Raised in a Midwestern family, AGS Johnson has a business degree and spent twenty years in banking. She later earned a Masters in Fiction Writing from the University of Southern California. Her debut novel The Sausage Maker's Daughter was released in February 2012.
AGS also serves on the Board of the Council of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. Proceeds from The Sausage Maker's Daughter benefit the charity The World is Just a Book Away which works to build libraries in developing countries.
Currently making her home in Los Angeles, AGS talked to us about her writing, her novel, and living a life in the City of Angels.
Tell us about your book "The Sausage Maker’s Daughters." How did you decide to write it and what can people expect when they open it up?
Readers can expect to be transported to a very controversial time, the Sixties, known for sex, drugs, rock-and-roll, but less known for the true social upheaval that was occurring which pitted, perhaps for the only time in history, the younger generation against their parents’ and older generations, actually organizing kids into true resistance movements.
Against that backdrop, overlay a family where the generation gap occurs within the siblings themselves, add some absent parenting, some competition, some guilt and repression, and the story of flawed characters and complex relationships heats up quickly. Equal parts murder mystery, courtroom drama, and in-depth character study, the plot twists, turns, and then turns some more.
A voice awakened me from sleep many years ago, a voice both cocky and brash to such an extent that it was clearly compensating for something, which made it intriguing. The voice began what would become “The Sausage Maker’s Daughters” after years of developing, experimenting, and editing. So the novel may have started writing itself, but it fascinated me into finishing the job.
It’s all too often that authors find characters writing themselves. Did you feel that was the case with Kip Czermanski or any of the other characters in this book? Was there ever a moment when you said to yourself, "Wow, I didn’t expect them to do that"?
Yes, absolutely! As you suggest, once the characters are well fleshed out, that is once the writer knows their individual backstories intimately, damned if they don’t just start interacting on their own. The job then becomes recording what they do.
Did you see any of yourself in Kip Czermanski?
Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this, but I saw self in every character, even the ones I least admired. Now that’s humbling. But it truly helped me understand if not love every single one of them so they could be real, human, and oh-so-flawed. Does anyone honestly not relate to infinite shades of gray? But along with several pairs of polar opposites in conflict, what was fun for me writing Kip was her youth and untested idealism, especially since she finds herself in circumstances that will force her to face herself and her worst fears. As I say in this context: I remember being twenty, and I liked knowing everything!
There seem to be moments in "The Sausage Maker’s Daughters" when you're channeling John Grisham. What authors do you find yourself influenced by?
I’ve been blown away by the comparisons my work has garnered, from Grisham, as you mention, to John Irving to John Updike! My reading Herman Wouk taught me as author about loving each character, James Michener, about writing with the dispassion of God, James Clavell, using setting as a character. More recent, Phillipa Gregory and Lisa See for historical fiction, Jane Smiley, Barbara Kingsolver, Louise Erdrich, even Dan Brown in his spiritual questings. And more.
This book has taken you 12 years to complete. How do you feel now that it’s finally being released?
Not that there is one moment of regret, but it has all been hard, and it continues to be. From learning to tell a story and writing with sensitivity to language to editing to publishing and now, the last phase I suppose, to pushing the book out of the nest and into the big world to fare as it may.
Each step has been a steep learning curve and I don’t see that ending soon. Now I’m learning to speak before groups! I’m a writer, I put words on paper and read them a million times before anyone else can. Can I truly be spontaneous enough to speak? We’ll see. But it has all been thrilling.
We understand you’re involved with the L.A. libraries. Tell us about that. How did you get involved and what do you do?
I serve on the Board of Directors of two library charities. The one you mention is a group that supports all 73 public libraries throughout Los Angeles, focusing mainly on the children’s programs that make computers and other resources available to all. The other charity is called The World Is Just A Book Away (WIJABA) and in its brief existence has built over 50 libraries in devastated areas of Indonesia, places where some children have never had books before! The latter’s purpose is to build children’s libraries in developing countries around the globe, opening their worlds through access to books.
Given my personal experience and belief that books change lives, a portion of the proceeds from the sales of "The Sausage Maker’s Daughters" has been committed to WIJABA to continue this effort.
Do you feel L.A. libraries are being impacted negatively by the invention of devices like the Kindle or do you sense there is a renewed excitement about reading?
Things are changing but not only can technology NOT be contained, it will ultimately democratize access to knowledge in many forms for more people. Perhaps naively, I believe there will always be a place for books as well. And if the numbers I’ve heard of new books published each year--800,000 not counting Ebooks--is an indication, there must be a tsunami of renewed interest in reading going on.
We think it's very cool that you're following your dream of becoming a writer after years of working in the corporate world. Do you have any advice for those who are sitting on their dreams?
Yes, don't! The more realistic answer is to seize every opportunity, and remember to dream big, dream bold, dream ceaselessly, and never let anyone mess with your dreams. Isn’t that why we’re here?
What can we expect to see from you next?
I confess, "The Sausage Maker’s Daughters" is actually my second novel, but the first to be published. After we’ve successfully launched the Daughters, it will be time to go back to the medical murder mystery which I have written but not looked at in some years, to polish it off and get it out as well. It’s based upon a true story of a doctor who was murdered to keep his discoveries from coming to light.
Like this first effort, the novel involves a murder mystery but will also delve into character and relationships. Why things happen as they do, why people act as they do, will always form the basis of any exploration I undertake.