Recently, we here at Tellest had the good fortune of promoting a new series debut from the very talented Bettina M. Johnson. Well, consider us very wealthy indeed, because on top of the feature, we also had the opportunity to speak with Johnson about everything from her inspirations to the secrets of her success. Read on to discover someone who just might become your new favorite author.
Tellest: Hello Bettina! Just looking at your catalog, I can see that an absolute ton of your time goes into writing and publishing your many books. I appreciate you sneaking some of that time away to talk to me about just what kind of things are important in your day-to-day life, and what it means to you to get your stories out into the world. I’m excited to help more people learn more about you and find their new favorite author!
Bettina M. Johnson: Thank you, Mike. Yes…I write full time and do so quickly. It’s not unheard of for me to write 10K in two days.
T: Whoa! Speaking as someone who is knee-deep in NaNoWriMo this year, I can say that I sometimes have difficulty breaking sixteen hundred words in a day, and there’s at least one day I slipped up this month already. What kind of magic coffee do you end up drinking to give you that kind of mental energy? I jest, but maybe there are some sorts of tips you could send my way that I could apply to reaching a decent word count each day.
BMJ: I treat it as my full-time job and discipline myself to start early and keep writing until I’m done for the day. One of my novellas…. A Djinn and Tonic, I wrote in three days. 30K. I don’t suggest it be done all the time, but as a mental task and training to see if it can be done? Yeah. Then I give myself plenty of time to recuperate from such a grueling schedule. When you break it down, I make those days my 8 hour days. If I shoot for 2000 an hour I’m ahead of the game. But if I plan on writing for 8 hours, I find it easy.
T: I know that you’ve enjoyed storytelling since you were quite young, creating tales in your mind to pass the time and stave off boredom whenever it came creeping in. What do you think inspired those moments of inspiration? Were there any storytellers in your family that you believe you may have inherited the skill from? Did you have any favorite authors who were setting off sparks in your mind?
BMJ: My mom was a voracious reader, and she would often read to us and leave off at the “good part.” I am rather impatient, so I learned to read by four just to be able to finish the story. By the time I was six, I pretty much read all the classics, Black Beauty, Little Women, A Christmas Carol, Charlotte’s Web…I was up to four books a month before I hit my teen years! Sometimes I didn’t like the way a story ended, so my mind would create alternative endings…I didn’t realize I was “writing” back then, but that’s exactly what my mind was doing. I would have to say, as a child, the authors who sparked my creativity had to be Agatha Christie and Edgar Allan Poe. Seriously. I read all their works while in middle school.
T: You’ve got children of your own. Has the process kind of come full circle? Did you end up reading to your kids as they were growing up, and are they as insatiable as you and your mother were with stories? Are you bringing up new scribes in your family?
BMJ: My husband did the reading duties. It was something he was passionate about because he was out at work all day and wanted that ritual at night for our children. But I did from time to time since I homeschooled all three.
T: With such a huge catalog of books you’ve written, there are plenty of things we could talk about. Your newest book is Siren Rise, the first book in your Secret Sirens series. You’ve already written witchy mysteries about many other magical beings. How did sirens become your newest fascination? Were these stories always in your head and you just needed the opportunity to bring them to life around all your other releases?
BMJ: It’s a light departure for me, Siren Rise. I went from paranormal mystery to paranormal romance…a bit steamy…but still would consider the tale a mystery, as the plot is unfolding with answers that won’t come out until books two, three and beyond.
This tale has been ruminating around my mind for years. I didn’t want to tackle it or let the characters come out to play until I had a few cozy mysteries under my belt. I felt it was time when I couldn’t sleep well due to the storyline writing itself while I was drifting off to sleep—it’s very difficult to enter the Land of Nod when you have to get up to pen those few lines before they are lost forever!
T: With Siren Rise, you’ve moved on from witches to sirens, as the name suggests. Are there any other obscure paranormal or mythological creatures that you’re toying with in the future?
BMJ: Crossroad demons… I have a character named Pandora who is one. My Fortune-Telling Twins series has a bunch of different paranormal beings in it: vampires, demons, shifters, etc. I’m dabbling with the idea of a revenant for the series I have in development.
T: Your catalog is huge. But even more impressive than that, you’ve written all of them within only the last eighteen months or so. You’re a quick writer, your books are not slim, and they’re all very well-received. What do you think are the secrets to your success?
BMJ: I came late to this career. I do many things in life this way. It took me thirty years to get my BA in History! Life experience. I chalk off my success to life experience. Every one of my books has a grain of truth or a bit of me and things I’ve seen, done or heard about with people I’ve bumped into or decided to turn into fictional characters. My husband’s cousin is convinced she’s one of my characters…but I’ll never tell!
I’ve always written ridiculously fast and now it’s nothing for me to write a novel in a week. That is not to say it is an easy process, because sometimes my characters refuse to speak to me, and I flounder. I never promise a book early, even though I can write them so rapidly, just in case the “voices” stop, and I need to wait for inspiration to hit.
My books ARE well received, and for that I am grateful! I think my readers can relate to my characters, even though I write the paranormal, because they ARE based on that grain of truth…so they become authentic. Plus, I love what I do. I love my tales and the characters. I anticipate each and every new book and have to remind myself to come out of my cave once and a while and give the writing a break! Perhaps it shows in my work.
T: When you began work on your earlier series, were they always intended to be the longer sets that they are? Or did you write, say, a trilogy, and then determine there was more to tell, and keep things going. To put it another way, you’ve got three books currently planned in the Secret Sirens series, but is there a possibility of getting more out of the stories? Is it in the nature of mystery books that there’s always room to find more to explore?
BMJ: I know my endings before I start writing. I know where I want them to go and how I want them to conclude. The Lily Sweet Mysteries and Fortune-Telling Twins series will go on until my fans shout, “enough!” Secret Sirens is slated for three for Tarni’s story. If they are well received, I may do stories based on the other sisters, specifically Kimberly…or do more on Tarni…but away from this timeline or story set. Siren Rise, Siren Star and Siren Fall are definitely a trilogy. That’s the only one I planned this way. The rest I always intended to be series. I have two more series in the works…one about a ghost-hunter names Samantha Geist, another paranormal mystery…and one that might fall into fantasy romance. It certainly has all the elements of high fantasy but remains firmly in the romance category.
T: This is just a curiosity from me, but have you ever had even more obscure characters who you’ve considered promoting into more of a starring role? The guy at the coffee shop humming to himself while he reads the paper, or the girl going for a job in the morning while the main character exits their house?
BMJ: As mentioned above…Pandora. She is a riot. A crossroads demon with a heart but gets into all manner of situations and usually drags my poor, long-suffering MC along for the ride. She will become a permanent fixture in the Fortune-Telling Twins series crossing over from the Lily Sweet series.
T: You’ve currently got eight books in the Lily Sweet Mysteries series, with the ninth on the way. How does it feel going from someone who once had difficulties getting their first book finished to having this empire of fantasy that has found a huge following of dedicated fans?
BMJ: I pinch myself constantly! There are mornings I get up and all I do is stare at my website…look at my Amazon Author Page…stare at my computer screen whose background is all my books lined up in rows…and just gawk! That’s me! Those are my babies! It’s surreal. What is even more rewarding is getting emails from my readers and hearing about how much they enjoy my tales. That has to be akin to what rock stars and actors feel when fans are screaming at them up on stage…at least it is to ME! I just had a reader reach out to me with a few vegetable-based recipes because I mentioned in my newsletter I wanted to switch it up a bit and make meat the side dish…eat healthier. She sent me an email with recipes. How awesome is she? And how neat is that? I spent the rest of the day acting like a celebrity with peeps! Imagine me…with readers who would take the time out of their day to thank me, send me recipes, send words of encouragement, etc. Seriously heady stuff there!
T: Do your stories all exist within the same world? Could the Fortune sisters in theory run into Lily Sweet out in the wild?
BMJ: Indeed. It all started with Lily Sweet. Her cousins Maggie and Ellie Fortune came to visit…and bam! Fortune-Telling Twins. Tarni Vanderzee is the siren who showed up in Lily’s tale but now has her own series. Samantha Geist just made an appearance in both the Lily Sweet Mysteries and the Fortune-Telling Twins Mysteries. I have a character called Pandora. She is a wacky and wonderful crossroads demon and is in Lily Sweet…but crossed to Fortune-Telling Twins and I think will become a permanent character there (unless I give her a series of her own!) So yes. They are all connected. I don’t know if this will continue in the future…but it just might.
T: You mentioned Pandora, and that gives us the opportunity to talk about another new series of sorts for you. Recently, Amazon started allowing authors to use the Kindle Vella platform, and essentially write serialized short-form content that readers would be able to digest in episodic bites. Pandora is one of those stories. Now, you’re already writing so incredibly fast that it may not feel as though much has changed. But what kinds of things have you noticed that are different on that platform?
BMJ: I’m actually not very impressed with KindleVella. It appears to me to be major authors pushing ahead of the little guys, as usual, and Amazon’s algorithm rewards them…and the rest of us go unnoticed. Maybe it’s because I haven’t pushed it per se.
T: What are some tips you could offer for storytellers who want to try to follow in your footsteps? What made writing more accessible for you, or gave you the kick that you needed to really put yourself in gear to write to the great lengths that you have?
BMJ: That one is going to be difficult. You see, the catalyst for me entering the world of writing happened because I lost my mother. She died in 2019 after a nasty bought of pneumonia. She was my muse as a child, the one—as mentioned—who sparked my love of reading. We often shared cozy mysteries and would lament over story plots or characters we loved. I always told her I’d write someday, and she responded with, “even if no one reads them, I will. But I think you will have no end of readership!” Yet, still, I put it off. Then she died. I picked my pen up (actually dusted off my computer keys) eight months after she died when it dawned on me she wouldn’t be here to read them now…and what the heck was I waiting for? I hope she is cheering me on, however, and write each book FOR her.
T: That is a lovely sentiment, and I’m sure she is ecstatic about what you’ve written not only for her, but for other people as well. Your stories are probably changing hundreds, if not thousands, of lives at this point. And as you mentioned earlier, in some ways, it’s coming back around—you’re learning new recipes, after all!
BMJ: I certainly try to write something I know she’d enjoy reading…but also update them for today’s market. One of my inspirations is the late author Joan Hess. That woman could write humorous cozy mysteries like nobody’s business. If I can be half as good as her, I am ahead of the game. Mom hooked me onto her books.
T: Marketing is its own special challenge among writers. What successes have you found along the way. Were there any promoters or websites that seemed to help more than others? Did you find that “boxed sets” helped to drive sales or brought in a new audience?
BMJ: Marketing is a weird animal. Certainly, doing interviews, such as yours, does wonders for getting the word out. The BEST marketing, however, has to be word of mouth from readers. They make or break an author and that is why I am so very grateful to mine and celebrate with every new positive review or 5-stars I see. I’m finding social media to be less so. They are flooded with authors all trying to do the same thing. I am hoping something is coming up the pike that will put authors in front of insatiable readers, almost like what Goodreads tried (and failed) to be, but more interactive. I know there are readers out there that want interaction with authors, because I am one of them! I would love a platform to discover books, authors and other readers and it be a thriving place where people go to “hang” out and discuss and discover together!
T: What kinds of things do you find inspiration in these days? With as much story content as you’ve put out into the world, are you inspiring yourself more than outside events could?
BMJ: With outside events the way they are at the moment, I have become a happy little hermit crab and remain on my farm, writing. That said, I get my inspiration from the weirdest sources. Relatives, friends, and acquaintances…things that happened to me or people I knew in the past, etc. But mostly my mind just starts weaving these tales and I’m not quite sure where it’s all coming from! (Other than I have quite a lot of weird things running amok in my head!)
T: If a reader wanted to learn more about you, where could they find you on the internet?
BMJ: My website: www.bettinamjohnson.net and I’m on Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter. I’d have to say, out of all of them, I really enjoy TikTok because I can see and hear from people who reach out. Although Facebook has that ability. I have a Team Wicked group on Facebook where some of my readers hang out and get exclusive content form me: https://www.facebook.com/groups/616854662258298
T: Bettina, I wanted to thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me while I know you could be cranking out another book in the time that we’ve been chatting. I’m hopeful that more people can learn more about you from this interview and see the passion that you have for your stories.
BMJ: Thanks Mike. I come up for air every once in a while, and enjoyed taking the time to answer your questions!
T: For good measure, I’d like to thank Bettina M. Johnson for the opportunity to conduct this interview with her. She was as enthusiastic throughout the process as she is in her writing. I’m excited to see where her devotion to her stories take her, and I’m we’re barely scratching the surface of what she’s capable of. We here at Tellest will keep an eye on Johnson’s stories and announce whenever new projects are released. In the meantime, be sure to check out Siren Rise: A Secret Sirens Paranormal Romance – Book 1 on Amazon today!
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