Welcome Johnnie Alexander to the blog today! She's here to talk about her new novel, Where She Belongs. Here's the beautiful cover of her book:
Where She Belongs is a delightful story of broken hearts, family rivalries, history and hope. Most of all, it's a story that illustrates the Bible verse of Psalm 31:8. See the meme below for a clue:
I enjoyed asking Johnnie questions about Where She Belongs. I hope that you will enjoy reading her answers.
God bless you!
*Questions from Alexis are in bold, answers from Johnnie are not in bold
Alexis: When we meet your heroine Shelby, she’s ready to move on from her grief. What’s her backstory?
Johnnie: Shelby’s husband, a Chicago police officer, was killed in the line of duty about a year before the story begins. But living in a big city was her husband’s dream, not Shelby’s. Now she’s raising her two young daughters on her own and eager to move back to her childhood roots.
What is the significance of Shelby’s desire to purchase her family’s “ancestral homestead” and how does it relate to the story’s plot?
Shelby’s ancestors have lived at the Misty Willow homestead for generations. As a girl, she spent summers and holidays there with her grandparents and expected to inherit the property someday. But the house was taken by her grandfather’s rival. It’s been abandoned ever since, and Shelby’s determined to get it back. She wants her daughters to experience the same golden childhood she did.
Why does Shelby feel like her family’s homestead is the only place that she ever really “belonged”?
Shelby was devastated when her grandparents died shortly after losing their home. While she was still grieving, her parents moved to a mission in Mozambique. Fourteen-year-old Shelby didn’t fit in there, nor did she fit in with U.S. culture when she returned to the states for college a few years later. All she can think about is going home.
Describe Shelby’s character flaw, inner journey, and deepest desire. What motivates her behavior?
Shelby’s deepest desire is to restore her grandparents’ house into the place she remembers and to give treasured memories to her daughters. As the story unfolds, Shelby learns her grandparents’ most valuable legacy wasn’t the property she loves so much, but their godly influence in the community. It’s not the place, but the people that matter.
AJ Sullivan is your hero. Describe his character flaw, inner journey and what (or who) makes his heart melt.
AJ inherited the property from his grandfather but he never wanted it. He’s content teaching high school students and coaching football. Because of his past, he doesn’t believe he can ever be the husband and father he wants to be. That legacy doesn’t run in his family.
What is it about Shelby that makes her stay on the forefront of AJ’s mind?
AJ memorized Shelby’s letter asking him to sell her the property. He’s envious of her strong connection to her grandfather, especially since his own grandfather cared more about power and money than family. From the first time he sees Shelby, he’s smitten with her—and he’s crazy about her two little girls.
Why did AJ inherit the Kincaid homestead as a “punishment”? What happened in his life that made him neglect the homestead for 15 years?
I can’t tell you AJ’s secret—that would be a spoiler. But it caused trouble between AJ and his grandfather, Sully. AJ angered Sully even more when he dropped out of law school. Always one to hold a grudge, Sully left his business and money to AJ’s cousins, and Misty Willow to AJ. The house had already been empty for a few years, and AJ left it that way.
Misty Willow, the setting for your story, sounds like a whimsical and beautiful place to live. What was your inspiration for this story setting? How did you make up the name? What is your favorite feature about Misty Willow?
I lived in a huge brick 19th-century house in a rural area of central Ohio when I was a teen. It’s the inspiration behind Misty Willow. I just gave the farm, the creek, and the county different names.
We lived in a different house when I was in elementary school. A beautiful weeping willow tree grew near the road. I loved climbing that tree. So I “moved” it to my fictional farm.
My mom helped me come up with the name, and I created a backstory for it. You can read Misty Willow: A Family Tree on Natalie Monk’s blog.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing Where She Belongs? What was the most rewarding?
Shelby and AJ’s relationship is deeply affected by events that occurred before they were even born. I needed to weave in their grandparents’ history without bogging down the modern-day story. That was a challenge.
The most rewarding aspect was including a few of my own childhood memories in the story. For example, we had a stone fire ring where we roasted hot dogs on autumn evenings. AJ builds a fire ring for Shelby at Misty Willow.
What is the moral of the story?
God sets our feet in a spacious place (Psalm 31:8).
What’s the take-home message of Where She Belongs? What do you want readers to remember the most?
Create treasured memories for those you love.
Complete these two sentences: When I began writing Where She Belongs, I wanted to _________________________. But after I finished the story, I ________________________________.
When I began writing Where She Belongs, I wanted to go back to my family’s old home because I loved living there. But after I finished the story, I could let that dream go. Memorializing the house in fictional story is enough.
Thanks for the interview, Johnnie!
Johnnie Alexander writes inspiring stories that linger in the heart. Where Treasure Hides, her debut novel, won the ACFW Genesis Contest (2011) and Golden Leaf Award (2014). Her first contemporary romance, Where She Belongs (Misty Willow Series; Revell), and her first novella, The Healing Promise (Courageous Bride Collection; Barbour), release in 2016.
She also has won Best Novel and Best Writer awards (Florida Christian Writers Conferences), and Bronze Medalist (My Book Therapy Frasier Contest). She volunteers as a category coordinator for the ACFW Genesis Contest, judges various contests, and serves as marketing director for the MidSouth Christian Writers Conference.
A graduate of Rollins College (Orlando) with a Master of Liberal Studies degree, Johnnie treasures family memories, classic movies, road trips, and stacks of books. She lives in the Memphis area with a small herd of alpacas and Rugby, the princely papillon who trees raccoons.
Connect with Johnnie:
Blog ~ Facebook Profile (Friend or Follow!) ~ Facebook Author Page ~ GoodReads ~ Twitter ~ Amazon Author Page