From Blueprints to Bestsellers: Varian Johnson’s Journey to Middle-Grade Fiction Stardom

When Varian Johnson speaks about his path to becoming a celebrated author of middle-grade and young-adult fiction, it’s clear that his story is as captivating as the ones he writes. An engineer by training, Johnson’s heart has always belonged to the world of books—a passion that has fueled his successful career as a writer. In an engaging interview, Johnson opened up about the influences and experiences that have shaped his writing journey.

A Lifelong Love of Reading

Johnson’s journey began in the pages of books. Growing up, he found solace and excitement in the works of Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and CS Lewis. However, it was the discovery of authors like Walter Dean Myers and Virginia Hamilton that truly sparked something within him.

“It wasn’t until I discovered Walter Dean Myers and Virginia Hamilton that I saw Black authors writing books featuring Black kids,” Johnson shared. “That kind of put the seed in my head that maybe I can be an author too.”

The Engineering Detour

Despite his burgeoning passion for writing, Johnson pursued a degree in civil engineering at the University of Oklahoma. Yet, even while working as an engineer, the idea of writing never left him. “I never lost the passion or the idea of writing, especially for young people,” he explained.

Writing for Young Readers

Johnson’s decision to focus on middle-grade fiction stems from his love for that pivotal age group. “I love writing for the eight to twelve, ten to fourteen age range,” he said. According to Johnson, this age is when kids are starting to figure out who they are within their families and the larger world.

Navigating the Black Experience in Literature

Varian Johnson’s book “Twins”

Throughout his writing career, Johnson has been mindful of portraying diverse Black experiences. He emphasized the importance of telling multiple sides of different stories. “There is no one Black experience,” Johnson stated. “I hate the idea that there is only one way a story has to be told.”

Johnson’s goal is to ensure his characters are relatable and authentic, and he often draws from his own experiences. His upcoming book, *The Parker Inheritance*, for instance, was inspired by his high school years in South Carolina and deals with themes of race and identity.

The Writing Process

Johnson’s writing process is a blend of research and creativity. He begins with preliminary research, dives into writing, and then continues to research as the story develops. This method ensures authenticity and depth in his historical and contemporary settings.

“Even if it’s realistic fiction, the historical part needs to be factual and believable,” he noted. He believes that grounding a story in accurate details helps readers fully immerse themselves in the narrative.

Influences and Inspirations

Varian Johnson credits many authors for influencing his work, including the aforementioned authors above. He also draws inspiration from contemporary works like Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven”, appreciating how these authors craft their narratives.

Advice for Aspiring Writers

My goal is always to write a better book than the one before it.

For those looking to follow in his footsteps, Johnson’s advice is straightforward: persevere and focus on what you can control. “My goal is always to write a better book than the one before it,” he shared. He emphasized the importance of perseverance, knowing that success often comes after many rejections.

Looking Forward

Johnson’s literary journey continues with exciting projects on the horizon, including his first picture book, “Little Big Man”, set to be published by Scholastic. He remains passionate about crafting stories that entertain, enlighten, and encourage young readers to think critically about the world around them.

As Johnson’s career evolves, his dedication to portraying diverse experiences and his commitment to young readers remain at the heart of his work. His story is a testament to the power of perseverance and the enduring impact of literature.

Visit Varian Johnson’s website for a list of his full body of work. Also, stay up to date by following him on Instagram.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *