Interview with Nancy Johnson, author of THE KINDEST LIE

It is my absolute pleasure to share this week’s GUEST AUTHOR INTERVIEW. Nancy Johnson is not only a delight but an inspirational author with an outstanding debut novel that will be talked about (and read) for years to come. So grab a cup of coffee or tea and take a few minutes to read and enjoy and then — PREORDER! The Kindest Lie releases February 2, 2021!  Denny S. Bryce

ABOUT NANCY

A native of Chicago’s South Side, Nancy Johnson worked for more than a decade as an Emmy-nominated, award-winning television journalist at CBS and ABC affiliates in markets nationwide. Her debut novel, The Kindest Lie, centers on race, class, and family at the dawn of the Obama era. A graduate of Northwestern University and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she lives in downtown Chicago and manages brand communications for a large nonprofit. When she’s not working, she’s usually eating chocolate and watching politics on television.

THE INTERVIEW

What are you most looking forward to with the release of your book?

 It’s all about the readers and I can’t wait to meet them even if it’s through the Zoom screen. For six years, I lived with this story in my head and on my computer, and finally, I get to share it with the world. There’s no better feeling than having people connect with the characters. I’ve gotten a taste of reader reaction from those who’ve received early copies through giveaways. One woman wrote that the character of the Black midwestern grandmother in my novel reminded her of her own Jewish and Belgian grandmother who also makes hot water cornbread and keeps a can of bacon grease on the back of the stove. Those are small details, but they speak to the connections of narrative and the universality of story.

Tell us about the title of your book. What’s the story behind it?

It’s interesting that the title, The Kindest Lie, works on several levels. Many of the characters withhold important information and tell lies with the best intentions. They do it to protect the people they love. Sometimes they even lie to themselves because the truth is too difficult to face. For example, the main character, Ruth Tuttle, lies to herself when she walks away from her baby to pursue an Ivy League education and her engineering career. She thinks she can outrun her past, but it’s never that easy.

America has told itself the kindest, most insidious lie of all—that we’re more inclusive and honorable than we really are. As a country, we’ve often wrapped ourselves tightly in the American flag without also ensuring that we’re living up to the ideals that the flag represents.

What was the first piece of writing you ever published or saw in print?

I must confess I’ve been a heretic since seventh or eighth grade. The priest at the local Catholic parish where I belonged asked me to write a series of Scripture reflections that appeared in the church bulletin on Sundays. I seized that platform to challenge the Catholic Church to get involved in racial justice and other sociopolitical causes. One night my mother received a call from an anxious, elderly parishioner asking if my views were now the official teachings of the Church. So, I’ve been getting into what the late Rep. John Lewis would call “good trouble, necessary trouble” since I was a kid.

The opening of a novel is sometimes considered the hand you offer the reader. How did you choose where to begin The Kindest Lie?

I’d always been taught to begin at the moment everything changes. In an early draft, I opened with Ruth giving birth at seventeen to her baby boy. But then I realized that the change moment was bigger than Ruth and her individual circumstance. Barack Obama’s ascendance to the presidency birthed hope and promise in many across the nation, but especially Black people. Yet as powerful as that hope was, it had its limits in a country that had never healed its racial wounds. Starting with the celebratory mood of an election night watch party made the painful reality of what followed even more poignant.

When and where do you have those lightbulb moments about your work in progress?

The best ideas come to me when I’m not in a position to write them down! I’m either in the shower, the bed, or the car. Usually, I’m driving somewhere when a turn of phrase or snatch of dialogue pops into my head, and it’s obviously dangerous to make note of a plot point while I’m doing 65 on the interstate. Sometimes, I use the voice memo function on my phone to record the idea, so I don’t lose it.

WHAT REVIEWERS ARE SAYING

“Johnson’s sharp debut takes a deep dive into the life of a Black Chicago woman after the 2008 presidential election… Powerful insights emerge on the plurality of Black American experience and the divisions between rural and urban life, and the wealthy and the working class. Johnson’s clear-eyed saga hits hard.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“Generational secrets, class divides, motherhood, and American life on the edge of political and economic change are all examined in Johnson’s engaging debut…. Through well-developed characters, Johnson provides a realistic portrayal of middle America in the tumultuous era of economic collapse.” (Booklist)

The Kindest Lie is the story of one family that reveals the larger story of America itself. Taut and surprising, Nancy Johnson’s debut novel tackles complex issues—ambition, romance, class—with the lightest of touches.” (Rumaan Alam, New York Times bestselling author of Leave the World Behind )

“Race, class, family and secrets are all on a collision course in Johnson’s extraordinarily moving, timely read. Like a heat-seeking missile, her novel hones in on who we think we belong to and why, following the merging lives of Ruth, a black female engineer who seeks out the child she gave away, and Midnight, a young white boy struggling to find his place in the very poverty Ruth managed to escape. A gloriously written, stunning heart scorcher about who we are and what we could be.” (Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You and Cruel Beautiful World)

The Kindest Lie is a deep dive into how we define family, what it means to be a mother, what secrets we owe to those we love, and what it means to grow up Black. Does our past become the skeleton upon which our future fleshes out — or can we erase our beginnings? This beautifully crafted debut will keep you asking these questions and more.” (Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Two Ways and Small Great Things)

“In The Kindest Lie Nancy Johnson takes us both into a bygone time, the dawning of the Obama era, and into the tender heart of her protagonist Ruth. This is a novel that seeks to discover the beauty of our journeys despite the lies we tell each other and ourselves.” (Rion Amilcar Scott, award-winning author of The World Doesn’t Require You and Insurrections  )

“In The Kindest Lie, Nancy Johnson gives us two unforgettable characters. Ruth and Midnight represent different Americas: one trending up, one spiraling down. Johnson–through graceful sentences, tenderness, dramatic expertise, and overflowing empathy–is able to twist these Americas into a singular portrait of a country in transition. This enviable debut enlightens while breaking your heart. A truly beautiful achievement.” (Gabriel Bump, author of Everywhere You Don’t Belong)

“A heart-wrenching portrayal of an unlikely bond, and a profound nod to the fallacy of post-racial America—The Kindest Lie is nuanced, spellbinding, and necessary.” (Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, author of The Revisioners)

“Essential, powerful, wrenching: Nancy Johnson’s debut novel tells a history of family secrets and lies shaped by the racism that permeates modern America…. A riveting story, a searing lesson on why Black Lives Matter in today’s crucial social justice movement.” (Sara Paretsky, New York Times bestselling author)

“The Kindest Lie is a soul-stirring, vividly told saga that demands to be read! Johnson presents a story with dazzling prose and textured, complicated characters that haunt you long after you’ve closed the book. It’s hard to believe The Kindest Lie is Johnson’s debut as it’s told with such an assured voice and graceful conviction. I thoroughly enjoyed and HIGHLY recommend!” (Catherine Adel West, author of Saving Ruby King )

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Denny S. Bryce

Denny S. Bryce is an award-winning author and three-time RWA Golden Heart® finalist, including twice for WILD WOMEN AND THE BLUES, her debut historical fiction novel coming on March 30, 2021. She also writes book reviews for NPR Books, entertainment articles for FROLIC Media, and debut author video interviews for A Mighty Blaze.

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