mary's book basket ~ author Karen Johnston

Best critique partner a girl could have ~ author Karen M. Johnston

***Win a signed copy of BIG BOYS DON'T SPY. Leave a comment and tell me what your favorite book was when you were in middle school. Winner will be announced Friday at 6pm. Make to leave contact info***

I am so excited to host the lovely Karen M. Johnston. Her newest release BIG BOYS DON'T SPY is a fabulously funny and charming mystery that follows 12-year-old Will Wand as he tries to figure out how to save the world or at least his mothers advertising company. Set in the Washington DC area, this kid sized spy novel takes readers on a fun-filled ride with twists and turns that land Will and his visiting cousin Penelope in a spot of trouble from time to time. 

Recently I chatted with Karen who is also a member of my critique group. How lucky am I??

When did you start writing?
If we don’t count writing advertising and marketing copy (which I did in my previous pre-children life) then I guess I started “writing” about eight years ago when I took an online writing course specifically for writing magazine articles. I had given up my career in advertising to stay home to bring up my children and needed to do something to keep the brain cells out of trouble. One of my first articles published was for about English pubs even though…big secret…I actually don’t like beer!. After a few years of writing non-fiction articles (which was so much fun), I decided to try my hand at fiction.

What made you chose children's lit? What inspired this particular story?
Even though BIG BOYS DON’T SPY is my second children’s novel published (my debut novel: THE WITNESS TREE AND THE SHADOW OF THE NOOSE hit the shelves in April 2009), it was the first novel I wrote. I decided to write for kids after reading aloud to my children every evening. We would come up with ideas for impossible characters and crazy plots, and I just had to write the stories down on paper to find out what was going to happen to them.

My eldest son, Thomas, was the main drive behind BIG BOYS DON’T SPY, a humorous novel about a twelve-year-old boy obsessed with spying. Thomas was a huge fan of James Bond and had (and still has) a fantastic imagination. He would give me all these ideas for gadgets and spy plots and twists that I just couldn’t ignore.

What was your favorite story as a child?
Being a British born writer, my favorite author as a child had to be Enid Blyton’s, I couldn’t get enough of The Faraway Tree series. I loved the idea that you could climb up a tree in your own back yard and escape through a hole in the clouds into another land. Ooh, just thinking about that makes me want to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and go on another adventure of my own…

What advice would you give a writer starting out today?
1. Savor the journey.
2. Don’t stress about the quality of the writing on the first draft—we all write rubbish that no one has to see. The real story is in the editing (you cannot edit a blank page).
3. And finally, as Woody Allen says, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” So show up and write every day.

What else can we expect from Karen E. M. Johnston, authoress?
Well, I just sent my first YA novel to my agent, so I am pretty excited about that, and I am now working on a second young adult novel. These pesky teenagers have worked a way into my heart and my soul and I just can’t ignore them.

Karen E. M. Johnston was born in Gibraltar, studied Business and International Marketing in the UK, and worked in advertising and public relations in London’s Covent Garden before moving to the US. She is widely published in children’s, parent, and business magazines.
Karen’s debut children’s middle grade novel THE WITNESS TREE AND THE SHADOW OF THE NOOSE, a Civil War ghost mystery, came out in 2009 and her second children’s novel BIG BOYS DON’T SPY came on the shelves November 2010. 
Karen is currently working on a Young Adult novel.

Ms. Johnston lives in Chantilly, Virginia, on the outskirts of Washington D.C. and a few miles from historic Manassas, the location for THE WITNESS TREE AND THE SHADOW OF THE NOOSE, with her British husband and three American sons who have not the slightest trace of a British accent.

Karen makes visits to local schools in the Washington DC area. If your interested in having Karen visit your classroom visit her website: for details. You can email Karen at, follow her on Facebook Karen E. M. Johnston, twitter: kemjohnston 

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