This month we’re interviewing Melinda Johnson, author of our newest book, Letters to Saint Lydia—a novel in letters exchanged between a teenage girl and her patron saint.
Tell us a little about yourself—how you became Orthodox and how you started writing fiction.
My journey to Orthodoxy began when I became a mom. I wasn’t satisfied with my spiritual life, and I wanted something better for my baby. My husband, Martie Johnson, introduced me to Orthodoxy. He was reading mountains of theology for his doctorate and liked the Orthodox theology best. I started reading over his shoulder and got hooked.
I started writing fiction when I was a little girl. I remember trying to write a mystery story in early elementary school. It was called “The Mystery of the Missing Bell.” It was very exciting until I realized that I would have to figure out what became of the missing bell if I wanted to write the story. This was the first of many literary epiphanies!
What inspired you to write Letters to Saint Lydia?
Letters to Saint Lydia was a gift. It more or less fell out of the sky. My husband, as a Navy chaplain, is often out at sea or in the desert. I started writing one night to entertain myself while he was away, and the story took on a life of its own. I would write every night until my ideas ran out, and when I woke up each morning, I would “hear” my two Lydias talking again and there would be more to write. It was a happy time. Saint Lydia is my patron, and writing the story made me feel close to her.
You created two very different but authentic voices for the two Lydias. How do you stay in touch with what it’s like to be a teen today?
Being a chaplain’s wife keeps me in touch. My husband works daily with sailors who, like the majority of the armed forces, are between 18 and 32 years old. Also, I watch and listen to the people around me. I think that’s the best way to understand what it’s like to be a person of any age.
You deal with some pretty heavy issues in the book. Did you have to make any hard decisions about how to approach those subjects, or what issues to include?
Two factors drove my decisions about what to talk about and how to talk about it. First, I wanted to stick close to reality. I feel strongly that dealing with what is real is much more helpful than focusing solely on what we wish was real. People sometimes give up on themselves when they can’t find a point of contact between their ideals and their reality. Second, I wanted to stick close to Orthodoxy. I wanted to explore the many ways our beautiful faith can meet us in our tough reality.
How do you see Letters to Saint Lydia being incorporated into the lives of Orthodox (or non-Orthodox) teens?
This book is a conversation, and I hope that it brings about many other conversations. There is tremendous power in talking with people who care about you, even about things that are awkward or frightening. If you want help starting the conversation, or if you’d like to read the book with a church group, homeschool, or book club, you can download a free pamphlet with discussion questions for each chapter here (in PDF format).
You’ve recently started a blog (at melindasmailbox.wordpress.com). What are your hopes for that?
So much of the “social media” seems one-sided to me, everyone posting, a few people responding. It’s like a room full of people facing the wall instead of facing each other. I would like my blog to become a genuine conversation, with readers who have as much to say as I do, and say it! I would like to be a reader there, not just a writer.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
If you don’t know your patron saint very well, there’s no time like the present to get acquainted. A saint can be good company. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t find much historical information about your patron. Not much is known about Saint Lydia, but just thinking about her every day warmed my heart.