Interview With Author Ty Johnston

Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

Once a newspaper journalist for twenty years, Ty Johnston has spent the last decade penning tales of fiction about swords, sorcery and things that go bump in the night. I’m best known for my series of epic fantasy novels featuring my character Kron Darkbow, sort of a caped vigilante figure in a fantasy world. The first novel featuring Kron is “City of Rogues,” and so far there have been six published novels with Kron Darkbow, though a half dozen other novels take place in the same world but do not feature him as a character.

But I don’t write only fantasy. I’ve written several horror novels, several short story collections, a couple of screenplays, and a few literary novels. My strengths tend to be in fantasy and horror, but I also write where the story leads me.

What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

Most of my writing is not intentionally based upon real-life events or people, but there are exceptions. For instance, my mainstream novel “More Than Kin” is about an older man suffering with cancer and who tries to re-connect with a lost son, and this book is loosely based upon my father and the last years of his life.

However, sometimes I can look back years later and see something in one of my novels or stories that seems obviously related to what was going on in my life at the time. For example, I am a widower, my wife having passed away five years ago. A month before she passed I finished a novel in which Kron Darkbow suffers a somewhat similar loss to the one I faced at the time. When I wrote that novel, I had no notion of including my own pain or that of my wife into that book, but now I look back and can’t help but see similarities.

What inspires/inspired your creativity?

At an early age, much of my inspiration came from comic books. I believe I read my first comic book in about 1976, and it was a Marvel Team-Up Annual in which Spider-Man and the X-Men came together. So, action and adventure influence me quite a bit. By the late ’70s, as I neared my teen years, I was reading novels, starting with the Black Stallion books, the Three Investigators and other young adult material of the time, eventually discovering J.R.R. Tolkien. When I discovered Tolkien, about 1977 or, it was a major change for me, opening me to new ideas and notions and themes. Also, about the same time was when the first Star Wars movie came to theaters, and that really changed the world of entertainment in all formats, so I can’t say that didn’t have an effect upon me, especially as Star Wars is really more fantasy than science fiction though it has many of the trappings of science fiction.

Those are some of my earliest recollections of what inspired me as a child. As a teen, and up through my thirties, I became more influenced by music. I would hear a particular lyric that suggested an idea to me, then I would wrap it around in my head for a while, working with it and trying to understand it in different contexts, sometimes related to the rest of the song and sometimes separate.

Also, obviously, other writers have inspired me, from Neil Gaiman to Steven Erikson, Ed McBain to Stephen King, Alexandre Dumas to the Marquis de Sade, and hundreds of others. Every author I’ve ever read, and I average about 50 books a year and am now 50 years of age, has had some influence upon me and my writing.

How do you deal with creative block?

I try something vastly different from my norm, something I’ve never tried before. For example, I went through several years of a bad black a couple of decades back. For the life of me, I couldn’t write anything because every word I typed seemed dead, futile. Then for something different, I picked up a book about screenwriting. Then I picked up several more books about screenwriting. And eventually I felt studied enough to attempt two screenplays. Don’t get me wrong, because I make no claims to being a good screenwriter, but it did help me get through my block. How? Because the basics of screenwriting is just that, basic. It focuses upon those basic building blocks of storytelling which we prose writers can sometimes take for granted, or even forget about altogether. In the end, studying screenwriting helped me get through my block.

What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

That’s a loaded question. Why? Because it depends upon what your goals are as a writer. If you’re writing fiction you want to sell to the masses, then you need to know at least the basics of story structure and character creation, along with basic grammar, spelling, etc. If you’re writing non-fiction, then there are other things you need to know depending upon the subject matter and the audience you’re trying to reach. If you’re writing only for yourself or a small group of people, the biggest mistake might simply be not finishing the book.

All that being said, there are a thousand mistakes, big and large, small and tiny, that a writer can make when creating a book, but some of those “mistakes” can become the writer’s style, meaning they can work for the writer if not overdone. For instance, Cormac McCarthy uses almost no punctuation, which can be frustrating to a reader but can also grow on them after a while, making McCarthy’s prose flow quickly and smoothly.

Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

Study the nuances of language, design and art, including color theory and possibly poetry. You don’t have to be an expert, but you should at least have a passing knowledge and you should be smart enough to know when to trust others to make decisions about your covers.

How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

Well, they don’t make me feel very good, but I don’t focus on them. There are different types of bad reviews, from the constructive to those that simply say something stupid like “this suxx.” I pay no attention to the second type of review for it is not helpful to anyone and frankly shows a class of reader which I have no appeal in reaching. However, bad reviews that are constructive might help a writer with future projects, or at the least it might help a writer think in a different way.

For budding writers or those who don’t feel they can handle rejection, it is likely best to stay away from reading one’s reviews. But that truth of the matter is, writers who are read are always being judged by readers, editors, publishers, etc. It’s generally best to grow something of a thick skin.

How has your creation process improved over time?

I’m experienced enough and old enough to recognize my own patterns when it comes to productivity, and that helps me to control my levels of productivity. My productivity varies from frantic to nada, and with experience I can usually find a happy medium. My experience as a journalist helped in this regard, especially when dealing with deadlines. On the other hand, as a fiction writer, I find my stories tend to work best if I’ve given them enough time to gel in my head; if I rush a story too soon, it won’t work no matter how much I tinker with it. I know plenty of fiction authors who can burst out a book a month or dozens of books a year, but that’s not me. Oh, I could plot out a novel and then churn it out in a matter of weeks, but it would feel overly contrived to myself and likely to my readers. I average about 3 to 4 novels per year, and oddly enough (or maybe not), some consider that quite prolific.

Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

I tend to write two different kinds of novels, one kind for my readers and myself and one kind only for myself. The novels I write only for myself tend to be exploratory, even experimental in themes or styles, and to be honest they are often quite dull to read, but they have allowed me to work out some things within myself, sometimes emotional matters, sometimes mental, perhaps even spiritual. But the majority of my novels tend to be driven more by action or drama, and I do enjoy working on those books, and those are the books most of my readers seem to enjoy.

What role do emotions play in creativity?

Art in any medium and any form, as entertainment or as something striving for higher meaning, must have emotion behind it to be complete, to work, and to be successful. By “successful,” I don’t necessarily meant from a financial point of view. The most hidden, never-seen piece of fiction only works for its creator if there is some emotion somewhere within that writing. The most drab, pedantic, overly philosophical work is going to sink if even its creator can’t find something about it that appeals emotionally. On the flip of that, popular fiction can often seem vacuous to some, often those who consider themselves well read, but those readers might be missing the point or even missing multiple points. Different types of fiction work in different ways for different readers, but there’s always an element of emotion, as there is in any form of creativity. Without any emotion whatsoever, we are not creating art, but are merely working at a task, probably a useless, rote task.

Do you have any creativity tricks?

Tricks? Not really. Read a lot and write a lot. Also, read outside of your preferred genres. For example, I’m not much of a Western or Romance reader, but every once in a while I’ll read a novel in one of those genres. Why? Because it can introduce me to ideas I might not have had otherwise. It can get my brain juices flowing in directions I otherwise might not have thought. It can give me new, unusual ideas for stories. The same can be said for non-fiction. Historically I didn’t read a lot of science material, but in the last decade or so that has changed, with science being more and more incorporated into my writing, not that I’ve become a science fiction writer, or at least not regularly.

What are your plans for future books?

I’m currently sitting on the first two novels in my next Kron Darkbow trilogy because I want all three books finished before they are released; I realize my Kron readers might not be happy about this, but I don’t have the “feel” in me yet for that third book and I want it to be right more than I want it to be done. Slowly that novel is circulating in my mind, and hopefully it will find its place there before long and I can get to work and finish that trilogy.

My next published book is likely to be a lengthy other-world epic fantasy I’ve had rambling around in my mind for a few years now. The story will not take place in the same world as my Ursian Chronicles, ie. my Kron Darkbow books. The tale will include numerous characters across several nations and continents and will focus upon military conflicts ultimately involving religion. I’d prefer not to say more yet as the story is still evolving and I’ve yet to start working on it as of yet. I will say, however, that this novel is likely to be long, at least as long in and of itself as most of my complete trilogies.

Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

Though I’m a little old for it now and my health isn’t what it once was, at one time I was a practitioner of HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) with my focus being Italian longsword. I still break out one of my swords every now and then for a little solo practice or for cutting exercises, and I do miss the regular interaction, but I have a heart condition which won’t allow for contact sports. Plus, no reason to get beat up everyday by someone less than half my age!




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