Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Braving Snakes for Research? Author Interview with Johnnie Alexander Donley

Artist Alison Schuyler spends her time working in her family’s renowned art gallery, determined to avoid the curse that has followed the Schuyler clan from the Netherlands to America and back again. She’s certain that true love will only lead to tragedy—that is, until a chance meeting at Waterloo station brings Ian Devlin into her life.

Drawn to the bold and compassionate British Army captain, Alison begins to question her fear of love as World War II breaks out, separating the two and drawing each into their own battles. While Ian fights for freedom on the battlefield, Alison works with the Dutch Underground to find a safe haven for Jewish children and priceless pieces of art alike. But safety is a luxury war does not allow. 

As time, war, and human will struggle to keep them apart, will Alison and Ian have the faith to fight for their love, or is it their fate to be separated forever?

Read Chapter One here! Also take a chance to win this e-book! Read on. :)

Author Johnnie Alexander Donley writes stories of suspense, intrigue, and romance set in World War II. Her debut novel, Where Treasure Hides, won the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis contest for Historical Fiction in 2011.

A history enthusiast, Johnnie has also edited nonfiction manuscripts and textbooks. She is a founding member and current president of the ACFW Central Florida chapter. A longtime Florida resident, Johnnie treasures family memories, classic movies, road trips, stacks of books, and her papillon Rugby.

For more information about Johnnie, check out her website and her "Treasured Moments" blog here. For more about her book, click here. You can also connect with her on social media: Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, LinkedIn or Pinterest.

Johnnie is giving away an ebook copy of Where Treasure Hides! 
Don't miss out. 

Leave a comment below with your e-mail address. The giveaway will end on Wednesday, March 6.

Ten Questions with Johnnie Alexander Donley

What should readers know about your latest release? Does it differ from your past books, offer a new perspective on a familiar topic, or shed light on a unique situation?

Where Treasure Hides takes place in World War II Europe. It’s about a talented Dutch-American artist who risks her life to protect her father’s greatest masterpiece, but learns to place her trust in God instead of her family’s legacy. This is my debut novel, but another manuscript I’ve written is also about the safeguarding of a family’s heritage.

What was the main inspiration for the new book? Had the idea been on your mind for a while or just popped into it one day?

While researching different aspects of WWII for another manuscript, I came across a documentary called The Rape of Europa. Hitler planned to transform his Austrian hometown, an ugly industrialized city, into Europe’s premier cultural center. Art, jewelry, even furniture was stolen from museums and personal collections. Much of it was stored in strange places such as Austrian salt mines.

Fascinated by the extent of the looting, I knew it had to be an element in my novel.

Why do you feel compelled to write—in your genre or at all?

Who knows?! Seriously, God has given me both the gift and the desire. It’s taken me too many years to believe I could do it, but I humbly thank Him for blessing me with the publication of this novel.

I suppose I write historical fiction because family heritage is interesting to me. I’m always envious of people – like English nobles – who can trace their family trees back into the mists of time. I wish I knew more about my ancestors besides their names.

How has travel been involved in your writing and/or research? What’s been your most memorable research experience?

How fun it would have been to explore Rotterdam and London and even Germany for this novel. But I had to do my research through books and the internet. Plus, I met a couple from Holland, and it was great fun talking to them and looking at their photos.

My most memorable research experience isn’t anything all that exotic, but it’s an important memory for me. In another manuscript, the main character hid keepsakes inside an abandoned iron furnace on a southern Ohio farm. The iron furnace is a real place – my mom played there as a little girl. I had seen the furnace stack on family reunion trips, but had never been inside. 

The Iron Furnace
A couple summers ago, and despite being warned of snakes, I trekked up the overgrown hill and ducked beneath the brick opening. Then I stood and looked up the stack to the blue sky above. Somehow I felt connected to my mom’s parents, who I never knew, in a very special way. They had walked past this furnace when they were courting, and their first home – gone now – was just up the road.

I told one of my cousins about going inside the furnace, ending with, “I didn’t see any snakes.” He made a strange guffaw sound and exclaimed, “Well, they saw you.”

After being inside the furnace, I had to revise my story since the interior of the stack was different than I had originally described it. I’m glad I braved the snakes.

Who has inspired you the most on your writing journey—a loved one, fellow author, favorite teacher?

As a child, my mom always encouraged my love of reading and my imagination. My family is also very supportive. But I had never finished a novel until an editor I corresponded with after a writers conference read two pages of a story and asked to see the entire manuscript. Even though he didn’t buy that novel, I am so thankful for his encouragement. Now I knew I could finish a story. Then I wrote Where Treasure Hides, and Tyndale bought it!

What surprised you the most about the writer’s journey—publication, representation, platform building, the writing itself?

Learning as much as possible about the writing craft is so important – through books, workshops, conferences. But I was surprised at how much I learned by finishing that first manuscript. It goes back to the 4-H motto: learning by doing.

Writing, and rewriting, taught me how to give my characters a personality and then let them live. I learned to write myself out of a corner by asking the right questions. And I learned that sometimes I’m lazy, and how blessed I am to have critique partners who won’t let me get away with it.

Another fun surprise is when characters turn out to be completely different than you imagined them, or do things you totally didn’t expect them to do. I revel in those moments.

If you could rewind time to when you began your pursuit of publication, what would you tell yourself?

I would rewind all the way back to pre-kid days and say, “Be brave, and do this now.”

Now to have some fun with travel

What’s your favorite place you have visited?

I’ve lived in England for a few months, and my husband and I took a trip to Paris and Belgium several years ago.

But my favorite trips are the road trips I’ve taken with my mom. We once spent an entire day driving the 100 miles of the Skyline in the Shenandoah Valley. The Blue Ridge is another favorite drive.

A couple of summers ago, we stayed in a furnished but unoccupied farmhouse in southern Ohio for about three weeks. No internet, no cell phone service, no television. We loved every moment.

Even the night the coyotes howled.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be? Or would you return to somewhere you’ve already been?

There are so many places. Scotland, Switzerland, Italy. New Zealand and Australia. But strange as it may sound, I’ve dreamed for several years of a continental U.S. road trip that hits every state. Whether or not that will ever happen . . . I doubt it. But it sure would be fun.

And now a fun tidbit—if there was one special travel destination just for writers and you were the founder of it, what would the name be and would it be located?

Definitely in the Appalachians. I love it there. For days, I’ve been trying to come up with a name. Nothing really worked.

But then I read this clue in a crossword puzzle: “light-splitting glass.”


My dream retreat would be a place to Pray, Read, Imagine, Saunter, and Muse.

And of course, to write. We’d shine our prisms on our WIPs, seeking new insights into our characters and plots in a restful, inspiring place.

What words would you choose for Johnnie’s PRISM acrostic? 

Don't forget about the ebook giveaway! :) Leave a comment below with your e-mail address. The giveaway will end on Wednesday, March 6.


  1. Okie dokie. I read the subject line and almost skipped this blog post altogether.


    I can't say the word, let alone type it. Gives my fingers the willies. But...since I love Morgan AND Johnnie [[[[[THIS]]]]] much, I put aside my stomach churning fear of and read...

    Glad I perservered! I learned lots of great new stuff. :)


    Don't enter me in the contest. I already have Where Treasure Hides, and it's awesome!

    1. Thanks for braving your fears, Pam!! :) Thanks for stopping in and joining the fun! I love the "Riters" part. hehe.

  2. Where Treasure Hides sounds like a great read.
    Not sure if this is what you're looking for, but here goes:


    Thanks for a great post!

    1. Hi Carole! Thanks for joining the fun. Writers need more solitary mornings! :)

  3. Pam, you are so funny! How can a cowgirl like you be 'fraid of a lil ole snake? Good job with your PRISM. That's exactly how we need to be in revising mode -- prepared to sculpt our words.

  4. Carole, that is lovely. Sounds perfect for a retreat. Thanks so much for participating. Morgan asked some great questions.

  5. Thanks so much for being my guest, Johnnie! It has been a pleasure. :) And I am REALLY enjoying reading "Where Treasure Hides"!

    Here's my PRISM:



  6. Morgan, that's a really good PRISM. You all are so creative!

  7. I really enjoyed the post and interview. Johnnie, I'm glad that you didn't actually run into any snakes! I would love to read Where Treasure Hides. It sounds like a great story.
    This is the best I can do:
    may_dayzee (at) yahoo (dot) com

    1. Hi Kay! Thanks for stopping in and commenting! :) Really GREAT Prism!

    2. Kay, I love your PRISM, too. You all are so creative. (I'm glad about the snakes, too!)

      Thanks so much for stopping by.