Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Monkey Business -interview with debut picture book author KT Johnston

KT with her childhood pet.

What happens when you love animals, writing, and are curious your whole life? You write stories from the heart and share them one true story at a time. That is just what KT Johnston did. 

Her debut picture book, Railway Jack is the true story of the remarkable partnership between a railwayman and a baboon in 1880s South Africa. When Jim Wide lost his legs in an accident, he had to find clever ways to get around and perform his work. He obtained a very unusual, and very smart, helper: a baboon named Jack. But what about a monkey’s monkey business?? Jim pleaded with the authorities at the rail yard to give Jack a chance and they agreed to a test. 

Coming February 2020 Links to preorder can be found at

Welcome to the Grog today, KT.  No more monkeying around. Let's get to the interview.

1. Who is your agent? 

          I have not yet landed an agent. I sent my first query letter about 4 1/2 years ago...and quickly discovered U.S. publishers aren’t terribly interested in literary novella-length historical fiction from debut authors—and therefore, neither are agents. So I just kept going: learning, writing and querying. RAILWAY JACK is the 3rd manuscript I’ve queried (to agents and publishers willing to take submissions directly from authors), and the first to be published.

2. How did you get the idea for your story?

    I follow history-related feeds and one day an article about Jack came across my desk, so to speak. His story sucked me in and spoke to my heart. I started researching it and it’s amazing how clearly a project can form in your head when you’ve found just the right one.

3. What is your favorite part of the story?

    Anthropomorphism can be harmful to properly understanding our natural world and I try to avoid leaving that impression, but I am touched by the deeply reciprocal relationship Jack and Jim appear to have had. That sentiment came through in contemporary articles I found about them—which I hope I have been able to convey to my readers.

4. How long did it take to write? Get to a publisher?

    Like many writers, I juggled writing around a paying job. It took 4 months to research, draft, edit and put a bow on RAILWAY JACK. I sent out 7 queries (3 rejects, 4 “the sound of crickets”) before Capstone and I found each other.

KT's work space.

5. What is your writing routine?

    I don’t have a terribly specific writing routine other than, well, coffee first—and that I like to get started in the coziness of pre-dawn and shut it down for a glass of wine around suppertime. I should say, though, that I rarely have a whole day spanning between the two that I can devote to writing. I don’t limber up with timed sprints or writing prompts, and I don’t set word count targets; I don’t find those sorts of things effective for priming my pump or measuring my progress. I try to clear my mind of distractions by taking care of communications and social media before getting started (and could get better at resisting the urge to check during the day), and I almost always do a little reading after lunch. Are those part of my writing routine? Yes, I suppose I consider them to be. I guess I have more of a routine than I thought!

6. What inspires you to write?

    I am definitely energized when I run across true stories from the past about animals who made a remarkable impact on an everyday human’s life. Not typical animal hero stories, but stories that can be felt as a ripple in society today.

7. What are you working on now?

    I have 4 manuscripts that are currently in motion at different stages, as well as a whiteboard on my wall with many more ideas queued up.

    8. Words of advice for writers:
    Sometimes you should ignore the thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots and just write what desperately wants to come out.

   Thank you, KT for sharing your heartwarming story celebrating service animals. Best wishes with your debut.

KT lives in Minneapolis, where the four-legged members of her family have always been special. She earned a degree in biology and conducted wildlife behavior studies for the U.S. Forest Service in Montana and the research department at the Minnesota Zoo. She also researched and developed materials for the zoo's education department. KT enjoys traveling, whether she's touring a historical site, experiencing a foreign land, or being transported by a good book.

KT's website is     
Twitter: @KTDidz


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Congratulations, KT! Looking forward to reading your book and hearing more good news for you in the future!

  3. I know you will enjoy KT's book. I did ❤️.

  4. Congrats, KT, on you debut. I can't wait to read about Jack!

  5. Looking forward to your book! So exciting!

  6. I can't wait to read this. Thanks for sharing your insights. It's good to hear about all the different ways books come to be.

  7. Such an interesting story--congrats!

  8. Congratulations! And thanks for sharing :)

  9. I really enjoyed this moving story. Congrats, KT!

  10. Congratulations KT! Enjoyed reading your story. I look forward to reading about Jim Wide and Jack.

  11. Congrats on finding a home for your story! Looking forward to reading about this unusual relationship!

  12. Congratulations, KT. Your book sounds like a winner.

  13. This is a great interview, Janie! Wonderful questions. So nice to meet you, KT, and congratulations on your book. I can't wait to read it.

  14. Great story KT! This sounds like a unique and intriguing relationship...I'll have to add it to my wish list. I am encouraged by your dogged determination to push the book out there until it found a home.

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