Interview with Julia Johnson

How do you come up with your ideas?

That’s like saying “How do you breathe?” I’m not entirely sure how it happens and I think that’s part of the fantastic thing about it. One day I’ll just be sitting around doing god knows what and all of a sudden I get hit with a proverbial ball of lightening. I honestly think storytellers are just people born with a character/story idea lightening rod buried in their brain.

How do you execute them in such a way that they take on lives of their own?

I try not to let me get in the way too much. I’m a natural worrier and over thinker, if I let that get in the way nothing gets written down and my characters don’t get a chance to live.  As such I almost never storyboard which I know is like, a cardinal sin, but every time I storyboard I don’t get past the first chapter of actual writing. The trick for me is just putting that pen to paper.  The story is there, I just have to let it out.

Do your characters ever take over your stories? If they do, how do you handle that?

They’re not my stories to begin with. It’s not my life being told, it’s the character’s so I supposed the answer is, yes of course they do. My characters are always the author of their own lives. And I hand it by letting it happen. You’ll notice I’m most certainly a character driven writer. Sometimes I’ll have a rigid storyline that I want to make happen but it always turns out that as the characters develop, I realize that I’m not being completely fair to them. To me, they’re not tools, they’re not a means to an end. They are the end. To me, character development is far more important than what they happen to be doing.

How do you decide what ideas you want to go with?

It starts something like this. Have an idea, obsess over it for a little while, tell said idea to trusted friend, really obsess about it and then eventually it becomes something that absolutely has to get written down unless you’re literally going to die if you don’t get it out. I wish I could tell you how many times I’ve felt like my head was going to explode with the ideas floating around in there.

Has there ever been a time in your writing career that you’ve ever wanted to give up and why/why not? What made you overcome your ‘self-doubt’?

Of course! I think I’m still having it. I was brought up in a very “find a job that will pay well” environment. I have never even told anyone that what I really want to do, more than anything in the world, is to write. Well, I guess I told you and your readers that just now. Sssh, it’s a secret. In all seriousness though, nearly every day I pelt myself with the self-doubt. “I’ll never be good enough to make a living this way.” “It’s just a hobby.” “When am I going to stop fooling myself and find a real career path?” Obviously this self-doubt thing is something I’m still working on. Perhaps not very well but life is a journey, right?

What was one character that you felt so emotionally attached to that you hated ‘hurting’ and why? How were you able to overcome that (if you were)?

Terra. Oh dear do I love her. She’s so sweet and naïve. She feels and she loves the way I wish I could. She’s pretty much everything I’ve ever wanted to be but felt I couldn’t because my emotions are all fecked up from a stereotypical bad childhood. For her story to work though, I had to break her. I tried finding ways around it. I wrote about 4 versions of the entire book she inhabits trying not to hurt her but the ending was always the same, she always had to come out on bottom. Overcoming that desire not to hurt her came from an understanding that everyone needs that moment to be almost completely broken. Everyone needs that scene n their lives where they’re lying on the floor, feeling completely alone, face just covered in tears, and their gut feeling like there’s a huge hole in it. Everybody need that so they can move onto the next scenes of getting up in spited of the hurt and pushing through. So for her sake, to make her a better, stronger person, I destroyed nearly everything she loved. I cried for a long time during and after those heart-wrenching pen strokes.

You obviously enjoy what you do. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Do what you love. It’s the most cliché thing ever written but the reason its cliché is because it’s true. Personally  I do it because I love characters and because I have a bit of a love affair with words themselves. If you can’t find something that you really, truly love about writing please stop and go find something that you just have to have in your life. Life is too short to waste your time doing something that you only feel halfway about.

If you couldn’t write another story (be a writer), what would you do with your life?

I… I don’t know. Stories are my life. They’re my way of coping. Even when I’m not writing, I’m telling stories. Even when I’m just keeping up my online journal I treat my life like a story. If I couldn’t do that… well I’d still be playing Dungeons and Dragons which in reality is just one big story you tell with some of your closest friends. More writer should play that. Sometimes we get to be too caught up in the holed up storyteller trope. It’s good to get out and do some social story telling. If there wasn’t D&D either… I’d be teaching (which is what I tell people I want to do anyways because somehow being a teacher is a more acceptable career choice than being a writer is).

What kind of rituals do you use to write (ie, a special pen, paper, lighting, drink)?

Blue pen (blue is for creativity, black is for essays and the like), 5 subject notebook. I also cannot be anywhere near the internet otherwise nothing gets done. I actually work best in places like class. I shouldn’t admit to that but it’s true.  My best stories come out of being bored in class and needing something better to pay attention to.

Do you like listening to music while you’re writing, and if so, what kind of music do you listen to?

Sometimes. Obviously not when I’m in class, but since I can’t write when I’m near the internet I inevitably do my writing when I’m out in public and therefore must drown people out. As for what I’m listening to: Blue October if it’s darkly emotional (MY SIDE NOTE: Julia is actually one of the people to introduce me to Blue October… what was it August of 2008 or right around there… fantastic band.), Jamie Cullum/Billie Holiday if there’s a soulful jazzy type feel to a character, Jerry Butler for love stories, general oldies for feel good moments.

Which one of your characters to date do you relate to most and why?

James. As short lived character from a short lived story. He was a raging alcoholic which isn’t my particular addiction but let’s just say I know what that’s life. He was broken in all the ways I am and it was like I was envisioning how awful my life could be if I wasn’t careful and proactive about things.

What made you choose the genre(s) you write?

I don’t even know what genre I’d be classified in. I guess young adult fiction. Although I’m sure the type of books I write would be banned in schools all across the country. I write a lot of supernatural fiction but I try my best not to let the reader realize they’re reading something supernatural until the last possible second. I’m obsessed with mixing supernatural with the ordinary in such a way that it all seems like it goes along naturally. If that makes any kind of sense. I’m sure it doesn.

What inspires you?

Other books, rainy days, clouds, people watching, life, the universe, and everything.

What new things are you working on?

Currently the Brightsmith series. It is a series of books chronicling the family tree of all my Dungeons and Dragon characters. It is filled with dragons impregnating young girls, half breeds, magic, monsters, and struggles to figure out everyone’s place in this strange ever changing place we call Earth. It’s like a bunch of coming of age stories except instead of awkward teenage humans you get thudded insanity of new and exciting species with a healthy dose of innate magical ability.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Don’t be afraid to be weird. I think as people we all need at least one eccentric habit and as writers we should strive for even more. Eccentricities make life more interesting and interesting lives lead to interesting stories and when it comes down to it, it’s all about the entertainment.I have had the pleasure of calling Julia my friend for going on I don’t know how many years.  At least four, probably more. I have seen her grow in her personal life (albeit afar) and her writing.  I am exciting for her and her newest journey in this wonderful world of words. 

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