Thursday, November 5, 2015

Interview with Jim Johnson, author of the Pistols and Pyramids series

The Speculative Fiction Showcase welcomes Jim Johnson, author of the Pistols and Pyramids weird western series:

1. These days, most writers are glued to their laptops, tablets, and/or e-readers. A few still swear by print books and typewriters, the question is: Do you move at all?

I’m a flexible reader between print and ebook—I read fiction mostly in ebook format and read non-fiction mostly in print format. I read a lot of history books, and my Kindle Touch doesn’t display maps or pictures all that well, and a lot of non-fiction books aren’t formatted for a small screen. So I tend to read NF samples and if the book really grabs me, I’ll splurge on a print version. But fiction, I have only so much shelf space for paper books but endless storage space for ebooks, so I’ve been steadily transitioning my fiction library over to ebooks. A few authors I keep in print, though. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, all of Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni series, etc.
As for writing, I’m so used to writing on the Alphasmart Neo, laptop, and desktop that I do very little hand-writing any more except for occasional notes and grocery lists (and even then I use Evernote for most of that). It’s kind of sad, really—I can barely read my own hand-writing any more.

2. Apple or PC?

PC, but I’m not a fanatic about it. I haven’t really looked into Apples because I’m pretty much a ‘if it works, why change it?’ kinda guy. I’ve had good luck with PCs over the years so I stick with PCs. I imagine if someone sat me down with an Apple and showed me how or why it’s better than a PC, I’d consider switching over, but for now, all I need for writing and publishing is on the PC.

3. Do you use Scrivener or Word?

Scrivener as much as possible and Word only to compile my manuscripts into .doc to send to editors. Once Scrivener adds in a good, robust track changes feature, I’ll probably kick Word to the curb.

4. Do you have any pets? Do they influence your writing?

I have three cats and have had multiple cats all my life. They definitely influence my writing in that they are a lot like readers—if they like you, they’ll let you know in no uncertain terms. And if they don’t like you, they’ll either ignore you or kick litter on you. If a writer can handle a cat’s bad attitude, they’ll be ready for the real world of readers and reviews.

5. Would you rather see your stories on the big screen or the little screen?

My writing brain is really geared toward telling serialized stories, so I think the small screen would be much better suited for my stories. I think there’s something more intimate about the small screen as well—you’re inviting that series and those characters into your home. As a writer, I want to make my stories and characters engaging enough that readers want to bring that book or those characters into their living spaces and spend some time with them.

6. Are you hooked on any science fiction or fantasy TV shows? If so, which one(s)?
Once I made more of a commitment to my writing, I’ve watched less television, and have missed most of the latest hot shows. I love Star Trek, so more often than not I’ll watch an episode or two of the original series, Next Generation, or Deep Space Nine rather than tune into the latest series.

7. Do you own copies of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings DVDs? The extended version? Do you ever watch them?

Of course! Extended editions all the way, and I watch the series annually, plus most of the special features. I also try very hard to read the Lord of the Rings annually, but that’s a bit more of a time commitment than I can always make.

8. Have you seen the The Hobbit trilogy? 

Saw the first two movies in theaters but didn’t get a chance to see the third one. Waiting for the extended edition to come out and then I’ll watch the trilogy straight through. I’ll reserve judgment on the trilogy until I’ve had a chance to watch it all together. I liked the first two well enough, though I felt they were missing something.

9. Your Pistols and Pyramids series is a weird western mixed with Egyptian mythology. What was it that drew you to this particular subgenre? 

I love weird westerns because I love the concept of taking a genre and shaking it up a bit. Westerns plus magic or werewolves or vampires or unicorns to get weird western, or westerns plus technology to get steampunk, stuff like that. I love taking different elements from my mind map and seeing what happens when they’re slammed together, and when I slapped ‘ancient Egypt’ and ‘western’ together, something clicked.
As a writer, it’s so much fun to take a basic concept and then add layers to it to see what happens. I took the western core and added a magic layer, an ancient Egypt layer, a religion layer, and a few others, and so far the combination is keeping my muse active and happy. And the house of cards hasn’t collapsed yet, lol.

10. In addition to your weird western series, you've also contributed to several Star Trek anthologies. So what is it that you love about Star Trek? And which Star Trek series and/or movie is your favourite?

What draws me to Star Trek is the hopeful look at the future and the idea that humanity can move beyond most of the challenges we’re facing today. I don’t entirely agree with the money-less utopian society and don’t care for some of the technobabble handwavium, but there are so many elements of Star Trek that resonate with me—diversity, equality, the lifelong pursuit of self-improvement, global unity, etc.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is my favorite series hands-down (because great characters, serialized stories, the religion angle, depth), and I’d say Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is my favorite of the films.

11. Are you a Luddite? Or do you prefer to be on the bleeding edge of technology?

I lean toward Luddite, I guess. I have an Android smartphone and love it, but I haven’t bothered looking into tablets yet and I have yet to replace my Xbox 360. I’ve never been one to chase trends or to need the latest gizmo, so I tend to cautiously and casually adopt new technology.

12. Are you--or have you ever been--a gamer?

I’ve been a gamer for as long as I can remember. Roleplaying games, board games, card games, computer games, you name it. Currently playing a lot of FFG’s Star Wars RPGs, Android: Netrunner LCG, the Marvel Lego game on the Xbox, and assorted board games during a weekly game night with friends. I don’t game as much as I used to, though, mostly because I’m more committed to writing and publishing.

13. What kind of foods do you eat? Are you a health-food-nut or is it strictly junk?

Somewhere in between. I’m no Lola Granola, but I try to eat more greens than not and go easy on the meats and high-calorie food. That being said, sometimes you just gotta have a burger. Pizza’s my big vice. That and fruit flavor Chiclets gum.

14. Do you have a garden? Have you ever grown your own food?

I never developed a love for gardening, though my wife likes to. We don’t have a huge amount of space for a food garden, but have flowers and trees and such. We do frequent our local farmer’s markets, though. We’ll probably do some small box gardens next year and start composting.

15. Coffee or Tea or Water? Espresso, Drip, Instant, or French Press? Bag or Looseleaf? Bottled, Filtered, Tap or Rainwater?

Water mostly. My caffeine of choice is Cherry Coke Zero, though I do love a hot or iced chai. Never developed a taste for coffee, though I like how it smells.

16. Do you wear socks?

Only when I have to. I wear slippers at home and Tevas when it’s not bitterly cold.

17. Do you do your own laundry?

Yep, as well as my wife’s and my baby son’s. There are days I feel like all I do is laundry!

18. Does life fascinate you?

Constantly. Enough that I want to take real life experiences and fold them into my fiction. And now that my wife and I have a newborn, we’re discovering everything from a whole new perspective.

19. Do you do Yoga? Meditation? or Deep Breathing? Does it help you cope?

Nah, not really. I’ve had good experiences with yoga and meditation but usually don’t make the time for either practice. I’m pretty laid back most of the time anyway, but when I do get stressed out, I use my coping techniques (mostly deep breathing and centering) and then get on with the day.
I play djembe when I can and I find that relaxes me a lot as well as sparking a different part of the creative brain.

20. On a scale of 1-10, how eccentric are you?

Maybe somewhere around a 7 or 8 on crazy days? I like weirdness and often think about things in ways that make people wonder about my sanity, but I don’t think I’m really all that far off the mainstream.

21. What’s your astrological sign?

I’m a Scorpio through and through. I’ve read a lot of the descriptions of Scorpios online and in various books, and…yeah. Scorpio to the core; positive elements as well as the negative.

22. Do you consider yourself a slave to the muse?

Not really. I used to wait around for the muse to give me inspiration and then write, but more and more I get an idea and then whip the muse into getting to work.

About Jim Johnson:

 Jim Johnson is the author of the Pistols and Pyramids series as well as other prose fiction series currently under development. He has written sundry other pieces of fiction, including several stories published in the Star Trek universe, and has freelanced for pen and paper roleplaying game companies, including Decipher and White Wolf. Please visit for more information on Jim and his interests and writing.

Jim lives in historic Alexandria, VA with his wife, newborn son, and several crazy cats.

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