Aurian: I have first read her Sons of Destiny series, a great fantasy romance series, a few years ago. 8 brothers, 4 sets of twins, all strong mages with different magical powers who find their bride. I loved it. After that, I read her shifter series, which I enjoy, and recently I fell head over heals in love with her psychic military sci-fi series Theirs not to reason why, of which there are now two books published, A soldier’s duty and An officer’s duty.
Maia: Most of the times when Aurian is very enthusiastic about a book, she makes me try it (she just won’t quit nagging me otherwise ;-) ) . And as I have also read and enjoyed the Sons of Destiny series, I wanted to give this series a try as well. I do like some sci-fi now and then, even though this series doesn’t really have romance in it.
Jean Johnson lives in the U.S. near the city of Seattle and has written over a dozen novels and single-author anthologies, with more to come. Most of her books have been bestsellers, including a New York Times Bestseller and a nomination for the Philip K Dick Award, and a few have been translated into German.
Aurian: Hi Jean, welcome to
, we hope you will enjoy your stay here. Utrecht
Maia: Would you like tea or coffee or perhaps some hot chocolate with some Dutch chocolates?
Jean: Definitely the chocolate, thank you. I might live near Seattle, the so-called Espresso Capital, but I cannot stand coffee, so I’ll take chocolate any day.
Maia: Can you tell our readers who might not yet know you or your books, a little about yourself?
Jean: Well, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I started when I was around 8 or 9 years old just for fun, but really began focusing on making it my career when I was 15. Of course it took me 20 years after that to actually land a publishing contract. That was when my fanfic writings were noticed by an editor at a major publishing house. She works for Berkley, part of The Berkley Group under Penguin, in their women’s literature department, which handles romance among other things...so that’s where I got my start.
However, romance isn’t the only thing I’ve been writing for the last 20-plus years. I also write straightforward fantasy plots, science fiction, and as you ladies have read for yourself, I have also written kick-butt military scifi. Even the romance I write is either going to be science fiction romance, or fantasy/paranormal romance. To me, hopping across genres isn’t a problem. I know how to write in all three categories, because I love to read in all three. I approach my writing from the viewpoint of a fellow reader, and try to write what I myself would want to read.
Aurian: When I posted my review of A Soldier’s Duty, you commented on it, and I was very happy with that. You mentioned: “Ia's tale is a story I've been wanting to tell for about 20 years now, so I'm very glad my writing is finally capable of handling the scope of it...at least, I hope it is. I'll try!”
Have you been writing bits and pieces of it all this time, or did you just sit down one day and started writing?
Jean: Most of the novels that are currently out are first draft novels. I sat down, wrote them out, did a little bit of editing while I wrote them, but when I typed “The End” at the end—which you’re supposed to do to let the publisher know it’s a finished manuscript—that was it. The only changes after that have been minor. With this series, I started writing it back in high school, back when my writing was...well, to be honest, it was crap. It had potential, but it was still manure being composted, and not yet ready to grow a rosebush. So this series has undergone several draft attempts.
I’ve also changed the way how I work on a story over the years. Before, I’d write a scene here, a scene there, and not always chronologically as the book is read from page one to page 300 or whatever. These days, I tend to write chronologically as it’s meant to be read. So while I’ve incorporated many of the bits and pieces in the Theirs Not series from its earlier versions, some of it did change substantially when I sat down to write the final drafts.
Maia: How long did it take you to write the book? And is this average for you?
Jean: It varies from book to book, but in general, I spend about 3 to 4 months writing, three weeks to a month on beta-editing, and then hand a polished draft in to my editor, Cindy. She has told me she really appreciates how clean my manuscripts are, compared to the majority. They’re not perfect and we’ve had to edit some scenes out and insert others along the way, plus continuity errors and so forth, but I and my beta-ladies try to make the final version look good.
The last book in this series has taken me a lot longer than 4 months, but that was due to some health problems in the background. Thankfully, it has a deadline that is a lot more flexible than my others, but that does mean I’m having to work on it in between working on the less flexible manuscripts. Ace, which is the sister company to Berkley in the Berkley Group and is the house that handles the science fiction and fantasy publications, has also asked me to come up with a new series to publish, preferably one they can print at the same time as the last two in the Theirs Not series, set in the same scifi universe. I’m not quite sure where I’ll squeeze them into the schedule just yet, as I’m contracted to write 4 fantasy romances for the next year and a half, but I’m going to try.
Aurian: I’ve seen on your website that there will be at least two more books. How many books will there be in this series? Will it always be Ia’s story, or also what happens in the next 300 years, until the enemy Ia has foreseen is defeated?
Jean: There will be 4 books in Ia’s story, Theirs Not To Reason Why: An Officer’s Duty, A Soldier’s Duty, HELLFIRE, and DAMNATION. The last one will be thicker than the others, but there’s a lot of story to cram in there before the series is done. After that, I’m hoping to land a contract for the three book series that follows the events of what happen 300 years down the road, when the galaxy is invaded by the big bad guys Ia’s been warning everyone about. I’ve labeled that trilogy the Jack series—it follows the main character, Jack, obviously—and it is not predominantly military science fiction. But I won’t be working on rewriting the old drafts I have of that one for several more years. The series which Ace is currently interested in, another trilogy, actually takes place 200 years before Ia’s time, and details the Terrans first meeting up with the rest of the known galaxy, and the details of the First Salik War, as opposed to the Second Salik War.
Maia: Could you tell us some more about the Fire Girl Prophesy? In An officer’s duty Ia states that she isn’t the source, then who or what is? When will the prophesy come to pass?
Jean: Heheh, that’s a spoiler. That’s a very big multi-series spoiler. There is a small clue in the first book that hints at where the source of the Fire Girl Prophecy comes from...but I am planning on a book or a series regarding what happens when that prophecy starts coming true, which will be about 200 years after Ia’s time. Plus, more of that same prophecy and its underlying causes and needs is very pertinent to the events in the Jack series a hundred years after the Fire Girl events take place.
Because of all these things, I cannot at this time reveal exactly what is going on. I myself know because I’ve been working on the interweaving of all these plots for over 20 years by now, but alas, the rest of you will just have to wait for me to actually write the final, finished manuscripts and get them published.
Aurian Do you already have plans for a new series or stand alone book, or are you concentrating on the Shifters and Theirs not to reason why series for now?
Jean: As I mentioned, Ace is interested in a sort of prequel series to Theirs Not, and there’s the Jack series, the Fire Girl series—for lack of a better name for it, since I haven’t come up with an official one. At this moment, I am also finishing up the writing for my next fantasy romance novel, The Tower, which is the first in my new 8 book Guardians of Destiny series.
The first four are under contract, my editor knows and likes the plots for all 8, and while it won’t be quite as closely interconnected as the Sons of Destiny series was, it will be set in the same world, the plots will all interweve, and you will get cameo appearances from the Corvis brothers and their wives. The biggest difference in this series is that the eight Guardians are not related by blood, though they are by occupation and communication. There is another point which ties them all together, but it’s a major plot point that builds toward the climax of the series, which would spoiler everyone, so I cannot discuss it at this time. I will say this much: when you destroy something and walk off into the sunset, the pieces you leave behind still need to be cleaned up, and this series covers that cleanup. I think everyone will enjoy the meat of the fantasy plots, as well as the sweet of the romance stuff. Or at least, I hope you will.
Maia: Do your books need to be read in order, or can people jump in anywhere? Both Aurian and myself prefer reading books in order, but we know other people who just grab a book and start reading.
Jean: The Sons of Destiny series can be read in any order except the last book, The Mage, which is the conclusion of the series. It’s better to read them in order, but I made sure someone picking up one of the first seven wouldn’t be completely lost. The Shifter series, the two books are related, but they’re also designed to stand alone, so you can read them in either order. The Shifter does spoiler you that the main characters in Shifting Plains do end up living Happily Ever After, but c’mon, that’s an obvious thing for a romance novel. The journey of how they get to that Happily Ever After ending isn’t spoilered by the second book.
Theirs Not To Reason Why, however, really should be read chronologically in the order they’re being released. You won’t be completely lost if you pick them up out of order, but each book builds up to the next, which in turn builds up toward the following book. It is one woman’s story as she progresses through her journey toward her goal. On the plus side, when I do release the Jack novels and the First Salik War, and so forth those will be able to stand on their own as a series, though they, too, should be read in the correct order internally—for instance the Jack series should be read Jack, Jack’s Battle, Jack’s War, in that order, but you don’t have to read all four books of Theirs Not To Reason Why first. Unless you want to, of course.
Maia: We both have enormous TBR mountain ranges, how big is yours? And what do you plan on reading next.
Jean: Alas, my To Be Read mountain is not the same size and shape as most others’, since most of what I need to read are research things. I have a stack of Science News magazines to wade through, some military tactical maneuvers books, so on and so forth. I do a lot of research for the background of my books, to flesh them out and make them feel more real. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for leisure reading.
I do, however, have a stack of movie dvds waiting to be watched! Cowboys and Aliens is on the list, Tron: Legacy, Battle: Los Angeles—which has been praised by other military scifi writers, so I’ll probably watch that one as soon as I’m done with The Tower, so it’ll get me into the mood for DAMNATION. Also X-Men: First Class. I haven’t seen all the movies I’ve wanted to in theaters, so I’ve been adding to my To Be Watched pile. But like leisure reading, I don’t have as much time for it as I’d like—though I did make time to go see the Marvel’s The Avengers movie twice in the theater.
Aurian: Would you come to an author’s convention in
Europe, and if so, are there some plans in progress already?
Jean: Yes, I actually have bought my membership to Loncon 3, which is the WorldCon that will be held in 2014 in London, UK (World Science Fiction Convention). This last one was held in Chicago, Illinois, and 2013 will be in San Antonio, Texas. Overseas travel is expensive, so anything that makes it a business expense makes it slightly cheaper when tax credit time comes around.
Maia: What would you be if you could not be an author?
Jean: ...I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question.
Okay, okay...even though that really is my reply, because this is my absolute dream job...I’d probably would have been a singer of some sort. I’ve been singing, storytelling, and entertaining in public venues for at least 25 years now.
Aurian: What are some of your favourite authors? Do you still have the books you loved reading as a young girl?
Jean: Way too many to count, but among the big ones are Alan Dean Foster (with some very dog-eared old copies I’ve had forever), Mercedes Lackey, Robert Asprin, Deborah Simmons...I’d better stop there or I’ll be stuck on this question all day.
And now for some short and fun questions:
Are you lefthanded or righthanded?
What is your favourite movie, and which is the last one you saw in the theater?
Marvel’s The Avengers in the theater, and too many favorites to count.
What is your favourite flavour of icecream?
Several different varieties with chocolate in it.
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Night owl, definitely. My body just naturally wants to stay up all night and sleep through that dreaded 7-letter word “morning.”
What paranormal creature would you like to be?
It’s a toss-up between a mage spellcaster type and a shapeshifter. It all depends; if the mage can cast spells to change shape, then definitely the mage, and if not, then if the shapeshifter can take on several forms—cat, bird, that sort of thing—then the shapeshifter.
What famous author, dead or alive or undead, would you love to meet and why?
Already did, and his name is Alan Dean Foster. He was the first author who I noticed was popular in two separate genres, fantasy, and science fiction. I figured if he could make that work, I could make that work...and since I’m a bestseller in both science fiction and romance, I think I’m achieving that goal nicely. I just need a few more scifi novels out there for everyone to enjoy. As for meeting him, I got to be on 3 panels with him back in 2011 at a convention. The hardest part was acting calm and professional instead of squeeing and acting like a dork in his presence. For the record, he’s a very nice guy.