Johanna is an amazing person; she is generous, supporting, always fun, always kind. She has helped many a fledgling writer to find their way into publication, and she was always patient, loving, joyful, doing it.
Johanna has sheep. And she has chickens. And she's a homeschooling mom. She also has very curly blond hair. And she lives on a farm in Idaho. She loves cowboys, and the history of the Wild West. She adores her coffee!
And we love Johanna. So – many, many congrats, you sweetheart girl!
Here is the interview I did with Johanna, and my review of her book, Spillworthy.
Hi, Mariam. Thank you for inviting me to your blog today. I’m so happy to be here.
Mariam: Tell us about yourself, Johanna. What’s your favorite drink, TV show, computer game, your favorite song, and which cake do you like best? Which color is your car? And what do you most like to do on a summer evening?
Johanna: Right now on my desk, I have a coffee mug filled with dark roast, and a juice glass full of milk. Caffeine wakes me up, but protein helps me think more clearly.
My favorite television show would be either Justified or Longmire, depending on which one I’m watching at the moment.
I don’t play a lot of computer games, mostly because they’re addictive and I can blink and lose a huge chunk of my day. Right now I settle for quick games of Creepy Crawley Solitaire. The best part about playing is the meditative effect. It’s a great escape when I need to empty my mind.
Song: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” is like gospel for me. I close my eyes and cry.
Car color. Hmm. We can’t really agree what color it is. It’s sort of a silver-beige thing. It’s not a color you can remember when you close your eyes. If The Silence were a color, it would be the color of our car.
My perfect summer evening includes time spent around a campfire with my family. That’s where we tell our over-the-top stories and laugh until we fall out of our chairs.
Mariam: Why YA and not an adult novel?
Johanna: I write middle grade and young adult novels as a way of including more people. Neither type of novel excludes adult readers, but adult novels do exclude kids. I really enjoy writing stories my kids can read.
Mariam: What makes your YA novel different from all those others out there?
Johanna: Spillworthy is on that border between middle grade and young adult. The language and characters are accessible to a middle grade audience, but the subject matter can be pretty serious. It’s really up to parents to decide when this book would be right for their kids.
A couple things set the book apart. One is that it respects the intelligence of kids. The main characters are smart people with limited life experience. They’re not dumbed-down versions of adults or silly images of kids the way adults think they should be.
In my experience, kids see the world much more clearly than adults realize. Spillworthy is different because it opens up discussion points for many difficult topics—everything from homelessness to abuse to human trafficking—but it does so without ever feeling hopeless. It’s a great starting point for parents to discuss issues with their kids by talking about characters.
Mariam: Why did you decide to go the self-publishing way?
Johanna: Spillworthy is a different book and I wanted it to stay different. Big publishers are risk-averse right now. That’s okay. They have to think about the bottom line and whether accepting the book the way it is would bring a return on their investment. They can’t take into consideration all the intangibles that make a book worth publishing.
As a self-publisher, I get to consider all the intangibles. I believe this book will reach the people it was meant to reach.
Mariam: Please tell us what Spillworthy is all about!
Johanna: Spillworthy is about a homeless kid who loves to write. He usually fills journals and throws them away when they’re full because he has no way to save them all. When he does have an idea so good he wants to share it with the world, he copies those thoughts onto used pizza boxes, leaving them in public places for others to read. These thoughts spilled into the world are called spillworthies. The story itself begins when Ulysses is pulled from the streets and sent to live with his grandparents in Idaho.
Mariam: What’s next on your desk? Another YA novel? A sequel to Spillworthy? Or something entirely different?
Johanna: During my time out on sub with big publishers, I wrote a few books, so I have some options. My daughter says the next one I should publish is DisasterMinds. It’s about a social misfit who is so smart he’s convinced he was created in a top secret lab. He convinces his childhood friend, a girl who was conceived in the same IVF lab, to go on a road trip with him, to either prove or disprove his theory.
Mariam: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Johanna: The power of writing resides inside stories and individual voices. When weighty topics scare us, we should try leaning into that discomfort, letting it instruct us. The value of our profession as storytellers lies inside these intimate moments, shared between the reader and the characters. Through stories, we can change the world.
Following Johanna's directions on how to release her book, I gave my copy to my best friend's daughter Connie, who is a Middle Grade English teacher, because I think that Spillworthy belongs in every school library, and in classrooms.
Here's what I think of Spillworthy:
"A note rolled up inside a note, left in the fence:
Some truths are kept hidden in the basement of our souls. We should never stop trying to find them."
Spillworthy by Johanna Harness has left me baffled, surprised, speechless, and with the deep wish that all schools all over the world put this middle-grade novel in their libraries, and not only one copy, but fifty. Or maybe one-hundred. Or maybe enough copies so every child can take it home and then "release" it into the world so it becomes a real Spillworthy, a piece of writing set free into the world.
I just know that kids will devour this book, and maybe not only kids. When I began reading I had a text marker in my hand to highlight notable passages, only I gave up a few pages into the book. Every page is noteworthy, full of observations, insight, philosophy.
This: "Maybe we're all supposed to be making music together whether it feels like we belong together or not. Maybe it's not enough to live your own lives with quiet respect for others. Maybe we're supposed to be reaching and connecting – even when it seems like there's no way that's possible."
This novel reminds me of To Kill a Mockingbird; the kids are of about the same age, and sometimes the tone is similar. Then again, it's something completely different, something not attempted before, both in style and form.
Buy this book. Read it. Share it. It's a wonderful book!
You can buy Spillworthy here: Spillworthy
Find Johanna here: Homepage