Sandra Johnson’s book Flowers for the Living comes with a warning from a reader “the author is going to stab you in the heart with her garden shovel,” but, the warning continues: “and when the last drop of blood is shed, you will find a seed planted there that will blossom…” And with that you have your first kernel of understanding who Sandra Johnson is.
We met at a book event in Atlanta, where I had the great fortune to share the stage with Sandra, the event’s featured author. While I began the day knowing little more than what her website disclosed, I left feeling as if I had known her my whole life.
Shortly after the event, I returned to the Internet to read more about Sandra and then, even more intrigued, shortly after that I read Flowers for the Living in a single sitting. Only then did I come away with the sense of having peeled back one layer of a rosebud. Sandra is a multi-layered person, and one who draws from a place deep inside to write. A place filled with inspiration and worldly experience.
Because I believe my own writing is born of imagination rather than the more profound gift of inspiration, I have a fondness for people who can grab something from their core, their past, their heart, and bring it into the light to examine and write through their struggles, producing something that as Sandra says is “beautiful and true.”
This philosophy is central to Sandra’s approach and one she is documenting in a new self-help book that is a guide for people to journal their way to wellness. She says, we need to examine where we came from and where we are headed to know who we are. The approach is something Sandra has used in counseling inmates with severe psychiatric illness in a South Carolina correctional facility. The working title for the book is Finding Peace Within: A 365-Day Journal for Balance, Clarity, and Serenity.
Sandra has been rewarded for tackling tough subjects—in the most recent case advocacy for those who need psychiatric treatment while incarcerated, and earlier for Standing on Holy Ground the story of the rebuilding of a South Carolina church firebombed in a racially motivated incident. She realized an author’s dream, reviews and mentions in O: The Oprah Magazine, Publishers Weekly, USA Today, and Southern Living and invitations to speak across the country.
Somehow, though, I suspect having satisfied her own quest to create something “beautiful and true” was the greater reward.
Of course, all this is in the past. And, as anyone who strives to better themselves knows, Sandra is moving on. She’s writing historical fiction set in the south in the 1700s. It’s no surprise that the protagonist of Luna is a fierce, strong willed woman who perseveres though enslavement and separation from everything she loves during the Civil War to return to her family.
Another heady and inspirational topic and one that deserves Sandra’s keen eye and big heart.
Read more about Sandra on her website: sandraejohnson.net