Please introduce yourself and your books!
I’m Rod Johnson. I retired from my financial advisory practice two years ago to have more time for my family and writing. Since my daughter got her driver’s license a few months ago, I lost my job as her chauffer. Consequently, I have a lot more time for my novels. I currently have two books published that are about as different as works of fiction can be. Half of Faith is an espionage thriller, whereas The Calendar is a faith-based novella of a little over sixty pages. Both are available in paperback on Amazon.com and as Kindle e-books. Half of Faith is also available on Barnes & Noble Online. SPIRITs of Retribution, the sequel to Half of Faith, will be available in May 2019. You can purchase my books at https://www.amazon.com/Rod-Johnson/e/B07KPDJLHP/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1. You can read more about me on my website at http://www.rodjohnsonauthor.com/about/.
What are the stories behind your books?
The protagonist in Half of Faith and its upcoming sequel, SPIRITs of Retribution, is Josh Morgan, a disgraced former CIA officer. In Half of Faith, while Morgan was living as a near-recluse in Wyoming, withdrawn and bitter at his lot in life, a foreign agent kidnaps former U.S. President Trenton Weston. Politics create turmoil in the current administration about the event and nobody is going to try to save him. Morgan owes Weston a debt of honor and sets out to rescue him, chasing him and his kidnapper through Mexico and Texas.
In The Calendar, eight-year-old Toby Anderson finds himself facing loss and confronting evil in the world far too early in his life. An elderly pastor, beset by self-doubt and a crisis of faith, needs to be of help as much as Toby requires it. The preacher gives the boy a unique gift in the hope that it will guide him to the answers he needs.
SPIRITs of Retribution picks up eighteen months after the conclusion of Half of Faith. The United States is poised to retaliate against Russia for an attack on American soil. But was Russia really responsible? Josh Morgan is back and, assisted by unlikely allies, searches for the truth in an effort to halt the march to war. Release is set for 5/15/2019.
You can learn more about my books and read excerpts from each of them at http://www.rodjohnsonauthor.com/services/.
What inspires your creativity?
I’m a bit of a news junkie, so my spy thrillers have their basis in global conflict and international terrorism. However, the stories are told through the lives of characters who are, in turn, both heroic and hypocritical; courageous and conflicted. At the start of Half of Faith, ex-spy Josh Morgan is paralyzed by his demons and must overcome them to repay a debt of honor. The book’s two antagonists are polar opposites with regard to their religious beliefs, yet their hypocrisies and moral failings are almost indistinguishable.
The Calendar was inspired by a horrific news report from twenty-plus years ago. At the time a friend suggested I write a story based on it. The result was originally a short story, which I put away until recently, when I reworked it into the novella it is today.
So, I suppose every work has its genesis in real events, but the true inspiration is what I see in people; the complexity of humans and their resulting frailty. Nobody is one-dimensional and trying to understand that and describe it drives my work.
How do you deal with creative block?
Most writers, I think, will tell you they have to get away; create some separation from their work. I’m just the opposite. I keep writing, but I take away the source of my block, which is always about ideas, not about creativity. Where does my story go next? How do I fill in a plot gap? Etc. So, for me the key is to take “ideas” out of the equation and just write. I ask my wife or daughter what their day was like. Or I find whacky writing prompts online – the goofier, the better. Armed with a subject I didn’t have to manufacture, I can just concentrate on telling it creatively. It usually doesn’t take very long to get going. Once I’m reengaged with the act of writing, it isn’t difficult to carry that energy back to my current project.
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
Two come to mind. First, I sometimes lapse into telling instead of describing. Rather than stating that Morgan is nervous, I should describe his appearance and his feelings so that the reader thinks, “Wow, he’s nervous.” That mistake usually happens when I’m writing quickly to get my ideas down.
As a self-published author, a second mistake is thinking I can successfully edit my own book. By the time I’m done with a manuscript, I will have seen it so many times that my familiarity makes it easy to blow right past typos and grammatical errors. Every author should have at least one other person who is unfamiliar with the manuscript to perform a final edit, preferably a professional.
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
Try to stimulate a question with both. The phrase “half of faith” is only spoken once in the book, so I reveal the source of the expression on the page immediately before the prologue. But even though the readers know the origin, hopefully they still wonder about its connection to a spy story.
Consult marketing professionals for covers. At a minimum, covers need to have a contemporary look and be appealing, of course. Having met those criteria, I try to employ an image that potential readers will question what it means. For Half of Faith, what does a vintage train have to do with a spy novel when a train isn’t mentioned anywhere on the back-cover blurb?
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
Honestly, it’s difficult to not feel a bit offended. It’s like someone criticizing your child. But then you have to consider if the reviewer has a point, and either take it to heart or dismiss it.
How has your creation process improved over time?
For one thing, I’ve learned to stop trying to get everything right in the first draft. That’s what rewrites are for. Just get the first draft done and flesh out the details in subsequent drafts. I like to make elements of my story realistic and I enjoy research, so I used to get bogged down with details, in making plotlines consistent, etc. I’d be on a roll and then feel like I had to stop to do research. Now I use placeholders and move on, instead of doing the research right then. For example, in the first draft of my upcoming book, SPIRITs of Retribution, the SPIRITs were simply on board a “special ops helicopter.” Beginning with the second draft, after research, they were in an “MH-60M Black Hawk Medium Assault Helicopter.” And in writing the climax of Half of Faith, I was in burst mode (i.e. thinking faster than I can type), when I realized the bad guys would’ve seen the good guy getting onto a small boat. So, I had the problem of why they didn’t just go get him then. You’ll have to read the books to understand what any of that means. The point is this: I once would’ve stopped everything to research a helicopter, which was important to this storyline, or to figure out the “glitch” in my plot. I’ve learned that I can deal with some of that later instead of killing my momentum.
In contrast to adding details in later drafts, I’ve also learned what is sort of the flipside – to edit mercilessly. Sometimes I have to cut whole sections that I really like because, in the final analysis, they didn’t add to the story, no matter how creative or well-written. It’s often painful, but necessary.
What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your books?
Best thing? Seeing the finished product of my first novel published. Worst? Editing and marketing. Surprising? How much fun writing novels continues to be. I can sit and write for hours. One other surprising thing I discovered is how many days I can never change out of my pajamas and go without shaving when I’m on a roll.
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
I try to balance both, but I first strive to make things fun for myself and to satisfy myself. If I’m satisfied with the final product, I have to believe my readers will be, too.
What role do emotions play in creativity?
There are a couple of ways to answer this. If you’re asking how my emotions influence my creativity, I’d have to say emotions and creativity are circular. When I solve a plot problem or come up with a compelling new character, that creative success is exciting. The result is an emotional charge, and that leads to additional creative surges. Suddenly I find myself in burst mode, thinking faster than I can put my ideas down.
But I’d also like to talk about the role of emotion in the book. For me, it’s a primary driver of the entertainment value of fiction. Nonfiction is largely about informing or creating understanding. But in a novel, the reader needs to feel what the characters are feeling. And closely related to emotions is imagination. Except in some historical fiction that involves real people, there is no factual basis for how a character in a work of fiction looks or behaves. The reader has to imagine those things based on the writer’s words. I think the degree to which a novel engages a reader’s emotions and imagination is at least as important as a clever plot in producing a creative work. For instance, when I read The Calendar, despite being the author and knowing exactly what is coming, I still get emotional. So, from my perspective, it’s a creative success.
Do you have any creativity tricks?
If you want to write fiction, remember – it’s fiction! I can make up my own countries. I can change the government of a country. I can bring in or kill off characters at will. As I mentioned earlier, I have to keep it fun for myself. I am more creative when I’m having fun. As for “tricks,” here are a couple that really help with my creativity. First, at a critical plot point, I sometimes have my character do the most outrageous or completely unexpected thing I can come up with. I can always change it later, but it often works just as written. It makes for some really fun writing. Secondly, when describing a character’s behavior, I often base them to some extent on someone I know. Or to describe a character’s appearance, I sometimes find an image of a person online that looks like how I envision my character and use that as a starting point. I can describe what I can literally see very easily and do it creatively.
What are your plans for future books?
The sequel to Half of Faith will be out in May. It’s called SPIRITs of Retribution and has ex-CIA spook Josh Morgan taking on a mission that the current president’s administration won’t. Beyond that, I have several concepts to continue the Josh Morgan Series. That will keep me busy for quite some time.
Another possibility, an honest labor of love, would be to write a children’s book. When my daughter was young, I told her bedtime stories about a young princess (who looked amazingly like my daughter and even had the same name!), her best friend (her doll who would come to life for their adventures), and a friendly dragon. I envision the book as a collaboration with my daughter. She is quite an artist and would do a great job illustrating it.
Tell us some quirky facts about yourself
I seem to be around for aircraft mishaps, though never one I was on. I’ve seen one plane crash (the pilot ejected). I’ve been first on the scene for two other crash landings. And when I was in high school, a NASA program director who had graduated from my school contacted my Latin teacher to ask for suggestions for names for an upcoming moon landing. They didn’t choose any of our ideas, but the class got a nice letter from the program director and one of the astronauts saying they almost chose the names I had suggested. They went another way. The astronaut was Jim Lovell. The mission was Apollo 13. It blew up. So me and flying things…