Creative Spotlight on Award-Winning Author J.R. Johnson
This is a collection of questions answered by this amazing author for her Creative Spotlight on Award-Winning Author J.R. Johnson article featured here. They may or may not have been answered in the live. I loved chatting with her and hope you take some helpful information away from our chat. Be sure to like and leave a comment below. Let us know what your favorite Sc-Fi or Speculative Fiction story is. Do you love an author featured in this collection?
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Tell our readers briefly about yourself.
I grew up in the US but now live and write in Ontario. I started reading young and never stopped, and was fortunate in that my father had a good collection of science fiction and fantasy books. That’s how I got started with speculative fiction. I loved it, and when you love reading a genre, it’s a short step to wanting to write it. At least, it was for me.
Can you tell us about your most recent release? Album? Song? Art piece? Etc.?
My most recent publication is a piece in the latest Writers of the Future anthology, which just came out. It’s a novella called “Piracy for Beginners,” starring a former war hero who must face down her enemies and demons to save Earth’s last best chance for peace. Also, there are weaponized doughnuts.
What inspires you?
Everything! The fun thing about writing speculative fiction is that so much of it is based on life, with an interesting twist. Every story, even one set on another world in a dimension with magic, for example, is founded on characters, their wants and needs, their behaviors, and the connections between people and place. All of that is present right here, every day. Reading the news, watching people’s interactions, imagining what it would be like if… I mean, what if those kids at the park down the street were elves? Or cyborgs?
What is your creative work routine like? Do you balance it with another job?
This is an excellent question. Like most writers, I do have a day job, but I try to schedule writing or other creative time into my early mornings. When I can do that consistently, I’m much happier and more productive. I’m also able to do at least some of my day job work at a treadmill desk, which sounds a little precious but has been a big help in helping me move while still getting my work done.
Do you plan out your creations? What is your creative process like?
Most stories, at least in the Western world, are based on a person in a place with a problem. I try to start there. Well, realistically, an emotion or interaction or bit of information catches my attention, and at some point, my story radar pings. “Oh look,” I think, “that could be something.” And the next bit is just turning the idea over in my mind, looking for what interested me about this particular item or idea, poking at it to see if I can make it into a person in a place with a problem, and go from there.
Do you have a self-care routine, or do you want to have one? What do you do or wish that you did to take care of your mental health?
I don’t have a routine exactly, but I do try to set up my work in ways that make the days more manageable. I find I do better when I stick with my habits. That way, I have less leeway if I don’t feel like writing or working out, for example. Anything I can do to make it easier to get words on the page is good!
What is your favorite creation thus far?
I’d say that would have to be my contribution to Writers of the Future volume 39. It’s hard to beat the excitement of having a story come out in book form, and the effort they invested in the book design is terrific. Not only did they commission art for each story, they included color versions in the book as well. Holding a book with your name on it is very satisfying, and to have it include so many great writers and illustrators is both humbling and inspiring.
Do you have a character that is your favorite over others you've written into creation?
Now this is a tough question. I like all of the characters and worlds that I create because that’s what drives my writing. As for a favorite? Right now, I’d say that it’s my pirate-battling space captain from “Piracy for Beginners.” She’s an interesting character in a tough situation, and she handles it the way I think most of us hope we would, with cleverness, a strong sense of ethics, and a bit of humor. Also, a strong right hook.
Are there any recurring themes in your work?
I tend to write about characters who have been cast adrift in the world, are alone and under pressure, but still fighting to do the right thing. I also tend to write strong women forced to make difficult choices, corporations behaving badly, regular folks up against much stronger opponents, and I try to do it with humor and hope. There’s a quote by journalist Charles M. Blow that I love: “This is the reason I write, to remind people of honor and courage; to tell them that their cause isn’t lost, that their destiny is victory.”
What does success look like to you, considering your creative passion?
I have a mental image of my contributions to the world of interesting and varied books (I literally see this in my mind; it is a magic library with a fireplace and an endless supply of snacks and a cat who walks through walls, and it is awesome). I’d like to make that happen.
What has been one of the biggest lessons you've learned since starting this journey?
I would have to say persistence. Starting out as a writer is hard, largely because you are essentially writing into a void. Often your only feedback is a form of rejection, which is not very helpful at all. Keep going! Even the stories that don’t work are a necessary step to developing your own voice. I don’t know how many rejections I had before my first acceptance, but it was a lot. On the plus side, I started this process hating rejection, but now? It doesn’t bother me at all.
What advice would you share with new or aspiring authors/singers/artists/etc?
It may sound simplistic, but my first bit of advice is to write. Building the habit of getting words onto the page will serve you well no matter what direction your career takes. Read! There’s a reason why this is one of the most commonly-given pieces of writing advice out there. No matter your preferred genre, understanding where it’s been, where it’s going, and what makes it tick is incredibly useful. Think about what you read. If you really enjoy a story, go back through it and break down the how and why of what made that book work for you. And again, keep writing. It will take time to develop your own voice. Start learning the business. At the outset, this means understanding essentials like manuscript format, cover letters, markets, etc. Once you get rolling, it can be a challenge to track all of your stories, so I recommend using a submission tracker. My favorite is the friendly and free Submission Grinder.
Where do you get your ideas for world-building?
Sadly, I am not one of those fortunate writers for whom whole worlds spring from nothing. Instead, I start from a character, an idea, a moment, or even an item and spin a world out from there.
What genre do you prefer to read?
I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, but depending on what I’m trying to do with my writing, I can also read nonfiction or romance.
What hobbies do you have?
I used to do archery but now I spend more time cooking, woodworking, and gardening very badly.
Do you have any outside experiences that influenced your work?
I have been lucky enough to have traveled quite a bit, and seeing new places and new cultures, then returning home with a new perspective, has been invaluable.
Where can our viewers/readers/listeners find you and your work?
My home online is jrjohnson.me. There, you can find links to my published fiction, social media, and daily posts.