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What's Susan Wolf Johnson reading?

Susan Wolf Johnson, author of “King Daniel: Gasparilla King of the Pirates.”
Published Feb. 2, 2017

Nightstand

Susan Wolf Johnson

Wolf Johnson, 62, first watched the Gasparilla festivities as a new resident of Tampa more than 20 years ago. "Gasparilla was held on a Monday back then, and since all the schools were closed, we took the kids to see it. I was so fascinated with the pageantry of the entire event," she said. A few years later, as she worked on her master's in creative writing at Vermont College, she said, "The character, King Daniel, just showed up in my narrative. He pulled up a chair and started telling me his story."

Fast-forward to 2017. After raising her family and spending 15 years teaching fiction and composition at the University of South Florida, Wolf Johnson has published King Daniel: Gasparilla King of the Pirates. "I never forgot about the character Daniel or the members of his family, who also came in to tell me their stories," she said. Set in the 1970s, the novel opens during the Queen's Party, a formal Gasparilla ball, inside the Tampa Yacht Club. The story centers around Daniel Westcott's family, an affluent bunch who must come together when Daniel disappears.

What's on your nightstand?

I'm reading again The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. It's one of the books I pick up when I'm starting to write. The book is Campbell's fascination with the world of mythology and how it centers around the hero's journey. According to Campbell, at the beginning, the hero experiences a change. In my novel, a main character has to come home, but she doesn't want to. She comes home because her grandfather was missing, and then a force greater than herself compels her to stay. With Campbell, he explains how as the myth unfolds, the hero encounters a supernatural being that offers protection and guidance. With me, (the character's) guidance comes within her. There's no other supernatural being, no Merlin, but she's guided by an interior voice she hears. When she doesn't follow the voice, challenges present themselves to the point she surrenders to the voice within her.

So as you wrote, were you thinking of Campbell as an influence on your writing?

No, not until towards the end, actually.

As you wrote, did you want to include anything about writing or art from that period?

More than books, it was the political and social aspects going on at the time. In the very first chapter you'll see it. It takes place in the summer. Washington, D.C., was in upheaval. It was just before (men directed by the staff of) Nixon broke into Watergate. The character doesn't want to come home because she's pregnant. Abortion was just legalized in New York City. This is more what I was concentrating on, more political, social aspects. But, I would say the music of the 1970s is a part of it. I actually named a chapter "I'm Your Captain,'' after the Grand Funk Railroad song, and there's also a chapter, "Ch-Ch-Ch Changes,'' for David Bowie.

Contact Piper Castillo at pcastillo@tampabay.com. Follow @Florida_PBJC.

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