Interview with Lana Wood Johnson, Author of Technically, You Started It

Lana Wood Johnson was born and raised in Iowa in the time before the internet but has spent the rest of her life making up for that. After years working in wireless communication for companies of all sizes, she now works doing the same for a local youth shelter. Lana lives in Minnesota with her husband and their English bulldog. TECHNICALLY, YOU STARTED IT is her debut novel.

Lana Wood Johnson

Hi, Lana! Welcome to YA SH3LF! Can you describe Technically, You Started It in 3 words?

Nerds texting awkwardly.

Where did the inspiration for T,YSI come from—specifically the setting?

This story is a strange amalgamation of ideas. The very first plot bunny that became this story was an epistolary retelling of Return of Martin Guerre which is just foreshadowing on how nerdy this story is. It’s not exactly the story that made it onto the page, but it got me started on telling this strange little story entirely via text messages.

I chose texting for a lot of reasons, but the main inspiration for the format was my time spent helping on a text-based resource hotline at a local youth shelter. I began volunteering on their line and all the social workers were surprised at how good I was at understanding and conveying emotion. When I realized what an unusual skill that was I decided to try to use it in a story, and Haley and Martin and their thousands of messages was the result.

When writing a book like T,YSI, what does your writing process look like?

I like to joke that I accidentally wrote this book. There was no writing every day or anything resembling plotting. I’d just get struck by a conversation happening in my brain that I had the overwhelming need to transcribe. When it reached a relative plot like shape I went back and made it into a real story, but there were a LOT of folks who helped shape it because telling a whole story exclusively via text is HARD!

If you could live in one of your favourite books, which one would you pick and why?

When I was little the place I always wanted to escape to was Sara Crewe’s attic room in A Little Princess. If I have to LIVE there, I’d prefer it be after they redecorated, but I even loved the idea of her secret party with Ermengarde. I don’t need a whole lot of space, even my house now is cozy, and of my very weird favorites that seems the nicest.

What is your favorite part of writing book?

I LOVE revising. Love it. I wish there was a way to skip drafting and go straight to figuring out the puzzle of the story that has appeared before me. I even help my friends with this part as much as possible. I’m in this for the challenge of finding the fewest possible changes that will make a stronger story.

What authors inspired you to start writing?

My path to writing isn’t exactly a straight one, but two authors changed me from being a reader into a writer.

The first is Roger Zelazny. His SFF stories set in the Amber universe were the inspiration for an online roleplaying game that was my very first experience with writing. I fell in love with creating characters, and I was at that age where I wanted to be one of the cool kids, and the cool kids could do a tight third with accurate grammar, perfect spelling, and we’re quick enough at it to feel like it was instantaneous.

Several years after I’d stopped playing online and had moved to the responsible grown-up world of dayjobs, I read Twilight. In fact, I read all four books in the series four times. And then my husband took the books away. It was the first time I read characters that were compelling in the way my old MUSH characters were compelling, and I knew I could at least manage that much, even if I never managed the zeitgeist. So the next day I started writing for fun, but it was 5 more years before I began to pursue publishing.

What are other authors that you look up to?

The authors I look up to most are the ones that I struggled alongside trying to get published. Having the honor of watching Angie Thomas create something so very true and giving Adib Khorram feedback on a book no one else will get to read makes their success more real and more admirable to me.

There are hundreds of other authors that will be just as powerful one day that I’ve met along the way, and I admire them just as much. Their time hasn’t come yet but they haven’t given up and that’s everything to me.

If you hadn’t excelled at writing, what other profession might you have chosen?

Writing is not my first career. It’s not even my second! I spent the last 15 years working in a start-up that did real-time wireless solutions for business. I lived on the cutting edge of technology and it was my responsiblity to help figure out what each new device was capable of. I still remember the day my boss handed me a first gen iPad and I got mad at him because I was tired of testing things.

Over the years I’ve had many technology certifications and I REALLY love to nerd about databases, but when I sat down and tried to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up it was an author and so that’s what I’m working very hard on. I even still work as a resident nerd, but at the youth shelter I used to volunteer at.

Interview : YA SH3LF

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