Up Close and Personal
#1 This is a really long blog post that began as a bio but ended up becoming a random mash-up of things that make me me, stylized the same way as my book reviews. #2 If you just want the straightforward how-did-you-become-a-writer part, then read until you come to "When I'm not reading and writing..." 'cause that's where it starts to get weird.
'Sup? I'm Grace, but you can call me Gracie. After writing my staid little bio (yeah, I wrote it), I've realized that there's so much more potential readers may want to know about me, so here's a more personal description of Grace A. Johnson for y'all.
I'm a teenage girl, born in the proverbial middle of nowhere in Georgia. (I'm actually only two hours from the beach, but you wouldn't think it for all the corn, pine trees, cotton, and blueberries that surround my house.) I have a whopping six younger siblings (full siblings, mind you, which, yes, my mom has to make a point of whenever we go to Walmart 😉), and adore them all...when they aren't screaming or wrestling or eating for the eightieth time, that is. My love affair with books all began when I memorized Tell Me the Christmas Story by Joni Walker at three years old. My mom would read to my sister and I every night, and, being a homeschool family, our house has always been full of books. Anyway...I went on to read The Girl with Green Hair, The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare, and my nana's Nancy Drew books at five multiple times, then the Left Behind series for kids nearly three times over when I was six/seven. I devoured any kind of book--but I really loved mysteries, fantasy, and end-times books, like The Chronicles of Narnia, Gilbert L. Morris's The Seven Sleepers series, and the Kingdom series by Chuck Black. As for writing...ha, ha, ha. My sister and I would play post office when I was, like, eight, and I would still scribble my message rather than writing English words like I should have. Don't get me wrong, I could write, but I hated it and my handwriting was, to say the least, crappy.
Then, one day, everything changed. I relied on the Christianbook magazine we got in the mail to lead me to the next best series or book, then I'd get it through Pines (Georgia's online library system). Well, I stumbled upon Melanie Dickerson's The Golden Braid in the magazine and placed a hold when I was ten- or eleven-ish. Needless to say, I fell headfirst in love. I'm not a Disney princess girl... (to be honest, I've only ever watched The Little Mermaid, Tangled, and Frozen--hasn't everyone?--and have finally read the summaries for the rest of the movies on Wikipedia within the last couple years. Yeah. I live under a rock--cut me some slack.) ...But, there was something about this Rapunzel retelling that captured me. Suddenly, the stories I told myself at night shifted from an ice cream shop's new flavors (I love ice cream, BTW) to my own medieval romances. Granted, my idea of romance at ages eight through ten were horribly askew--I'll save you the horror story--and my knowledge of, well, history and culture and princess-y things was seriously lacking. My characters ended up being named things like Jossalinda Lonesel (no kidding; made it up myself 🤨) and Jordan Melenese, and were captured by bad guys, thrust into revealing dresses, and saved by their previously-slighted prince fiance. (No. Seriously.) Of course, the more I read, the more that changed. After reading all I could of Melanie Dickerson, I picked up The Baron's Honourable Daughter, a decidedly more informative and adult novel, which introduced me to Regency-era England. Watching Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman introduced me to the Wild, Wild West. Reading Jody Hedlund took me to Victorian-era Michigan, which truly opened up a whole new world for me. (A world that was later dominated by a man by the name of Rhys Sterling, my personal version of Rhett Butler, who stole my heart two years ago when I finally watched and read Gone with the Wind. More about that later. 😉)
Ahem. Now, where was I? Ah, yes.
By this time, I had created a riot of stories and stored them all in a fashion-designing book. For real. I designed the clothes of my main heroine, gave her a name, and kept her story locked within the pages of my drawings. At the time, I wanted to focus on two things: reading and ballet. I could venture into the world of writing, which I sucked at (pardon my language), when I was at the ripe old age of 16.
Then one thing led to another.
An idea for a mystery book about my sister and I, when I was nine, led to a book about four thirteen-year-old female spies, which opened the door for my "Camp Love" series, which I plotted (as my only contemporary series) along with my medieval and Regency tales. "Camp Love" lasted two chapters before a new idea, "Finding Love on Horseback," flew into my funnel (and I quote Thomas the Train 😋). I got it into my head that I could start writing, and, six chapters later, I proved myself right.
Now, "Finding Love on Horseback" stinks. So does its successor, "The Lady's Knight," which I'm currently revamping for the third time.
My third story (coming in between a great deal of trial and error), "The Lady Pirate," has morphed into my debut novel, Held Captive, which was a hit! If I do say so meself...
However, before I fell in love with my first pirate novel, "Beyond the Inner Storm" took precedence. This story was inspired by Jody Hedlund's Beacons of Hope series and my love for lighthouses. It was my first completed manuscript at 43,330 words and 21 chapters. I hope to share it with y'all, and even though it will never be published, the characters live on in a new series and new stories which I will--one day--write.
The rest, as they say, is history. I'm now on book 3 of my series, Daughters of the Seven Seas, which includes Held Captive, Prisoner at Heart, and A Christmas to Remember--not to mention the all-new companion novella, The Gift of Her Heart: An Arlington Family Novella, which gives me a place to start a prequel series about the Arlington family...eventually.
When I not reading or writing, I'm...well...washing dishes, riding the four-wheeler, babysitting, or folding clothes. Oh, you mean leisure-wise? Yeah...about that...I'm not fashion designing anymore--although I do sketch and paint a wee bit--and I don't take ballet anymore, though that's not to say I wasn't good at it. 😉Instead, I sing--as in, in the shower, mind you--cook and bake; write 2,000-word-long book reviews; annoy my family to death with my incessant talking to myself (for real); growl at my sister's cats; daydream about the crush I haven't seen in over three months (thank, COVID); email really busy people all the time with random questions; take a couple college classes here and there; begrudgingly grow three kinds of peppers; try not to plan my future as a missionary mom of 8 (I've already picked out all the names, actually 😉); and practice my Bostonian accent. Ya know, it's naut awl tha' hard ta write in one, but tha toikin' is pretty difficult, it is.
Looking back, this is really up close and personal. Man. I was gonna tack this onto my bio, but this is a full-out blog post!
My favorite colors are sage green, dark brown, grey, and all shades of blue. Red's tolerable. Pink's for babies. Yellow is the color of the stupid smelly bus, you know. White is pure and fresh. Black is mysterious. I tend to lean toward the colors that look best with my complexion.
My favorite foods are chicken (as in fried, baked, grilled, etc.), thin cheese pizza, tacos/burritos and queso, ice cream, seafood of all kinds, donuts, and sweet tea. I'm liable to drink three glasses a day.
My favorite authors are--aside from God, of course--Julie Lessman, Roseanna M. White, Karen Witemeyer, Kristi Ann Hunter, Francine Rivers, Jody Hedlund, Marylu Tyndall, Frank Peretti, C. S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sara Ella, me, myself, and I (😆😋), and several, several more. You can definitely see how all of these authors and their works have affected my writing and left a serious mark. There are others--and I'll add more to the list as time goes on--but this is all for now.
My favorite singers/bands/musicians are Lifehouse, Relient K, Jeremy Camp, NEEDTOBREATHE, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, John Williams (as in Star Wars), Hans Zimmer (as in PotC), Red, Skillet, Hawk Nelson, Matthew West, Five for Fighting, Anthem Lights, Bill Conti and Survivor (as in Rocky), etc. Obviously, I like movie soundtracks, classical music, and basically any songs/artists from the late '90s to early 2000s--meaning, I'm not the biggest fan of either pop or Christian contemporary. I'm a rock girl. However, two of my all time favorite songs are "Letters From War" by Mark Shultz (makes me cry almost every time) and "You Raise Me Up" by Selah (out of the rest of the artists who sing it), and my favorite hymns are "In Christ Alone," "Come Thou Fount," "Victory In Jesus," and "How Great Thou Art."
My favorite movies are all of the Rocky franchise, Indiana Jones, and all but #4 of the Pirates of the Caribbean, and my favorite TV shows include I Love Lucy, The Andy Griffith Show, The Waltons, and When Calls the Heart. (I can't get over the historical/cultural inaccuracy, soap opera aura, and Hallmarkiness of the latter, but I still love it.)
If I could go back in time to any period I would go to the early 1900s and live through--seriously here--WWI and II and the Great Depression. Hard times, but some of the most beautiful. Our country was closer then than ever before. Not to mention, I like the clothes. Plus, you had modern conveniences in the big cities. (Meaning my papa still had an outhouse in the '60s.)
If I could live anywhere in the world I would live either at the beach (and this is coming from a girl who hates the heat) or in Scotland, the land of my ancestors.
Bit of trivia here for the history buffs...my mother is a direct descendant of Maximillian Wildes, who died in the Wildes Massacre in Georgia's Okefenokee swamp--the last Indian massacre in Georgia. And that's, yeah, about the most newsworthy thing I know about my family...ha, ha.
Hmm...anything else to say about my intriguing, multifaceted self?
Uh...I hate spiders. And snakes. And bugs in general. And tight spaces. And the things that lurk in the dark.
I would classify myself as eccentric. I love to talk--it's insane--but I do not like to socialize. Nothing against people, mind you. I'm just a home- and self-body. I'm book smart but impractical and weird. (As in, I have some very immature moments that you really don't want to witness.) I'm hardworking but detest menial labor--and, yes, that does play into my personality. I love learning but hate school. And math. And science. I'm oblivious but am also a master eavesdropper and all-around know-it-all and serious snoop. (I inherited that from my mom.) I don't like to spend money but find myself doing it anyway. My love language is...well, let's just say I'm great at giving gifts but bad at complimenting, love to hug but hate to be touched, would prefer to be left alone doing something for someone in secret, and like it when people simply understand that I'm a wee bit...shall we say, different.
I don't actually have a cut-and-dry testimony of salvation. I grew up (am growing up?) in the Baptist church and both my parents and their parents are strong Christians. I prayed the prayer at five or six, though I have always believed in God. Then I prayed the prayer again at seven or eight when I told my parents I wanted to be baptized. They believed I was saved, yes, but they wanted to wait. (My dad got saved at 17 and wasn't baptized until he was in his mid-forties...more on that later.) So...I continued to "pray the prayer" and read my Bible and go to church and Awana and VBS and Sunday School and tithe and all of that. I didn't watch bad movies/TV shows or listen to secular music or wear bikinis or read non-Christian books...so I guess you could say I ticked off all the boxes. Then, when I was 12, me, my sister, my brother, and my dad were all baptized--as in, all at once. It was really sweet. But, in the weeks leading up to our baptismal service, I was really, well, scared. That I wasn't saved. That I shouldn't be baptized. It wasn't until after--or at least right before--the baptism that I told my mother, and she really encouraged me.
So, yes, I don't have a testimony of salvation. But I've learned within the last year that I have a testimony of faith.
About this time last year, my mom and I started talking about dual enrollment for me during high school. Well, the more we talked about it and what classes I would take and what I'd do post-graduation, I started to realize that I wanted to teach. Now, what I really want, what I've desired for years, is to be a stay-at-home homeschool mom of 8 kids. (That would be, hopefully, insert husband's name here Junior, Mary Katherine "Kitty," Alexander Graves, Robert Clifford "Rocky," Liam Bryant, Hadassah Ann "Dassie," Emily Marguerite "Margo," and either Guinevere Paige "Gwen," Abby Jane, or Charlotte Narcissa "Lottie.") So the idea of teaching was more of a when-or-if-I-need-a-job-before-I-get-married-or-once-the-kids-move-out-or-what-have-you. Plus, I want to write, so... But that's when it hit me, like a pie in the face. I could teach English to kids in a third world country.
I could be a missionary.
Now, see, I do not want to leave the house, let alone the country to be a missionary, of all things. So I was one of those I-can-witness-to-the-people-in-my-community-and-raise-children-for-God's-army kind of people. Great people. Great idea. But the idea of starting a mission in another country to equip children with the Gospel, God's wisdom, and earthly knowledge nestled into my heart and still--after a year--won't let go. (Of course, I wouldn't go it alone. I'd take my husband along with me.)
Then it happened.
I don't talk about it--leastwise, not often.
I was at a water park, almost a year ago, with my family--plus the grandparents and cousins this go-round--when the perfect opportunity to witness to someone punched me in the face. Now, I've never had an opportunity to do that before. Most everyone I interact with is already saved--or, if they aren't, I don't know it--or family I'm praying for all the time, or strangers I wave at as I drive down the road. So...it was kind of foreign to me, to reach out to someone like that, knowing they needed what I had. I didn't realize it--or else was too afraid--until it was too late. Then, a week later, the pastor at our church preaches a sermon exactly on what I went through--on how almost isn't good enough. How saying "maybe later" or "I'm too busy" or "I can't" is the same as a blatant "NO!" in the face of God.
So, combine failure with the call to missions and a seemingly insurmountable amount of anxiety--plus my dad losing his job a month or so ago--and I've learned that it's not when or how you get saved that matters--it's how you live it out. And so my testimony isn't one of salvation, but one of faith. Of failing and falling and rising again, clinging to the only thing that's left. It's taking a lot, but I'm learning to be a little more like Isaiah, like David, like Peter and Paul. Like Jesus.
So, long story short, I'm a lot more interesting than I had originally thought. Wait. Nope. Still boring. And sarcastic. Well, I hope you enjoyed getting to know me, because I'm really not this open--or interesting--in person. 😉
PS: Book titles that aren't italicized are links to Goodreads.
(Originally published June 30th, 2020.)