Why I Write Books

At 82 my focus has narrowed.

In my fiction (The Blackwater Novels) and autobiography (FUN! A Boyhood), I want to show as many folks as possible examples of positive life. In my nonfiction (The Wisdom Series), I want to show how to achieve it.

The world is awash in negativity. My efforts to counteract this are puny at best . . . about as effective as shooting a BB at a tin can. I always was a good shot, however, and besides, my strategy is not about taking pot shots at negative stuff (the problems). I believe there are many big bubbles filled with beauty, joy, love, laughter, wisdom and fun, floating around. With my BB gun (my writings) I intend to pop lots of them . . . releasing as much good stuff as possible into the atmosphere.

Take a deep breath!

--Allen Johnson Jr.


Allen Johnson Jr.

Award Winning Author and Jazz Guitarist


I was born and raised in Mountain Brook, Alabama, attending Mountain Brook Elementary School. My early years are described in my book FUN! A Boyhood (See: Books for Adults below ).

I graduated from the Lawrenceville School in 1954, attended the University of Alabama for two years, farmed in Florida for two years—growing strawberries and Easter lilies—and then served in the Army in an armored infantry scout platoon in Germany. Returning to college in 1960, I received a degree in botany from the University of Miami.

I lived in Vermont for 23 years with my first wife, Linda, where we founded the Vermont State Craft Center. During that time, I wrote songs, freelance articles, studied jazz guitar and produced guitar study material with noted jazz guitarist Barry Galbraith.

In Vermont, I played in a jazz trio with pianist/composer, Ernest Stires and bassist, Bob Clark. The high point of my musical life was performing in the late 80s in a duo with my dear friend, jazz violinist, Richard Braunlich.

In the nineties, while I was living in Birmingham, Alabama, I wrote mostly for children. After moving to the West Coast, I completed a trilogy, The Blackwater Novels, that are meant for youngsters of all ages, they show the joys and perils of growing up in the great outdoors in the 1930s South. They are written in the first person voice(s) of a boy (sometimes two boys). The novels have won five awards. Nine other books for adults can be seen on this site below.

I now live on Mercer Island, Washington with my wife Jill, and two dogs, Piccolo and Chloe. I have three grown children, Colby, April and Ben—all filmmakers! (see:

Additional information can be found at



Available in Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle, Audio
Available in Hardcover, Paperback, Audio
Available in Hardcover, Paperback, Audio


My Brother's Story
The Dead House
A Nest of Snakes

Allen Johnson Jr.

Illustrated by Kelley McMorris

Award Winning Novel Series

Identical twins Johnny and Will are orphaned and separated as toddlers. Johnny is adopted by an abusive aunt in Tennessee. Will is adopted by a loving, affluent couple who live in the country near Birmingham, Alabama. When he grows into boyhood, Johnny runs away and is sheltered by Linc, a reclusive black man who lives deep in the Blackwater Swamp. My Brother’s Story tells of the twins’ adventures as they struggle to reunite.

“Young readers will meet fun characters whose adventures are marked by honesty, loyalty, courage, and love. Older readers will applaud a refreshing story that recalls and fosters those ideals.” - Kathryn Tucker Windham

The second book in the Blackwater Novels Series has won two children's book awards, including a 2015 Gold Medal from Moonbeam Children's Book Awards. Rad Fox, a boy who lives with his widowed mother on the Blackwater River, and Dr. Jordan Mason, a family friend who is visiting, discover an evil presence at the old Granger House. The twins, Will and Johnny, come to visit Linc, and Johnny gets deathly ill. In this multi-layered mystery, once again Linc shows the value of his skills in the Blackwater Swamp.

This third title in the Blackwater Novel Series by Allen Johnson Jr, is a 2014 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards Silver Medal reciepient. The twins, while sleeping in their tree-house, overhear a plot. Later, they return to the Blackwater River to connect with Rad Fox and help Linc and Sheriff Clyde who are in danger from the Ku Klux Klan. Once again, good people join together to confront racial hatred.

Click to Learn About Each Book

Available in Paperback
Available in Paperback
Available in Paperback
Available in Paperback
Available in Paperback
Available in Paperback
Available in Paperback
Available in Paperback
Available in Paperback
Wisdom In A Nutshell: Quotes For Navigating Life
Wisdom In A Nutshell: Quotes For Empowering Values and Character
Wisdom In A Nutshell: Quotes on Living for Spiritual Success
Wisdom In A Nutshell: Reading for Inspiration, Encouragement and Fun
Wisdom in a Nutshell: Four Volume Gift Set
The Stupidity Insight: Clearing Inner Skies
Bumbling Towards Nirvana: The Lighter Side of Enlightenment!
A Box of Trinkets: Stories, Poems, Songs, Musings, Comments and Memories
FUN! a boyhood
Why Books? The Value of Stories on the Printed Page

Allen Johnson Jr.

From Cicero to Seinfeld, from Shakespeare to Eckhart Tolle, this captivating "pocket gem" gifts the reader with brief but profound revelations to live by. Allen Johnson Jr.'s Wisdom in a nutshellreminds us that the most powerful insights are always elegantly concise. The genius and magic of this collection is how it invites the reader into the process of creating meaning. Allen Johnson Jr. has given us wisdom that can be carried in pocket or purse, ready at hang to deliver humor, inspiration, and guidance."

-Stephen Bosch

President and Managing Partner, BrandTruth

Allen Johnson Jr. has meticulously collected and skillfully organized this collection of concise quotations on good values and virtuous character. The quotations are simply unassailable...enduring truth. Each maxim is powerful, compelling and indispensable. Collectively, they are the bedrock foundation and cohesive force that sustains families, communities, and civil societies. It is beyond dispute that those who actually practice these values receive great benefits in peace, joy and satisfaction.

-Claude Nielson

Chairman, Coca-Cola Bottling Company United

In this little book you will find a collection of some of the most pithy but sublime quotes about the meaning of life and the power and primacy of love that could ever be assembled in a so brief a treasury of the world's wisdom. Each quote seems to be a sparkling gem that radiates into our own soul the essential truths about our spirituatl nature. Reading and reflecting on these profound sayings will inspire you to live in the light of your own imperishable divinity.

-Kenneth Ring, PhD

Ray Bradbury once said, "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them." Allen Johnson Jr. takes this timeless quote to heart. He wants us to read and reinvigorate our love of reading real books by carrying this little volume with us wherever we wander. I know I will.

-Jim Reed

Author and curator

Enjoy the clever to the sublime in this set of four pocket-sized volumes. Let the concise quotes they hold guide you to a happier, wiser life. The four pocket-sized volumes are: Quotes for Navigating Life, Quotes for Empowering Values and Character, Quotes on Living for Spiritual Success, and Reading for Inspiration, Encouragement and Fun!

Most of us walk around with stuck, negative feelings. Worry, guilt, sadness or resentment can cloud our inner skies and prevent the light of joy from shining through. This little book can help. Johnson shares insights and simple techniques—some spiritual, some just common sense—to clear your inner skies. Use and enjoy these quick, authentic ways to find your way back to Joy.

Is it really true that, as a student, Dorothy Parker was expelled from Catholic girls' school, because she insisted on referring to Immaculate Conception as spontaneous combustion?

I hope it's true, because if it is, then the ruminations of Allen Johnson Jr. are as interesting, funny, serious, unlikely and profound as Immaculate Conception and spontaneous combustion combined.

Even if it's not true, Allen's vision of the world is. Stick your nose if not your toe into this book and be prepared to be unprepared.

-Jim Reed, author and bookseller extraordinaire

Open Allen Johnson Jr.'s A Box of Trinkets, and be prepared to be unprepared for what you experience. Where else would you ever find stories, poems and comments in one volume on: a faceless man, William Jennings Bryan, sexism, high-fashion-macho cowboys, topless dancers? In what other book will you meet in person Albert Einstein, Nat King Cole and Ernest Hemingway, along with assorted dogs, lovers authors, painters and just plain offbeat but very real people?

Allen's pages are full of potato soup surprises, feisty army sergeants, inventive solidiers, luxury yacht voyages, train rides you wish you had taken yourself and an occasional slap on the wrist for all the silly things society tries to serve up without first being asked.

This collection of unapologetic stories and comments written by an unapologetic Southern writer unlike any other writer you've met. Allen Johnson Jr. grabs you with big ideas, tiny meanderings, timely ideas and slightly irrevelant musings. Once you start the journey through these trinkets, you won't want to stop till you get to the bottom of the box.

This is the second edition of FUN! a boyhood. I have added a few things an made a few corrections, but it is essentially the same book I wrote twenty years ago using wooden pencils and yellow legal pads (editing being done with scissors and scotch tape). It is my first book-really more of a booklet-and here's how it came to be.

I had been looking through family papers and histories trying to find something about my much-loved grandfather's boyhood. I could find nothing. I knew nothing about him as a boy and realized that it takes only a couple of generations for family memories to disappear. I wrote FUN! a boyhoodso that my descendants would be to know what I was like as a boy. I also wanted to memorialize what was an extraordinarily joyful time in my life along with some of the people-and dogs-who gave me so much love and fun. I printed up a thousand or so copies, and when I moved back to Birmingham, Alabama, they quickly sold out...bought by people who wanted to remember a simpler time. Although this memoir is not great literature, I recommend it to anyone who wants to know what it was like growing up in the the thirties and forties. This is how it was back then...

Foreword, FUN! a boyhood

Responding to the naysayers who routinely sound the death knell of the printed word, author Allen Johnson Jr. shares his personal feelings on a subject near and dear to so many readers. Why Books? by size is a diminutive book, by insight it has volumes to say. A must read for serious book lovers. Cicero, Roman philosopher and statesman said, To add a library to a house is to give that house a soul. Johnson said, I am a lover of all books, always have been, but printed books have a special place for me. I believe strongly in the value of printed books for entertaining, learning, and passing along wisdom from the well-worn pages of those who came before. A printed book delights the senses! Other topics covered in Why Books? The Value of Stories on the Printed Page includes: Why do books gratify our senses? Why is story-telling so important? Why is reading fiction a creative act? Why read positive. Inspiring fiction? And, much more.

Click to Learn About Each Book

Out of Print
Out of Print
Out of Print
Out of Print
Out of Print
Picker McClikker
Picker McClikker: the rest of the story
The Butterpop Café
The Christmas Tree Express
A Breeze In The Willows

Allen Johnson Jr.

Allen Johnson Jr.

Jill and Allen Johnson

Allen Johnson Jr.

Allen Johnson Jr.

Illustrated by Stephen Hanson

Two-and-a-half-year-old Picker McClikker can pick things faster than anyone in the world. When Picker goes to work, he’s like a small tornado! He saves the family cotton crop and wins a grape picking contest against big Louis, the champion grape picker of France.

Illustrated by Stephen Hanson

As the fastest picker in the world grows up, we discover that Picker McClikker’s amazing quickness can be used in more ways than picking cotton and grapes. Picker takes care of the school bully, helps his a little cousin Jesse and later takes up the five string banjo. There are two stars in this warm story of the McClikker family. Picker himself and his old hound Bone. Like the first book, Fun is what Picker McClikker, the rest of the story is all about.

Illustrated by Christianne Cassan Wiese

In Jill and Allen Johnson’s fun and funny story - charmingly illustrated by Christina Wise- you’ll discover the adventure that causes Mrs. Butterfield and Mr. Stephanapopolis to come together and create The Butterpop Cafe.

Illustrated by Lisbeth Keetle

In Vermont, TJ Flint and his best friend Sally have many adventures with Silver, a wonderful malamute dog. Later, all three help to save the family Christmas tree crop and get it to market on the steam train, The Christmas Tree Express. 

Illustrated by Roger Michell

A collection of poems, observations, ruminations and funny anecdotes that lead us to the importance of humor and spirituality.

Click to Learn About Each Book



Allen Johnson Jr.'s Latest Book in the Wisdom Series

Most of us walk around with stuck, negative feelings. Worry, guilt, sadness or resentment can cloud our inner skies and prevent the light of joy from shining through. This little book can help. Johnson shares insights and simple techniques—some spiritual, some just common sense—to clear your inner skies. Use and enjoy these quick, authentic ways to find your way back to Joy.



The Dead House

Independent Publisher’s Moonbeam Children’s book Award 2015 Gold Medal Winner Pre-Teen Fiction (Mystery)

My Brother's Story

Forward Reviews INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award 2014 Silver Winner Juvenile Fiction

My Brother's Story

Independent Publisher’s IPPY Award 2015 Bronze Medal Winner Best Juvenile Fiction

Blackwater Novels Series

Independent Publisher’s Moonbeam Children’s Book Award 2014 Silver Medal Winner Best Chapter Book Series

My Brother's Story

Camellia Children’s Choice Book Awards 2015/16 Winner - Fiction Books Grades 6th - 8th




Allen Johnson Jr. has been a passionate Jazz guitarist and song writer for decades. He has written dozens of original songs as well as working on his current music project, which is Jazz guitar lyrical improvising.


When I was thirty-five, I got serious about jazz guitar. I was faced with several challenges . . . starting so late, poor memory and less than average coordination. On the positive side, I had good taste in music, a good sense of melody and I found the best teacher in the country, Barry Galbraith. Forty-plus years later, my limitations are still with me, but I have made a breakthrough in being more musical in my improvising.

For people who have the coordination, guitar lends itself to fast playing of many notes. This is an accomplishment that is exciting and impressive to listeners in an audience. I always marvel at guitar players who zip around the neck with lightning speed, but the kind of excitement fast playing generates is not the only feeling generated by music. Simple beauty from well selected, strong, slow notes can create powerful feelings that bring tears to your eyes. To create this kind of beauty with guitar you must have an instrument, a good method of amplification and a technique that produces tonal beauty.

Since I have never been able to develop amazing speed (chops), I have gravitated towards being able to produce notes with enough power and beauty to mean something. This was hard to do. Only in the past year—with a Trenier archtop guitar and an unusual system of amplification —have I been able to find the tonal beauty I have always wanted (Listen to the attached MP3s.).

The training ground for jazz guitar is the Great American Songbook—the songs that were mostly written in the 30s and 40s. This body of work contains the richest assortment of melodies and harmonies ever produced by man. All of us learn to improvise by playing over the chord tracks of songs from the Great American Songbook. Youngsters who study jazz in music schools are taught to play certain scales over the appropriate chords. I was taught this way by Barry, and it works well but can lead to mechanical playing. This approach gets you into the habit of playing from visual cues (the chord signatures). It is a necessary learning phase to get the scale and interval patterns under you finger. Learning scales and where to use them gives us the muscle memory to navigate the neck and produce improvised melodies. The problem then becomes how to avoid sounding mechanical. You have to learn to improvise form your ears, not your eyes. This is where my new strategy kicks in. Here is how I discovered it:

One evening, I was watching a video of a Tony Bennett performance. I was marveling at how much feeling he was able to get into the melodies he was singing. He was doing It Had to Be You, a song that I was very familiar with. After the verse (which is beautiful), there were tears in his eyes. I grabbed my guitar and started to play lines along with him. My hands knew where to go (muscle memory). I was getting good ideas with no lead sheet or thought of chord symbols. “How am I doing this?” I wondered. “I don’t even know what key he is in.” The answer was that my ideas were coming from the melody. I had heard great players say that, when improvising, you should always keep the melody in mind, but when you have been trained to take visual cues from chord symbols on lead sheets, this is hard to do. At that moment, I had no lead sheet (no visual cues) and the melody was right there in front of my nose. I was forced to take my cues from the melody. I was grabbing (executing) right-brain musical ideas not patterns from chord symbols on a lead sheet. I noticed that the lines I was playing sounded more musical than usual. That was my discovery. I decided to start improvising with CD tracks of the great singers performing the Great American Songbook . . . Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Nancy Lamott, Diana Krall, Rosemary Clooney . . . my CD collection was loaded with this stuff, and I had a little Bose player on the table next to my guitar chair. I closed my music book and started playing from my ears instead of my eyes. It is very satisfying to hear the improvement this has caused.

Below are four examples of me improvising with CDs:

This first recording When Joanna Loved me is an example of guitar improvising with very few notes . . . trying for feeling with Tony Bennett doing the beautiful song, When Joanna Loved me. My ideas are guided by the melody. Of course, the wonderful piano of Ralph Sharon on this recording also inspires ideas.

(Remember that these recordings are not accompaniments. They area guitar exercises. If my playing gets in the singer’s way, it doesn’t matter. The recordings are exercises in using the melody to guide ideas.)

The second recording Crazy She Calls is also a Tony Bennett ballad. This one involves more guitar notes and has more of a jazz feel.

The third recording Blue Prelude is a Peggy Lee/George Shearing minor blues, Blue Prelude.

I had no lead sheet for any of these recordings. They are an example of what you can get when your improvising is guided by the melody. Improvising with recordings of the great singers doing the Great American Songbook is a fun, painless strategy for making your improvising more lyrical. (Note: before improvising on a song it is helpful to determine the key, and key changes that occur and/or any different key centers the song may move through.)

In the fourth recording, My Funny Valentine, I am playing along with the wonderful Carly Simon and a Marty Paich arrangement. It is an example of weaving melodic lines around and into a melody. It is also an example of good tone from the guitar. Inspiration came from Marty’s tasteful arrangement and, of course, from Carly, whose lovely, warm voice expresses so much feeling. This cut is from Carly’s album, My Romance . . . my favorite vocal album.

Allen Johnson Jr.





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Sue spent her childhood traveling with her parents and attending schools in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and Ohio fifteen different schools-before marrying in the summer after the eleventh grade. She graduated from high school in Hampton, Virginia and attended college at Michigan Tech and Troy State University in Alabama, where she graduated summa cum laude and earned a master’s degree in English.
Travels with her Air Force husband included five years in Michigan, where he served with the Air Force ROTC program, a year near San Francisco, and three years in England. Sue lives now in Alabama. Until courses in English, poetry, and creative writing.
Two of Sue’s eight books of poetry were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; four were named “Book of the Year” by the Alabama State Poetry Society. Hundreds of her poems have won awards (eight Hackney awards as well as the William Stafford Award) and have been published in literary journals such as The Southern Review, The Southern Poetry Review and many more.

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