Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Interview & Giveaway: "The Grave Artist" by Paula Lynn Johnson

I'm so excited to have Paula Lynn Johnson on my blog today for a interview and giveaway in honor of her newest book "The Grave Artist". I just have to mention how extremely awesome I think her cover turned out. Don't you agree. Lets give Paula a big, warm welcome to Romance Book Junkies.

I know you get asked this question over and over but can you tell us a little about yourself? Maybe something juicy. ;)

“Over and over”? I wish!  Well, let’s see . . .  I live in New Jersey, but I can assure you I look and act nothing like Snookie.  Like a lot of writers, I’m a former English major and an attorney.  When I’m not writing, I work at the family law firm and sell antiques on the side.  I also hang out with my husband and my two 11-year-olds (twins!), who luckily haven’t figured out yet that Mom’s a dork.  I play piano pretty well and guitar really, really badly.  As for the “juicy” bit?  Ryan Gosling is my secret boyfriend (I should add that Ryan is not aware of this).

When did you first start writing? Are you a full time author or do you do it on the side?

I wrote my first story at age six.  It was about accidentally breaking a vase – really raw, emotional stuff, obviously!  I’ve kept at it ever since, whenever I can squeeze the time in. 

Do you have an author that has really inspired you?

I love Steven King and Patricia Highsmith short stories.  Those two really know how to ratchet up suspense, and to create situations that are horrific, yet poignant at the same time.  And as far as sheer stick-to-it-iveness goes, you have to hand it to Kathryn Stockett and J.K. Rowling – both inspirations to any author struggling to get her work “out there”. 

How long does it normally take you to write an average book or your last book?

The first draft of a book generally takes about six to eight months.  Then it’s revise, revise, revise for another six to eight.

What do you think makes a story great?

For me, it’s characters that are fully realized, as opposed to stereotypes.  Give them some tough obstacles to overcome, with a resolution that’s unconventional, yet believable – that’s a great read!

Can you describe your book "The Grave Artist" in one sentence?

A thinking girl’s ghost story, a paranormal murder-mystery, and a personal drama, all rolled into one.

Your cover for “The Grave Artist” is so beautiful. Who did you have do the design? Did you have anything to do with the outcome?

The book cover was such a happy accident!  I stumbled upon the image while doing a Google search for “girls” and “gravestones”.  The girl pictured looks a lot like I pictured my heroine, Clare, and the mood was just right.  After clicking around a bit, I found that the image was created by Luciana Lebel, a very talented artist with a portfolio on the digital art site,  I contacted Luciana and she graciously agreed to let me use the image for the cover.

Have you done lots of research for your books or do the stories just come to you?

Usually, it starts with a single concept or scene that I build upon like a jigsaw puzzle until a larger structure reveals itself.  For The Grave Artist, the concept was the lover’s eye:  a brooch showcasing a miniature portrait of an eye.  As an antiques dealer, I had admired these for a long while.  They have such an air of mystery and romance to them.  I knew I wanted a lover’s eye to be pivotal to the plot.

What are you currently working on?

I’m toying with another paranormal mystery, this one set in the 19th Century and about a young woman hired as a lady’s companion.  There’s a Pride and Prejudice-style romance involved, too.  I like to play with different genres.

Can you tell us about some of your prior achievements?

Life-wise, my greatest achievement is definitely surviving the first year raising my twins (mothers of multiples will know what I mean!).  Writing-wise, I’m very proud of landing a literary agent and of getting published in on-line humor sites like The Big Jewel.

Just for fun:
Hardback or Paperback?  Paperback, so I don’t feel too bad when I get the pages greasy with my snacks (see below)
Dog ears or Bookmarks?  Bookmarks, because it’s nice to recycle those grocery receipts
YA novels or Adult novels?  Don’t make me choose! Let’s say YA with adult appeal
Library or Bookstore? Bookstore, because I rack up too many library fines
Reading glasses or No glasses?  No glasses . . . yet
Snack while reading or No snacks?  SNACKS! Preferably chips and dip or Twizzlers
Beach or Mountain?  Beach, assuming no sharks
Vampire or Werewolf? Vampire! Not a fan of back hair
Hot or Flirty?  Flirty MAKES you hot!
Movie 1st or Book 1st?  A toss-up.  One usually leads to the other
Contemporary or Historical?   Again: don’t make me choose!
Page-Turner or Tear Jerker?   Gah! You’re tearing me apart!  I like tear-jerkers that keep those pages turning

The Grave Artist
By Paula Lynn Johnson


16-year-old Clare can't stop drawing the bizarre, winged skulls she calls "Sammies". Her psychiatrist assumes the compulsive drawings are just expressions of Clare's grief over her father abandoning her. But then Clare discovers that her Sammies are exact matches for the Death's Head on the grave of Samantha Forsythe, a teen who reportedly fell to her death over two centuries ago.

Before long, Clare's drawings morph into cryptic writings that urge her to uncover the truth behind Samantha's death. Together with Neil -- the friend she might be falling for -- Clare scours the local history for clues. She finds that, although Samantha was engaged to a wealthy landowner, there were whispered rumors of her involvement with a younger, biracial man.

Soon, Clare is haunted by disturbing dream images -- a mysterious eye, a broken chain -- that point to someone Samantha called her "Dearest". But who is Dearest? And why does Samantha need Clare to find him so badly?

Isolated and carrying hidden scars of her own, Clare fears her obsession with Samantha will threaten her sanity and safety. But it seems she has no choice in the matter . . .

The Grave Artist is a compelling paranormal murder mystery and a poignant story about loss and what it means thrive in a less-than-perfect reality.

The sale ends, and Gollum and I grab some late fast food. Afterwards, I head back home to a dark house. Lauren and Mom are asleep. I climb the stairs and go straight to bed, too tired to wash up. I’m out almost as soon as I hit the pillow.
And then, the strangest of dreams.

Flashes of naked limbs and scattered leaves.  A world painted brown and gray.
It’s a forest in winter, and I’m running through it.
Thick trees block my path.  Spiny branches tear at my clothes.   I’m crying – choking sobs that hardly let me catch my breath. But still, I run, my breath frosting the air.
I round a bend and stumble against a mound of moss-covered rocks. They’re stacked like a totem – a stone god with a blank face. I push against them, propelling myself forward.
I’m gasping, now.  Something thorny strafes my ankle.  A shrieking bird flies above.
And then I break through the woods, cross a narrow pathway, and stop short.
My toes curl tight over the edge of a precipice.  I rear forward, then back, regaining my balance.  A swooping in my stomach as I register the void below, a dark cavity. My pulse beats in my ears, behind my eyes.
Hoof beats. At first, I can’t distinguish them from my pounding heart. But then they grow louder, more deliberate.
 I turn and look. A rider approaches from the woods, on horseback. He has no face, just a vague smear of features. But I can make out the broad span of his shoulders, the width of his hands clutching the reigns.  I can sense his strength.
Panic floods me.
The rider draws closer and dismounts.  For a horrible moment, he stands frozen. Then he paces towards me, slow and menacing.
Terrified, I shuffle backwards, towards the edge. My lungs slow, filtering just enough air for me to remain conscious. Not nearly enough to scream.
The rider is upon me now.  The wind catches his cloak and unfurls it behind him in a deadly fantail.  I cower down, spinal cord humming, sensing the drop.  Above me, he’s become all darkness – a gathering storm cloud.
A terrible crack, like a bone snapping in two.  Then staggering pain in my head.
I’m hurtling through the void, spinning and spinning . . .

And then I’m awake, clawing at my throat with my fingernails.
It only lasts a few seconds, until I realize who and where I am. But when my hands calm, I feel something warm clotting on my skin. Dazed, I go to the bathroom and find angry scratches swelling around my neck, circling it like a choker.  With my finger, I wipe a bead of blood from my throat and stare at it, horrified.
Oh, my God, it wasn’t just a random dream.  The popping sound my skull made as it fractured.  That terrible, endless fall.  I know who I was, where I was.  And how it felt to die.
My body goes limp with fear.  I stumble forward and clutch the sink for balance.  And then the urge floods me, washing away all thoughts except one.
Draw, O coward.
I clean the one scratch, the bloody one, wincing at the soap’s sting. Then I return to my room.  In the dark, my neck throbs and gives off heat. I turn on my desk lamp and sit, rummaging for a pencil and sheet of paper. Then mechanically, I sketch an almond shape, not much bigger than my thumb. I shade in a dark center, flecked with light, with thick strokes around the rim.  It’s only as I’m adding a series of fine lines to the outer edge that I realize what I’ve drawn.
It’s an eye.  And the way it seems to stare right through me scares the living hell out of me.
Suddenly, all energy drains from me.  I’ve never felt heavier, more leaden.  I turn the sketch face-down, then tumble into bed, exhausted.
The next morning, I blink awake. Groggily, I take in the Kandinsky poster I’ve pinned to the far wall of my room, the abstract pattern on my comforter. It’s like there’s a wet towel jammed inside my skull.  As I lift my head from my pillow, I feel an ache in the crease of my neck.  I touch my fingertips to the spot and trace a rough line of torn skin. Now I remember.
I force myself out of bed.  My gut cinches up when I see the sheet of paper lying flat on my desk top.  My hand trembling, I pick it up by the corner and flip it over.
 The eye freezes me.  Its gaze is still penetrating, unnerving.  But plaintive, too, like it’s asking for help.  Asking me for help.
I stand there, stupefied, almost levitating with panic.  Get a grip, Clare.  Somehow you’ve got to deal with this.  Then I reach across my desk for my cell and dial Gollum.
It’s four rings before he picks up.  “Yeah?” he says, sleepily.  I glance down at my cell for the time: great, I woke the guy before eight.
“Gollum, it’s me.  Can you meet me at the diner this morning?”
A pause.  “I think so,” he says, more awake now.  “Why? What’s up?”
“I – I made another drawing last night, and I don’t know what to do.  I think you should see it in person.”
“So something’s messing with you again” he says, more a statement than a question.
“Not just something,” I say.  “Samantha.”


Paula Lynn Johnson loves a good ghost story. She's a former English major and attorney living in central New Jersey with her husband, kids, cat, dog, and killer rabbit. She adores them all, even the killer rabbit.

Paula also loves a good laugh! You can read her short, humorous pieces on sites like The Big Jewel and Errant Parent, or on her blog, Twaddle Like a Duck.

When she's not writing, Paula sells antiques and art out of Lambertville, NJ. You can visit her online at Tiny's Lambertville.

 Paula is hosting a tour wide giveaway of a hand-hammered sterling silver pendant (about 3/4" wide) on a sterling 16 inch chain.

To enter the giveaway just fill out the rafflecopter below. Good Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Becky said...

Great interview! The Grave Artist sounds like a very interesting story. I enjoyed reading the excerpt for The Grave Artist. Paula Lynn Johnson is a new author to me, so I'm planning on checking out her website.

Tore said...

I would love to read this book. It sounds very good.

bn100 said...

I enjoyed the excerpt. The book sounds good.

Becky Johnson said...

Superb excerpt choice. The Grave Artist sounds like an awesome read. Thanks so much for the giveaway x

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