Author Interview: Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson on Dumb Love

Dumb Love by Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson (Roaring Brook, 2005). From the catalog copy: “What’s funnier than True Love? Dumb Love, that’s what. In the tiny town of Brewerton, the minister needs an assistant for his advice column, someone with a sympathetic, open heart and a confidential, closed mouth. Who better, Carlotta decides, than a Love Expert like herself? In fact, once Pete, her soon-to-be boyfriend—he just doesn’t know it yet—gets a look at her, she’ll be the syrup on his pancake, the cream in his coffee, the crab cake at his clambake! All she has to do is get rid of her competition: Bernice, Andrea…and Fate.”

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

Dumb Love was originally conceived as a serious, perhaps grim, story of a teenage girl’s relationship with an older, “wild” mountain man. I could see them both so clearly! There was to be sadness and tragedy and fate and an illegitimate baby and . . . and . . .What was I thinking?????? Fortunately, by the time I actually got around to writing it, I was so exhausted from finishing my previous book, A Fast and Brutal Wing (Roaring Brook, 2004), that just considering my aforementioned plot elements made me all but pass out. Crawling across the floor to my computer, I managed to punch DELETE before pitching over in a dead faint to the ground.

What I needed—and wanted—was something fun and light, both to shake off the seriousness of A Fast and Brutal Wing, and to shake some of that same gloom out of myself. (Though I hasten to add the FABW has some funny stuff in it, too.) The only thing that remained from my original notion of Dumb Love was the mountain setting.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

The initial spark came somewhere in the distant, hazy past. But in terms of actually writing Dumb Love, it took about two years from the first time I stared at the post-mountain man blank screen to actual publication.

In terms of process, I made it to about chapter six without any problems, then was interrupted by revisions for A Fast and Brutal Wing, followed by a house-search, as a first-time homebuyer. I then spent the next several months going over those first six chapters and going over those first six chapters and going over those first six chapters . . . again and again and again. I was stuck in my own private “Groundhog Day.” It wasn’t until after I had actually moved into my new house that I managed to wiggle my way into Chapter Seven and beyond.

What were the challenges (literary, research, logistical, psychological) in bringing it to life?

The first challenge was to find my main character, Carlotta. I wanted a teen girl totally different from my originally conceived mountain-gothic, tragic, ill-fated heroine. It took me awhile to fit her out, both physically and emotionally. Usually my characters are right there, but I had to study on her a bit. Once she was in, however, she started reorganizing the novel and bossing me around.

Another concern was that I worried people would not take to a humorous romance from me, given my penchant for the lonely, dark moments of the soul. But, ever since I’d had a library job, years ago, where I processed paperback romance novels (for diversion I read the last paragraph of each book—they all ended the same way!) I knew I had a romance novel in me; I just needed the right moment to give it birth.

Also, never having lived in the mountains myself, only ever having visited, I had to check up on a few details with my brother and a friend, who do live in the mountains, albeit different mountains in different states. (Come to think of it, I have to check with my brother on some goat details for my current work-in-progress.)

Other challenges were just the ongoing struggle to get the words on the page, to believe that I was writing this crazy story for a reason. But if you can’t laugh and you can’t fall in love (not necessarily in that order!) what fun is it?

Cynsational News & Links

Author Spotlight: Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson on the Parallel Universe of Liars (Roaring Brook, 2002) from Random House.

Pregnant Pauses, Toys in the Crawlspace: A writer’s encounters with L.A. by Kerry Madden from L.A. Weekly. Kerry is the author of Gentle’s Holler (Viking, 2005); see interview.