Each individual reader gives new life to each story because each individual reader brings with her a unique set of experiences, memories and personality that attracts her to a different chapter, different character, different perspective than the next reader. Therefore, each and every one of my readers offer me the chance to see the stories and their characters in a new way when they share their thoughts of the books with me. And this is why I so passionately love my readers!
Rather than sharing an interview taken with a fellow writer, author Tiffini Johnson wished to seek the thoughts, ideas an questions of her readers. She received dozens of questions and thoughts via e-mail and online in response to her request for them. Below are a few of the ones she felt compelled to include in this special interview; she hopes the questions and her responses will resonate with all her readers! The readers whose questions are in the following interview will receive free copies of the book Sing Me Home. Thank you!
Mary from Tennessee asked of Sing Me Home:
[Sing Me Home] seems to be about letting go of the past in order to embrace a productive future. For me, this takes a conscious choice for a person. It is an act of discipline. Many live childhoods that may be difficult and even devastating. They often go on to live the life of a “victim” as adults. They never come out of the past – so to speak. It takes courage and a true transformation and choice for a person to decide they will create a new life in spite of the past. Laying down the past, and asking God to take over the future, then being determined to live a full and rich life. This allows one to use their experiences to “grow” them. It allows God to transform them…then finally, they can be used to minister to others. Is this your hope in these writings?
Conversations about “letting go” make me nervous because there’s a really fine line between encouraging someone who’s been through trauma to “let go and move on” and sincerely acknowledging all the myriad of ways in which that person was, and sometimes still is, hurting. It is easy to say, “that adult is living as a ‘victim’” when, really, that person just is still trying to process and deal with the past. Pain is real and there is no time limit on healing. For instance, someone in Aria’s shoes may be able to live a productive, rich life after trauma… until she gets married and is expected to participate joyfully in intimacy, at which time all the past truly comes back to haunt her and her daily life. So… I’m leery of saying things like, “Time will heal” or “Life goes on.” That being said, I’ve always tried to live by the motto that while I cannot necessarily control what happens TO me, I CAN control what I do ABOUT it. In my personal case, I chose to channel all the pain and hurt into surrounding myself around children who were hurting in similar ways—not to wallow in it but to try and help them. Ultimately, it ended up helping myself by giving me motivation and daily inspiration to do better and be better. It offered me hope and through volunteerism and writing, I was able to let God work. So, ultimately, I hope the writings help others see that, even though the pain never really goes completely away, it is something that can be dealt with constructively and that it does not have to be a death sentence for the rest of your life. You have the choice to use it in a way that benefits others (and, thereby, ultimately, yourself as well) or you can choose to hide it and live life fearfully. Choosing to see “every day miracles” — like shapes in clouds and flying a kite — isn’t always easy but if you train yourself to do just that then God will make it come easier and easier until finally you go one full day without feeling a need to live isolated and alone.
Patrick from Canada wrote of Sing Me Home:
This book talks about faith a lot and even uses the parables of Jesus. Are you a Christian? What is your favorite parable?
I am absolutely a Christian, yes. I grew up with a mother who regularly prayed over my sister and I. We didn’t attend church every week because we were always moving but we were taught to pray and to accept as literal truth everything the Bible says. But that’s not the real reason why I’m a Christian. The real reason I’m a Christian is because I have felt the presence of God. I have felt His spirit. When I was a little girl, if I got scared, I would hold out my hand and pray, asking Him to hold it. Moments later, I would always feel an inexplicable heat settle over the open palm of my hand; I knew He was holding my hand. He’s also always led me to the people I most needed to meet—those who have since become cherished friends and strangers. God isn’t an abstract philosophy; He is my friend. Actually, when I pray, I often call Him “Abba.”
What is my favorite parable?
That is a really good question. Of the ones featured in the novel, I think my favorite is the Wheat and Tares one, found in Matthew 13:24. I like this one because Christians are not exempt from wondering why bad things happen to good people. The God I believe in is a loving God, one who cares so much about His children that He sent His only Son to experience all the sadness and loneliness and despair that sin makes people feel—and then to die for them. That kind of love is almost incomprehensible. So then, it’s difficult to understand why such a loving God might allow things like child abuse to happen. In this parable, the tares are false believers or, in the larger scheme of things, evil as a whole. But the wheat represents all of God’s true believers, those people who really love Him and try to live according to His word. Sometimes evil isn’t obvious. Children are more likely to be abused by a member of their family than they are by a perfect stranger. And sometimes it’s discouraging and frightening, trying to figure out who to trust and who to believe. But this parable reminds me that that’s not my job. I don’t have to be responsible for putting an end to all evil. All I have to do is grow in my walk with Christ; all I have to do is continue to nourish my faith in Him. If I do this, then, when He comes back to separate the evildoers from the righteous, I will be gathered in His arms and carried to a place where there will be everlasting safety. If I can remember that, then I don’t have to be frightened of all the awful things people are doing.
Alaina from Tennessee asked of Sing Me Home:
How much of Joey’s character was real?
I was in college and going through a pretty rough period. My sister and I stopped at a gas station by the college we attended one day and were approached by a homeless man who offered us a free bracelet in exchange for a promise to help three homeless people sometime in our lives. He didn’t ask for a single red penny. We made the promise, chose a bracelet and left. But I couldn’t stop thinking about him so I continually returned to the gas station to see him. He was one of the happiest people I had ever seen. Really. His eyes actually shone and he was always smiling or laughing. I never smelled alcohol on his breath and he seemed perfectly sane. He liked to joke around and remembered my name. I had never met anyone like him; still haven’t. It started to really bother me that he never told anyone his name; he simply introduced himself as “a homeless man from Nashville.” So, one day, I worked up the courage to go to him. I asked him to make –me- a promise that he would start telling people his name. He smiled real big and said, “That’s sweet, honey, but I can’t. I want people to see my face when they see a homeless person.” My knees started shaking and my bones felt weak. Tears flooded my eyes. I got out before he could see how shook up I was. I knew, deep down inside, that Joey was an angel. I went back the next day to find him and, all of a sudden, after months of hanging out daily at the gas station, he was gone and no one knew where he went off to. I tried finding him online on multiple occasions, thinking it would be pretty easy — not very many homeless people give bracelets away for free – but I couldn’t find a single thing. I tried to give Joey money on multiple occasions. He always said “no” and only accepted the cash when I insisted. He was truly happy, just like Joey in the book. Now, my Joey didn’t really have a field of flowers or use the parables of Jesus—but his demeanor and inner peace was real. And I hope with all my heart that Joey reads this book so he might know how he helped change my life by teaching me what happiness is supposed to look like.
David from Washington asks:
What is your view of healing?
The first thing that comes to mind is peace. Healing doesn’t mean forgetting and so sometimes, even though you’ve moved on from a tragedy, it’s going to sneak back up on in nightmares or some small word someone says. Scars bleed sometimes. So, for me, healing doesn’t mean living as though the pain never happened. But you can reach a point where, when the bad memories and the pain comes back, you know that it’s not going to last. Healing is being able to see how green the grass is even, and maybe especially, when you are having a bad day. Healing means trusting your brain more than your heart—my heart is going to scream warnings against trusting people because I’ve been hurt in the past but my brain is smart enough to know that, if I don’t trust anyone ever again, I’m never going to find real joy.
Kelsey from Finland asks:
One of [Sing Me Home’s] themes seems to be music. What kind of music do you listen to? What is your favorite song?
Oh my goodness. Music makes life beautiful, it really does. In the story, it is one of the only things that consistently brings Aria comfort. One of the saddest parts of Aria’s life in my opinion is when she goes to sing but can’t anymore because of what happened to her at her aunt and uncle’s. It ripped my heart out because it reminded me that, sometimes, important things like dreams and innocence and peace can indeed be stolen from us. Fortunately, though, we have the ability to recapture things of beauty when the season of hardship passes. Aria’s special song is “Amazing Grace.” It’s the song she sang with her mother and it is the one that she thinks of to sing first. “Amazing Grace” is arguably one of the most well-recognized songs in the world—and for good reason. It’s simple lyrics are honest and heart-felt—-and they tell the greatest redemption story ever. As it was for Aria, “Amazing Grace” has been the soundtrack to my life and it is one of my favorite gospel hymns. But I also love “Step by Step” and “How Great Thou Art” is one of the most precious to me. My great-grandmother, Mama O’s, favorite song was “Gathering Flowers” and so it is for me. It is the song I sing when I need to feel surrounded by family and peaceful.
Besides gospel, I most love country music. Tanya Tucker’s “Strong Enough to Bend’ has been a sort of life motto for me. Trisha Yearwood’s “The Song Remembers When” is a long standing favorite. I love pretty much anything by Lady Antebellum or the Zac Brown Band. Classics like “Drift Away” and “American Pie” and Elvis Presley are still on my playlists too. Ultimately, I can listen to anything (I’ve even been to jazz festivals, dedicated soul that I am!) because music is a beautiful thing and it has the ability to transport me from places of shadow to places of light within three minutes.
Hilary from Wisconsin asked of The Character:
I’ve read all of your books and would love to know more about Ash. Did you know who he was when you started the book?
“The Character” was very unique in a lot of ways. It was the first book I’d written in first person. And it was the first book I’d written without the help of an outline. I simply saw a scene in the book in my head and started writing it out. I did not know at the time who Ash was. I did not know anything about it. Frankly, I think that’s part of why the stories are so sweet to me—-because I kind of discover them as I am writing. All I know going into the books is a general plot and sometimes I am given tantalizing clues—like I might know what the last sentence of the book is before I ever get started writing (I have actually designed a book around the last sentence of it before!). I start writing and the story simply flows from then until its conclusion.
More about Ash…
Writing is sincerely a gift to me. It is a joy and something that gives me immense pleasure. When I write, nothing else seems to exist. I feel genuine peace when I am writing. It is comforting in a way nothing else is. It really is a part of who I am. And, furthermore, I truly believe writing helped save my life by literally teaching me to dream. Every day I went to bed with an incomplete book meant that I got to lay awake and dream about what was going to happen to my characters the next day. Going to bed with an incomplete story meant I got to wake up with a sense of purpose and inspiration. It taught me to hope. I didn’t really see one individual character throughout my childhood—no “special” friend in the way that Anna did. All of my characters were an Ash. I could see and hear the stories of them all—and I loved each and every one. Ash is the acknowledgment and accumulation of that because, ultimately, he is hope. He also serves another purpose—I hope he helps readers who may be hurting know that they all have an Ash inside of them too. God has given every human being a seed that has the potential to produce hope, inspiration and peace; He’s given us all a resource, a tool, by which we are expected to harvest all of the good things He intends for us. Some people call these seeds talents—music, writing, art, sports, leadership and dozens of other specialties. I call them seeds because the only way to reap the rewards of the harvest they can produce is by attending to them—-writing every day, gaining insight from professionals, never giving up and, most of all, prayer. I hope Ash encourages all my readers to wonder about what their particular seed might be—and then to live with the intention of nourishing it until it offers them everything that writing has offered me.