Today we have author Jim Johnson tied to the interview chair, ready for some relentless interrogation.
Jim writes the nifty weird western series Pistols & Pyramids, which is just as fun as it sounds.
Genre Reader: How do you approach your novels; do you plan everything out before starting, or are you more a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of a guy?
Jim Johnson: I spend a lot of time thinking and researching and taking notes on a voice recorder, and then eventually pull it all together into a Scrivener file. Then I bang out an outline for a book that consists of one sentence for each chapter or scene, pretty bare-bones stuff. Then I take that outline and fire away on the writing. So, it’s sort of plotsing? I lay out the guideposts I’ll follow, but make things up from point A to B to C.
Pistols & Pyramids is a ‘weird western’ series; what made you want to hop into that niche, and just what is a ‘weird western’ anyhow?
I love Western movies and TV shows and books, and I also love magic and fantasy. I thought combining the two into a weird western would be great fun. Weird western is essentially ‘fantasy western’, a setting similar to the American Old West, plus weird shit. Magic, zombies, mummies, what have you.
What’s the biggest influence on the kind of thing you write? Another writer? A TV show? Some other thing that is neither of those two things?
Books, movies, and television, mostly. Some music as well. I listen to an awful lot of movie and television scores, and I often make up scenes to happen to specific pieces of music that may not have actually happened within the related movie or tv show.
Tell us about the Pistols & Pyramids series, and why the heck should our readers give it a shot?!?
It’s an ancient Egyptian themed spaghetti western with mummies and magic! Think Clint Eastwood meeting Brendan Fraser; Fistful of Dollars meets the Mummy.
What was your favourite book as a kid?
Hard to pin one down, but probably the John Christopher The Tripods SF series that was serialized in Boys’ Life. I remember them being messed up and awesome fun.
What comes first for you, concept or characters?
Characters make fiction live and breathe. I’m not an ideas guy; I prefer my fiction to be about people dealing with some sort of problem.
How many abandoned novels do you have gathering digital dust on your laptop?
More than I care to imagine. Probably a dozen or so broken novels and more partial beginnings.
What are you reading/watching/hiding from right now?
Reading a lot of urban fantasy for research, binge-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and hiding from work.
What made you decide to go indie with your prose, and what do you see as the benefits of indie?
I started writing ‘seriously’ in the late 90s’, and did the whole query thing with agents and publishers, probably for a few years, and then somewhere around 2007 gave up because I figured there had to be a better way to get stories in front of readers. And then the Kindle came along and the ease of indie publishing, and I was all on board with that.
The benefits of indie are that you can write and publish literally anything you want. No one will stop you except yourself. No gatekeepers, no barrier to entry. A total level playing field. For creatives who like to build stuff and own the process and have a hand in every part of the puzzle, it’s great fun. Indies can control every developmental piece, from writing to editing to cover design to artwork, etc. I really like knowing I’m responsible for any success or failure—I have no one else to blame or congratulate.
Who is your favourite fictional character, be it from books, TV, movies or games?
Either Luke Skywalker or Boromir. I have a deep appreciation for flawed heroes.
You’ve contributed fiction to several Star Trek story collections; how did that come about, and are there any other existing story worlds that you think it would be fun to take a crack at?
From 1995-2005, Simon and Schuster decided to run an annual contest for Star Trek fans to write short stories and submit them for professional publication consideration. A friend of mine, Kevin G Summers, entered the contest and got one of his stories, Isolation Ward 4, sold and published. I figured I’d give it a shot as well. Over the course of 5 years, I submitted 18 stories to the contest and managed to sell three of them. That led to me being invited by one of the Star Trek editors to pitch story ideas for several anthologies, and eventually I got commissioned to write a novelette for one of the Mirror Universe anthologies. Great fun.
There are plenty of story worlds I’d love to write in—Star Trek and Star Wars in particular, but I don’t see a career in writing media tie-in fiction. I’m more focused on my own worlds and settings right now.
What’s the last great book you read?
The last great book? Our Lives, Our Fortunes, and Our Sacred Honor: The Forging of American Independence, 1774-1776, by Richard Beeman. It’s a brilliant account of the personalities involved in the forging of the Declaration of Independence. It’s all about the characters.
D’you listen to music whilst you write? The TV on in the background providing a pleasant white-noise babble? Or d’you DEMAND SILENCE WHILST YOU CREATE FROM NOTHING.
I always listen to music while writing. Silence is horrifying. I have about a dozen genre-specific playlists I listen to depending on what I’m writing. Western, sci-fi, supernatural, etc.
What’s you’re writing schedule like? Are you super regimented, butt-in-chair every day, tip-tapping away for hours, or an airy-fairy ‘when the muse strikes’ sort of a person?
I write in 30-minute sprints and try to fit in as many sprints as I can in a day. Sometimes that’s zero, sometimes it’s ten. I try to write every day, but don’t always get there. I’m working on being more consistent. More consistent = more words = more books = more money, or something.
So you’re neck-deep into your weird western series, but what else are you going to be unleashing upon an unsuspecting world soon?
Once I release the P&P omnibus containing the first three episodes, I’ll be shifting focus to an urban fantasy trilogy. I’ll write the first three books and then release them one after the other, probably starting in the summer.
Check out Pistols & Pyramids HERE.
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