Amanda Johnson’s book, “East of Manhattan,” is set near the East River in Queens, New York.
So the Mountlake Terrace author recently visited the Sammamish River in Bothell to talk about her new women’s fiction novel. (More on that hot genre later.)
In Johnson’s debut, “East of Manhattan,” we meet Julie and Scott Cutter.
The Cutters made a deal: Scott will work for two years as a butler for a TV star, then they will start the family Julie has always wanted. But Julie is approaching prenatal geriatric status — and her husband lives in the basement of his celebrity boss’ Manhattan mansion, instead of with her in their Queens apartment. The East River divides Manhattan from Queens.
“This is Julie’s perfect-life plan to have the kids and the house with the white-picket fence,” Johnson said. “It’s what little girls dream of. Then her husband takes this job, and she’s OK with it, until things start to not go according to plan.”
The novel is based on the author’s own life. Johnson’s husband, Ben Hill, worked for and lived with a celebrity in Manhattan while she stayed in their Queens apartment.
Therefore, Amanda and Ben, or Julie and Scott, had to/have to cross a river to see each other.
Except Julie and Scott’s story takes a different fork in the river, so to speak, from their nonfiction counterparts.
Scott announces over brunch one morning that he doesn’t want kids anymore. Julie wants to start her own business that brings pilates to bachelorette parties and girls’ weekends.
“It is more than a typical women’s fiction book,” said Johnson, who has a 4-year-old named Jackson. “The book also touches on themes of feminism and the shifting gender roles as related to work and family structure.”
Johnson, who grew up in Kirkland, kept a journal of all the “Devil Wears Prada”-like scenarios her husband found himself in because of his job. (She won’t divulge the name of the celebrity he worked for.) Six years ago, she started turning her journaling into “East of Manhattan.”
“My husband had to leave me in the middle of dinner at a restaurant to go make a turkey sandwich for his boss,” she said. “That kind of stuff happened, but the plot, the character’s motivations and what they do — most of what happens is fictionalized.”
Women’s fiction, thanks to the likes of Liane Moriarty, is becoming popular again.
Moriarty, whose 2014 novel “Big Little Lies” became a smash HBO hit three years later, says she doesn’t mind if her novels are categorized by gender.
“Why not embrace that? Yes, it’s women’s fiction,” Moriarty told The Washington Post in a recent interview. “Women are the majority of my readers, and they buy lots and lots of books.”
Johnson’s publisher, Jennifer Conner of Poulsbo-based Books to Go Now, says women’s fiction is booming because it isn’t defined by “fainting lilies” anymore.
Like Moriarty, Johnson is embracing the women’s fiction genre.
“The past year has been intense for so many reasons beyond just the pandemic,” Johnson said, adding that an audio version will be available soon. “Our brains are fried. I want ‘East of Manhattan’ to be a treat that provides women a much needed escape.”
Conner said “East of Manhattan,” while a romantic comedy and a contemporary romance, also deals with weighty topics such as fertility with humor and grace, and explores timely themes such as female empowerment and entrepreneurship.
“Authors I have known have switched over to this genre because it’s a popular genre right now,” Conner said. “We’re all tired, as women, to be reading more of the fainting lilies. With women’s fiction, it really gives the authors a lot of (leeway) to write characters that are strong-minded and are able to create their own empowerment.”
Johnson lived for 10 years in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens. In addition to a writer, Johnson is an actor and voiceover artist. She moved to Mountlake Terrace three years ago.
Her works include screenplays for the movies “Alice in Astoria” and “Babymoon” and the stage play “Jennie.” She’s currently developing a television series, “Tapestry Brewery,” about a female craft brewer in the Pacific Northwest.
As an actor, Johnson starred in the films “The Regret,” “Jagged Nails” and “Butterfly,” as well as TV’s “Monsters Inside Me,” “Celebrity Ghost Stories” and “B.R.O.O.D.” She’s also been in several commercials, including for Toyota, Jeep, Amazon, Sound Transit, YMCA and The History Channel.
On Friday, Johnson won the Outstanding Achievement Award (Actress) from the Los Angeles International Film Festival for her work in “Jonnie Sunset.” She portrays an attorney named Kendall in the short film.
As voiceover artist, Johnson said, she wanted to record the “East of Manhattan” audiobook herself, until she listened to the audition by Vanessa López.
“She’s great,” Johnson said of López. “I really liked the nuances she put on the words. It just felt like she really understood my tone of voice. I’m an actor and a voice actor as well, so having somebody hit those marks so well was really good for me.”
So why meet on the bridge over Sammamish River at the Park at Bothell Landing for her book?
Johnson may no longer live in New York, but she can still cross a river.
Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; firstname.lastname@example.org; @sarabruestle.