Welcome to my guest, Emily Johnson, who has a unique story about how this book came to be!
Can you give readers an idea of what Bird of Paradise is about?
Bird of Paradise follows the story of Arianna Heywood, who is looking forward to joining her older sister at UC Berkeley in the fall (it is the 1960s after all) and as a hopeless romantic she dreams of one day sipping Bellinis with her love in the city of her dreams.
When a spring break trip to her family’s island home reveals that her childhood crush’s feelings have changed, she is eager to step into the world of womanhood. But you cannot always choose what happens in life. Facing immeasurable pain, she embarks on a decade-long journey of self-discovery, working to find her place in the world, torn between the pull of her Island and the possibility of what lies beyond. Guided by the wisdom of those who came before her, she must bridge the gap between her past and the story of her future, but then an unexpected encounter could change it all.
The book is a coming-of-age, family saga and romance. The genre grows and matures as Ari’s story is told.
Where did the inspiration for Bird of Paradise come from?
The book was co-written with my mother. She began writing Bird of Paradise over 20 years ago when she was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer.
After many setbacks and recurrences, she passed away in 2012 (long after they said she would) and left the book unfinished. I found a letter from her with a copy of her manuscript and a request that I finish the story for her. So, the inspiration was her.
What was it like trying to finish your mom’s story?
When I first sat down to read Bird of Paradise, it was within weeks of her passing. I was still in that very raw place, and it was difficult. I could hear her voice through the words. Even though it’s a work of fiction, there are many events and characters that pull from her life and the lives of those around her. As I read the story, it became more of a way to continue a conversation with her and it was a source of comfort.
From a technical standpoint, finishing someone else’s work isn’t easy. Her writing style and my writing style are very different. She is poetic and descriptive, and I am more abrupt and analytical. However, I knew exactly where I wanted to take the story itself and actually wrote the ending first. Then I backtracked my way to that line where she left off and added events and conversations to her part of the book to make a cohesive story and complete each character’s story arch. Then I added layer upon layer of detail to meld our styles. She created all but one character, so that was helpful. I think she purposely left one character for me to create and that was a lot of fun.
What do you think makes a good fiction book?
You must write with passion and believe in your story and characters. It’s easy to tell when an author is writing for someone else and not themselves.
Are you planning to write another book?
Perhaps. I have an idea for one that tells the story of the parents from Bird of Paradise as their relationship is key to the book. I just haven’t been able to find the time to really delve into it.
Seventeen-year-old Arianna Heywood is a hopeless romantic who dreams of one day sipping Bellini’s with her love in Italy and when a trip home to the Island reveals that her innocent childhood crush no longer looks at her as his kid sister, Ari is eager to step into the world of womanhood. But as is so often the case, you cannot always choose what happens in life.
Facing immeasurable pain, Ari embarks on a decade long journey of self-discovery, but an unexpected encounter in the city of her dreams may change it all again. Torn between the pull of her Island and the possibility of what lies beyond, Ari must bridge the gap between her past and the story of her future. They say some love stories are meant to last forever. Will theirs be one of them? Only Ari has the power to decide.
Excerpt From Bird of Paradise
The sun was in its descending arc over the western headland now. It was an artist’s sun, all big and orange, spreading its sepia light over the Island, transforming it from brilliant contrasts to silhouetted images against a vibrant sky. There was a light trail that extended across the lagoon and out to the open sea, a golden touch she had called it when she was very young. But first she needed to cry the tears she had been suppressing all that day. It wasn’t a moment of weakness. She just needed to leave the tears behind. And when the last one had descended her cheek and dissolved into the fabric of her linen shirt, she knew she was ready. So, she resettled herself on the sleek wooden bench that Grandfather had lovingly crafted out of a singly koa log all those years ago and into which he and Mem had carved their names, and then Mama and Papa had done the same after them. She followed the light trail as far as she could see and searched the horizon until she found what she was looking for – the ferry that was sailing away with everything she loved most in this world. She stared at it for a very long time, watching it grow smaller and smaller. Then she closed her eyes and tried to remember what her life had been like before Michael.
Purchase Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08ZYX339Z
Marilyn was born in Southern California but spent her formative years in the San Francisco Bay Area with her parents and older sister. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Sociology and received an advanced degree in Elementary Education. After moving with her husband to Aspen, Colorado Marilyn spent the next 20 years as a public-school teacher and elementary education consultant and lecturer. She and her family moved to Pinehurst, North Carolina in 1996 and shortly thereafter was diagnosed with breast and advanced ovarian cancer. She began writing The Bird of Paradise as a life gift for her daughter, Emily. She passed away in 2012 leaving the novel unfinished – for Emily to complete.
Emily was born in Aspen, Colorado where she enjoyed skiing, dancing ballet and playing golf. At the age of 13, she and her family moved to Pinehurst, North Carolina. She attended UNC-Chapel Hill and graduated with a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a concentration in Public Relations. She currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina with her husband and son. Emily enjoys playing golf, running, kickboxing, reading, and spending time with her family. Finishing her mother’s work has been one of the greatest honors of her life.