This Post is About Subtlety

I’m a big fan of subtlety. I love paying attention to small details in a book (or movie or tv show), trying to piece together all of the breadcrumbs the author (or director) is leaving for the audience. It’s a great feeling to solve the mystery before the characters do — well, not if I solve it at the beginning of the book. Then I want to bang my head against the wall or chuck the book across the room because the characters are too stupid to figure it out. (I’m looking at you, Cassandra Clare.)

There are also hints that you don’t get until a second read through. A great example is from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. His first night at Hogwarts, Harry has a dream where Quirrel’s turban is telling him that he has to switch to Slytherin. On your first read, it just reads like an anxiety dream echoing the Sorting Hat’s insistence that Harry would do well in that house. On your second read, you’re like “OMG Quirrel’s turban! It’s Voldemort!” And then once you learn about the mental bond between Harry and Voldemort in Order of the Phoenix and horcruxes in Half Blood Prince, the dream takes on an entirely different tone.

Not bad for a short paragraph in the first book, eh?

Now, my writing group doesn’t seem to be as fond of subtlety as I am. For the whole first quarter of the book, every time Eustace holds something or touches something, I mention that he’s wearing gloves. It doesn’t matter if he’s riding, or eating, or reading a book — he always wears leather gloves. If this was a book I was reading instead of writing, I’d think “oh my god, he’s wearing gloves, I get it already. Stop mentioning them.”

But not a single person in my writing group noticed.

I’ve got another thread going that I doubt anyone’s picked up on. I’m using a certain phrase to note when Pennington’s just changed something. I got the idea from Princess Tutu, an anime that plays with some of the same elements that Narrator does. I’m sure my writing group would insist that it’s too subtle, but I know the phrase works because I picked up on it while watching the anime.

So do me a favor. Next time you’re reading a book, pay attention. Pay strict attention. If the author knows what she’s doing, she’s leaving breadcrumbs for you to follow — with the lightest touch or the smallest movement. If you read the end of Goblet of Fire and noticed Dumbledore’s smile of “triumph” when Harry told him what happened with Voldemort in the graveyard, you did just right.

If you didn’t…you weren’t reading carefully enough.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

7 Things You Might Not Know About Me

castle ruins
At some ruins my friends and I stumbled upon just outside Pisa.

I’m doing an unofficial blog hop with my friend, Jennifer Loizeaux, based on a Facebook meme. So without further ado, here are seven random facts about me that you’ve always wanted to know. Or something.

  1. All through high school and college, I hosted Harry Potter birthday parties. Not Harry Potter themed parties for my birthday. Actual birthday parties for our favorite Boy Who Lived, every July 31. We’d make butterbeer and cockroach clusters, have scavenger hunts and triwizard tournaments, and play all sorts of games. I made a version of Clue, complete with moving staircases; my brother invented two pretty awesome card games.
  2. By age 5, I was reading the American Girl chapter books. By age 9, I was reading James Michener’s Chesapeake. Now, at age 27, I’m basically camped out at the young adult bookshelves.
  3. In ninth grade, I won first place at the science fair for the biology division. My project was trying to figure out if you could determine a horse’s genetics for coat color by looking at their offspring. Turns out you can, sometimes, but usually not.
  4. I have five copies of Hamlet. The original, a modern adaptation novel, a manga, a graphic novel, and the David Tennant/Patrick Stewart film adaptation. What can I say? I love him. (Oh, and I wrote a monologue for Ophelia in my college Shakespeare class. Maybe I can dig up a copy…) Edit: I stand corrected, I also have a choose your own adventure Hamlet. So six copies, then.
  5. For the past few years I’ve been slightly obsessed with the Titanic. I’ve been reading books, watching documentaries, listening to music that the infamous band would have played. National Geographic in DC had an exhibit when I worked just down the street, but it couldn’t compare with the Franklin Institute’s exhibit in Philadelphia. I even have a book planned that will take place on the Titanic. Get excited.
  6. I’ve loved archery since my first lesson in Girl Scouts. I joined the archery club at UVA (which sort of exploded in membership with the Hunger Games). I have a traditional longbow — and I mean traditional. There’s no shelf to rest the arrow, no bead on the string to consistently nock the arrow. It’s basically the best.
  7. I have a dream series, since I don’t know what else to call it, where I’m back in high school trying to find my classes and remember my homework and all that nonsense. It doesn’t repeat, I just dip back in a few days or weeks later. I haven’t been to my French class since the beginning of the school year, and I’m failing, so I’ve just been avoiding it every day by going to the library. I’m pretty sure I have a major calculus project due soon, so I’ll probably start avoiding that class as well.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Book Magic Series: The Chamber of Secrets


If you’re one of the few people who has neither read nor seen the Harry Potter series, let me briefly sum up the mystery of Tom Riddle’s diary, as featured in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. After all of his books are doused with ink, Harry notices that Riddle’s diary is spotless. He tests this phenomenon by writing “My name is Harry Potter” — and the diary absorbs the ink and writes in reply, “Hello Harry Potter. My name is Tom Riddle. How did you come by my diary?”

Naturally, Harry continues talking with Tom Riddle, and asks if Riddle knew anything about the Chamber of Secrets opening before. Riddle offers to show him what he knows, and sucks Harry into the diary. Harry is able to observe Riddle’s memories as if he were a ghost — no one can see or hear him, and he can’t affect anything.

Spoiler alert: this is all possible because the book contains a piece of Voldemort’s soul.

Now, the books in Narrator don’t contain people’s souls. Don’t get me wrong, souls are involved. It’s just not a requirement for the book magic to exist.

Arianna’s conversation with the Author is similar to Harry’s with Tom Riddle, with a few key differences. Riddle is able to write his own words, but the Author must use Arianna. He is able to compel her to write his half of the conversation, and in such a way that she cannot stop mid-sentence, even if she wanted to. The Author could communicate with her through any written method, but he has his reasons for choosing to use her diary.

This is different from earlier drafts, where I had her talk to him in person. There was a point in the forest where the world just sort of…stopped, like a cliff’s edge. And when the book was open she could speak to the Author. But I wasn’t thrilled with that dynamic, so I came up with the idea that the Author is able to communicate with Arianna through her diary, similar to how an author’s characters can surprise her as she writes by saying things she never would have expected.

That might sound weird to non-authors, but trust me. That sort of thing happens all the time.

As for traveling into books, when my characters get pulled into a book, they become part of the “story.” It doesn’t matter if the book is fiction, non-fiction, or a diary. They can interact with the book characters, and even change the course of the story — to a certain extent.

For example, if Calder went into Chamber of Secrets he would no doubt help Harry solve the mystery of the Chamber. The final battle might even go differently. But it would still be Harry who killed the basilisk and destroyed the horcrux.

Fate can be defied, but at a heavy price.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Spineless Classics

During my trip to the UK last year, I discovered a fantastic way to publish a book: as a poster.

Harry-Potter-and-the-Philosopher-s-Stone-_679090_h500Spineless Classics creates posters from the full text of a novel. Yes, that is the full text, in 4 pt font. You have to get close to read it, but it is legible. It’s not even difficult to navigate the white space. I’m not saying you should stand in your living room to read the whole thing in one…standing, but you totally could!

I already have this Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone one, but I’m thinking of getting another — or two! I love how they’ve combined text and white space to create a beautiful version of our favorite books.

Right now they have over 70 books available, from Austen and Dickens to Roald Dahl and L. Frank Baum. They can get expensive, especially with your longer books like War and Peace, but you can still enjoy the designs for free by browsing their site!

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

The “Saving People Thing”

When planning my Beauty and the Beast story, I was thinking about fatal flaws for my characters. For inspiration, I checked out what TVtropes had to say on the subject. And I realized that most of my main characters share a fatal flaw: personal loyalty.

Or, as Hermione calls it, a “saving people thing.” Harry would go to any lengths to save his friends, even if it meant not saving the world. He gets in massive trouble in Order of the Phoenix, when Voldemort takes advantage of his “saving people thing” to lure him to the Ministry of Magic. And, spoiler alert, Sirius dies for it.

The flaw of personal loyalty must really speak to me, because I never realized that this was a trait my characters shared. My Beauty and the Beast character would do anything for her friends. My suspense protagonist would do anything for her sister.

But this trait is closest to an actual flaw in the main character of my upcoming novel, The Narrator. Prince Calder has a “saving people thing,” same as Harry. He’ll move the world to save his friends. But he also fights to save anyone in trouble, from princesses to minstrels.

And, of course, the narrator is able to manipulate him as easily as Voldemort manipulated Harry.

Yeah. You should be nervous.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Rowling Ruins Ron’s Romance


I’m all for JK Rowling revealing information about the Harry Potter series. I like seeing all the bits that weren’t specifically mentioned in the books, like Dumbledore being gay or Neville arguing with the Sorting Hat that he belonged in Hufflepuff instead of Gryffindor.

But now she’s crossed a line.

In a recent interview, Rowling admitted that “I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfilment. That’s how it was conceived, really. For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron.” She then said that Hermione should have ended up with Harry.

Talk about your bombshells.

How is this different, you ask? Because this information isn’t a detail that never made it into the books. It’s Rowling saying that she should have written the books differently.

I don’t care that distance has given her perspective. She wrote the books, she published the books, the canon is set. She can’t turn around years later and say “whoops, sorry guys, I should have written that major plotline completely different.”

Well, JK. You didn’t. You wrote it the way you did, you don’t get to call backsies.

I’m not going to defend the Ron/Hermione ship I’ve crewed the past sixteen years. I’m not going to argue that Hermione and Ron’s relationship is credible. I’m not even going to ask how Ginny fits into all of this.

All I’m going to say, dearest reader, is that I promise not to do the same. I won’t let you fall in love with my books and then come back years later and say “whoops, sorry guys, my bad.”

That’s a line I won’t cross.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

At Least Stab Me in the Front


I love a good betrayal. It’s so…delicious.

Done right, it’s a shocking revelation. The heroes are devastated by their misplaced trust. The villain becomes bigger, badder, stronger. And everything changes.

A perfect example: Peter Pettigrew. (Yes, this is Harry Potter, I cite Harry Potter a lot.)

He turns over his best friends to Voldemort. People he grew up with, shared secrets with, got into trouble with. He sent them and their son to their deaths, because his master was the baddest kid on the playground. Even better, he framed his other best friend for that betrayal.

Well played, you rat. Well played.

Another good example is from Tangled, when Rapunzel realizes Mother Gothel kidnapped her.

She’s spent eighteen years living a lie. She thought her mother loved her, wanted to protect her from people who would use her magical healing hair — never knowing that’s exactly what her “mother” was doing. Worse, she is willing to keep up the charade to save the man she loves. That’s sacrifice right there (but that’s another theme for another post).

Luckily, I haven’t suffered any heart-wrenching betrayals yet. I hope I never have to. Little betrayals are hard enough — when you think someone will stick up for you, but throws you under the bus; when you thought you were friends with people but actually weren’t; or when you trust someone and they just plain let you down.

How do you feel about betrayals? Love them? Hate them? Wish they would turn themselves in for a reward?

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.