Storytelling has always been a part of Anna Rose Johnson’s life—especially timeless tales tinged with vintage charm. She grew up fascinated by the early 20th century and now writes historical middle grade novels that reflect her love of classic children’s literature. A member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Anna Rose enjoys exploring her heritage through her stories, including her debut middle grade novel The Star That Always Stays (Holiday House), which was named an NPR Best Book of 2022, a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection, and a 2023 Michigan Notable Book.
What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?
It really depends on the project, but often it’s a certain storyline, and I look for the historical era that best suits those setting and characters. I settled on 1953 for a recent work in progress because I wanted it to be not long after rationing ended in war-torn England, but it couldn’t be immediately after the war.
What kinds of sources do you use?
I do a ton of double-checking information via old newspapers. I subscribe to the Newspapers.com website, which has an incredible amount of papers, and you can look up specific search terms. It’s endlessly helpful if you want to know if a certain word or phrase was being used yet. I also love old magazines as well, which have advertisements for products. Genealogical websites are one of my very favorite resources, not only for when I’m researching my own ancestors, but also when trying to find character names that are correct for the time and the place I’m writing about. I also love joining Facebook groups for fans/researchers of whatever topic I need to learn about, because that way you can run across information and photographs that don’t necessarily show up in Google searches.
How long do you typically research before beginning to draft?
I usually research for several months before starting to write, and I research during each revision to add layers of information. Sometimes you don’t always know what info you need until you’ve written the first draft!
What is your favorite thing about research?
It’s a delicious joy to come across wonderful details from terrific sources like firsthand accounts or a novel written during the era you’re writing about. I also enjoy finding cool tidbits in obscure places!
What’s your least favorite thing about research?
When I can’t find the exact, specific detail that I’m looking for. It’s tough knowing that the answer is probably out there somewhere, but I can’t quite locate it!
What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?
It has to be the way you can create a compelling story that is mostly from your own imagination but that is simultaneously rooted in real history. Historical fiction is such a fascinating blend of reality and imagination
What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?
I mentioned that magazines are great resources for products from the era, but sometimes when those details are included too often in a historical novel, it can take the reader out of the story and force them to think “That must have been something found in the author’s research.” (At least, that’s what happens to me!) So I try to include good references but use them sparingly.
A very interesting interview with Anna Rose . i enjoyed immensely.
Thank You for this informative interview with Anna Rose.
It was my pleasure! I just started reading The Star that Always Stays today. What a wonderful story.