Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Book Blog Tour and Giveaway - Postcards from Lonnie: How I Rediscovered My Brother on the Street Corner He Called Home by Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson

Genres: Biography / Photo Journal / Poverty
Publisher: Rand-Smith LLC
Date of Publication: January 14, 2020
Number of Pages: 200

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It all started on Christmas Day 1993. Lisa and Lonnie were sitting on their mom's rickety yard swing, when Lisa's curiosity took over. She asked Lonnie questions about his life on the street, about being homeless. To her surprise, he answered honestly, humorously, and thoughtfully.

That conversation continued throughout the next four years as Lisa wrote questions on postcards addressed to herself, then mailed them in packets to Lonnie at the flower shop on his corner. He wrote his answers and mailed them back. Lonnie answered a lot of questions and even asked a few, too. His detailed, matter-of-fact responses gave Lisa an unfettered view of a population living on the fringes of society and the issues they face every day.
Postcards from Lonnie is a dialogue between Lonnie, who speaks through the postcards, and his sister, who not only learns a lot about her brother but also about herself. Intimate and revealing, this is a unique family memoir and a universal story of love, respect, family, and ultimately hope.

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Lisa Johnson
Lisa Johnson was born in Middletown, Ohio, at Middletown Hospital, where her brother, Lonnie, was born almost five years earlier. Two years after Lisa was born, they settled in Houston, Texas. In a couple more years, they moved to Baltimore, Maryland. Before Lisa started elementary school, they moved again, to Atlanta, Georgia. Lonnie was in fifth grade and was starting to misbehave in his classroom, not “applying himself.” A new first-grader, Lisa applied herself big time, and, once she got a taste of the praise and affirmation that came with high grades, she was hooked for life.

By the time Lisa was in junior high, they had moved again, to Topeka, Kansas, and as she started high school, they moved back to Houston.

Lisa went to college, Lonnie got married. Lisa got married, Lonnie’s daughter was born. Lonnie got divorced, Lisa got divorced. Lonnie’s daughter drowned in the bathtub. Lisa graduated from college, went to graduate school (where she got a good taste of misbehavior but lived through it). Lisa moved to Houston to mooch off their parents for a year or so. Lonnie remarried. Lisa moved to New York to teach at Queens College, CUNY, but soon found her dream job as a copywriter in a large New York ad agency.

Lonnie and Lisa
Lonnie got divorced and disappeared onto the streets of Houston. Lisa moved to Atlanta. Their dad died. One Christmas Day, Lonnie and Lisa dreamed up an idea for a book. She started sending Lonnie questions on postcards, and he answered every one.

Lisa quit the advertising business to go to seminary — loved seminary, hated being a church-based chief executive officer. She returned to Houston, where their mom still lived. Lonnie died. Lisa found a job writing corporate stuff for a large oil-related company.

Then Lisa finished the book she and her brother had dreamed up: Postcards from Lonnie: How I Rediscovered My Brother on the Street Corner He Called Home. 

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- How long have you been writing?
My first published piece was a poem titled “The Elf and the Green Medicine,” published in the late 1950s in my elementary school literary magazine. It was a tour de force revealing the secret health practices of Santa’s elves, who battle countless health challenges related to the savage weather at the North Pole.

- How do you write? Any backstory to your choice?
I use a laptop most of the time, but I also find it oddly stimulating to compose on my phone, using only my thumbs to type. For more recreational writing (letters, journal entries, etc.), I use pencils exclusively. They write smoothly and they make editing easy! I like side-advance mechanical pencils, but a new, freshly sharpened Ticonderoga No. 2 is a good option, too.

- How does your book relate to your faith or spiritual practice?
One of the happiest discoveries about my brother as I got to know him more and more deeply was his faith. Living on the streets, Lonnie came to depend on his friendship with Jesus for sustenance and comfort — Lonnie felt loved and accepted without judgment. That’s a Jesus I can follow!

- What was the hardest part of writing this book?
It was difficult to figure out exactly how to present the 94 postcards. Should I organize them by the topics of the questions? Should I group them by periods in Lonnie’s life? Somehow, it seemed wrong to impose an artificial order onto the cards. So, in the end, I decided the most honest and authentic way to present them was to show them in order, just the way I received them, and let the story unfold for the reader as it did for me.

- Are there under-represented groups or ideas featured if your book?
I want to be careful and clear in answering this question. Postcards from Lonnie is a memoir about one man and his sister. It is not a treatise on homelessness! It does provide insight into the nature of life on the street and a view of what it is like to love someone who is living that life. I believe those insights are valuable and important. But it is a story about a man and his family — ultimately, a story of indestructible love.

- Who would you cast to play your characters in a movie version of your book? 
 I can’t help thinking of Bradley Cooper in A Star Is Born, with his scruffy beard and the hazy eyes of a person who is sinking fast. I think his natural charm and blue eyes would capture my brother’s charisma! To play me? That’s harder. Maybe Jennifer Lawrence — I liked her paired with Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook, and she’s about the age I was when Lonnie and I were doing the postcards. Plus, she’s a dead ringer for me. Not. (I wish.)

- If you were an animal in a zoo, what would you be? In four words or less, tell us why.
A giraffe: altitude, eyelashes, style, athleticism.

- Do you have a mantra for writing and/or for life?
Be authentic.

- What is your favorite quote?
I have two: “Love never ends,” 1 Corinthians 13:8; and “A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.” Eeyore

- Did you first experience rejections when submitting this manuscript for publication? 
No, the first person I sent it to loved it, called me a genius and sent a contract the next day … Of course I experienced rejections, mostly of the courteous kind: “Your book sounds interesting but it’s not a fit for us at this time. Good luck.” Twenty or so of those. Then I sent it to the right person, who replied that she had read the manuscript in one sitting and would like to represent it and me. I had a lot of friends (and my mom) encouraging me, and with their help, I kept on believing in the book until it found its home.

- Who are some of the authors you feel were influential in your work?
Jeannette Walls (The Glass Castle) — She wrote about her family honestly, creating a truthful story that was, as she said in an interview, “fair and balanced.”

Kurt Vonnegut (Slapstick) — In Slapstick, Vonnegut writes in a syncopated rhythm, mixing short and long sentences, using jarring words at times to draw the reader’s attention to a particular thought. Great fun to read, like hiking a twisting and rocky trail.
Win a signed copy of Postcards from Lonnie by Lisa Johnson - two winners!
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