The Library Springfield-Greene County Library District Springfield, Missouri

Workshop with Author Varian Johnson Oct. 10!

September 29, 2017 —

     Children’s author Varian Johnson is the popular author of seven novels including the “Jackson Greene” middle-grade series. Johnson will present two free programs for teens and adults on Tuesday, Oct. 10, at the Library Center.

     Finding Your Voice with Author Varian Johnson is at 5:30 p.m. in meeting room A, for age 14-adult. Johnson will lend his expertise to this workshop designed to help you find your unique voice for your stories. Fun written exercises will be used to cover topics including point of view, tense, style and word choice. Registration starts Sept. 26; call 883-5341.

     A Life in Revision is from 7-9 p.m. that night for age 12-adult in the auditorium. Johnson will explain how a structural engineer became a children's book author through hard work, lots of revision and choosing to be brave in his writing. Books will be available for purchase and signing.

                The author offered these lighthearted thoughts about his career switch, and the writing life.

     Q. You trained and worked as an engineer before becoming an author. How does engineering (and more broadly, math and science) intersect with writing novels and short stories?

     Johnson: I see both engineering and writing as problem solving. When I worked as a structural engineer, my job was to balance all of the factors involved with a project in order to produce the best solution. Some projects had huge geometric constraints, other times the controlling factor was economics. Either way, it was my job to weight those while designing a solution. I like to think of writing in the same way. I have a cast of characters, a setting, and a problem – and I have to figure out the best way for my main character to solve that problem given everything else going on in the novel.

      Q. The cons you've designed in the Jackson Greene books have lots of twists and turns. Does your engineering background have an impact on your ability to design a complicated con?  

      Johnson: HA! I wish I could be a con artist. I’m a horrible liar. I don’t know if my engineering background helps, but it certainly doesn’t hurt!

     Q. What author has influenced your writing the most?

     Johnson: Oh, that’s a hard question. But if I had to pick, I’d choose the three authors that influenced me the most as a young reader: Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Walter Dean Myers.

     Q. What do you believe is the major barrier to infusing literature for young people with more diversity?

      Johnson: I think, right now, just about everyone in the industry understands the need for more diversity in literature. However, a major barrier is that we don’t have enough people of color in positions of power and influence in publishing. Editors, agents, sales and marketing directors – all these people are gatekeepers. I believe that the more diverse the gatekeepers become, the easier it will be for diverse stories to make it into the world.

     Q. Who would play Jackson Greene in the movie?

     Johnson: Oh, I have no idea! Maybe Marcus Scribner from “Blackish” if they age up the character!

     Q. Are your kids fans of your books, or are they still too young for them?

     Johnson: They’re still a little too young. But I don’t plan on pressuring them too much to try my books. There are plenty of books out there in the world, and I want them to find the books that resonate with them.



Kathleen O'Dell
Community Relations Director
(417) 616-0564
Sarah Jane Rosendahl
(417) 616-0566

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