AGS Johnson author of The Sausage Maker’s Daughters is on the blog today. I was going to send over some questions but the publicist company interviewed her and I thought for some variety you’d all enjoy a bit of a different kind of interview.
Be sure to check out yesterdays post for the review and giveaway. This book was an outstanding and entertaining read, one I know the winner will enjoy.
Q&A with AGS Johnson, author of The Sausage Maker’s Daughters
Your debut novel The Sausage Maker’s Daughters has been called ”spell-binding courtroom storytelling at its very best.” For those who haven’t had the pleasure of reading it yet, what’s the book about?
Answer: The story follows a young woman who reluctantly returns to her small hometown only to become embroiled in a murder mystery that results in a courtroom drama exposing her entire counterculture life before the crowded courtroom, right along with the darkest secrets of her self-obsessed family. That’s the story in brief. What the book is about, now that’s a longer answer!
The book was 12 years in the making, and the impeccable details and believable plotline is proof of the amount of work put into it. What kind of research did you have to do?
Answer: Almost every kind. Though I lived through this period a bit behind the curve of the story’s timing, I had to go back to check what the clothing and hair styles were, what music was popular and exactly when, what the political climate that spawned the counterculture was like, the actual history of the radical campus at UW Madison as well as the entire counterculture movement, how a criminal trial plays out and many points of law, Catholic schools in the Fifties. Have I missed anything?
You grew up in a Midwestern family of five girls and no boys, and therefore decided to embark on a career in the corporate world so you could explore why men were treated differently than women. What did you find, and how did this influence your writing?
Answer: I was entering the workforce just as feminism was seeping into the mainstream in this country, Gloria Steinem, Ms. Magazine, which it influenced me no question. But it was when my dad came home every night and the atmosphere in our home changed precipitously, that sparked my curiousity originally. Of course, no big surprises in what I found: money is both power and independence, and s/he who has it, rules the roost, or at least him- or her- self. How it has affected my writing is quite surprising, even to me. The institutionalized sexism that we grew up with seems to be everywhere in my writing: the Catholic church, the home, the working world, schooling, norms and assumptions.
Though you worked in the corporate world, you’ve always wanted to be a writer. What made you finally follow your dream?
Answer: As Dad said, ”Timing is everything,” I quote from an unused prologue that became an epilogue to the novel before I just cut it. I frankly lost interest in my career, partly because it was going nowhere, and partly because of the hierarchial structure that seemed to encourage a gamesmanship I simply could not relate to. It bored me. And my living situation changed – I moved to L.A., I married, and the opportunity to try to realize a dream was dumped into my lap. And I grabbed it. I sat down and churned out a novel in six months and only when I went out into the world with it did I realize how little I knew about the business of writing and publishing. Thus my return to USC for my Masters.
How did you create Kip Czermanski’s character? She seems so real.
Answer: Thank you but Kip Czermanski seemed to create herself in a way. I was awakened by a voice in the middle of the night that I leapt from bed to record, a voice so brash and cocky, it clearly had to be compensating for something. It intrigued me for months, maybe years, before my first fiction-writing class at USC. When I began that program, I decided to put aside my first novel to see if that voice could be developed into another one. And twelve short years later, voila!
Early reviewers of the book said your writing made them feel they were discovering a young John Grisham. Are you a fan of his? Which other authors do you enjoy?
Answer: I’ve enjoyed Grisham, like Clancy, and his way of grabbing you and not letting go. I’m a very eclectic reader though, no one genre, no one author. I’ve loved Herman Wouk, who for me demonstrated a sort of unconditional loving of each character, flaws and all, which is almost God-like. Michner’s Hawaii is the first fat book I read, absorbed really, in my early teens that wasn’t required reading in school, and it demonstrated that same quality – a non-judgmental acceptance of human flaws. I love the integrity of Kingsolver’s works, the foreign and feminine worlds of Lisa See, most historical fiction, and I also love a good biography that does what good historical fiction does: brings a time and place to life through one person’s life. I’m thinking Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of the Roosevelts for one. Beryl Markham’s memoir, West with the Night, inspired me way back when, as did the novels of Ayn Rand even earlier. I also love Dan Brown for his spiritual questing. And I love new-age physics, when I can understand it.
You are a founding board member of The World is Just a Book Away. What does this charity do?
Answer: I’m also on the board of the Council of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, so books and libraries and reading and being carried through time and space to unimagined places is my ”thing,” I guess. Since books so inspired me, how could it not be? To answer your question: The World is Just a Book Away is a young but quite successful charity that builds libraries for children in developing countries. In just a few years, it’s built nearly 50 libraries in two devastated areas of Indonesia. Honestly, the film clips of these beautiful Muslim children, the girls with their hair covered, waving American flags at these libraries’ openings and rushing to get inside, moves me to tears. That’s why a portion of the proceeds from my novel will go to fund this continuing effort to bring the inspiration of books to all children in the world. Books change lives.
You are currently working on your second book. Can you give us a sneak peek?
Answer: My second novel, which as I explained was actually written before The Sausage Maker’s Daughters, is a medical murder mystery based upon a true story of a doctor who was murdered some years back to keep his discoveries from coming to light, and they never have fully come to light to this day. I can’t wait to get back to it! A young woman inadvertantly discovers that her father’s untimely death might actually have been a murder, long covered up by even those closest to her. The odyssey of her search for the truth reveals not just her father’s medical discoveries, but the fact that her own life may be in jeopardy the closer to that truth she comes. It’s also very much the personal journey of a woman finding her strength in a world she has shrunk from previously.