Today at Blame it on the Muse, I’m pleased to introduce Karen E. M. Johnston.

Karen, an award-winning British author, was born in Gibraltar, studied Business and International Marketing in the UK, and worked in advertising and marketing in London’s Covent Garden before moving to the US. She is widely published in children’s, parent, and business magazines. Karen also writes Women’s Fiction and Young Adult novels. She lives in Chantilly, Virginia, on the outskirts of Washington D.C. with her British husband and three American sons who have not the slightest trace of a British accent.

Karen’s debut children’s middle grade novel THE WITNESS TREE AND THE SHADOW OF THE NOOSE, a Civil War ghost mystery, came out in 2009.

The story is about Jake Salmon, whose family has moved to a creepy, cramped house in historic Manassas, on the outskirts of the famous Civil War battlefield. Outside his bedroom window stands an old oak tree where, by night, a street  lamp throws a shadow from the tree onto his closet door in the appearance of a hang-man’s noose. Late one night, Jake hears footsteps in the basement and is convinced there’s a killer hiding in his house. But when the previous homeowner confirms dangerous encounters with the ghost of Confederate soldier, Thomas Garnet, Jake, along with his friend Raj, and his younger brother Danny, sets out to uncover the mystery.

THE WITNESS TREE received fabulous reviews and well-deserved rewards. Her second children’s novel BIG BOYS DON’T SPY hit the shelves November 2010 with much acclaim, and her third novel THE PHANTOM ARMY will be released October 2012. 

SW: Thanks so much, Karen, for spending time with us today. I’ve read your first book, THE WITNESS TREE AND THE SHADOW OF THE NOOSE, and absolutely loved it. Now I’d love to hear about your current release BIG BOYS DON’T SPY.

To read more, come visit us at Blame it on the Muse or click here: 

KJ: BIG BOYS DON’T SPY is a humorous mystery about a sixth-grade boy obsessed with spying. Remember the injustice of being twelve, when five-year-old monsters were considered cute, no one cared about your opinion, and teenagers, like aliens from another planet, scared the pants off you? Welcome to Will Wand’s world.

Set in the Washington DC suburbs, with the CIA Headquarters around the corner, Will has his first assignment—to save the world, or at least to uncover the mole in his mother’s advertising company. Will strongly suspects his bossy, annoying cousin Penelope, visiting from the UK, is a double agent, and when he finds her diary written in code, he knows he’s onto something…but if I tell you any more, he’ll have to kill you.

SW: LOL. Then can you tell us a bit about your next release THE PHANTOM ARMY?

KJ: THE PHANTOM ARMY is my second Civil War Ghost Mystery.

Have you ever tried attacking your best friend with an 1860’s Civil War saber? Twelve-year-old Sam Nunn’s advice would be, don’t bother. It’s very long, weighs as much as a shovelful of wet snow, and is impossible to hit your mark. In his opinion, an egg whisk would be more effective and a zillion times more lethal. Sam knows this because he has landed a part in his school’s production of the Battle of Antietam, America’s bloodiest one-day battle, playing the Union General George McClellan. His best friend since kindergarten, Jae Min Kim, is A.P. Hill, a general for the South. For the first time ever, Sam and Jae Min are mortal enemies.

But falling props, a possessed sword and a backdrop that comes to life in the form of a ghostly platoon is jeopardizing the production with a ghostly finger pointing to Sam as the culprit. As Sam learns the facts of America’s bloodiest one-day battle, and meets the ghost of Lincoln’s son, his friendship and nerves are tested. One ghost, Sam could handle, but a phantom army? What do they want, and why now?

I know it’s odd, that a Brit over here should chose to write about the American Civil War, but I find the subject so interesting, but, as I said in a previous interview, being a Brit, my knowledge of the American Civil War was somewhat limited. My facts came straight from the script ofNorth and South and Gone with the Wind. If Rhett hadn’t said it, it wasn’t true.

So when my children covered the Civil War in their social studies class, I was very little help to them (although I could tell them what Rhett gave Mammy to drink to celebrate the birth of his daughter). Living a few miles away from historic Manassas and Antietam ( the settings for my Civil War mysteries), and dragging my boys out to the battlefield museums at every opportunity (open fields with carefully placed cannons—a boy’s heaven), I soon came to understand that there were two sides to Scarlet’s story—and she didn’t always tell the truth! I’d got the Civil War bug.

Oh, and the answer to the above question: Rhett gave Mammy rum.

SW: What is your caffeine of choice while you write? Tea or coffee?

KJ: I have a strict regime. I can’t do anything until I’ve had a cup of Twinning’s Earl Gray white, no sugar, then I have to have one or seven cups of coffee. I like Starbucks skimmed Grande served in a real mug. I hate those paper cups, don’t you?

SW: When at home, do you write at a desk? Or do you curl up on the couch?

KJ: It varies. Although I do have a cute desk in my ‘library’, more often than not you can find me in front of my laptop at the kitchen table.

SW: Have you ever left the house in jammies and told people it was your yoga outfit?

KJ: Not exactly. But when I take my boys to the bus stop in my car at six fifty-five a. m.  (Yawn is that really a time?) I frequently throw sweats over my jimmies, and I have been seen at CVS or Giant at this ungodly hour, a claim, I deny of course.

SW: What was your first manuscript?

KJ: Don’t  Forget Your Toothbrush, Dear. A novel, I hope to see on the shelves one day, but don’t hold your breath.

SW: What made you decide to write a novel?

KJ: I knew I wanted to do something that I could do at home with my little treasures around my ankles, so I gave it a go and the writing bug just got me.

SW: How long did it take you to write your first novel?

KJ: About nine months—including rewrites. Boy, that first novel seemed easy. I didn’t know any of the ‘rules’ back than. And I did secure an agent with this novel, I am proud to say (even though it didn’t actually sell)

SW: Current WIPs?

KJ: It takes about six months for my middle grade children’s novels, and about nine months and counting for my new endeavors—YA. Those teens can be very frustrating at times.

SW: In January, do you set up writing goals for the year?

KJ: Yes. I set them up. Our critique group makes me.

SW: Would you share a few of your 2012 goals?

KJ: I have a horrid feeling that by writing them here, I will have to keep them . . . but I will share a couple of goals.

           1. Finish this pesky young adult novel that is driving me mad. Teenagers can be a piece of work.

           2. Be nicer to my close friends and family. Take time for real people instead of the characters that I have created and who are permanently having a party in my head, and sometimes invite me too.

SW: Which writer is your greatest influence?

KJ: I would have to name two; Anne Tyler and Nick Hornby. I love both of these writers.

SW: What’s on your TBR pile?

KJ: Have you got all day? To try and keep it brief:  Ian McEwan: Saturday. Anne Tyler: Noah’s Compass, and the children’s book The Tide Changers by Sandy Green

SW: Do you have a favorite holiday book or movie?

KJ: I would have to say, the movie Love Actually. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched it, but I love it.

SW: What other genres of fiction do you read?

KJ: I like women’s fiction, literary fiction, and young adult.

SW: Can you name one (or more) book(s) that changed your life?

KJ: Life of Pi by Yann Martell. This book was so inspirational and made me think on so many different levels.

SW: Do you have any time management secrets you can share?

KJ: I treat my writing like a job and try to write every day from 9am to 1pm.

SW: And when she’s not writing or presenting writing workshops at local schools, she can be found on Facebook Karen E.M. Johnston, Twitter @kemjohnston and

Similar Posts