June’s Book Time author Q&A features Canadian author Terry Lynn Johnson, who writes middle grade action/adventure stories based on her experiences in northern Ontario. Johnson recently answered a number of questions about her writing and her life.
Hi Terry Lynn,
Thank you for agreeing to speak with me. Congratulations on your new set of books – Survivor Diaries ($13.99, Raincoast Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) – as well as Sled Dog School ($13.99, Raincoast Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and Falcon Wild, which are both coming out in the fall.
Q. You have had an extraordinary life, full of adventure and interesting moments. On your website, you mention you grew up lakeside. How did that experience start you on a path of adventure?
A. I think it helped develop a love for the outdoors. Specifically it made me love the water! I was always around it, frogging, swimming, boating, falling in right after ice out, that sort of thing.
Q. Did you grow up in an adventuring family.
A. Sort of the opposite. My parents enjoy routine, they are not fond of surprise or exploration. And my brother moved to downtown Toronto, but he is creative like me.
Q. As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up? Did you know nature and being outside would always be in your future?
A. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I got sidetracked with my career as a conservation officer and musher for a while first, which was good since it gave me something to write about!
Q. What can today’s children do if they, too, want a life of adventure and being outside?
A. Continue to spend time outdoors and learn about your resilience and strengths! It’s as easy as that.
Q. What can parents do to encourage their children to love nature?
A. Maybe tell them not to go outside? heh heh. I’m not entirely sure about that one, but I think kids have their own minds and decide what they want to love. Certainly they need to have experience with the outdoors while young.
Q. According to your website, you had hoped to write a memoir about your life, including your adventures as a back-country canoe ranger in Quetico Provincial Park as well as an owner of a dog-sledding team, but a creative writing teacher suggested writing children’s books instead. Why was that her advice? Why did you do agree to do it?
A. She suggested I should write for children after reading my magazine articles and short stories. She said my writing voice naturally leans toward that age group. And it’s fun to do something that comes naturally. I loved to read when I was young, so I’m delighted that I can write books for readers in those important years. At no other time in my life do I recall books I’ve read having such an impact on me. It’s humbling to imagine someone reading one of my books with as much enthusiasm as I read, say, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, or My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. It’s really an honour to be part of that time in their lives.
Q. How much of your life and your adventures are found within the pages of these books
A. Unfortunately, I’ve had quite a few mishaps that aren’t so much fun at the time, but make for good life lessons – and for sharing stories!
Q. What would your dream project be?
A. I do believe the Survivor Diaries are a dream project combining my experience and knowledge from working outdoors, and my love of writing adventures! Each one has been so much fun to research and write, and then to see the spectacular covers that my publisher had made – dream come true.
Q. Is there are memoir in your future?
A. Never say never!
Q. What do you like about writing children’s books?
A. I like the short, fast pace since that’s the kind of book I like to read.
Q. Why do you like writing for this age group (juvenile fiction)?
A. It’s such a fun age where you’re open to learning new things and exploring your place in the world. There is so much possibility and discovery – especially discovery of your skills and passions.
Q. Do you have a favourite book so far? Favourite character? Why?
A. My favourite book is always the one I’m currently writing! As for characters, I will always have a special place in my heart for BEAN because he was inspired by my real lead dog, Apollo.
Q. Curious minds want to know these stories (found on your website). Any chance you can share some details, particularly about the first one:
- You being attacked, albeit slowly, by a sloth;
- accidentally spraying a crowd with muskrat glands;
- and you chasing a bear with a chainsaw.
Of all your adventures, what is your favourite?
A. Most of these stories are best shared in person. But I can tell you one minor detail about the bear-chasing story – I was wearing only shoes at the time.
Q. Where is your dream destination, adventure?
A. One of these years I’m going to get to Iceland.
Q. What is one thing you would love to do that you haven’t done yet?
A. Ever since I read about it in a guide book, I’ve wanted to do this: a Florida Everglades swamp walk. Particularly at night. I imagine all your senses would be filled up. I love the smells and the sounds of a northern Ontario swamp – all the different frog species and birds. But we don’t have large reptiles with pointy teeth.