Thursday, October 1, 2009

An interview with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Ms. Fugal herself

Every month members of VBT - Writers on the Move host another member on the first and third of the month. This month I'm privileged to host Carolyn Howard-Johnson, promoted and author of the Fugal books.

I promised Carolyn not to have the cookie-cutter type interview. Therefore, I invited her over to my house, handed her a shovel to make her way through the clutter, and offered her a cup of Constant Comment tea mixed with green.

After she and I were cozy with mugs of tea and some tasty sugar-free zuchinni bread, I started the questions.

How did/does your history and home background affect your writing, especially since you write nonfiction help books?
Answer: I also write fiction and poetry, Viv. And my history and background (and that of my ancestors) is extremely important in most of that work.

But it is for my how-to books, too. That I started in journalism at the Salt Lake Tribune when I was only 18 and worked as an editorial assistant for Good Housekeeping and as a fashion publicist all contributed to my marketing skills. Then I owned retail stores for 30 years. Operating stores successfully is probably 80% pure marketing. In fact, my latest book is for retailers, A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. It's available at and even includes information on how to incorporate the use of authors into profit-making events. In fact, some authors have said it helped them understand retailing better--all the better to sell an author event to their local bookstores and other retailers.
Wow, I didn't know how versatile a writter you are. (After a sip of the tea, I asked the next questions on my mind.)

Tell us something about your educational background that has made you a better, or more caring, writer.
Answer: I was an English Lit major so that pretty much answers that question. But my education has continued as I teach writers for UCLA's Writers' Program. I've been doing it for about five years now and I constantly am learning more things from writers about what writers need to know. So that helps answer your question about my how-to books, too. (-;
I knew you and I agreed on many things concerning writing, and no wonder. I'm a retired English and composition teacher myself.

Please fill us in on your hobbies, interests, or activities you participate in during your leisure time. *laugh* If you have any – besides attending book festivals and other public appearance.

Carolyn took a bite of zuchinni bread before she nodded to let me know she would be with us again in a second.

Answer: Travel is probably my major interest outside of writing, and it's really integrally involved with writing, too. I find travel contributes to writing in so many ways. It keeps a writers' interests broad. Reading does the same thing.  I've been to so many countries I've lost count but I've studied writing at Herzen University in St. Petersburg, Russia; Cambridge University in the UK; and Charles University in Prague, the Czech Republic. Did you know Charles University is the oldest university in Europe--by their reckoning, any way.
What keeps you writing? 
Answer:  I just can't help myself. (-:
That's an answer I can understand only too well.

You have so many projects going all the time: working on books, traveling, etc.; how do you manage?

Answer:  That's impossible to answer. I guess just keep putting one foot ahead of the other and going.
How do you feel when you complete a book? Which book has been your favorite?

Answer: My favorite book was my first, a novel. It is really the story of my life, fictionalized. And it deals with the most important themes that run through all my serious work. It is This Is the Place and is a story of a young journalistic coming of age at a time when women were repressed. She lives not only in a repressive time, but also a repressive place and must find her way by examining the lives of women who came before her.
You are definitely one interesting woman.

What are your writing achievements and goals?

Answer: I am on the final draft of Here's How I Don’t Cook, a memoir, and I'm looking for an agent for it.
Another thing we have in common, not cooking or very little. Who has time?

How do any writing groups benefit you and your writing? Also, we might tie some information about your presentations with this.

Answer: I love my critique groups, the ones I use to better my own writing. I also love the seminars and workshops I conduct to help better the writers of others. Of course, I get tons out of both of them. One of those you know about is the free Muse Online Writers Conference I cosponsor with Lea Schizas. It happens every October and attracts--literally--thousands.
Ah, yes, I'm involved in the Muse Online Writers Conference, but not nearly to the stage you are.

Does writing help better you as a person? How?

Answer: This is such a good questions. If writing doesn't help a writer get better as a person, then that writer probably isn't being as truthful with him or herself as she should be. I do know that many writers fear stripping themselves bare but--really--they are limiting themselves if they let their fears limit them from learning more about themselves.

Thank you, Carolyn, for joining me today. You always have such insightful comments.

Please let readers know how they can purchase your books.

Carolyn: My books are all at Amazon, and Amazon makes it easy and inexpensive to buy them. My Amazon profile is at From there each book is but a click away. Also, my how-to books are all available for the Kindle reader.

Any other comments?

Carolyn: Only many thanks for a caring interview. Oh, and a reminder via my motto: "“Careers that are not fed soon die as readily as any living organism given no sustenance.”

P.S.Oh! And come back to Viv's Bubbles blog to read a legend I found in Chile retold for children.

Thank you again, Carolyn. I so enjoyed the visit, and hope you liked the tea and zuchinni bread.

Now about VBT:

VBT Writers on the Move begins a new feature to the VBT: Writers on the Move Mystery Site Give-away. Each month, the winner will have the choice of receiving the Mystery Site Host's book or a guest spot on VBT - Writers on the Move web site. If you're an author and looking for visibility, this is a wonderful opportunity. But, it's going to be a tough choice; our members have great books to offer.

REMEMBER, you can't win if you don't play the game, so please stop by our members' sites during the tour and leave a comment.

4RV Publishing authors Linda Asato, Katie Hines, Elysabeth Eldering, Crysatlee Calderwood, and Vivian Zabel participate.

If you're interested in finding out more about our promotional group, you can send an email to:
Please put VBT-VBT in the subject line.




Nancy Famolari said...

Excellent interview.Carolyn is such a versatile person I always learn something new. Tea an zucchini bread sounds great. Do you do that for all your interviews?

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Good stuff, Carolyn! Didn't realize you'd traveled so much.

Marvelous Marv said...

Good job on this feature post, Vivian - and it is ALWAYS interesting to read more about one of my fave literary and marketing mavens the dynamic, inimitable and vivacious HOJO! (big grin)

The Old Silly

Katie Hines said...

Loved the informal format here. It's always great to learn more about Carolyn. I'll be sure and check back on the 3rd for more.

Margaret Fieland said...

Vivian, thanks for the interesting interview. I'm always awed by the range of Carolyn's interests and writing.

Margaret Fieland

elysabeth said...

Carolyn is definitely a woman of many hats. Thanks for sharing with us - E :)

Darcia said...

Vivian, I love the relaxed interview!
Carolyn, I'm looking forward to learning more about your work!

DarcĂ­a Helle

Jack said...

What an interesting interview...I look forward to learning more about both of you!

Jack E. George

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Thank you so much, Viv, for taking the time to do an original interview. I always try to include something in them that will help other writers. I hope we succeeded.

And thanks to Darcia (a new friend!), my favorite old raving Silly, Elysabeth, Nancy, Margaret, Katie and Dianne, too.

And, yes, Diane. Travel is such an inspiration. I leave for Mexico on Sunday. Very excited to travelt he backroads. Practice my Spanish (the Mexicans are so patient and helpful with my stilted stuff!).

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Tweeting tips for writers @frugalbookpromo

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Jack, thanks for dropping by. Hope we do get to know one another better.

Carolyn (writing that is!)

Sun Singer said...

Carolyn, I enjoyed reading the interview, especially the comment: "If writing doesn't help a writer get better as a person, then that writer probably isn't being as truthful with him or herself as she should be."

In a recent newsletter, C. Hope Clark mentioned that some writers aren't living up to their potential because they're holding back. Their not using their best stuff, stuff that defines them, hurts them, brings them the greatest joys.

Risking being that honest and that real is the kind of writing that makes us better people. My two cents, with some help from Hope.


Stephen Tremp said...

Great interview. I've got to read your book. Its on my list, right after I finish my current book.

Steve Tremp

Jean Henry Mead said...

Greate interview! Carolyn, you're a wonder!

Karen and Robyn - Writing for Children said...

This is such an interesting interview. It is hard to keep tours fresh, but you've certainly managed it, Vivian.

I've read Carolyn's Frugal books and they are great writing and marketing tools. I always recommend them.


Holly Jahangiri said...

I'm a fan. From sending my "spies" out to meet Carolyn and give me the low-down a couple of years ago, to reading her excellent and helpful books, to joking around with her and exchanging useful tips and info - I'm a fan.

What a great interview, Viv! Yep, I'm convinced. Carolyn's the real deal. ;)

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I'm intrigued by the title, Here's How I Don't Cook. It sounds like my type of book! I've found the Frugal Book Promoter very helpful and look forward to adding more of your books to my collection.

kathy stemke said...

Hey, Vivian, I'd like cake and ice cream for my interview.

I love your words of wisdom, Carolyn.

kathy stemke said...

Hey, Vivian, I'd like cake and ice cream for my interview.

I love your words of wisdom, Carolyn.

Liana said...

I am really amazed at the things you do! I wish I were like you-dynamic!
(I am trying my way). You inspire me, that's for sure.

Vivian, great job as always!Thanks for sharing,


Mayra Calvani said...

Wonderful interview, Carolyn and Vivian! Carolyn is such a talented, multi-faceted writer!

I whole-heartedly recommend her poetry and nonfiction books on editing and promotion.

I gave my mom her poetry book as a Mother's Day gift and she loved it, keeps it on her bedside table.

Helen said...

Great interview and loved your questions, Vivian. Carolyn sounds like a very interesting person and writer.

And I want the recipe for sugar-free zucchini bread!

Straight From Hel

Dianne G. Sagan said...


I always love learning more about other authors and this has been a really fun interview and gives all of us more of a glimpse into who you are besides your writing and marketing expertise. Love it!