Tara Johnson is a writer, singer, speaker and passionate lover of stories. Tara uses fiction, nonfiction, song and laughter to share her testimony of how God led her into freedom after spending year living shackled to the expectations of others. She lives in central Arkansas with her husband and children.

To learn more, visit her at https://tarajohnsonstories.com/

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Welcome to the blog, Tara. I’m soooo happy to have you here today. Congratulations on your upcoming release, Engraved on the Heart. I LOVE the cover and can’t wait to read it soon!

Tell us about “Engraved on the Heart”. What do you hope readers will take away from this story?

Great question! My main purpose in writing Engraved on the Heart was a spiritual one. I grew up with a seizure disorder, just like my heroine Keziah did. All of us face hardships of some kind or another, whether physical or emotional, but if we aren’t on guard, the enemy will tell us we have no worth.

A lie is only harmful if we believe it. The truth is Jesus thought we were so valuable, He died to keep us. I want my readers to know they are loved. They are wanted. They are cherished by the God of the universe. The scars in His hands prove it.

Your heart for Him shines through your words, friend. I love it!

Have you visited any of the historical sites from your book? If not, what places are at the top of your list to visit someday?

Yes! Engraved on the Heart is set in Savannah, Georgia and the idea for the story actually evolved while visiting there on a family vacation. From the moment I stepped onto Savannah’s cobblestone streets, I was entranced with its beauty and history. Secrets ooze out of every corner! My characters Micah and Keziah smuggle slaves through the Underground Railroad and a large part of their operation uses a church inspired by Savannah’s First African Baptist Church. You can tour it and see the holes drilled into the floor where slaves hid under the floor boards while trying to escape paddy rollers. First African Baptist still meets for services every week. While there, we also visited Fort Sumter and Tybee Island. I can’t wait to go back!

I have a long bucket list of historical places to visit. Our family has traveled all over the west. Among my favorites are Astoria, Oregon, Grand Lake, Colorado, Cimarron, New Mexico, and Dodge City, Kansas. I would really love to travel to places like Boston, Philadelphia, Gettysburg and other historical stops throughout the northeast.

Ohhhh, so many of those places are on my bucket list. So much fascinating history to explore! 🙂

Why did you choose to set this story during the Civil War? Can you explain why this time period draws you?

Growing up, my Mom and I enjoyed our yearly tradition of watching “Gone with the Wind” together. I have loved learning about the Civil War ever since. When I was young, the drama and potential romance of the period drew me in, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve fallen in love with the stories of heroism from brave men and women on both sides of the conflict. The Civil War was a turning point for our nation on so many levels…politically, socially, emotionally, not to mention the amazing inventions and reformations that occurred as a result. It completely changed the landscape of our society. I recently read a book called Slave Narratives of Georgia. It was filled with interviews from men and women in the 1920s and 30s who were once slaves. I was surprised by how diverse their own opinions of the matter were. For each of them, their view of slavery entirely depended on what kind of master they had. History is rarely a clear-cut matter of facts. It’s incredibly rich with opinions, emotions and passionate people.

I remember sitting in seventh grade history class, completely irritated with my teacher because she was so focused on having us memorize dates and cold facts, but I was anxious to learn more about George and Martha Washington. I wanted to know about Paul Revere’s upbringing. I wanted to hear more about Ben Franklin or learn what made Lincoln such a lion-hearted warrior in the face of such adversity. I wanted to know what personal struggles and failures each of these men and women endured that molded them into who they were. The Civil War has always fascinated me but it is the people who comprised it that continue to call to my heart.

Well said. You know I feel the very same way! Their stories live on through people like you. 🙂

What’s one of the strangest things you’ve had to research for a novel?

Don’t ever look up my Google search history on my computer. It’s pretty wild stuff. ha! Some of the most bizarre research I’ve encountered were oddities from the Civil War. Things like Secesh goods are grotesque to our way of thinking. (Those were bowls and goblets made from Yankee skulls.) Confederate tradesmen actually sold these on the streets of Southern towns.

I learned quite a bit of amusing research in regards to Union commander General Benjamin Butler. He was one of the most despised generals of all time for a variety of reasons. Southern women would encourage their children to “make like General Butler”. This was a call for the children to cross their eyes. Poor General Butler was not a comely man. In fact, he was so despised by Southerners, Confederates began making chamber pots with his likeness printed inside the bowl. Talk about insulting!

Oh my! I haven’t heard of that before! 🙂 It’s hard to imagine.

I see that you’re also a speaker and singer/songwriter. That is so cool! What is one of your favorite subjects to speak about and what’s one of your favorite songs to sing? 🙂

I’m a preacher’s kid and spent many years living to please people. That’s a quick recipe for depression. I fell for the enemy’s lie and thought approval was the same thing as love. The two are not the same thing at all. Not even close. Approval is a stamp that says, “You meet my expectations.” Can you hear the condescension in that thought?” ha! Love says, “You’re a mess but I’m crazy about you anyway.” I spent many years looking for unconditional love in conditionally-minded people. The only one who can fill that void inside is Jesus.

So now I have the joy of helping others learn the same things I’ve learned. I go to prisons, churches, women’s retreats…basically anyone who’s willing to put up with me, and share how God led me out of a life of people-pleasing into freedom with Him. I share my journey through comedy, song and stories. It’s always so much fun and I’ve met some beautiful people who are in the middle of taking their first steps out of darkness to walk in the light of Christ’s love.

As far as music goes, I love singing everything! When I’m doing comedy or parody songs, the sky’s the limit. The goofier the better. When it comes time to share what God has done, there is always one song that touches my heart in a profound way: “His Life for Mine”. I sing it every chance I get. When I’m having a bad day, there’s a tune that immediately draws my heart to God’s…Matt Maher’s “Lord, I Need You”.

Thanks for sharing a bit of your testimony with us today, Tara. I’m so blessed to know you! Is there anything else you’d like to add? Any upcoming projects you can share with us?

I’m so excited about my next book scheduled to be released summer of 2019. It’s entitled Where Dandelions Bloom and was inspired by the life of Emma Edmonds, a female Civil War soldier and spy. Her life was fascinating! I took a few tips from Emma’s courage and tenacity and created a fiesty heroine named Cassie Kendrick. Where Dandelions Bloom tells the story of a courageous woman, an ambitious photographer, and a spunky message boy, all amid the glory, secrets and horrors of war. Cassie and Gabe’s story is one of hope amid rubble and forgiveness among despair.

Ah, I can’t wait to read it! Thanks again for stopping by. May the Lord continue to guide and bless you, Tara!

GIVEAWAY!!

Tara has graciously offered to give away one copy of Engraved on the Heart to one lucky winner. Enter below and it could be YOU! ;)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks for entering! Contest is open for US residents only. Contest ends June 5, 2018.  The winner will be notified by email. Happy Reading, everybody!