Author’s Roundtable: Brooke Johnson

How long have you been writing? Has writing always been something you wanted to do?

I’ve been writing for most of my life, ever since I could string a sentence together. I wrote my first novel in the second grade. It was about nine pages long, about a zombie boy who wanted revenge. However, I didn’t choose writing for my career until a few years later, when I won a poetry contest in seventh grade. I knew then that I wanted to write.

I spent the next eight years perfecting my craft, until finally, I wrote something worth publishing. Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else!

What books or stories have you written?

My debut novel released in December 2011, a young adult steampunk called “The Clockwork Giant.” It is about a girl in Victorian Britain who wants nothing more than to become a qualified engineer by attending the University and working for the Guild. However, because she is a girl, she is not allowed to enroll at the school, and she must find a different way to see her dreams realized. So when she meets Emmerich, a newly inducted Guild engineer, she seizes the chance to work on a top-secret project, a clockwork automaton, all the while, falling in love.

I’ve also written several short stories that have been published over the years, mostly fantasy shorts—unicorns, witches, bogies, prophets, and the like. I like to have fun with my short fiction, doing the silly and unexpected. Someday, I hope to write a children’s book in that tone. I’ve written several novels too, most of them unfinished. Whether or not I finish them someday has yet to be decided.

What are some of the hardest things you’ve had to overcome as a writer, in order to be published?

I think the biggest setback is doubt. Writing is largely solitary. You have only your opinion and your expertise to rely on, and it’s easy to think that you aren’t any good at it, that you’re wasting your time. You can, of course, enlist the help of critique partners and friends to give you a second opinion, but even that is difficult. When I was younger, I wouldn’t let anyone read my work. I was too afraid that it was utter crap. I enjoyed doing it. I loved it. But writing is so personal, I didn’t think that I could open myself up like that, even to friends. Eventually, I got over it. I had to. Now, my biggest problem is that doubt. I’m always second guessing myself, always worried that my writing is crap. Now, I need other people to tell me that my writing is good, as silly as it is. My self-confidence is something I still need to work on.

Is there any advice you have been given that you could give to a young up-and-coming writer?

I had a professor in college, who, on the first day of our Introduction to Creative Writing class, said, “If you can do anything other than write, go do that instead.” At the time, I didn’t really understand what he meant, and I despised him for it. Of course I could do other things. I could become a teacher or a… well, really, teaching was my Plan B. To me, it didn’t matter that I could do other things, I wanted to write. Writing was my calling.

I continued writing to spite him. I wanted to show him that I was worthy of being a writer. And even though he constantly belittled me and my writing, he made me work harder. He challenged me. By the time I left college, I came to respect him, and because of him, I am the writer that I am today. On that first day, he told us that writing was difficult work. He taught us that only the most committed, the most determined of us would become writers. He was right. Writing is hard. It’s no walk in the park. Not anyone can do it. Writing takes a dose of talent and a lot of practice, and it’s not always as enjoyable as we’d like it to be. Sometimes, it’s like chewing nails.

How do you get inspiration for your books? Are their life lessons you have used as inspiration?

The most random things can inspire a story—sentences, dreams, songs, films, books, people we know in real life. I once wrote a fantasy novel that was inspired by my dog, who is most definitely a wizard, and a ninja. My inspiration for “The Clockwork Giant” came from a simple idea, that a machine is truth. People are inconsistent, irrational, and emotional, whereas a machine is consistent, easily understood, and easily fixable. I wondered what sort of person would think that. That’s when I met Petra, the heroine of the novel. I don’t usually find inspiration in life lessons because there’s always that risk of sounding preachy. However, I do find inspiration in my beliefs. For instance, I believe that you can do anything if you put your mind to it, if you work hard and don’t give up. That clearly comes through in my fiction.

Do you think writing has any benefits, and if so what would they be?

For me, writing is therapeutic. I can live out my dreams in my writing. I can go places I’d never visit, meet people I’d never know, and do things I wouldn’t dream of doing in the real world. It’s an adventure, and there’s something powerful about creating something, a story that might change someone’s life. It’s empowering.

Has writing made you a better person? Was there a point in your life where writing helped you deal with something, a death or a problem relationship perhaps?

I’d like to think it has. I’ve become a very empathetic person because of my writing. I’m constantly putting myself in other people’s shoes, even if those shoes are fictional. I constantly have to question my own emotions about certain situations. I have to judge how I would react. That has enabled me to see through other people’s eyes, feel what they feel. I think that this makes me a better friend, and better person overall. I realize that the things that I do affect people, and I act accordingly.

When I was in high school, I was very unhappy with my life. The friends I had seemed fake. I was in a bad relationship. I felt like my family didn’t understand me. I felt alone, with no one to talk to, no place to go where I could be myself. So I turned to fiction. I escaped through the worlds I created. I met people who were like me, who understood how I felt. Writing became my escape. It helped me survive those awful teenage years.

About Brooke Johnson

Ever since she was a little girl, Brooke had a love of building long-forgotten, fantastical worlds, and as she grew up, and the worlds became more complex and the characters came to life, she found that she didn’t have enough Legos to do them justice. Convinced it was her destiny to create, she delved into writing.

Now married and living in Northwest Arkansas with her husband and dog, she spends her days scrambling around the vast landscape of her imagination, the fantastical worlds of princes and wizards on one side and the towering, brass cities of automatons and engineers on the other.

You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and her website.


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