Interview with the Author of ‘Johnnie’s Girl,’ Harma-Mae Smit

What inspired you to write Johnnie’s Girl?

A stack of fiction magazines from the ‘40s and 50s, actually – my family was staying in this little cabin by the ocean one summer, and every evening my sister and I would go up to the attic and read the retro magazines that the owners had stashed up there. I thought they were great. Just a whole magazine of entertaining stories for adults – I’d never seen that before. I used to read magazines with stories in them, like Highlights and Clubhouse, as a kid. But when I got older, I realized magazines tended towards non-fiction, or maybe very literary works. I enjoyed finding magazines with a short snatch of light reading you could read while waiting for a bus or something at least used to exist.

So that’s the reason for the retro vibe.

Yes, that was a different thing for me. I tend to set short stories in the present, so I don’t get tripped up on the details. But back when the movie industry was just getting established (think 1920s, 1930s), that was an interesting time in the movie industry. I wanted to explore that, but also poke a bit at the typical movie set-up of a hero and his side-kick. In Johnnie’s Girl, the story is from the perspective of the side-kick, and you can decide how much of a hero you think Johnnie is.

What about those fiction magazines you’re giving homage to with this story – do you think we’ll see that kind of thing come back?

I’d love that! It would mean people think reading is really important, wouldn’t it, if all the newsstands were filled not only with tabloids but also with engaging fiction? But with the way print publications are going now, I don’t know if they’ll ever come back in the same form as they were. Maybe as some internet equivalent, or an app.

Because I think the fiction landscape might be shifting a bit. For a long time, the focus was on novels, novels, novels, and still that’s what many people prefer to read. If I have the time, I still like getting into a full novel myself. Everyone would tell writers to avoid releasing short story collections, because they often made your sales figures go down, so short stories were mostly just written for fun. But now, with the increasing use of e-readers, I think it’s easier for people to just pick up a short story to entertain them on the bus or wherever. You don’t necessarily want to plow through a novel every time.

Well, thanks for your time, and hope people do pick up Johnnie’s Girl.

Yes, hopefully it’s a little something to brighten people’s day.

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