Thursday, June 25, 2015

Author Interview: John Philip Johnson

I'm pleased to publish another author interview. A warm welcome to author/poet John Philip Johnson!

Why do you write what you do?

Why I write anything at all comes from a pretty deep place within. I’ve written a lot since I was 17, and in periods when I don’t write much, I start feeling shallow and confused. Besides that, writing helps me feel connected with other people at a significant level.

As to why I write genre work, I finally admitted to myself a few years ago that I deeply love science fiction, and that the literary scene is kind of dreary. For one thing, you don’t have as much freedom with literary work; the voice is pretty constricted into post-modern orthodoxy. And literary poetry has lost its readership except for other poets. SF poetry, on the other hand, is still read by people who read it because they love it. They read for the joy of it, and I really enjoy writing it.

How does your writing process work?

Something strikes me, or I have some intriguing image or feeling, and it just feels complex or rich. Usually I mull it over until a first sentence hits me. Then I’m off to the races. I had dinner with SF writer Sheila Finch, and she said it’s exactly that way for her, too. The idea precipitates a first sentence. Sometimes I cut it later, but that’s how it starts.

And then sometimes, after that first sentence, the feeling peters out and nothing comes of it. Other times the force of thought carries through all the way to the end. When it does, I feel like a Russian gymnast dismounting the parallel bars. Arms up, chin out! I love that feeling of nailing it! I think that’s a huge motivator for all of us writers. Going back to your first question, that’s a big reason we do it, don’t you think? The joy of nailing it.

What are you working on now?

Working on promoting my comic book, which turned out really cool, with Marvel Comics legend Bob Hall and others. I hope your readers all go look at the free sample, and love it, and buy the whole comic. Forgive the shameless self-promotion! Otherwise, I’m doing more science fiction short stories. One is about memory augmentation and Alzheimer’s. I hope I can nail it. I want to write some more novels, but when you write a bad novel, you lose about a year. I’ve written a few bad novels. That’s one of the reasons I write short stuff. If you write a bad poem, what do you lose, like, an afternoon or two, right?

How does your work differ from others in the genre?

Most writers in the genre use more filigree and deflection, and I tend to write plain, direct sentences. Maybe that comes from being a Nebraskan. I was trained by Bill Kloefkorn, Hilda Raz, Ted Kooser, and Greg Kuzma, great Nebraska poets, and they all have a fairly plain style. I think it’s part of living on the Great Plains.  

Also, I’m a Catholic, so my worldview is a little different than a lot of SF writers. It gives me a certain optimism. The standard old-guard SF voice, which is still quite powerful, is the nihilistic hipster voice, like Harlan Ellison through the ages. The Fantasy writers are more optimistic—Tolkein was Catholic, after all, and kind of defined the genre—but I prefer writing SF, so I’m a bit against the grain. But I have great Christian role models in the field, like Gene Wolf, Darlene Hartman, and Connie Willis.

Thanks again for asking me these questions! If anyone is interested in checking out the coolio comic book, with graphic versions of poems originally published Rattle, Strange Horizons, the Poetry Foundation, and elsewhere, head over to my website, Free review copies to bloggers, paper or digital. And I’m always glad to hear from people for whatever reason.


I'd like to add that John Philip Johnson has a brand new poem, "Selenites," in The Pedestal Magazine #76.

Thanks to John Philip Johnson, and thank you for reading!

Wendy Rathbone