I continue my series of writer interviews, this week with R J Johnson.
RJ Johnson was born in Southern California where he grew up in the idyllic mountain town of Big Bear Lake, California. He was bitten by the writing bug early in life after his second grade teacher helped publish his first novel by binding a short story for him he had written for his class. After attending San Jose State University, he got into radio where he spent the majority of his career producing radio and performing on-air both nationally and in cities like Dallas, San Diego, and San Francisco.
He now lives in San Diego, California where he spends his time chasing the wolf from his door by publishing his books and short stories.
You can find him on Twitter @rickerkioz
Welcome to my blog, Rick!
Please tell us more about yourself, anything you like- interests, background…
I’m a former radio producer/on-air talent who has worked in Dallas, San Francisco and San Diego with radio talents like Phil Hendrie, Michael Savage and Laura Ingraham. I made the transition to writing books a few years ago and haven’t looked back since! I’m also a big fan of science fiction like Star Trek, Firefly and Doctor Who.
Please tell us more about the book or books you would like to feature today.
Change in Management a private detective novel set on Mars in the near(ish) future. The protagonist Jim Meade is a Runabout – someone that doesn’t care who’s running the show so long as he’s left alone to make a lot of money as easily as he possibly can. While he can be a rogue outlaw on occasion, Meade has a very strong personal code of ethics that keeps him on the straight and narrow (or at least from harming anyone he might consider innocent).
I’m not sure if fortunate is the word I should use, but I wrote and published this right before Snowden released all the information about the NSA’s spying programs like PRISM. When I wrote Change in Management, I thought it would be interesting to examine what might happen if a Government who was collecting all metadata from all of its citizens (along with recording private conversations for later analysis) used that data to predict the future.
What gave you the idea to write in this genre?
When I was 5 years old, I watched Halley’s Comet swing through our interstellar neighborhood and that was all I needed. I became obsessed with space, both fictional and real. I’ve always wanted to write a hardboiled detective noir type novel and I thought combining that with a western flair on Mars might make for a good story. Readers seem to like it so far, but, hey you never really know when you’re an independent author like myself.
Is there a theme or message in your work that you would like readers to connect with?
Google can predict what you’re searching for even before you finish typing it in, and Facebook can recommend pages you might like with scary accuracy based on just a few things you’ve already “liked.” With Change in Management, I thought about what we give up when we allow our data to be examined in exchange for security (not so much personal security in my novel, but rather economic security).
What research did you do, and how? Or does it all come from your own imagination?
Most of my research comes from various sources across the web. From Wikipedia, to Reddit, to NASA’s own webpages, there’s just so much out there now that I can’t imagine how authors used to do it.
For example, in one of my previous novels, I wanted to know what Jupiter might look like from a certain distance away in space on an asteroid. I submitted the question to a forum on Reddit frequented by real world scientists (who do this sort of stuff for a living) and got my answer within thirty minutes.
We live in amazing times.
The rest came from my own imagination.
What’s the funniest/weirdest thing you’ve done when doing research for your book?
I wouldn’t call it weird necessarily, but I really enjoyed going to JPL for their Open House that they host once a year and toured the entire facility. I got to see them building Curiousity before they sent it to Mars. It was awesome.
Do you ever base your characters on people you know?
I think it’s best to take slices of people’s personality that I know and combine them all into a character of my own making. That way, it’s not only an easy out to say “Nope, that wasn’t you,” but also gives characters a richer and more authentic feel to them.
Do you make a plan for your novels, or do you just start writing and see where it goes?
I think a plan is invaluable before you first start writing, but you gotta be ready to throw it all out at a moment’s notice.
I’m not sure how my process differs from other folk, but basically, I outline everything and anything I want to know about or maybe reference. I write extensive character bio sheets that I add to constantly. I keep track of locations, technology (and how it’s used/works) and any other minor details I might reference about the world/universe I’m building.
However, when it comes to actually writing, I don’t necessarily stick to the outline I’ve written. I’m a big fan of letting the story breathe and tell me what it wants to do -providing it makes sense. I’ve had many inspiring moments because of that.
While I’m writing, I’m often inspired by something I hear/see and I’ll make adjustments to my story from there. Generally, by the time I’m halfway done with the book I’m writing, I’ve written an outline that I’m using in my head and leave the one on paper alone. That way, I can go back to see what I originally wrote and I can see how the story evolved. 85% of the time, I like the new stuff A LOT better.
But the planning… always plan all the way through if you want to finish a novel… even if you don’t stick to it.
Which of your own books/ characters is your favourite and why?
I’m a big fan of my Jim Meade: Martian P.I. series (Change in Management and Rosetta). Mostly because I love the concept of the world I’ve built (hopefully that doesn’t sound too arrogant) and the characters within.
My favorite character however has to be Rupert Kline, a supervillian from my other series, The Twelve Stones. I don’t know why, but I always feel like I write my best stuff with him. He’s so evil and spectacularly brilliant at the same time, I can’t help but root for him – even though he’s an absolute bastard.
What has been the most helpful piece of advice you’ve received as a writer?
This is not so much advice I’ve been given, but advice I like to give.
There’s no such thing as writer’s block.
Writer’s block is another excuse to not write. If you feel uninspired, then you’re not asking the right questions about your story. The more questions you have about your character’s background, your mcguffins, or themes, the better your story. Drama is everywhere around you, why wouldn’t there be something interesting to write about within your book? Whether you give your characters another problem to solve, or love interest to betray them, there is always something you can ask yourself about your characters/mcguffins/themes that will change whatever it is that you believe is ‘blocking’ you from writing.
And of course, write every day. It sucks to hear this advice over and over, but really… it’s the only way you become a writer.
Note from Lily: I agree about the writer’s block, never had it myself!
What books or other projects do you have coming up in future?
I’m writing a sequel to my Twelve Stones series (it’s my book series about alien artifacts that give humans superpowers to help mankind save the planet from a disaster. Imagine Indiana Jones meets the Xmen). It will be out on July 31st.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers?
My readers are why I write. Every ‘like’ I get on my Facebook page, every book I sell, is another reminder that what I’m doing is worth something to someone… It’s the single greatest feeling I’ve ever experienced and something I’ve hoped for since I was fourteen years old.
So really the only thing I can say to my readers is, thank you. Thank you for helping lift me up and allow my books into your home. Whether you like them, hate them or are indifferent, you’re still aces in my book.
Thank you Rick, nice to meet you and thank you for visiting my blog today 🙂