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Detroit Shuffle
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Live & Local Author Discussions > Chat with D.E. Johnson

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Kent District Library (KentDistrictLibrary) | 63 comments Mod
Welcome to another Live and Local Author chat. Tonight, I am pleased to introduce D. E. Johnson to our Goodreads Group. Mr. Johnson is a Michigan author of four historical mysteries that take place in Detroit, including his latest, "Detroit Shuffle." He will be here answering our questions for the next hour. I have questions from KDL patrons to ask, and will be posting those. Please feel free to jump in and add your question at any time. Welcome, Mr. Johnson.


Kent District Library (KentDistrictLibrary) | 63 comments Mod
I first would like to say how thrilled I am about your appearances in libraries, including our own Sand Lake Branch. How is a library crowd different from a bookstore crowd?


message 3: by D.E. (new)

D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Hi, thanks for the question. I loved the Sand Lake Library - great staff, great crowd. Thanks also for having me up!

It really depends on the bookstore. I was up at Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord a couple of weeks ago, and the crowd was very much like a library - engaged and enthusiastic. Often in a bookstore I feel like I'm working a street corner. "Hey, sailor, could I interest you in a book?"


message 4: by D.E. (new)

D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Kent District Library wrote: ":)

Your books are obviously extremely well researched. Is that research done in libraries? How often do you still use books or other archived information as opposed to the computer?"


I've done a ton of research at the Detroit Public Library, mostly through the Detroit Free Press and News archives, but they also house the National Automotive History Collection, which is pretty good. My best automotive research was done at the Benson Ford Research Center in Dearborn. I do read a lot of non-fiction for background, but I buy most of the books so I can have them available when I need them. The internet is, of course, very helpful, so long as you're careful with your sources.


message 5: by D.E. (new)

D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Kent District Library wrote: "When you do use the computer, what do you use? Are you googling Detroit suffrage? looking in Wikipedia?"

I definitely Google and when all else fails use Wikipedia (but I never trust it. Wikipedia is a good place to start to get ideas, but I always confirm information I find there). I have a subscription to Newspapers.com, which is helpful, though incomplete. I've also used the Proquest online database, which is fabulous.


message 6: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 5 comments Loved Detroit Electric Scheme! Who are some of your favorite authors? What about favorite books?


Kent District Library (KentDistrictLibrary) | 63 comments Mod
D.E. wrote: "Kent District Library wrote: "When you do use the computer, what do you use? Are you googling Detroit suffrage? looking in Wikipedia?"

I definitely Google and when all else fails use Wikipedia (bu..."


You are a man after a librarian's own heart!


message 8: by D.E. (new)

D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Kent District Library wrote: "Your latest book, "Detroit Shuffle" has a lot to do with the vote for suffrage in Michigan in 1912. (Did I get the year right?) How much did you know about the time period and Michigan suffrage bef..."

I found a couple of references to a big Detroit City Council scandal in the summer of 1912 as well as speculation about whether the vote for Suffrage that year was fixed. So I knew very little, but I was able to find out quite a lot online and through The League of Women Voters. The vote was part of the 1912 Presidential election, when Teddy Roosevelt came in as a candidate for the Progressive Party, splitting the Republican voters, which ushered Wilson into the White House. In Michigan, though, nothing was bigger than the suffrage vote. And it turned out to be a huge scandal.


Kent District Library (KentDistrictLibrary) | 63 comments Mod
D.E. wrote: "Kent District Library wrote: "Your latest book, "Detroit Shuffle" has a lot to do with the vote for suffrage in Michigan in 1912. (Did I get the year right?) How much did you know about the time pe..."

The overlap between suffrage and prohibition never occurred to me. Did you know about that in advance of writing this novel?


message 10: by D.E. (new)

D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Kent District Library wrote: "Why the suffrage movement?"

A couple of reasons: the first and maybe the most important, the scandal happened at the right time. Will and Elizabeth were left off in the summer of 1912 and needed some interesting historical backdrop to work in.

My other reasons are that it was a huge issue at the time, I think it's an interesting topic, so I'm guessing other people will as well, and I find it mind-boggling that women were such second-class citizens only a hundred years ago. To think that women weren't considered to be intelligent enough to vote! It's just shocking to me, particularly because I think the people of the day were very progressive in most ways.


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D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Kent District Library wrote: "Do you think you will ever write a book about Will and Elizabeth in which they are just happily in love?"

Hah! Not a chance. Or will I? I think a good part of the appeal of the books is the nature of their relationship. Elizabeth is pretty well fixed at this point, and I think readers root for her to get Will in shape. He's still got a lot of issues (as everyone who reads the books knows) but he's improving little by little, book by book.

I'd like to think that at some point they will find equilibrium and be able to take a deep breath and relax. Then again, as a writer, I live by the old maxim: "Put your protagonist in a tree and throw rocks at him." Will still needs some rocks, doesn't he?


message 12: by D.E. (new)

D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Theresa wrote: "Loved Detroit Electric Scheme! Who are some of your favorite authors? What about favorite books?"

Hi Theresa! Thanks. I'm happy to hear you enjoyed the book.

I'll split my favorite authors between historical literary fiction and crime fiction. In the first category, I love EL Doctorow (probably my favorite overall author), TC Boyle, and William Kennedy.

For crime, I'll go with Elmore Leonard, Ace Atkins (some great historical crime), Dennis LeHane, James Lee Burke, Walter Mosely, Loren Estelman, Bryan Gruley, Albert Bell Jr., and PD James. I could probably add a couple dozen more to the latter list without hurting the quality of writing.

Favorite book of all time - Ironweed by William Kennedy (but first you have to read the two books that precede it in his "Albany Cycle." They're also excellent and set up the book perfectly.)


Kent District Library (KentDistrictLibrary) | 63 comments Mod
D.E. wrote: "Theresa wrote: "Loved Detroit Electric Scheme! Who are some of your favorite authors? What about favorite books?"

Hi Theresa! Thanks. I'm happy to hear you enjoyed the book.

I'll split my favor..."

We can make a list of D.E.'s picks for our collection!


message 14: by D.E. (new)

D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Kent District Library wrote: "Detroit Shuffle has a lot to do with corruption in Detroit. Do you purposefully choose events and issues that have a present day correlation?"

Good question! I think these historical events are only interesting if they add to or help explain current events. I have found so many great correlations between life a hundred years ago and today. There are plenty of surprises found along the way. For example, did you know that a higher percentage of Americans were addicted to drugs in 1900 than in 2000? Aha! I thought not.

For every book I picked a backdrop that I thought would resonate with modern readers - the rise and fall of the early electric car, Detroit's first mob war, mental health treatment, and good old fashioned Detroit corruption.


message 15: by D.E. (new)

D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Kent District Library wrote: "Can we all do the research on the next few years in Detroit's history and come up with the topics of your next book?"

I am always open to suggestions! That's where Detroit Breakdown came from. Readers suggested I take a look at Eloise Hospital, Wayne County's old asylum. If you have ideas, send them to dejohnson@dejohnsonauthor.com.


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D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Kent District Library wrote: "Will you ever write from Elizabeth's point of view again?"

I had a lot of trepidation in tackling it in the first place, but I needed another narrator to tell part of the story in Detroit Breakdown. I am fortunate to have a wife and three daughters who aren't shy about telling me when I'm being ridiculous, and we had quite a few of those moments when they read my drafts for Breakdown. Probably the best part for me was that I learned a lot about Elizabeth during the process, and I think she's a much more complex character in the last two books.

When I sent the book to my editor, I was afraid she would tell me to rewrite the Elizabeth scenes, but fortunately she completely loved it and thought I nailed her character. Whew!

I guess I'd put is this way - I wouldn't be afraid to write from Elizabeth's point of view in the future. So it's a definite maybe.


message 17: by D.E. (new)

D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Kent District Library wrote: "I would happily read about new rocks thrown at poor Will, but do you see yourself ever writing about completely new characters?"

In fact that's what I've been doing lately - I'm working on a new series set in 1874 Chicago, with a pair of protagonists: a 15-year-old girl who's just been orphaned and her newly-discovered uncle, who just happens to be a resurrectionist (one of those guys who dug up bodies and sold them to medical schools.) He's certain that her father - his brother - was murdered. She's not so sure.

I've got a long way to go, but I've really been enjoying writing this book. Will lived in my noggin for five years, and it was time to evict him, if only for a while.


message 18: by D.E. (new)

D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Kent District Library wrote: "Have you ever wanted to write in a different genre?"

The first book I wrote was a religious farce, if you can imagine. (It will never see the light of day!) Something I needed to get out of my system, I guess.

As far as the future, I would bet I'll write a nonfiction book about one of the research subjects I've come across. Some of the stories are plenty good without making stuff up - although some of the fun of writing historical fiction is to fit in a compelling story while not messing with the "facts" too much. I don't want people to believe made-up history, so I try to always tell that as straight as I can in my novels. There will definitely be more novels. The ideas are bouncing around in my head as we type.


message 19: by D.E. (new)

D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Kent District Library wrote: "I saw in your online biography that you owned a business in Grand Rapids for awhile. May we ask what type of business?"

Back in the day, I owned an audio/video retail business called Classic Stereo and Video. It was very good to me, but unfortunately went out of business a few years after I sold it (due to no fault of the new owner). As it turned out, he didn't have a chance. There are virtually no specialty audio/video retailers left in the entire country. Turns out we were in the buggy whip business and didn't know it.

For me, the entire time I owned the business I knew it was not what I was meant to do. As well as the company did, I got little satisfaction from it. I needed to learn how to write better, and selling the company put me in a position to do that. I was very fortunate to be able to learn how to do what I love!


Kent District Library (KentDistrictLibrary) | 63 comments Mod
D.E. wrote: "Kent District Library wrote: "I saw in your online biography that you owned a business in Grand Rapids for awhile. May we ask what type of business?"

Back in the day, I owned an audio/video retail..."


All your readers are fortunate as well. :)


message 21: by D.E. (new)

D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Kent District Library wrote: "I am fascinated about the earlier electric cars. Are there any restored models going up for sale?"

Every once in a while you'll see an old Detroit Electric or Baker Electric on the market. There are very few still in circulation though. A friend of mine, Jack Beatty, owns two restored Detroit Electrics that are absolutely beautiful and run like tops. He told me there were only something like 140 Detroit Electrics still in private hands and many of those don't run.

The old electrics were pretty awesome - more than 100 miles on a charge, speeds up to nearly 30 miles per hour (faster than you would have wanted to drive on those roads), and were even fairly comfortable. But ... they took hours to charge and you couldn't get them charged just anywhere. Sound familiar?


message 22: by D.E. (new)

D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Kent District Library wrote: "I've heard you comment that you identify with the character of Will. He is your alter ego in the novels. Do any other characters loosely represent people that you know?"

Yeah, I don't usually let that cat out of the bag - especially since people tell me frequently how stupid Will is. I think more accurately, Will is me with no impulse control. He usually does the first thing that occurs to him, and I am usually very circumspect.

Elizabeth has a lot of my wife Shelly in her. Some of the villains are very much like people (who shall remain nameless) that I have enjoyed killing on paper - though of course I would never do anything like that in real life. Remember, I have impulse control! For anyone out there who has violent thoughts about their enemies - write their violent deaths. It will probably be satisfying enough that you'll be able to keep yourself out of prison.


message 23: by D.E. (new)

D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Kent District Library wrote: "Is it difficult to plot out a mystery with believable plot twists. Is that where most of your revision happens?"

Absolutely - the basic plot line is simple - someone gets killed, Will tries to figure it out, Will figures it out. The same with any mystery. The difficulty is in making it unique. I love hiding the clues - it's the cat and mouse between the reader and me. I have to give them enough information to solve the mystery, but I have to present it in a way that makes them disregard it. The best reaction to a climax of a mystery is, "What?!?! ... Ohhhhh, right."


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D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Kent District Library wrote: "You include quite a lot of real history about actual people in your books. Are you ever worried about getting that part wrong? Have you ever gotten any backlash?"

Well, I met the first-born son of the first-born son of one of Detroit's early mob bosses. My portrayal of his great granddad wasn't exactly flattering. t was worried about backlash and whiplash and powder burns, but it turned out he had a good sense of humor, so he didn't kill me.

I was a little worried about my portrayal of the Dodge brothers, but I didn't hear anything from the family. And there's always the fact that dead people can't sue you for libel.


message 25: by D.E. (new)

D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Kent District Library wrote: "Chicago will be a departure for you. Will it be tough to tackle a new city. Are you excited to do the research or are you already in the middle of it?"

I have researched my brains out on Chicago - and it's even more messed up than Detroit. Now those people knew how to do corruption!

One huge benefit is that the Tribune has all been put in online databases so I don't have to go to Chicago all the time to do research, not that I mind going to Chicago. It's been great to learn a new city from nearly a hundred and fifty years ago, and to learn the state of things during the period. There's a huge technology gap between 1874 and 1912. It's still post Civil War, people are lighting with gas, no cars, just a very different lifestyle. I love to learn, and this gives me a great opportunity!


message 26: by D.E. (new)

D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Kent District Library wrote: "I've kept you typing for most of an hour.

Thank you so much for answering all of our questions. It has been wonderful virtually chatting with you tonight."


Thank you! It's been my pleasure. If anyone would like to contact me offline, just email me at dejohnson@dejohnsonauthor.com. Check out my website (the last part of that email address). There are lots of blog posts about Detroit history there, as well as a schedule of my upcoming appearances.


message 27: by D.E. (new)

D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Kent District Library wrote: "Were there many cases of radiation poisoning in the early twentieth century?"

There were - Google "the radium girls" and "Eben Byers." Two good examples.

Kent District Library wrote: "D.E. wrote: "Kent District Library wrote: "Why the suffrage movement?"

A couple of reasons: the first and maybe the most important, the scandal happened at the right time. Will and Elizabeth were ..."



message 28: by D.E. (new)

D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Kent District Library wrote: "How many hours a day to you spend writing?"

I'm still working full-time in another job, so I try to get up early and write for an hour or two in the morning, then write at lunch and at night when I still have the energy. My weekends, unless there are pressing family needs, are spent writing. (Beats yard work. What can I say?)


message 29: by D.E. (new)

D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Kent District Library wrote: "Your first novel, "The Detroit Electric Scheme" was published in 2010. That is four novels in four years. Do you see yourself keeping this pace?"

Unfortunately I'm going to have two years between Detroit Shuffle and the first Chicago book. The research took quite a while and I alternated between two different ideas before settling on the resurrectionist book. I have maintained the pace of writing. I just need good books to come from the work!


message 30: by D.E. (new)

D.E. Johnson (DEJohnson) Kent District Library wrote: "D.E. wrote: "Kent District Library wrote: "I would happily read about new rocks thrown at poor Will, but do you see yourself ever writing about completely new characters?"

In fact that's what I've..."


It's third person, but the girl is one of the point of view characters, so I still need to pull off her character and thoughts. Challenging but fun.


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