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Catching up with Louise Claire Johnson and her Debut Novel, BEHIND THE RED DOOR

Since chatting with us in early 2019, much has changed for Canadian author, Louise Claire Johnson

Having lived and worked abroad in destinations like Hong Kong, Switzerland, New York and Boston, slowing down is hardly in Johnson’s vocabulary. After six years in marketing at Elizabeth Arden in Geneva and Manhattan, Louise took a left turn in her career to follow her dream of becoming a writer. 

In 2021 Johnson’s dream became a reality as she saw her debut novel Behind the Red Door hit bookstore shelves everywhere. 

We caught up with the charming Harvard grad and got the scoop on her inspiring journey, pandemic launch and captivating first novel.

Tell us a bit about your journey since we spoke last in 2019!

Pre-pandemic years feel like a different era. I can’t believe 2022 is just around the corner! On a grand scale, the colossal shift of consciousness from covid-times has affected everyone, including me, on a cellular level. The low-grade anxiety stemming from the uncertainty of it all is ever-present, but the silver lining of slowing down long enough to catch a collective breath has allowed us to refocus and reprioritize what matters most. On a smaller, more personal scale, since we last spoke, I experienced some major milestones in both my personal and professional life: got engaged, married, bought a house, and published my first book. 

How did COVID shift your launch? 

Almost every author dreams of walking into a bookstore on pub day and seeing their book on the shelf, so I was selfishly disappointed I was unable to do that since my book was released during covid lockdowns. However, I learned to pivot (word of the year) and embrace virtual book events, which in a nice way has allowed me to reach a wider readership around the world than I likely would have with just a local launch. It was a plus people began reading more during the pandemic, but the global supply chain issues plaguing everyone also affected the publishing industry. There were (and still are) mass paper shortages, printing and shipping delays. My book is printed in the U.S. and during launch, it completely sold out of bookseller warehouses, so there were delays in replenishing stock in Canada, which I guess is both a good and bad problem to have!

What was your inspiration for Behind the Red Door? 

Before I began my first marketing internship at Elizabeth Arden in New York, I truthfully knew nothing about the woman behind the brand, but the more I learned about Liz – she’s Canadian (from outside Toronto), was the wealthiest self-made woman in the world from the 1930s-60s, and the first businesswoman on the cover of Times magazine – I felt compelled to share her incredible legacy with the rest of the world before it got lost in the cracks of history. 

We love how you wove in some of your own personal story alongside Ms. Arden’s. Can you tell us a bit about that choice? 

The reason the book became a biography-meets-memoir was to highlight how much (or how little) has changed for women in the workplace and the beauty industry, a century later (she moved to Manhattan from Toronto in 1908 and I moved in 2008). Also, it allowed me to share Liz’s story with a new generation of women who might not have picked up a book about someone their grandmother’s age but initially resonated with the coming-of-age aspects. 

What has been the most challenging part of writing the book? 

Ensuring readers understand I am in no way comparing myself directly to the formidable Elizabeth Arden, who has a full narrative arc in the book, to my small pocket of life from ages 18-25 (there is no comparison to living through two World Wars and the Great Depression!) – our narratives are not to be weighed equally. I serve only to shine a light on Liz’s life lessons. I will also say, the writing part was the most enjoyable, but the most challenging has been trudging through the muddy waters of the publishing industry. It was a brand-new learning curve for me and at times a frustrating, archaic process that requires grit, determination, and a boatload of patience. Too many self-doubt spirals to count, but started from the bottom now we’re here!

Now that you’re a couple months post-launch, what’s next for Behind the Red Door? 

The audiobook with Audible and the Film/TV rights were recently picked up by Lionsgate. Very excited to see my words come to life on the big screen! 

For aspiring writers, getting an agent is a major first step. Can you shed a little light on the process? 

Absolutely! The publishing industry is so mysterious for some reason, so I’m always

happy to share what I’ve learned along the way. Publishers no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts, so you need a literary agent if you wish to be traditionally published. After you’ve written and polished your manuscript, you will need to send a query letter (fiction) and/or book proposal (nonfiction) to get an agent to represent you. The best places to find literary agents are the Writer’s Market book (it’s a thick telephone-style reference that comes out annually), Publishers Marketplace, author websites, and in a book’s acknowledgement section. Writers usually thank their agent and include their contact information on their sites. Make sure you research each agent’s submission guidelines to tailor your query. I recommend keeping an excel spreadsheet to keep track of who you’ve queried and their responses. 

Timing-wise, it varies, but you could receive a manuscript request within a couple days to a few months, or no response at all. Rejection is a part of the process, but remember it just takes one person to believe in your idea and say yes to representing you! 

What would be your top tips for aspiring writers? 

Little by little is how you create something from nothing. Focus only on the next baby step in the process and keep going! Just keep going! Even when self-doubt or impostor syndrome rears its ugly head, remember your end goal of wanting to see your book on the shelf someday – and find a way to make it happen, even on the days you don’t feel like sitting your butt in the chair. Find a way to tune out the white noise of the world. There are endless distractions pulling at our attention (technology, social outings etc.), so it is very easy to not prioritize writing, but if you can put aside instant gratification, you’ll reap long-term benefits. Writing requires consistency and discipline (no one else is going to write those words for you!), but it is also one of the most rewarding acts of catharsis. Light a candle, pour a fresh cup of coffee, pull on some warm wool socks, and enjoy the escapism. Lastly, remember that there are multiple routes to success. If you hit a roadblock on your writing/publishing journey, it’s okay to re-route and find an alternate path to get to where you want to go. 

How can we purchase your debut novel? 

You can buy Behind the Red Door everywhere books are sold including Indigo, but I encourage you to support a local independent bookseller! A few of my favourites include: Type Books, Ben McNally, Queen Books, and A Different Drummer. 

What can we expect next from you? 

I’m currently at work on my next novel, a historical murder mystery set in the Berkshires, Massachusetts during the gilded age. My hope is to have a fulfilling, fruitful career as a full-time author for as long as the world allows me to keep writing and publishing books.

Brittany Johnson

Brittany is a Toronto based freelance writer, avid traveller, sheet mask hoarder and Nora Ephron enthusiast.