Varian Johnson FAQs


Are any of your characters based on real people?

No. Every character I create is a reflection of me in one way or another.

Which of your books is your favorite?

Ugg…that’s like asking me to choose between green or red gummi bears…it’s a win / win either way. I love all my books for different reasons: A Red Polka Dot In A World Full of Plaid because it’s my first published novel, My Life As A Rhombus because of how important it is to so many readers, and Saving Maddie because I think it’s my best book to date—and theme-wise, it’s probably the most autobiographical.

Who’s your favorite character (of the books you’re written)?

Maxine Phillips, from A Red Polka Dot In A World Full of Plaid. She’s crass, sarcastic, and cynical, and she responds to adversity the way I would want to—with humor. She’s also the main character of the first novel I ever had published, so I think Maxine and I will always have a special bond. (And yes, I’m fully aware that I talk about her like she’s a real person.)

Are you a full-time writer?

I’m blessed to have two careers that I enjoy greatly: writing and engineering.

A writer and an engineer? How do you do both?

I used to worry that people in the writing industry wouldn’t respect me because of my engineering, number-crunching background, and that people in the engineering world wouldn’t respect me because of my right-brained, fiction background.

Then I had the great fortune to meet Norton Juster. Not only is Mr. Juster the acclaimed author of The Phantom Tollbooth, but he is also an accomplished architect and professor. I asked for his opinion on balancing both worlds. Basically, he said not to worry about what other people thought; to let the work—writing or design—speak for itself.

What are you working on now?

Like many authors, I’m a little superstitious about discussing my works in progress. For now, all I can say is that I’m working on another middle grade novel.

I hate the way A Red Polka Dot In A World Full of Plaid ends.

Sorry. (And that’s not a question.)

Can you come speak at my school or library?

Of course—I love speaking to both students and adults about writing and my books. See my author visits page for more information.

How do I get published?

Hmm...I wish the answer were as simple as the question. First of all, you have to realize the hard facts on writing. Most authors never make enough money on writing alone to survive. Writing can be a long and solitary process; you have to have dedication to sit down every day and put words to paper. And even if you write a great novel, you still have to find someone willing to publish it, and people still have to buy the book.

Now, if you’re still determined to become a writer after all of this, then I have good news—you’re already halfway there. I would suggest joining a local writing group. Many of the national writing organizations (like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) have local groups that you can join for feedback and support. Read not only the classics, but read what is popular in the genre you’re interested in. Most importantly, you must write. Every day. Writers don’t just think about writing. Writers write.

What’s your favorite book?

That’s a loaded question. Favorite can mean a lot of different things—some books are my favorite because they make me laugh, others because they make me think. It’s hard to pick my favorite book, but the following are some recently published books that I like (in no particular order):