Born and raised in Dearborn, Michigan, I grew up reading and rereading Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Memories of Ramona Quimby crunching apples in the cellar and Sheila Tubman playing hide and seek in Tarrytown feel as real to me as that time my brother and his friend trapped me beneath the plastic baby pool in the backyard.
Later, I progressed to Sweet Valley High books, my grandma’s Danielle Steele romances and joined the high school newspaper. It wasn’t until a summer in London and a British lit class in college that I realized the power of literature. Suddenly, I was reading fiction about new countries and cultures, learning about British colonialism in India and feeling those first pangs of indignation that the world was full of injustice. But, the writing I did in college was about literature, as well as courses in journalism, because a job as a reporter felt tangible. I managed to leave college without taking a single creative writing class.
I began a career in advertising in Chicago, complaining to my mom along the way that I really wanted to write a novel. She bought me a computer when I was 26, I think just to give me one less excuse. I didn’t actually start writing until I was 32, married with a baby and working full time in marketing. Every decision since that moment led me to reshape my life away from the corporate world toward writing. I attended conferences, applied for a low-residency MFA program and learned how much I had to learn. I worked as a magazine editor and writer for the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center.
If anyone had told me it would take 18 years to get a book contract, I would have laughed in disbelief. That’s the If anyone had told me it would take 18 years to get a book contract, I would have laughed in disbelief. That’s the beauty of believing you can accomplish dreams with enough determination. An editor and mentor, Rob Spillman, says that “good work rises to the surface.” With every rejection, I told myself: Keep working and your work will rise. My fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Massachusetts Review, Broad Street, Mississippi Review, Cincinnati Review, Story Quarterly, Gargoyle, Southwest Review and elsewhere. My essay, “Your Friend/My Friend, Ted,” was included in The Best American Essays 2018, edited by Hilton Als. Then Regal House Publishing accepted my novel, Coming Clean.
Coming Clean is the story of a disgruntled cleaning lady in upstate New York who agrees to pose for her friend’s provocative photography project—in the homes she cleans. Dawn is grieving the loss of her fiancé in a motorcycle crash and still recovering from her own injuries. She uses Matthew’s photography project as a way to stall on the decision of whether to start fresh in Key West to work at her father’s bar.
In addition to developing Dawn’s character, I wanted to create each home as a kind of character and sense of place in and of itself. I’m fascinated by people’s belongings, the way they live and what it says about them. It was wildly fun to imagine the lives of Dawn’s customers based on what she and Matthew discovered as they snooped around. Dawn finds herself at a crossroads as the week progresses and must face a future without her fiancé.
With Coming Clean on the horizon at Regal House, I am excited to continue my writing journey. I see more novels in my future. That baby is now in college and his younger brother is nearly done with high school. My husband and I plan to split our time between home in suburban Detroit and our favorite Lake Michigan town, South Haven, where I also comb the beach for rocks and minerals to use in a new artistic endeavor. In between writing and art, I moonlight as a newly minted yoga teacher. Never say never!
Regal House Publishing is proud to bring you Beth Uznis Johnson’s Coming Clean in the spring of 2024.