BWW Interview: Authors Chera Thompson and NF Johnson Remember 'A Time To Wander'
I recently met author Chera Thompson and discovered the very interesting
book she co-wrote with NF Johnson.
I was lucky enough to get both of these authors to discuss their "TIME TO WANDER"
travels and many years of stories.
MCL: How long have you been Writing?
CT: Since I got my first diary at age nine. I majored in journalism in college and did some copywriting after I got out. But mostly I've written and published some short stories. This is my first published novel.
NFJ: Ten looooooong years of fun
MCL: What is the title of your current book?
BOTH: A Time To Wander
MCL: What's the storyline?
BOTH: The story begins with the anti- Vietnam war riot at Kent State, May 1970 and carries on through those turbulent years with decisions made about the Pill and psychedelics and open relationships. The 'he said- she said' format reveals the questions and dilemmas that faced young adults of both sexes during those passionate, but turbulent times.
In the time before cell phones and GPS's, the story peaks with a snowy winter-break 800-mile Canterbury Tales-esque hitchhiking trip. The interesting people they meet and the hassles they face, teach Kris and Lena lessons about themselves and each other.
The work is fictional but based on true experiences. It's a composite of people, times, and events we were both intimately familiar with. We added some minor enhancements to allow the story to encompass all the discoveries and challenges that happened or in some cases could have happened during those tumultuous times.
Some grin-worthy, some cringe-worthy. LOL
MCL Why did you decide to write this story?
CT: We had reconnected after 38 years over Facebook. We began emailing memories back and forth about events that happened to us, our friends and friends of friends. We organized reunions with college friends and reached out to others our age for more material.
Once we started reminiscing about the experiences we had, we discovered that it was an era that was worth writing about. Some of the experiences, like hitchhiking, were lost in time. Some paralleled what we as a society are experiencing today.
NFJ: She begged me - LOL. Chera in our first conversations told me that she always wanted to write about our hitchhiking trip but was afraid her mom would find out.
CT: Yeah, first I had to hide it from my mom, then later, I had to hide it from my kids! But now in their 30's, I let them read the book and they liked it.
NFJ: Chera couldn't remember some of the details. But I made that trip often to visit family, so everything remained fresh in my mind. When Chera asked if I'd be interested on collaborating with her on a short story about our hitching trip, I said yes. We ran it past our spouses and they were on board. Writing about the hitching trip brought back other memories and after a year, we both thought that our whole story would make a good foundation for a book - what it was like experiencing the Vietnam War saga, college life, co-habiting, and of course hitchhiking back then.
MCL: Talk about your co-writer. Who is he? How did you meet?
NFJ: I met her at Kent State my first week, she was the roommate of a woman I saw for a short time. We were more acquaintances than friends until the following year when we met at a party and fell into each other. I found her very thoughtful and intriguing. She kept me on my toes with her quirkiness and guard, but she was always honest.
CT: He was very open about his feelings, which was a new thing for guys back then. I was very attracted to it. I felt we could talk about anything. He was very laid-back, and extremely free-spirited. That was also new for me. LOL
MCL: What was the co-writing process like?
NFJ: It went very well. In the beginning Chera was the more experienced writer, so I would defer to her, and she would rewrite my sections.
CT: Nooo, I would carefully edit your sections.
NFJ: But I would tell her, her way of putting it, is not what a 19-year-old guy would say or think. As my writing got stronger, I would rewrite her sections, to which she would object, saying she wouldn't think or say it that way. This led to us having full control over (for the most part) one's chapter making things easier. We'd have a major disagreement about once every one or two years. Then we'd call in a friend as an arbitrator. The helpful thing was if one of us got writer's block, the other would pick the other up. And if that didn't work, we'd threaten to write the other's chapter. AND that wasn't happening.
CT: Since we lived in different states, we would email our sections to each other and wait for the other's response. We wrote the experiences as we each remembered them, then edited, then elaborated. I tended to lay everything out in a free style burst of emotion, Neal was more methodic, had to contemplate every little thing. Our different writing styles complemented each other's voices, and made it unique. But it was a long process. And we were both still working at the time. Our spouses were very good sports about it, but we were careful not to let the book intrude on nights out, vacations, holidays etc. We always put family first So hence...TEN YEARS!
MCL: What are a few things you didn't put in the book you now wished you had?
NFJ: Al's Breakfast Diner in Dinkytown - the campus spot next to the University of Minnesota. It was in originally and then ended up on the cutting room floor. A memorable 14 stool hole-in-the-wall fun and funky place we ate at back in the early 70's. Self-described by the owner as a dump aspiring to be a dive. FYI - it has won a James Beard Award.
CT: There were a couple of experiences and people I wish we had kept in the book. But after 300 pages, they didn't make the cut. One was a Girls Night Out chapter.
MCL: What's your next project? Co-writing again or on your own?
CT: I'm actually in the editing stage of a novel in Lena's voice only. It covers the years after college and before the college reunion. I call it a 'between-quel'. Hope to have it out next year.
NFJ: Still contemplating... Maybe a script for the hitchhiking part of the book. It's mostly dialogue between the drivers and our characters.
MCL: Time to promote ... What's coming up for you in 2020?
BOTH: Kent State's May 4th 50th anniversary, Ohioana Book Festival, Burchfield Penny Book Club, April 2, Hippie Fest, August 1-2 in Logan Ohio. We are always available for book clubs, either locally or by SKYPE.
FOR MORE ABOUT CHERA THOMPSON AND NF JOHNSON
Chera Thompson was born and raised in California's San Fernando Valley. She attended Kent State University and has a BS in Journalism from Ohio University and an MS in Adult Education from Buffalo State College. Her career in travel enabled her to see a lot of the world. Her later career, teaching English as a Second Language to adults, has brought her much gratification. Her fiction has been published in the Los Angeles Review and was selected as a finalist in the Glimmer Train Short Fiction Contest. Other publication credits include Let's Have Fun Vol. 2, Queen City Flash, and Have a NYC 3. Most recently her non-fiction pieces were published in Pamela Des Barres's Let It Bleed: How to Write a Rockin' Memoir. She lives with her husband and two dogs on a bluff overlooking Lake Erie and enjoys traveling with their two adult children and collecting beach glass.
NF Johnson attended college and worked for Kent State and The Ohio State University. His preferred mode of transportation in the late '60's and early '70's was using his thumb. He hitchhiked over 15,000 miles crisscrossing the Midwest. His work has been published in Flash Fiction Press. A Time to Wander is his first novel. He now resides in Dublin, Ohio with his wife and two dogs. NF's has worked stints as a bartender in the 70's, psychiatry in the 80's, Sleep Medicine in the 00's, and is now retired. He's a regular tailgater at OSU games and a loyal Minnesota Vikings & Twins fan. He enjoys cooking for extended family and friends.