Interview with Johanna Suhre from Heidi Chiavaroli’s The Orchard House

Novel PASTimes: Welcome to Novel PASTimes, Johanna. I see you are acquainted with great literary genius Louisa May Alcott. That sounds fascinating!

Johanna: Yes, I’ve been privileged to know Louisa for several years now. Though it was only recently she has become so well-known to so many.

Novel PASTimes: Would you mind telling us the story of how you met?

Johanna: Oh, certainly. You see Louisa nursed my brother after he was injured at Fredericksburg. God rest his soul, dear John was the light of my life and it seems, for a moment in time while Louisa nursed him, he was the light of hers too. She was the one who wrote out John’s last words to us, along with sending on his ring. I’ve read that letter over and over again, as has Mother.

Novel PASTimes: I can’t imagine your heartbreak. I’m so sorry for your loss.

Johanna: Thank you. We miss John terribly, but we are so very proud of him. Even in the depths of his suffering, his wisdom and loving spirit were evident. Louisa called him her “Prince of Patients” and wrote honestly of him in her memoir Hospital Sketches. I have no doubt she was a comfort to him in that time. 

Novel PASTimes: It sounds as if she cared for him greatly.

Johanna: Yes, she did. John lives on, though. He is a part of so many, including the characters Louisa writes.

Novel PASTimes: I understand you traveled to Concord to work for Louisa?

Johanna: Yes, I was ready for my own adventure. In Louisa’s words, “change of scene is sometimes salvation for women who outgrow the place they are born in,” and I felt change of scene was precisely what I needed, especially with both Father and John gone.

Novel PASTimes: And now that you have been in Concord for some time, are you happy with your decision?

Johanna: Oh yes! Especially since meeting Nathan. We are planning to be married very soon. If only . . . well, never mind all that.

Novel PASTimes: You are among friends here, Johanna. Feel free to share your thoughts. Do you have some hesitation about coming to Concord?

Johanna: About coming to Concord? Most certainly not. It is a beautiful place full of Revolutionary history, a birthplace of literature and art. It stirs an inspiration within me to create my own poems, which I’ve greatly enjoyed and which Louisa has encouraged me in, busy as she is with her own writing. She has become a great friend. I only wish she could see Nathan as I do.

Novel PASTimes: Miss Alcott does not care for your husband-to-be, then?

Johanna: They have some . . . history between them. But don’t we all? Nathan can be a bit passionate about his work, and when it is met with Louisa’s verve . . . well, the two don’t always see eye to eye, is all. Nathan has many a good side. He truly does. We all get angry at one time or another, but real love bears with the ugly. I firmly believe that. Louisa is strong in her ways, and I will be strong in mine by loving unconditionally the man who loves me, in spite of his faults.

Novel PASTimes: You seem determined then, Johanna. We wish you the very best. Thank you so much for spending some time with us and we look forward to reading more of your story in The Orchard House!


Heidi Chiavaroli (pronounced shev-uh-roli . . . sort of like Chevrolet and raviolimushed together) wrote her first story in third grade, titled I’d Cross the Desert for Milk. It wasn’t until years later that she revisited writing, using her two small boys’ nap times to pursue what she thought at the time was a foolish dream. Despite a long road to publication, she hasn’t stopped writing since!

Heidi writes women’s fiction, combining her love of history and literature to write split-time stories. Her debut novel, Freedom’s Ring, was a Carol Award winner and a Christy Award finalist, a Romantic Times Top Pick and a Booklist Top Ten Romance Debut. Heidi loves exploring places that whisper of historical secrets, especially with her family. She loves running, hiking, baking, and dates with her husband. Heidi makes her home in Massachusetts with her husband and two sons. Visit her online at heidichiavaroli.com.

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