Zaneta Varnado Johns is the author of Amazon’s #1 bestselling Poetic Forecast: Reflections on Life’s Promises, Storms, and Triumphs (2020). Touching the world line by line, Johns is a co-author in the international bestseller, Voices of the 21st Century: Resilient Women Who Rise and Make a Difference (2021) and in Jane Austen: an anthology of thoughts & opinions (2021). Johns is featured in Fine Lines, Summer 2021 and has been accepted to other upcoming literary journals. Her writing will inspire, comfort, and provoke empathy and positive thought.
Zaneta is a retired human resources leader who was recognized as one of the University of Colorado’s 2007 Women Who Make a Difference. Johns actively writes poetry, quotes, and other creative expressions. Zaneta, aka as Zan, is a wife, mother and proud grandmother who lives in Westminster, Colorado. Though not fond of cold weather, most understand why Colorado stole her heart upon arrival . . . She also proudly refers to her hometown of Hammond, Louisiana as “home,” and longs for the annual visit to Hawaii with her husband to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Learn more about Zaneta Varnado Johns at www.zanexpressions.com
1) First, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me! When did you know that writing is what you were called to do? What is it about being a writer that you love the most? What about being a writer frustrates you the most?
I am delighted to speak with you.
I am a late bloomer. Although I have been writing poems over forty-five years,
I did not accept writing as my “calling” until 2020 when I published my first book. I am completely immersed and energized when I write. What I love most is the joy I feel knowing that my writing will touch, comfort, or heal someone. What frustrates me is that there is not enough time in the day to write and do all the other things that bring me joy. Also, the business side of publishing and marketing competes with my creative time.
2) Can you tell us a little about your book(s) and where our readers can find out more about them and you?
You may learn more about me on my website at www.zanexpressions.com
Poetic Forecast: Reflections on Life’s Promises, Storms, and Triumphs (WSA Publishing, 2020) is my debut book of poetry, published in 2020. It is a spiritual journey that challenges our thinking and demonstrates the joy of celebrating life and the people who touch us. Readers will experience feelings of hope, love, pain, grief, uncertainty, and resilience. Poetic Forecast features heartfelt tributes and poems written between 1976 and 2020. Book club questions are included at the end.
Autographed copies of Poetic Forecast are available at: https://www.zanexpressions.com/pe Readers can also find Poetic Forecast on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or online wherever books are sold.
I am a co-author in Voices of the 21st Century: Resilient Women Who Rise and Make a Difference (WSA Publishing, 2021). It is an inspiring collection of stories by forty women—premier members of the Women Speakers Association (WSA)— from around the globe. The topics include health and wellness, social justice, domestic violence, stereotypes and personal esteem, sisterhood, personal and professional development, leadership, spirituality, and business recovery, among others. My chapter is entitled, “Invisible No More,” and my poem, “What Matters,” is featured on the book’s dedication page. Autographed orders of Voices of the 21st Century (customized with my name on the cover) are available at: https://www.zanexpressions.com/pe Readers can also find Voices of the 21st Century (non-customized) on Amazon.
I am a co-author in Jane Austen, an anthology of thoughts & opinions (PurpleStone Press, 2021). It is a collection of poetry and prose intended to continue the conversation around Jane Austen’s generous contribution to the literary world.
Jane Austen may be purchased on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Jane-Austen-anthology-thoughts-opinions/dp/B0948JY58R/ref=sr_1_8?dchild=1&qid=1626189546&refinements=p_27%3AArlene+S.+Bice&s=books&sr=1-8
3) Where do you draw your inspiration from for the stories that you manage to weave together and the characters that you create?
My inspiration comes from real-life people, nature, and life in general. My poems celebrate special events and milestones. Nature offers endless inspiration—wherever I am, whatever I am feeling, a poem awaits. When writing prose, I make use of human-interest stories that complement my poems.
The poetry community is alive and well. As former Indiana Poet Laureate Adrian Matejka said, “Poets need other poets—either on the page or in the world—in order to be our best selves . . .” I agree wholeheartedly. I draw inspiration from connecting via Zoom and online with Poets.org, Prolific Pulse Poetry, The Garden of Neuro, and the Passion of Poetry, to name a few.
4) Do you have a schedule for when you write? Do you outline your novels? How long does it generally take you to finish a novel? What projects are you currently working on?
My creative writing includes poetry and short prose. It is a continuous process, and I do not have a set schedule. Whenever a thought presents, I write. Sometimes the title drives the poem; sometimes, the poem drives the title.
I am currently finalizing the manuscript for my second poetry collection. I began writing new poems a year ago. Once I felt that I had enough substance, I reviewed all my poems to decide which to include in the upcoming collection. Next, I grouped poems to identify themes, which would eventually become chapter titles. I am at the stage of finalizing the title for my new book.
I recently completed my chapter draft for Voices of the 21st Century: Conscious Caring Women Who Make a Difference, publication February 2022. I also completed the outline for a forthcoming journal, entitled, “What Matters.” In addition, I continuously submit poems for consideration in literary journals. These are exciting times!
5) What’s the first book you ever read that really moved you emotionally? Who is your favorite author to read? What book are you currently reading?
The first book that moved me was Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë. It was a required high school reading assignment and the first novel I read. Later, I was moved by Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. My favorite poets are Nikki Giovanni and Maya Angelou. My favorite authors include Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama, Terry McMillan, Nicholas Sparks, and President Barack Obama, among others.
I am currently reading Fine Lines Literary Journal-Summer 2021 (David Martin, Editor) and The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson.
6) What has been your most significant achievement as a writer thus far? Where do you see yourself within your career in the next five years?
My most significant achievement was when Poetic Forecast became a Hot New Release on Amazon and reached Amazon’s #1 bestselling rank in six categories last year. Additionally, I am proud to be a #1 international bestseller as a contributing author in Voices of the 21st Century. In five years, I pray that I am as energized as I am today, with God’s light still shining brightly through my writing.
7) How have you dealt with rejection within your writing career? What is your advice for other writers to better be able to cope or navigate their way through the publishing process, be it traditional or self-publishing?
My projects were self-published; therefore, I did not face rejection during the publishing process. Poems that I recently submitted for award consideration were not selected. I did not take it personally. Poets are encouraged to submit poems to literary journals continuously. I have been advised that rejection is to be expected.
8) Do you find it hard to juggle the creative side of being a writer against the business side of being a writer, in terms of marketing and promotion and things of that nature? How hard has it been (or easy) for you to build up your author platform?
Yes, this is one of my biggest challenges. There is a constant battle between creative Zan and business Zan! I thought I would publish my book and move on to writing the next book. Boy, was I wrong! On the bright side, I have grown tremendously. I am more comfortable connecting with the public, understanding that readers like to know the author. With my daughter, Kelli Jackson, I am making progress toward building my author platform. I am thankful to have Kelli as my website and social media guru. Our work continues.
9) So many writers say that they hate reading their own work. Do you ever enjoy reading your own work back to yourself after it’s out there for the rest of the world?
I enjoy reading my work, especially because poetry is quite subjective. I love reading the work of other creative writers as well. The added benefit is that reading improves my writing.
10) Do you believe that there is ever a point in life where it’s too late for an aspiring writer to become successful in this industry? Do you feel a late start would hinder their chances?
I believe it is never too late to pursue your passion. I published Poetic Forecast at age sixty-three. I recently posted one of my personal quotes on social media that says: Don’t limit your dreams by your past or current reality. One should not allow age to limit his or her dreams. I believe in the possibility of success at any age and at any point in the game. Chances are just that—chances.
11) I feel like writing is a remarkable tool to help people not only express themselves, but also to cope emotionally and mentally. I know for me I write to be and feel more authentic. What unique quality is there about you, about your art, that you feel represents your authenticity? How does writing help you to be more empowered in your purpose?
My unique quality is love. I allow vulnerability in my writing so that my poems are relatable. My intention is to inspire and distribute light throughout the world, no matter the theme. Writing is one of the most powerful tools I have.