Interview: Anne E. Johnson

Brooklyn-based writer Anne E. Johnson is having the busiest year of her life. In addition to publishing dozens of works of short fiction (including a few right here at Drunk Monkeys) she has had three novels published in diverse genres: a science fiction noir, Green Light Delivery, the tween paranormal novel Ebenezer’s Locker, and the YA historical mystery Trouble at the Scriptorium.

In between stops on a busy promotional tour, Johnson conducted this interview with Matthew Guerruckey via email on her approach to writing across so many different genres.


Drunk Monkeys: You’ve recently quit your job to be able to focus on your writing career full time. What made you know that this was the time for you to make that move?

Anne E. Johnson: As you might expect with such a big decision, there were a lot of factors.

For the past few years, I’d been getting short stories published pretty regularly. And, in the summer of 2012, my first three novels were going to be released. (I did not write them all at once. They’re coming from three different publishers, working at three different speeds.) Having three publishing companies willing to back me in that way gave me the confidence that I could succeed at this profession full-time.

By the time I resigned from my job, I had also finished and polished a fourth novel, and was halfway done with a fifth, so I had proved to myself that I would continue to be organized and productive, and neither rest on my laurels nor fall into a depression born of fear. Saying you’re a full-time writer means actually writing and promoting full-time, and I convinced myself that I had the discipline to do just that.

At this point I must mention my incredibly supportive husband, who agreed to this experiment despite the financial burden it puts on him until I start making a living. This would not be possible without him. He’s also a writer with a day job, and I certainly hope to be able to return the favor and let him write full-time at some point in the future.

DM: How long have you been writing for?

AJ: I wrote a few stories as a kid, but went for decades not even considering fiction-writing as a possibility. About five years ago I tried to write a novella, and I got quite hooked into the process. I haven’t stopped since.

DM: Do you remember your first acceptance? How did that affect you?

AJ: My first acceptance for fiction came several years ago, for a short story for kids called “Airsick Over Planet Ekka” (now available in volume 1 of my e-series Aliens & Weird Stuff). The e-zineSpaceports & Spidersilk bought it for $2.00, and I was over the moon. You’d have thought I’d signed a six-figure deal with HarperCollins.

DM: Alternately, do you remember your first rejection, and how did you use that as fuel to keep going?

AJ: I was very spoiled for a long time, and didn’t know it. Before I started writing fiction, I wrote a lot of non-fiction of many different types, and for some very high-profile companies. But it was all on assignment. So there really was no such thing as rejection, only revisions.

My first fiction rejection was for a short story for kids, and I found it more fascinating than troubling. It meant I was part of the fiction-writing game for real, and a major publication had bothered to send me a form letter. It was a kind of validation.

I would hasten to add that I’ve had tons of rejections since then. Some just make me slightly grumpy for five minutes, some spur me to rethink the piece for an entirely different market, and some bring me close to tears and shut me down for half a day. It all depends on the day, the publication, and the piece I’m trying to sell.

The cover of Johnson’s science-fiction novel Green Light Delivery

The cover of Johnson’s science-fiction novel Green Light Delivery

DM: Much of your recently published work is in the sci-fi genre, but your short story “A Long Way Down Broadway”, which we published here earlier this year, is more slice-of-life literary fiction. Do you try to write in one style more than the other, or just work with whatever story comes to you?

AJ: I love many genres of literature, so I write whatever I feel like writing at the moment. “A Long Way Down Broadway” was inspired by a prompt from a publication that ended up not using it. I love looking through the Duotrope themes calendar and testing out random topics for my fiction. It can be very inspiring. Often I’ll just ignore the deadline or certain details of the call for stories, and just write my own thing, spinning off from an anthology title or something.

DM: Are you worried about being categorized as only a science fiction writer?

AJ: Two ways to answer that question:

1) I’d be thrilled to have my name associated with science fiction, so I can’t say I’m “worried” about it.

2) Although my first adult novel, and many of my adult short stories, are sci-fi, that’s only half my work. I’ve written a lot for children, and neither of my published middle-grade novels are science fiction. (Ebenezer’s Locker  is a paranormal mystery and Trouble at the Scriptorium is a realistic medieval historical.) I do enjoy writing sci-fi for kids, but it tends to be shorter works. Because I’m attempting to write one novel each for adults and children per year, only half of my novels are likely to be science fiction.

Maybe I could manage to be stereotyped as a historical fiction writer for kids and a science fiction writer for adults. I could definitely live with that!

DM: What is your approach to writing?

AJ: In general, I come up with a basic plot concept (or, occasionally, just a title), and start from there. Often I’ll plunge right in and do a little writing, and then stop for a simple outline, then write more, then shore up the outline. I’ll go back and forth until I’m so sure of each turn in the plot that I can just concentrate on the writing.

I write unusually clean, by which I mean that, if a stretch of prose makes it onto the computer screen, I’m likely to keep it. Apparently I do much of the most ruthless editing in my head, subconsciously, even before I type.

DM: What does the act of writing trigger in you? What need do you think it satisfies?

AJ: Writing unleashes my imagination, exercises my intellect, challenges my organizational skills, dares me to communicate clearly, and gives me a sense of unique personal accomplishment that nothing can take from me, whether the writing is published or not.

Anne E. Johnson’s latest novel, Trouble at the Scriptorium, is now available from Royal Fireworks Press.