PROVO — Elana Johnson studied math and science in college, not writing.
"I started writing late in life. I didn't ever want to be a novelist. In high school and college, I studied math and science," she said. "But about three years ago, in December 2007, I started writing because it was an emotional outlet. A way to purge myself of some hard things that had happened in my life."
Despite no formal training in writing, Johnson wrote the first draft of "Possession" in an amazingly quick 17 days and then spent a year perfecting the manuscript. Dedicated to getting her work published, she spent more than eight months sending queries to nearly 200 agents. Only one responded positively, but it was the right one. A short time later, Simon & Schuster Publishing accepted her manuscript.
For the past 11 years, Johnson has worked as the technology specialist at Vineyard Elementary School in Pleasant Grove, Utah. She and her husband, also a teacher, have two children, a 12-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter. Every morning each of them heads off to a different school. Johnson said not much has changed for her since becoming an author.
"I'm just a normal person. I still teach and drive my kids around," she said. "I'm really not that special."
Johnson may still lead a normal life, but the world in her debut dystopian novel "Possession" for young adults is anything but normal.
"The first dystopian novel I ever read was 'Uglies' by Scott Westerfeld," she recalled. "I was so intrigued I thought, 'I want to write a book like that.' The best part of dystopian is you can go anywhere you want. The possibilities are endless."
Johnson decided to explore and write about a world where free will no longer exists and the government, known as the "Thinkers," control everything, even thoughts.
"I think that free will is such a precious thing that it makes sense that there would be people fighting against it," she said. "Vi, my main character, is violently opposed to being controlled."
Vi, who is also the narrator of Johnson's book, is bold and sarcastic but still vulnerable.
"'Possession' is a little different than most other dystopian novels," Johnson said. "Most start off with the main character living within the society, but Vi does not accept her society from page one."
Johnson hopes that readers, young adult and adult, will be compelled to look at their own lives while reading "Possession."
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"I hope that people can really examine what they believe and why they believe it. 'Possession' is a brainwashing society, so people are always told what to do," Johnson said. "I think teenagers and adults feel that way sometimes. We have teachers, parents, bosses, etc. I think it's important to continually evaluate ourselves and ask, 'Am I doing what I believe in? And why do I believe it?' "
A virtual launch party for "Possession" is Thursday, June 16. The party will include give-aways and a chat session with her author critique group at 7 p.m. Find the party on the fan site insidetheresistance.com
"Possession" will be released on June 7, and its companion novel, "Fugitive," is slated for release in June 2012.
Teri Harman writes and reads from home amid the chaos of three young children. She blogs at book-matters.blogspot.com.