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Author Rebecca Johns reads from second novel

BY JESSICA CARBINO | DECEMBER 02, 2010 7:20 AM

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Sitting down, looking at her writing in her early 20s, Rebecca Johns didn't know why her novels were so awful. But after attending to the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she left Iowa City not only as a more successful author but as a successful teacher as well.

Johns will read from her second novel, The Countess, at 7 p.m. Friday at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St. Admission is free.

The Countess is about Countess Erzsebet Báthory, a powerful Hungarian noblewoman who was history's first, and perhaps worst, female serial killer. She developed the nickname of "Blood Countess" for her gruesome murders of dozens of female servants who were mostly young girls tortured to death for displeasing their ruthless mistress.

Johns wanted to write about a bad character, acting as a 180-degree turn from what she has worked on previously. She also wanted to write something in first person.

In preparation for the novel, Johns had to do research on Báthory. The author became intrigued with her and noticed her ideas for the novel were not yet included in any other novel written about Báthory yet.

"You have to make yourself a mini expert in a short time," Johns said.

As she learned about Báthory's real life, she realized the murderer was a very complicated person who believed she did nothing wrong. Johns wanted to explore Báthory's complexity, contradictions, and personality.

"It's all about the characters for me," Johns said. "Characters are where everything starts for my writing."

Johns develops her stories around the personalities she creates. She has to be able to connect with her characters to get into the rest of the story.

And it pays off — Paul Ingram, the Prairie Lights book buyer, says the book is selling well.

The Countess is Johns' second novel to be published, and it's something she's excited about.

"They not only let me do it once but let me do it twice," she said.

Johns has been writing ever since she was 8 or 9 years old, sitting in grade school writing poems and short stories. Her teachers encouraged her to keep writing, so she did. She always wanted to write novels, even after the awful novels in her early 20s, which ultimately led her to enroll in the Writers' Workshop.

"It was one of the best decisions of my life," she said.

After the Workshop, Johns enjoyed talking about writing and teaching others how to write. She currently teaches at DePaul University in Chicago, sharing her expertise in creative writing, fiction writing, magazine writing, and speculative fiction classes.

"I love seeing the moment where everything begins to click [in a student's mind]," she said.

Johns plans to keep teaching and writing. A novel is currently in the beginning stages, but can be expected in the future.

"[As a writer] I get to live so many and different interesting lives," she said. "You're not restricted to your own life; you get to have as many as you want."


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