Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Q&A: Catherine Devore Johnson, Author of The Panacea Project #Q&A #Interview

Today we have the lovely and talented Catherine Devore Johnson with us. Catherine is a former attorney turned writer. Her work has won or placed in competitions held by the Houston Writer’s Guild and the Writer’s League of Texas, and she has published an essay in The Houston Chronicle about caring for her mother after two strokes. She works as a writer and editor at a children’s hospital and lives in Houston with her husband and two children. The Panacea Project is her first novel.
Visit her website at You can find her also at Twitter and Instagram.

Thanks for this interview, Catherine. Would you say it’s been a rocky road for you in regards to getting your book written and published or pretty much smooth sailing? Can you tell us about your journey?

Thanks so much for having me! I would say that writing The Panacea Project was the
easy part of my journey compared to getting it published. Like many writers, my original
goal was to publish my book the “traditional” way. I worked with a literary agent who
endeavored to get my manuscript on the desks of as many editors at as many publishing
houses as possible. Despite getting positive feedback about the story, though, my agent
wasn’t able to sell it. After several rounds of submissions, I decided to investigate
alternative pathways to publication. Several of my writing friends had had similar
experiences with their books and given hybrid publishing a try. Hybrid publishers offer
the infrastructure and support of traditional publishers, but all of the costs are paid for by
individual authors. I was ready to get my story into the world so I submitted an
application to Greenleaf Book Group, a hybrid publisher based in Austin, Texas. The
manuscript was accepted for publication and will make its debut on February 28.
Stepping off the traditional publishing path has had its challenges. Sadly, signing with a
hybrid publisher meant that I had to part ways with my lovely agent. And I acknowledge
that the hybrid model isn’t a financially viable option for everyone. I’m very fortunate to
have the means to make this type of investment. But it has also been incredibly
empowering. I have more say in and control over decisions about my book (things like
the cover design, the title, and how it is marketed) than I would have if it had been bought
by a traditional publisher. The publishing industry is constantly evolving and it is my
fervent hope that alternative options to putting out a book—like hybrids—will become
more and more accessible to all writers.

When not writing, what do you like to do for relaxation and/or fun?

When I’m not writing (for work or for fun), I love exploring Houston restaurants
(Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the United States and has an incredible
culinary scene), going on walks (I used to be a runner, but middle age has slowed me
down!), traveling, doing crossword puzzles, enjoying yummy red wines, and reading,
reading, reading. I also drink an inordinate amount of caffeine and spend a lot of time in
various cafes and coffee houses. But most of all, I love spending time with my
family—my husband, my two children, and my mother.

What makes your book stand out from the rest?

The Panacea Project is unique because it weaves a compelling plot and can’t-put-it-down
pacing with a thoughtful exploration of issues like self-sacrifice, implicit bias, and the
juxtaposition of bodily autonomy with high-stakes capitalism. It’s a story for people who
love fiercely strong characters and deep themes infused with heartwarming moments of
love and humor.

Can you give us the very first page of your book so that we can get a glimpse inside?

Calla flipped through the book she was supposed to be putting away. She had always
been fascinated by what other people checked out of the library. Her co-workers dreaded
shelving duty, but she loved the time alone—organizing, straightening, reading to her
heart’s content. No one bothered her when she was in the stacks.

Calla blinked a few times as the words on the page slipped out of focus. The blurriness
was getting more frequent. She might need to go back to the doctor. God, she was sick of
doctors. She pushed the thought from her mind and returned to her book—an
introductory text on astrophysics. She was just getting into an early chapter on the birth
of stars when she was interrupted by a rustling sound on the other side of the bookcase.
“Come here.” The voice was quiet, full of need.

A giggle. “Someone will see us!”

“No, they won’t. No one’s here.”

Calla peeked through thin slices of empty space at a man and a woman standing in the
next row. She watched as their bodies—hands, hips, mouths—slowly merged.

A sigh. A soft moan.

Calla spun away, ashamed of herself for spying. She set her book down on the shelving
cart and started to leave, but she couldn’t help stealing one last glance at the intimacy
unfolding only three feet away. What was it like to be that close to another person
without having them recoil from your touch?

Calla didn’t hear the two men approaching.

“Check it out,” one hissed, elbowing his companion. “Get a room, you two!”

The couple broke apart, and before Calla could react, the men walked past her row.
“Enjoying the show?” one of them sneered.

If your book was put in the holiday section of the store, what holiday would that be and why?

I think my book would fit nicely in a winter holidays section of a bookstore. For me, the
best part of the holidays is the chance to reconnect and spend time with the people I love
the most. A lot of my story centers around my main character’s search for friends
and—by extension—a chosen family that she can trust to protect her best interests when
the rest of the world sees her only as a means to an end. Also, I like to think that it’s a
quick read people could enjoy and then discuss together over a holiday break.

Would you consider turning your book into a series or has that already been done?

I feel pretty strongly that The Panacea Project is a standalone book, so it’s unlikely that I
would turn it into a series.

When you were young, did you ever see writing as a career or full-time profession?

I did not! As a child and adolescent, I was an avid reader and journaler, but the bug to
write a novel didn’t bite until a few years after I started my law career and realized I
needed a creative escape from the monotony of drafting legal documents.

What’s next for you?

I’m looking forward to my book launch and the opportunity to connect with readers. I’m
also working on some new writing projects. The first is an essay about what I’ve learned
as a member of the “sandwich generation.” Five years ago, my mother had two strokes in
one week. After months of intense rehabilitation, she recovered enough function to live
independently, but she no longer drives and relies on me for a lot of assistance. My
husband and I are also parents to two teenagers, so I’ve learned a lot in the past few years
about balancing my roles as a caretaker, a parent, a spouse, and an individual with
aspirations of my own. I’m also in the early stages of developing my next book, a story
about a woman who dies under strange circumstances and is forced to navigate a
bureaucratic afterlife that doesn’t recognize her as living or dead.

Title: The Panacea Project

Author: Catherine Devore Johnson
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group
Pages: 304
Genre: Medical Thriller

Calla Hammond has always been a loner—a product of the foster system and avoided by others because of a skin condition. When doctors discover her immune system holds the key to curing cancer, she struggles to advance lifesaving research in a world that sees her only as a means to an end. Yet along the way, Calla gains the one thing she has always longed for: a chosen family. But when a group of unscrupulous people join forces to sell Calla’s blood to the highest bidder, she has to dig deep to find the strength to retake control of her life, her body, and her story.


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