Author Mary D. Johnson Talks About Spirituality and Danger

January 18th, 2016

Mary D. Johnson has a kind and gentle face. Yet there is determination in her voice, and when she begins talking about her writing, she becomes more animated. The stories are clear in her mind; and she makes it very clear that writing is, at least for now, her main purpose in life.

Renwar Vallee by Mary D. Johnson.

Renwar Vallee by Mary D. Johnson.

Ms. Johnson has just published her first book, which I would describe as a faith-based fantasy novel for young adults. If that sounds confusing, it really isn’t. Johnson has a way of fusing her spirituality into the complex world of her adolescent characters, who struggle with family arguments, the confusion of relationships, feelings of alienation, and all those other stresses that normally affect teenagers. The book, “Renwar Vallée: The Battle for the Souls of Néarbi Town” is the first in a series, and ends on a “cliffhanger.” It’s available now in Jamaican bookstores and Bookophilia in Kingston will be launching it soon – with prizes and surprises, as they say.

So where did she start, I asked her? How did she embark on this voyage into the mysterious world of her imagination? Or is it really so strange? The lifestyle of the hero, the charming Renwar Vallée, is not unlike that of an uptown Jamaican youth, living comfortably. Néarbi Town could be Kingston – noisy, brash and materialistic – in a different setting. The churches seem irrelevant and spiritual leaders often argue amongst themselves. Renwar is a self-centered young man; but is he feeling a pull towards a deeper understanding of life?

As I talk to Johnson, I realize too that the “dark” areas of the book reflect difficult periods in her own past. Born on Father’s Day in Kingston (“a gift to Dad”) she looks at least ten years younger than her 37 years. “I grew up as a tomboy,” she laughs. “I wanted to do everything boys do.” In 2001, while working at the office of the Department of Public Prosecutions, she became suddenly and mysteriously ill, and spent three months in hospital. “I remember lights,” she sighs, “and staring at those green curtains, always green curtains.” Her feelings of vulnerability – and a sense of real, physical danger – are expressed through some of the characters in her book, who move through a series of disturbing situations and get lost in strange places.

However, her Christian faith and some “good girlfriends” have helped pull her through her own life challenges. “I asked God to remove the pain,” she says simply; whether this was mental or physical pain, it has worked for her. Her relationship with her father also remains pivotal in her life, although his health is now failing. She describes how, growing up as a Christian, she enjoyed “rambling conversations” with her Dad, who taught her to “visualize what you want” when praying. “God gives us powers,” adds Johnson. One wonders what powers Renwar Vallée will acquire, once he has moved towards a deeper spirituality.

Her friends have been her support; along with her mother, brothers and sister, who have helped motivate her to write. “When I felt like throwing in the towel,” she adds, “they helped me affirm that no one should prevent you from doing what you want to do.” And there is her cat, Sam Joy Johnson, whom she calls her “miracle cat.” He wakes her up every morning, she tells me. Yes, animals play a part in Johnson’ book; there are shape shifters, good witches and bad witches too. There is also a pomeranian dog called Snow in her family. “I wish I could talk to them,” says Johnson wistfully. I think she is drawn to the supernatural and the spirit world of animals.

"Ticktock" by Dean Koontz.

“Ticktock” by Dean Koontz.

I ask her about her writing influences. Johnson first envisaged the book as a graphic novel, and one can certainly see that in its structure and its vivid set pieces; but it was too expensive and complex a process. Growing up, she read many of the Japanese “manga” (comics) that her brothers enjoyed; one called Bleach, written and illustrated by Tite Kubo, follows the adventures of teenager Ichigo Kurosaki. Teen ninja Naruto, another manga by Masashi Kishimoto, was also one of her favorites. She also read the prolific American thriller writer Dean Koontz, especially “Ticktock,” which is a strange mix of horror and humor. She enjoyed the storytelling of Stephen King in his earlier novels such as “It,” in which a group of children are pursued by a shapeshifting being. But unlike many young women – “I disliked romance,” she says firmly.

Naruto, the teenage ninja of manga and movie fame.

Naruto, the teenage ninja of manga and movie fame.

So, when will we see Book 2, I ask her? She hopes it will be completed by the end of summer, she says. There will be new characters. It will be called “Renwar Vallée: The Quest for the Sword of Elohim,” she discloses. She is also writing poetry, and would like to publish that too. There’s no stopping Mary Johnson. 

Who is her favorite character, so far? “I love all my characters,” affirms Johnson. Even those who seem to be the “bad guys”? Yes, even those. When I ask her about writer’s block, she says simply, “I ask God to help me,” and she gets over it.

“I am at a stage in life where I feel more at peace,” she smiles. “Yes, I would love to travel, meet more people. But this is what I want to do – continue writing. I have my friends, and family, and God supporting me.”

Mary D. Johnson.

Mary D. Johnson.




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3 Responses to “Author Mary D. Johnson Talks About Spirituality and Danger”

  1. Arhazivory says:

    Very nice. I hope her book does very well as it’s not the norm to see a Christian styled fantasy novel coming out of Jamaica.

  2. Mary D Johnson says:

    Yes, I am also Mary D Johnson and a aspiring writer :) Whenever you get a break please touch base with me so we can communicate… Thanks!!

  3. EmmaLewis says:

    Thank you – yes, I hope so too. It’s very unusual, and probably the first of its kind for Jamaica! Watch out for Book 2!