Author Spotlight: Ginger Johnson talks The Splintered Light
I'm thrilled to be featuring author, Ginger Johnson, on today's blog! Ginger received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and currently lives in the Seacoast area of New Hampshire. Her debut middle-grade fantasy, THE SPLINTERED LIGHT, released this week and has been described as reminiscent of The Giver.
And now, here's my chat with Ginger!
Hi, Ginger! Welcome and congrats on the upcoming release of The Splintered Light. Can you tell us a little about the story and what inspired you to write it?
Hello! Thank you so much! I’m delighted to be here. The Splintered Light is a story about an 11-year old boy who sees a strange light piercing a pane of glass in his barn. The light splinters his world into a spectrum of color he never knew existed. At its heart, it’s a story about creativity and collaboration, duty and desire, friendship and family.
This story had a long gestation period. When my oldest son was a baby, I spent a lot of time pushing a stroller and walking the neighborhood streets in a sleepy haze. This coincided with reading a collection of essays about physics, cosmology, astronomy, etc., called Mind Over Matter: Conversations with the Cosmos by the science writer K.C. Cole. Though the two activities (reading books about cosmology while sleep-deprived) seem mutually exclusive, I did have a few lucid moments during those walks with my son, and in those moments, I was completely taken with the elegance of our world. I began seeing everything around me in a new way. Really, why was the sky blue? Why was the earth brown? Why were plants green? I decided that I needed to tell that story.
How did you go about constructing a world without color? Were you ever surprised by how much that one fact shaped the narrative?
The ultimate challenge was not simply removing the color from the world, but creating characters for whom color wasn’t even a concept. How do you describe color without using the word color? Or red or green or blue? Not easy. Color is such a natural part of life. Color permeates so much of our expression and our experiences, from “seeing red,” to “feeling blue” to eating an orange to washing greens for a salad. It is ensconced in personal identifiers (blue blood, green thumb) and our politics (red states and blue states). Take color away, and suddenly the world and our experiences within it are monotonous and drab. It’s not a very happy place, but it was a perfect contrast to the explosion of color and creativity I wanted to have within the Commons. Surprisingly, it was just as fun creating the other Halls in the Commons, places populated by those who had equally intense experiences through means other than color—scent and sound and taste, shape and motion and manufactory.
Children see the world through a different lens than adults. What are your tips for writing an authentic middle grade POV?
I could say that my own children provide inspiration. I could say that I observe middle grade kids in different settings: at the library, at church, while volunteering. Both are true, and both are a good means of getting into the POV of a child. But I think at the heart of what emerges as my middle grade POV lies the 4th grade me—the me that fell in love with a book for the first time. There is a core group of books that were transformative for me—books full of characters that were as real to me as my own friends, even if they were written long before I was even born. Though times change, kids’ concerns are often timeless. The characters that I loved then are as relevant now as they were when I read them for the first time. It’s my hope to write characters that the middle grade me would have loved, characters that might echo those characters I knew so well.
What has been your most rewarding experience as an author?
Last year, a friend asked me to articulate what my goal as an author was in order to help set my priorities in anticipation of the debut year fervor. I wrote that my purpose was “to use my love of beauty and all things good to produce hopeful and thoughtful fiction in order to create pathos and hope for kids who need to recognize their value and who need to see themselves as agents.” The words are clunky, but the intention is sincere. I had a special hope that The Splintered Light would fulfill that desire and that it would be accessible to all kinds of children, because it touches upon a multiplicity of human experiences and personal strengths and joys.
This special hope was realized when a dear friend of mine read The Splintered Light with her daughter, Grace, each night. Grace has a chronic illness, and saw her own experience reflected in the story and the details in a way I had never anticipated. Hearing her daughter’s responses as she connected with the story was truly a gift, and it’s something that I’ll always cherish.
From a writing standpoint, which character in The Splintered Light was the hardest to crack? And how did you crack them?
While each of the characters gave me a run for my money, Luc was probably the most challenging to write—or perhaps I should say that he went through the most changes. I had to write and write and write until he became someone who was complicated, who had both good and bad within him, and who had believable motivations. Once I settled on his relationship with Ishmael, he emerged as the right character and he became very clear.
What are you reading, watching, or otherwise currently infatuated with?
I’m kind of obsessed with the Instagram accounts of @jemmalewismarbling and @malenavalcarcel. Jemma Lewis is a producer of hand-marbled papers in a small cottage in England. I love marbled paper, and her creations are gorgeous. Malena Valcarcel is a paper artist from Spain, sculpting beautiful things—often miniatures—out of book paper. I dabble in some book art myself (BookishNH.etsy.com), and I swoon over Malena’s creations.
As for reading, I have to say that I’ve been infatuated with the books of my fellow debut authors, many of which you’ve already highlighted. I’m in awe of how brilliant and original they each have been.
And finally, what’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned so far in your publishing career?
One of my advisors in graduate school, Martine Leavitt, taught me to see my pre-published time as an apprenticeship. In medieval times, an apprentice performed low-level tasks while observing their masters and gradually learning the skills of the trade, usually for a period of seven years. Seven years of chopping wood, stoking the fire, grinding pigment, sharpening knives. Seven years of labor.
Likewise, serving a writing apprenticeship involves years of plot analysis, character development, and poetic devices. Years of new software, dead hard-drives, and backed-up files. Years of critiques, readings, and workshops. Years of conferences, submissions, and rejections. Years of starting new projects while waiting for responses for old ones. Years of inspiration and years of heartbreak. Buckets of sweat and buckets of tears. The upside is that at least now we have better plumbing, better nutrition, and fewer fleas than medieval apprentices.
Seriously, though, one of the best things I learned was that it’s ok to be in the process. There’s no cheating–an apprenticeship must be served, regardless of whether it is public or private. Ars longa, vita breva, or as Geoffrey Chaucer said, “The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.” Trust the process and your place in it.
Thank you, Megan! Happy reading!
Many thanks go out to Ginger for taking the time to tell us more about THE SPLINTERED LIGHT, the challenges she faced while crafting a world without color, and the idea of treating pre-published time with the same dedication as an apprenticeship (I love that!). Be sure to add Ginger's atmospheric literary fantasy to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) preorder your copy RIGHT NOW from retail sites such as Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Or you can always request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!
And, as always,