American author Johnnie Bernhard was featured as a TEDx Speaker (Fearless Women Series) while her nationally-acclaimed literary work has been Shortlisted for the Wisdom-Faulkner Prize, named a Nominee for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, and won the Summerlee Book Prize.
Among many other honors, her work has also been selected as a Big Texas Read for the State Wide Book Club Selection, the International Pulpwood Queens Book Club Selection, and the Best 100 of the University Presses by the Association of University Presses.
Johnnie Bernhard’s published novels include Hannah and Ariela (2022), Sisters of the Undertow (2020), How We Came to Be (2018), and A Good Girl (2017).
A fourth-generation Texan and one of the South’s finest writers, Johnnie Bernhard writes with a deep reverence for the cultural diversity found across the United States and in Texas, especially since her family home is one hundred miles from the Texas-Mexico border.
Her fourth novel, Hannah and Ariela (2022), is a “starkly realistic story of human trafficking set beautifully among nuanced clashing cultures,” and “author Johnnie Bernhard defines each character’s motivation to portray the collision of opposing sides while casting a wide lens on a human atrocity,” per the New York Journal of Books.
We are extremely honored today to have the award-winning author Johnnie Bernhard join us here at the Book Writer’s Café to answer a few questions relating to her passions for reading and writing.
Welcome. And great to have you here with us today. Looking over your impressive career as a writer, you’ve achieved quite a lot. Have you always wanted to write books? When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Since I was a little girl, I’ve been an observer, always curious about the way people lived and treated each other. When I was very young, we took a lot of family vacations by driving across several states. I often imagined what the people were like living in the houses that flashed before me on the side of the rural route or highway. Curiosity leads to reading and writing.
I am from a large, working-class family, but our home always had books, magazines, and newspapers. My mother was unable to complete a high school education, but she was an avid reader, a serious reader. She loved Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Eudora Welty. It was a courageous way of educating herself, although she never announced it to others or made a “show” of these things. It’s quite remarkable to think of a woman from rural Louisiana who bought coffee table books of the French Impressionists. I always loved that about her, because it gave me the courage to love what I love, despite what others are currently endorsing. My parents taught me to work and to think as an individual. My father was a great oral storyteller, who could be very charming, making friends wherever he went. It was in complete sincerity, because he enjoyed people, accepting them for face value–another human being. It is a powerful image for a child to see a parent embrace people of diverse cultures and race, as well as the image of a parent reading a book.
Reading allows us to be observers of others and how they live. It seems natural for me to want to write as reading and writing are perfect companions. Writers examine the world around them, trying to make sense of people and events. I became a journalist in the mid-Eighties in Houston, Texas. I worked very hard and made little money, but I loved the job. I loved it because I heard people’s stories. When I became a mother, I returned to school, training to be an English teacher. I have stayed in those two professions, writing and teaching for forty years, because I love interacting with others through the Literary Arts. I feel fortunate those doors were opened to me as a child, and I’ve been able to do what I love most of my life.
You’ve written multiple award-winning novels. Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I’ve written four stand alone novels; however, each novel contains the story of an immigrant adjusting to American life, as well as the themes of love and loss. I don’t plan these things when I begin the process. I don’t make an outline. I begin with a character who has something to learn or say. That protagonist is usually inspired by something I’ve seen or heard.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I have a tight narrative pace. This is only because I was trained as a journalist. I value each word in a sentence, how they play off each other. This could also come from diagramming sentences when I was younger.
What advice do you have for writers?
Believe in the story you are writing. That belief will enable you to endure the rejection letters that come as part of the publishing process. Hold on to it. Guard it. That door will open.
What does literary success look like to you?
To have my books in a library; to have a sense of dignity about the words I’ve written, and to tell the truth, no matter how difficult it may be.
Claire Fullerton with the New York Journal of Books said that “Hannah and Ariela is the story of one woman’s bravery in rescuing another, only to rise phoenix-like into a newly defined, far-reaching life purpose.”
What was the specific inspiration for the story?
The inspiration of Hannah and Ariela is built around the very human question, especially today, do you follow the current law or your conscious in making crucial decisions. We can look at the history of the human race and know many times the written law was completely against the human conscious. I didn’t invent this theme. I owe it all to Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment.
What was your hardest scene to write?
The violent taking of two underage girls by a human trafficker. I started writing the novel in 2019. It was released June 2022. I still have that scene in my head. This novel was difficult to write for many reasons. I also wrote each character’s voice in first person, so each character’s POV was unique and important.
What do you hope your readers take away from your book?
Love and acceptance are what connects us as humans, regardless of race, religion, and geography.
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Hanna and Ariela:
“Bernhard dispenses vivid details of Hannah and Ariela piecemeal while establishing the characters in broad strokes as empathetic archetypes — Hannah’s a strong, independent woman; Ariela is a teen with average teen desires… Bernhard illustrates the dangers of life along the border and the domino effect that the actions of one can have on others… the author adds just enough character development to get the reader invested.”
The American novelist CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, & he’s a been member of the Hemingway Society, Americans for the Arts, PEN America, Club Med, & the Royal Society of Literature. He’s also a been Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) based in London.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), The Mystic’s Smile ~ A Play in 3 Acts (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), Little Hometown, America (2020); A Time to Forget in East Berlin (2022), and Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being (2023).
He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
“A spellbinding tale of love and espionage set under the looming shadow of the Berlin Wall in 1975… A mesmerising read full of charged eroticism.”
“An engrossing story of clandestine espionage… a testament to the lifestyle encountered in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War.”
“There is no better way for readers interested in Germany’s history and the dilemma and cultures of the two Berlins to absorb this information than in a novel such as this, which captures the microcosm of two individuals’ love, relationship, and options and expands them against the blossoming dilemmas of a nation divided.”
~ D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
“A Time to Forget in East Berlin is a dream-like interlude of love and passion in the paranoid and violent life of a Cold War spy. The meticulous research is evident on every page, and Fewston’s elegant prose, reminiscent of novels from a bygone era, enhances the sensation that this is a book firmly rooted in another time.”
“Vivid, nuanced, and poetic…”
“Fewston avoids familiar plot elements of espionage fiction, and he is excellent when it comes to emotional precision and form while crafting his varied cast of characters.”
“There’s a lot to absorb in this book of hefty psychological and philosophical observations and insights, but the reader who stays committed will be greatly rewarded.”
“Readers of The Catcher in the Rye and similar stories will relish the astute, critical inspection of life that makes Little Hometown, America a compelling snapshot of contemporary American life and culture.”
“Fewston employs a literary device called a ‘frame narrative’ which may be less familiar to some, but allows for a picture-in-picture result (to use a photographic term). Snapshots of stories appear as parts of other stories, with the introductory story serving as a backdrop for a series of shorter stories that lead readers into each, dovetailing and connecting in intricate ways.”
“The American novelist CG FEWSTON tells a satisfying tale, bolstered by psychology and far-ranging philosophy, calling upon Joseph Campbell, J. D. Salinger, the King James Bible, and Othello.”
“In this way, the author lends intellectual heft to a family story, exploring the ‘purity’ of art, the ‘corrupting’ influences of publishing, the solitary artist, and the messy interconnectedness of human relationships.”
GOLD Winner in the 2020 Human Relations Indie Book Awards for Contemporary Realistic Fiction
FINALIST in the SOUTHWEST REGIONAL FICTION category of the 14th Annual National Indie Excellence 2020 Awards (NIEA)
“Fewston’s lyrical, nostalgia-steeped story is told from the perspective of a 40-year-old man gazing back on events from his 1980s Texas childhood…. the narrator movingly conveys and interprets the greater meanings behind childhood memories.”
“The novel’s focus on formative childhood moments is familiar… the narrator’s lived experiences come across as wholly personal, deeply felt, and visceral.”
American Novelist CG FEWSTON
This is my good friend, Nicolasa (Nico) Murillo, CRC, who is a professional chef & a wellness mentor. I’ve known her since childhood & I’m honored to share her story with you. In life, we all have ups & downs, some far more extreme than others. Much like in Canada, in America, the legalization of marijuana has become a national movement, which includes safe & legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use & research for all.
“This is a wellness movement,” Nico explains. The wellness movement is focused on three specific areas: information, encouragement, & accountability.
In these stressful & unprecedented times, it makes good sense to promote & encourage the state or condition of being in good physical & mental health.
The mission of Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use and research.
TEXANS FOR SAFE ACCESS ~ share the mission of their national organization, Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which is to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use and research, for all Texans.
Stay safe & stay happy. God bless.
Nico Murillo Bio ~ Americans & Texans for Safe Access ~ Medical Cannabis