Mountlake Terrace resident Amanda Johnson had her first novel East Manhattan recently published. The novel was partially informed by her personal experiences while her husband Ben Hill was working as a household manager for a celebrity in New York City. It addresses the themes of feminism and the changing gender roles related to work and family structure.
East Manhattan tells the story of Julie and Scott Cutter, who strike a deal whereby Scott will spend two years working as a butler for a wealthy reality TV star, and then they will start the family Julie has always dreamed of. But Julie learns she’s approaching prenatal geriatric status, and the job requires her husband to live in the basement of her famous boss’s Manhattan mansion instead of being with her across the East River. in Queens.
Then one morning, Scott casually announces during a brunch that he doesn’t want any more children. Julie is convinced that spending an idyllic July 4th weekend in the Hamptons will change her mind. She makes one last effort to save her dream, to be confronted instead with her worst nightmare and a dirty little secret that will change the course of her life forever.
“The plot and the characters and a lot of the actions they take are fictional, but the inspiration I found behind some of the things that happened to us when my husband had this job was real life,” Johnson said. . “I kept a diary and when crazy things happened – that I didn’t think they would happen like normal everyday life but were now our new normal – I would record them.”
Johnson then referred to his journal when writing the novel. “I’d be like, oh that’s right, he must have left me in the middle of dinner to go make a turkey sandwich for his boss that time and just those weird, crazy things that happened,” he said. she declared.
She originally wrote a journal about her life in New York City as an actress, but after Hill started working for the celebrity, “it was more like recording these experiences and also how I was feeling back then” , she said. “It was just a really cathartic way for me to approach these emotions that I was having.”
Johnson explained that Hill’s job required him to oversee the day-to-day operations of his famous employer’s mansion and fill a sort of “common man role,” which would often even include driving duties for his employer on weekends. end.
One particularly memorable experience came when the couple were out for dinner and Hill received a text from his employer’s full-time driver saying, “We’re going home and he wants a turkey sandwich,” Johnson said. “So my husband knew that meant he had to get it ready as soon as he walked through the door” and “at that point it was a priority. He left me there to finish my chicken (dinner) on my own and it was an interesting situation.
The situation “was certainly not an outlier,” she added. “Things like that happened a lot and it became the norm and we had to sort of adapt.” In another case, Hill received a text saying he would have to resolve a situation with the house’s fire alarm before the couple could go on their planned vacation that morning.
Hill’s job required him to spend five nights a week at his employer’s residence. He had two days off where he could spend time with Johnson and sleep at their house, but “he was going back to the mansion in the middle of the day on his second day off,” she noted, “so it was it was often like that it was not two full days.
One of the ways the couple adjusted to Hill’s employer’s schedule was by grabbing a quick bite. Johnson often said that after work she would go meet him at places where “we would have ‘five minute dinners’ and he would go back to his job and I would go home on the train.”
Johnson said that in writing East Manhattan, she insisted on including “the loneliness that brought me. He had to live in this house, so every night I was alone.
In the book, when Scott tells Julie that he doesn’t want to have any more children, “Julie brings up the issues and comes to terms with her long-held belief and has to somehow break that belief she lives in and take her life. in hand and make some really big decisions that may or may not include her husband, ”Johnson said.“ And she really needs to figure that out on her own and establish herself as a powerful and confident woman, able to be alone and make her dreams come true on her own terms if that’s what she decides to do. “
She added: “Mistakes are made on both sides and decisions have to be made from those mistakes.” Julie must reassess her situation and ask herself, “What if my life doesn’t turn out the way I always imagined? Johnson said.
In addition to acting, Johnson had previously written screenplays and plays, but “when that idea came to me, it came to me like a book,” she said. “I never wrote a book, it’s not my background or my experience, but I just saw it as a book and I knew I had to honor it.”
Johnson said the nearly six-year process was difficult because, “I didn’t really know how to write a novel. I had the story, I knew where I was starting and where I wanted to go, but I didn’t know all of those pieces in between. She set aside time for writing and described her efforts as “a lot of trial and error trying to figure things out and just move on.”
Plus, she was surprised to learn how much more work was needed after she finished writing the story. “The reviews and trying to find a literary agent and a publisher and market it once it’s out – there’s just a lot of pieces that I didn’t really know were a part of novel writing,” added Johnson.
Johnson considers “East of Manhattan” to be women’s fiction, although she noted that it has also been classified online as romance. “I have a little trouble with that because romance has very particular tropes that you have to follow in their structure to be considered a true romance book and mine doesn’t necessarily follow that,” she said. declared.
“The novel deals with important topics such as fertility with humor and grace,” she noted. “It also goes beyond the realm of the simple enlightened chick and explores themes such as female empowerment and entrepreneurship. “
Johnson grew up in Kirkland and then lived in New York City for 10 years. She and Hill moved to Mountlake Terrace almost five years ago in order to be closer to their family while raising their son Jackson.
His efforts to find a publisher also allowed him to establish a local connection, as East Manhattan was published by Poulsbo-based Books to Go Now.
“What got me through the most difficult parts – and I was also doing it at the height of the pandemic – and what kept me going was viewing the physical copy of my book,” Johnson said. “And then when that day came, when that box of books came along, it was so gratifying and beyond any emotion I could describe because it’s the thing I dreamed of.”
She celebrated with her family on the patio of the Epulo Bistro in Edmonds after receiving the printed copies of her book. Her mother even had a personalized cake made for the occasion that was decorated with the cover of the book. “It was so much fun,” Johnson said, “we had this awesome dinner and a toast and we had cake and it was just a really fun way to celebrate.”
Johnson said she had received positive feedback on her first novel. She noted, “The people who are closest to me always want to know what’s real and what’s fictional and it’s just not always fun to tell them – I’d like them to shoot their own conclusions.
“I’ve also gotten a lot of comments that he’s screaming for a sequel – so we’ll see,” she added. “I’m still sort of recovering from writing a novel and haven’t started it yet.”
Even though Johnson isn’t ready to start writing a sequel, she remains creatively busy as a writer, actor, voiceover artist, host and producer. His written works include films Alice in Astoria, Babymoon and the stage play Jennie.
She is currently working on a script and proof of concept short film to develop a television series, Tapestry Brewery, about a female craft brewer from the Pacific Northwest.
Her voiceover work has mostly been devoted to commercial and industrial projects, although Johnson has indicated that she was recently the voice of the Nordstrom Trunk Club, “which was really fun.” She also hosted the South Sound Money Talks podcast in corroboration with TAPCO Credit Union.
“I thought I wanted to record the audiobook for East Manhattan until I really dig into it, ”she said, then realized“ that’s not my expertise. It’s a different type of voiceover and I don’t have the training for it and to be able to do it really well would have been too much.
Voice-over artist Vanessa Lopez was hired to narrate the audiobook version, which Johnson was slated for release in the coming months. “I loved her voice, it seemed like she really understood the tone and point of view I was looking for,” she noted of Lopez. “I absolutely loved what she did with it.”
Johnson continues to act and she recently won the Los Angeles International Film Festival’s Outstanding (Actress) Award for her portrayal of a lawyer named Kendall in the short. Jonnie’s Sunset. The film is currently on the film festival circuit and she was not sure yet when it will be made available to a wider audience.
In addition, she plays the lead role of a dancer who ends her career in Ragged nails. The trailer for this film is also currently showing at film festivals.
Whether she’s writing or acting, Johnson said there was “never a dull moment – I have a 5-year-old too.”
“The past year has been intense for many reasons beyond the simple pandemic,” Johnson noted. “I want East Manhattan to be a treat that offers women a much needed escape. She added, “It’s fun and it’s quick, but there’s also a little deeper heart in there.”
More information on East Manhattan and Johnson’s writings can be viewed here. His acting credits can be seen here.
– By Nathan Blackwell