Monday, September 15, 2014

2014 St. George Book Festival Interview with Johnny Worthen

Johnny Worthen the tie-dye wearing author of the nationally acclaimed young adult paranormal ELEANOR, THE UNSEEN and the adult occult thriller, BEATRYSEL and DR. STUART’S HEART. 2015 will see THE FINGER TRAP, a comedy noir and CELSTE, Book 2 of THE UNSEEN, Trained in modern literary criticism and cultural studies, Johnny writes upmarket multi-genre fiction. “I write what I like to read.”

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
            I’ve written my entire life, finding excuses to put out newsletters in between excel spreadsheets and management meetings. I wrote games and blogs, instructions books, suicide notes and love letters. I edited others books and always knew that it was my greatest joy. Writing a book has always been on my list of things to do, but it wasn’t until 2011 that I decided that that list was more important than just about anything else in my life. I put myself in a position to make it my life and it has been so ever since. I have now written eleven novels, Five are under contract, three are under consideration and the others are in edits or looking for a home. Every book is better than the one before in some ways and I’m exploring genres and ideas. It’s a fantastic career. One day I hope to eat from it.

 Where did the inspiration for ELEANOR come from?
            Tony Hillerman’s book SKINWALKERS introduced me to the Navajo legend which gave an entry into the idea of shape-shifters. However, I’d been toying with the ideas of change and acceptance for some time. I like the character of a lonely outsider, a person everyone takes for granted, vulnerable but powerful, ignored but the most amazing creature in the world, hiding in plain sight. Although a Young Adult Book, adolescence being the best time to tell such a story, I knew I’d be putting in adult themes – loss and love, abandonment and survival – heavy subjects, but I know young readers could handle it. Young adult readers are readers and readers are smart. I have not been disappointed by its reception.

What made you choose to write a novel?
            I like the complexity of a novel. Writing shorter fiction is more challenging for me in many ways. I jokingly say that I can’t write my name in under two paragraphs. I was made for long form fiction. It allows depth that other forms of narrative can’t approach.

What is the main message or theme that you hope readers of this book come away from it with?
            It’s a complicated book and series. Love and affection, the soul of humanity, is at the core of it all. Monster or man, love is what makes us human. That’s a good thing to take away from it, along with the experience of an extraordinary girl trying to be ordinary, facing tragedy few of us are ever prepared to face.

 Who is your favorite author?
            I am. True story. My books just speak to me. It’s like they were written just for me.
            Other authors I love are Tim Dorsey, Elmore Leonard, Cormac McCarthy, Frank Herbert, and Jared Diamond.

 Do you have a writing routine? A special pen, a certain type of music, time limits?
            I give myself deadlines. I give myself goals. When I begin a project, I hold myself to 1,666 words per day, the NaNoWriMo number. I usually do better than that, but that’s the goal.  I write straight through and finish what I start. From Chapter One to the End, I see it though before even considering another project. That way I have finished books instead of half-finished ones.
As for tools, I always have a collection of pens and pads spread across my life spaces, pockets, desk, computer, by my bedside – a lighted pen is wonderful. When the project really explodes, I’ve been known to be impossible to be around, talking to imaginary friends, scribbling notes on napkins and palms, unable to join in even the most mundane conversation unless I can connect it to my writing. I prefer fountain pens because they’re cool.
I don’t have any specific time I write, but I tend to do my best work in a coffee shop with just enough distraction to ignore. Mornings also work sometimes and after midnight when the darkness conceals the house, I tend to get good work in.

 Do you enjoy edits/rewrites, or not?
            When I’m editing my own work for me, it’s not so bad. I get back into the rhythme of the book, its themes and characters and I can see where it needs work. If the chapter is so bad that it needs a complete re-write, it’s more challenging, but again, at the early stages it’s all a labor of love. Later, when you get an editor and such and the changes are not your own idea, the process becomes like more like passing glass shards through your urethra, than love, and it’s not as enjoyable.

Please tell us a little bit about your journey to publication:
            If I had a dollar for every query letter I’ve sent out, I wouldn’t need to sell any books. Early on, I made a conscious decision not to self-publish and went after agents, the way I thought you were supposed to. Two years of that crap and I was about to self-publish when all at once, I found a publisher and then another and then another. I’d stopped begging agents to work for me and went directly to publishers with my books and the rest is history. I still want an agent, want to see my name on the New York Times Best Seller’s List, but in the meantime, I’ve found great people to work with to get my books out there and into the hands of readers. It’s an awesome accomplishment. So far so good.

What is the hardest part of being a writer?
The worst part of the process is re-writes. It’s difficult once you get an editor. The process is personal and although the editor is there to help, it is an intrusion and a necessary evil. It’s like someone else telling you how to raise your child. It takes some getting used to.
The worst part of the career is the business side. Writers are my nature solitary creatures, often introverted. I’m not one of those, but I still feel the pressure, distraction and frustration of convincing other people to read my work, to pay money for it no less. Writers are often too close to their work, too emotionally connected to be good salesmen and yet we’re asked to do it – have to do it. The skills needed to sell something are not the same as those needed to create something. It’s a problem.

Are there any common themes that you feel are particularly important to write about?
            I am conscious of my theme in every book I write. It’s one of the criteria I need to have before I pen a word. Eleanor looks and change and trust, love and loss. My other books have other themes. One that always appears however – in everything I’ve written, is death. I don’t think I’ve written anything longer than a grocery list in my adult life that didn’t have death somewhere in it. Memento Mori – remember we are mortal. Put a skull on your desk to remember that, the way the old scribes did. It keeps you honest. A great motivator.
            I fell that books should always examine a question or two. Books need to be about something. It doesn’t need to answer every question, but it damn well should raise a few. Black and white seldom makes for interesting or enriching stories. The world is shades gray and perspective makes all the difference.

When you're not writing, what are your other hobbies/passions?
            I’ve put everything aside except for cards with my friends. Magic the Gathering is still my favorite pastime. I used to build models and paint, but haven’t had time. I took up the Native American flute and sometimes can be heard insulting the air with twiddling tones.

 Are you working on any new projects?
            I’m always working on new things. I’m editing a few books as we speak  the rest of THE UNSEEN TRILOGY and my comedy/mystery, THE FINGER TRAP with will come out next year. Plus I  just finished a new novel called A BLIND SQUIRREL, it’s a gritty crime thriller in the vein of the great Elmore Leonard. I’m also looking for an agent and homes for a couple other books in assorted genres – all are way cool and I’m confident they’ll all eventually find a home.

Quick Fire round:

Coke or Pepsi?
            Diet Coke

Chocolate or Vanilla?

Rainy winter days or blazing hot summer days?
            Blazing hot summer days

Hard Copy or e-book?
            Hard copy. I don’t have a tablet, so it’s a pain to read ebooks on my laptop.

Favorite book?
            At this moment, ELEANOR, THE UNSEEN

Last book you read?
            THE WORLD UNTIL YESTERDAY by Jared Diamond
MY ANTONIA, by Willa Cather
RIDING THE RAP by Elmore Leonard

What's a quote that inspires you?
            “I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.” – Theodore Roethke

What's your favorite comfort food?
St. George Book Festival October 20-25, 2015 - Learn More at

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