disciplined court reporter because I knew my destiny lied elsewhere. I am much happier as a writer, but love that the time I spent in the steno world will be memorialized in this series. Other than that, any crossover audiences think they see between Victoria and me is merely coincidental.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Poetic Justice has a number of non-literary inspirations, but the timeliest reflection thereof is the story’s recreation of an event known as Return Day, a festival held the Thursday after Election Day to celebrate the announcement of the results. This tradition is unique to Delaware (where my story is set) and involves a parade that concludes with the candidates vowing to put aside their differences to engage in the ceremonial burying of the hatchet. Quite naturally, my murder mystery subverts this cozy tradition in unexpected ways, but with each book in the Victoria Justice series, I plan to introduce my readers to other unusual regional practices that add color and culture to their reading experience.
Visit Andrea J. Johnson's website.

My Book, The Movie: Poetic Justice.

The Page 69 Test: Poetic Justice.

--Marshal Zeringue