Johnnie Bernhard is the author of the new novel Sisters of the Undertow. She also has written the novels How We Came to Be and 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 Sisters of the Undertow?
A: Several years ago, I watched a television interview of a woman who was married to a NFL football player discuss her many miscarriages. The couple appeared Olympian in their physical appearance and health. I was struck by the tragedy of her marriages, realizing that what we often see on the surface, is not necessarily the reality of a situation.
This is the story of two sisters, Kim, who is beautiful and intelligent, and her sister, Kathy, who was born premature at 29 weeks. Kathy's physical and mental abilities are marred by this premature birth.
Q: How would you describe the relationship between Kim and Kathy?
A: Kim is often dismissive and embarrassed by her sister. Kathy adores her sister despite the years of neglect. Kim bases so much of her likes and dislikes on appearance and status, whereas Kathy is pure of heart, loving without judgement.
Q: The novel centers around Houston--how important is setting to you in your writing?
A: Sense of place is very important to a novel. I believe Hemingway coined the phrase, "Write what you know." That is what gives a story authenticity.
I am originally from Houston. It is a culturally diverse city. Many of the characters in the novel are from many different cultures.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: I want the readers to examine their sibling relationships, as well as the their place in their community, as well as the world. All of my novels deal with these themes, as well as the plight of the immigrant.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm currently working on my fourth novel. The protagonist is a woman in her early 70s who must come to terms with being a widow, as well as finding her place in the world as an older, single woman.
I think too often women are discounted when they reach a certain age. My protagonist will prove this prejudice doesn't apply!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I'm a former English teacher and journalist. I love hearing people's stories! I am grateful for the readers and my publisher for supporting me. I welcome readers to view my website, www.johnniebernhardauthor.com. My books are available on Amazon, Target, Barnes & Noble, and indie bookstores.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Johnnie Bernhard.