Friday, 4 August 2017

Interview with L.S. Johnson

My guest today is Author, L.S. Johnson. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Interzone, Long Hidden, Fae, Lackington’s, Strange Tales V, and other venues. Currently, she’s working on a fantasy trilogy set in 18th century Europe.

Hi L.S., welcome to Just Books.
Would you like to kick off by telling us when and why you decided to become a writer?
Like many writers, I’ve been writing since I was a child. I learned to read very early in life, and writing was a natural progression. One of my first stories was the scintillating creative nonfiction tale “Muffin Escapes,” about the time one of our cats got out of our second-story apartment window only to find herself precariously perched on the sill. Still proud of that one. ;)
That being said, in high school I wrote a few stories and won an award, but balked at writing every day as one teacher encouraged me to. I didn’t want to do what seemed like busywork—what was the point of trying to write if you had nothing to say?—and I had no idea what an actual writing practice entailed. For years I just wrote when I felt moved to do so and sent out first drafts, waiting for someone to recognize my genius ;). Finally I gave up—time to focus on “real” work!—only to develop terrible insomnia. The only way I could sleep was to write out everything that was in my head before bedtime. By then I was in my 30s and knew more about the craft of writing, and I was slowly able to get myself into a regular practice and build from there.

What is the thing you struggle with the most while writing?
It used to be revision, but I’ve grown to love that part of the process. Now it’s first drafts. I outline a little, but most of the plotting happens during the first draft, and by the time I reach the end the overall structure is pretty much final. This development, however, has made the first draft an utter slog: it all feels like crap, I’m just plodding along word by word, and then all of a sudden it’s done and I can finally start to see what it’s going to look like because I have the structure down. That’s when I get properly excited about the story, and it’s that excitement that I write towards when drafting, the carrot that leads me through.

So do you work to an outline or do you prefer just to see where an idea takes you?
I’ve been a pantser all my life, but over the last few years I’ve slowly come around to the idea of having at least a rough outline. My stories tend to fall into five acts, usually four acts of Things Happening and then a fifth act/epilogue kind of wrap-up. So I’ll know that, and I’ll know that basically character A goes here, these two major things will happen, character B comes in during Act 3 and shakes things up … so far it seems a good balance between allowing me to write more efficiently while still being surprised by the story.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?
I have a novel that I’ve been working on for five years now, but I’ve set it aside several times to focus on short stories. Harkworth Hall took me seven months, with about two months of breaks interspersed. I’m hoping to write the sequel, Leviathan, by Christmas, and then try and finish that larger novel once and for all.

What inspired Harkworth Hall?
I wrote Harkworth Hall as an escape, and as a belated gift to a teenaged me who needed, but never got, books with anything other than cishet protagonists marching towards inevitable coupledom. I started writing Harkworth in November, during the elections here in the U.S., and at the end of a year of struggling with writing and depression. So it was equal parts hiding my head in the sand about the election, a way to get back on the horse writing-wise, and satisfying that teenaged need for something gothic-creepy but with a different kind of romance.

Who is your favourite character from your book and why?
LOL … let’s just say I definitely have a thing about women in men’s suits.

Who designed your book cover...?
All credit goes to the fabulous Najla Qamber of Qamber Designs. A little story about the cover: while we were able to get to the image pretty quickly in the process, we could not agree on the font. Najla suggested a script, which I immediately squashed because I thought it would signal Regency Romance. So instead I bombarded her with serif fonts, and we went through an embarrassing number of comps, and finally she very cleverly slipped in the current font among several other versions and it just jumped out at me.

...and do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?
Absolutely. Especially nowadays, with so many people shopping online. I don’t think traditional publishers have quite grasped just how much is riding on that thumbnail. A cover doesn’t necessarily have to be on-the-nose with genre tropes—I think we’re definitely getting to a point where we’re going to have to think of alternatives to some of the mainstays, because I for one can’t tell half of them apart anymore—but it has to be both interesting AND signal what kind of story you’re in for. Just enough to make a potential reader click on it.

When you consider your future, what would you like to make happen for you?
In all honesty? I would love to get to the point where my writing is paying the equivalent of an entry-level job. That’s really my only goal: for my writing to cover itself, so I can keep writing what I want.

What’s the one piece of advice you would like to share with other writers?
I can’t take credit for this, but I needed to hear this at the time and maybe someone else needs it now: you can always be a little more selfish than you think. I have a tendency to try and take care of everyone else first; it took a lot for me to learn how to say “I can’t do that because I need to write now.” But when I finally did learn it changed everything.

Let's do a few quick-fire questions before you go.

Right- or left-handed?
Righty, but a child of two southpaws.

Optimist or pessimist?
Practical, so a little bit of both.

Introverted or extroverted?

Organised or messy?
Messy, alas. A dear, dear friend once described me as one of the dirtiest girls he’s ever known.

Leader or follower?
Follower, but rest assured I will remember everything a leader does, and call them on their shit when that needs to happen.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Only that if you made it this far, thanks for reading along, and I hope you enjoy Harkworth Hall!

Thanks for stopping by, L.S. 😊

Get your copy for the amazingly low price of 99c through August 7!

Find out more about L.S. Johnson and her books, on Facebook, Twitter and her Website.

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