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Julia Claiborne Johnson’s Latest Book Debuts January 5

Author and Hancock Park resident Julia Claiborne Johnson with her latest book, “Better Luck Next Time,”  on the stairs she refinished. (photo by Coco Marcil)

Her Instagram followers know that Hancock Park author Julia Claiborne Johnson has been extremely productive during the pandemic.  Between publishing her second novel and re-finishing the stairs in her Hancock Park cul de sac home, it’s enough to make the rest of us feel like real slackers!

But if you are lucky enough to know Johnson, you know she’s got much more energy than the rest of us, or at least some of us, so it’s best not to compare yourself to her level of productivity and just enjoy her newest book “Better Luck Next Time” which hits actual and virtual bookstore shelves tomorrow.

In collaboration with several independent booksellers, Johnson’s publisher will feature a conversation (online, of course) with her and author friend Steven Rowley. The event will be live at 7 p.m. ET or 4 p.m. PT. on Wednesday. Fans can pre-oder the book from our beloved Chevalier’s Books, not yet re-opened across the street at 133 N. Larchmont, and Johnson will autograph and personalize the book. (If you want the book personalized, it’s best to place your order ASAP.)

Inspired by her parents, whose traits are combined to form the main character and narrator, Ward, the story takes place on a “divorce ranch” in Reno Nevada in 1938, at a time when Reno was the place to go for a no-questions-asked divorce. The only requirement was staying in the state for six weeks.  So former cattle ranches found a new purpose as they hosted women waiting for their divorces to be finalized.

Johnson said she was aware in passing that her dad had a job on ranch like that but regrettably didn’t ask him about it when she had the chance. Her dad would be 104 if he were alive. According to Johnson, her father’s first wife was very rich and later she often wondered if they’d met at the ranch. Once she had the idea for the book, she traveled to Reno to do research facts and historical details to fill in her fictional story.

A review from Amy Scribner on BookPage describes it this way:

“A longtime magazine writer, Julia Claiborne Johnson follows up her hilarious first book, Be Frank With Me, with this more serious—but still witty and charming—offering. She paints a vivid picture of a hot, dry Reno summer during which women wait to see whether their luck has run out or is just beginning. Ward is a thoughtful narrator, telling his story with the mix of joy and melancholy that comes with being elderly. “When you get to be my age,” he muses, “things that happened fifty years ago start seeming more real to you than what happened yesterday.” Indeed, this is a story that will stay with you for a long time.”

So far, “Better Luck Next Time” is getting fabulous reviews, and Johnson is gathering accolades for her wonderful story inspired by her parents. The book was recommended by Indie Next List, the list complied by Independent Book Sellers. It was named Amazon’s Number One New Release in Humorous American Literature, which selected it as one of the top ten books coming out in January. The book also received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, which said “Johnson’s novel soars.” And we heard that Barnes & Noble National Book Club has named the book its January selection. Johnson will be in conversation with Thurber award winning novelist Julie Schumacher on February 2 at 7 p.m. ET.

The book took Johnson about three years to write, though she said it felt like 400.

“The second book is much harder because people are always asking ‘how’s it going,” said Johnson, who is always a funny and delightful interview. She told us it’s a bit sad once a book is done because she misses the characters. Local readers may like to know that three characters (Liz, Martha and Theresa) who are always seen together, are named after Chevalier’s very own Liz, Martha and Theresa.

Offering a word of advice about her process, Johnson told us that writing a novel is not for the faint of heart.

“What matters more than talent is grit,” said Johnson, who told us this book was turned down twice. Each time she went back and revised it until she finished it.

Finally, we couldn’t resist asking about her next book. She politely said she had an idea forming for the next one and it might have something to do with housekeeping and home repair.

We can’t wait.


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Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.

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