Author Interview & Review: The Scoop on Varian Johnson

by Veronica Vivona
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Varian Johnson is an author whose latest novel, The Parker Inheritance, doesn’t shy away from history. A fun-filled, mysterious, hopeful adventure touches light on many subjects. Read more about what we thought of Varian Johnson’s novel below:

Review of The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson follows young Candice after she finds an old letter in an equally old attic. The letter is one that holds a great puzzle, not just for Candice and her family, but for her town’s history. The good, the bad, and the beautiful… it’s up to Candice to solve the mystery.

This is a novel that I was expecting to enjoy, but I didn’t think it would resonate with me as much as it did. It covers the complexities of all different subject matters including, but not subject to, friends, history, race, gender, and family.

While this novel has regularly been compared to The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, there’s more to it than just a mystery. Relationships and the way we see people, our history and the cruelties of the world, are not hidden away in this novel. Instead, they are confronted, respected, and understood. The world is filled with both good and bad. We are results of what our history has given us and this novel goes into the positives and negatives of just that.

Although this novel is important, it is just as entertaining as it is serious. You’ll fall in love with the characters, the town, and the different stories, both in the past and present. This middle grade novel speaks to all generations and unlike others, it doesn’t shy away from the sought-out truth. It’s one of those novels that you’ll want to read again and again. And once you’ve read it for the millionth time, you’ll still want to read it again with a promise to yourself that you’ll soon break: “Just one more time.”

Q&A with Varian Johnson

We were lucky enough to sit down and chat with Varian Johnson himself! We learned more about him and what inspired him to write The Parker Inheritance. Check out the entire interview below:

To begin, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

I used to be a structural engineer, but now I primarily write books for children and young adults. The Parker Inheritance is my ninth book! I also write short stories, and I teach in the MFA program for Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

When did you realize you had a talent and a passion for writing? What inspired you to be a writer?

I always wanted to be a writer! So many books inspired me, especially novels written by Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary. But it wasn’t until I discovered Walter Dean Myers that I truly believed that I could be a writer. It took seeing a person of color writing books for kids to allow me to realize that I could write books, too.

Can you tell us a bit about The Parker Inheritance and why you were inspired to write it?

The Parker Inheritance is equal parts puzzle mystery, historical novel, and commentary on social justice issues. I was initially inspired by Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game, and wanted to create a puzzle book in a similar fashion. But the book quickly took on a life of its own and grew to include pertinent threads concerning race and gender.

Why did writing for kids appeal to you more than writing for adults?

I love writing for young people, and I take that responsibility very seriously. I don’t believe it’s my job to give all the answers to young people in my books; rather it’s my job to provide the questions and to see what solutions they come up with. That’s what I like to do with all of my novels. I like to ask questions. I want the reader to be working as hard as I do to come up with solutions that they could apply to the real world.

You originally went to school with a different plan and you have a civil engineering degree. How did you transition from engineering to writing?

For a long time, I did both: engineering during the day and writing at night. I would have kept working as an engineer, as I love problem solving, but I was just traveling too much to maintain both jobs. The transition was pretty easy. Though I have to admit, I really miss the free coffee at my former day job!

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process and how you create your novels?

My process seems to change with every novel. I generally play around with an idea for a few days, weeks, or even months. At some point, I start writing. When I feel like I have a good grasp of the characters and the story, I stop and create a full outline. That’s when I usually share my work with my agent and editor – not before. Then, if we all agree, I get back to work finishing the novel.

What has been the biggest struggle for you as a writer?

Remembering that one book does not make a career. I always have to remind myself not to be too caught up in the marketing and promotion of a current book. My main job is to be writing that NEXT book, and to make it as personally fulfilling as all the books prior.

What advice would you give to struggling writers out there who are trying to accomplish their dreams?

All new writers need to remember that a writer’s career is a marathon, not a sprint. I try not to think of all the pages it would take to complete a novel. That can sometimes be overwhelming. I like to take the work scene by scene, chapter by chapter. Those little pieces eventually add up.

Is there a fun fact about yourself that might surprise our readers if you were to share it with them?

I broke both of my ankles, at different times luckily. (Also, jumping off a flight of stairs to impress a girl isn’t exactly the smartest thing to do.)

What do you want kids to learn most from your novels?

That’s not for me to decide! I’m happy with whatever kids get out of my novels. And if they read one of my books and all they take away from it is that it’s fun, then that’s just as great!

Where do you see yourself going from here?

I just want to keep writing books. As long as I’m doing that, then I’ll be happy. Though I wouldn’t turn down a million-dollar contract…

Do you have any final words of wisdom that you would like to share with our readers?

Write what you love! Read what you love! But also, don’t be afraid to try new things. New authors! New genres! You might just surprise yourself!

To learn more about Varian Johnson, check out his website and follow him on Facebook and Twitter!

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