Johnnie Bernhard is the author of the new novel How We Came to Be. She also has written the novel A Good Girl. A former English teacher and journalist, her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Southern Literary Review and The Mississippi Press. She lives near the Mississippi Sound.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for How We Came to Be and for your character Karen?
A: The idea for How We Came to Be came from several sources. I am very aware of the stress today's families are under. Working parents, divorce, violence in schools, the illegal use of prescription drugs, the lonely lives of many senior citizens - are all social news items.
This is compacted by our current forms of communication, texting and social media interaction.
Q: What do you think the novel says about families?
A: As an author, I wanted to examine the modern family and the difficulties many of these families face. I also wanted to comment on the positive impact supportive neighbors and friends can make in a family.
Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you change things along the way?
A: I never know how a novel will end. I have ideas about the beginning and the end, but a manuscript can take on many twists and turns as I begin writing.
Q: How important is setting to you in your writing?
A: Setting is very important to me as an author and a reader. A strong sense of place within a novel can only be achieved by writing a setting the author is familiar with.
I was able to create the character Leona Supak after visiting Budapest, Hungary. I was haunted by a World War II memorial to the Jewish population I saw there while visiting. I began researching the history of Budapest during that time. It served as a springboard for creating Leona and her backstory.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm currently writing a third novel, Sisters of the Undertow. The themes are centered on sibling rivalry and how choices we make often determine who we become.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I am a former journalist and English teacher. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to write and share my work with readers.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb