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I believe the children are our future, because they’re both inevitable and unpredictable. Like the apocalypse. Or iPhone 10’s or something. The point is, even if we teach them well we should be cautious of letting them lead the way, at least until we better understand their motivations. Otherwise, we put the entire planet at risk of having a twerking Ninja Turtle for President, and that must-not-happen!

With this in mind, I set out to better understand these pubescent enigmas by the only means that makes any sense: I was to infiltrate a high school and pretend to be one of them.

As I strolled up to Apollo Central High, the students all gaped in awe at my solid gold parachute pants. They enacted the ritual of acceptance by pointing and laughing at my McGuiver mullet. Even the jocks, the coolest of the cool, inducted me into their number by performing the honorable Atomic Wedgie as I entered the door. Then they showered me with praise:

“Awesome digs, loser!”

“The 1980’s called, they want their reject back.”

I just smiled and waved. I had no idea what any of it meant, but being one of them now, I knew it was only a matter of time before I cracked the code of tomorrow’s generation.

That’s when the meteor hit.

The city shuddered and I immediately took the high road, of completely abandoning my objective to valiantly warn everyone of the impending danger, by running through the streets screaming. After a good hour of this, I was parched and decided my job there was done, and that’s how I ended up here, in this coffee shop.

As I order my Triple-Mocha-Cappa-Frappa-Decaf, a newscaster is describing the situation over a radio at the counter: “In related news, the people of the city have been surprisingly calm, except for one man that reports tell us was dressed in MC Hammer pants and screaming “We’re doomed, we’re doomed, the children are upon us.”

I sip my scalding coffee and sit at the couch. That’s when I see her!

“Hey!” I cry, “you’re C.S. Johnson, author of The Starlight Chronicles (WestBow Press) and YA fiction extraordinaire!”

She blinks at me, no doubt spellbound by my immaculate taste in clothes. “Um, yeah, that’s me. Do I know you?”

“No, but together, we can save humanity!”

“Okay…?”

“How about an interview?”

That’s when she calls a magazine, and gives my description, no doubt to alert them of this new trend in fashion. “Yes, officer,” she says. “I’ll make sure he doesn’t go anywhere.”

Then she turns to me: “Sure! Ask away, just so long as it takes at least ten to fifteen minutes. Also, I hope you don’t mind me staying on the phone.”

“Not at all!” I beam. And that’s when I say:

Thanks for giving me the time to interview you! And for calling that magazine to talk about my awesome outfit. So, let’s get started with the usual suspects: What is it about writing that draws you to the craft? What does it do for you, and what got you into it?

Thank you for chatting with me. It is always a pleasure to talk about myself. Especially with coffee. Oh the luxuries of being an author!

Writing makes me human, and keeps me human. Words have always formed the foundation for ourselves, whether we admit it or know it or not. I am better able to understand myself, and others, through writing, and express ideas I can’t really talk about in person very well.

When it comes to my writing, I think I should admit upfront I have never taken criticism well. I do not change for people. My writing is staunchly set forth in a world that would have me bend over and twist around, but I have made it my voice and mine alone. That being said, I think it is very hard to put my writing style into any particular box. It’s like watching a Disney movie and then going on a drive-by. Witty-whimsical, fluffy with a bite; very intentional, but disguised. As a teacher-writer, my writing can be didactic, but I know more than anyone how unimpressive people find this.

I started writing largely because I wanted to have more of a voice. I was the “good, smart” girl in school – all through school, really. To this day I doubt people largely remember anything else about me, if they remember me at all. I was very shy and a lot of people have told me I was snobbish, when I was really just too shy. I kept writing because I was good at – people started realizing I was funny, and actually did have helpful and meaningful things to say. I keep writing today because it is part of who I am – and part of who I am meant to be.

Writing makes me human, and keeps me human. Words have always formed the foundation for ourselves, whether we admit it or know it or not.

What is your writing process like? Do you have a ritual or habit, or is it more spontaneous? 

It has to be spontaneous. I have a full-time job, I’m working towards my master’s degree, and I have recently started a family with my husband. And my son makes sure he is very distracting to me. But if I could plan it out, I would always write when it rains. I love it when the weather makes a bunch of other people ticked off.

Most of my writing process revolves around daydreaming first. My codename for this stage is “The Iceberg effect.” When I do get to writing, I will tell people I can’t hang out with them because I’m “saving the world.” And when I am editing most of it is the bipolar response: it’s either “genius, brilliant, world-changing, life-affirming!” or it’s the “shallow, weak, too silly, too stupid, I thought I was better than this oh God please help me to be better than this, calling my mother” episode.

One of the funnier things about is: I have a really funny concentration look. People think “something’s wrong” when I am daydreaming.

I do the same thing! People are always thinking something’s wrong with me. Strange. So anyway, tell me about Starlight Chronicles, and the first book of the series, Slumbering.

The starlight series is an epic fantasy I’ve been working on since high school. I thought of the original ideas then and I wanted to grow it where I could. Everything in it holds the best and worst of my teenage years, with my own version of fantasy twisted all around it. The story centers on Hamilton Dinger, a teenager who seemingly has it all. He is popular, good-looking, charismatic, and athletic, and he wants nothing more than to ask Gwen Kessler, a girl who “agrees with [him] on mostly all the right things” to be his girlfriend. Complications arise as a meteor strikes his city, and supernatural evil is released as a result. Hamilton finds out that he has been chosen to collect the supernatural creatures – the Seven Deadly Sinisters, and their leader, Orpheus – and he is absolutely repulsed by the very idea of usurping his life in order to help. The story works through his origins as a ‘superhero,’ but also focuses on his own paradigm shift as he begins to acknowledge his own limitations and failures.

Sometimes I feel like I tried very hard to rework “The Princess Bride.” My series has everything! Battles between good and evil, adventure, romance, amazing creatures, miracles, and true love, of course!

What was the biggest challenge of writing this novel for you? 

Editing. Editing is always the biggest challenge for me. It is the acknowledgement [that] what I wrote the first time is not perfect, or needs to be changed. It is painful. I imagine it’s like performing plastic surgery on your own child for medical reasons.

The second hardest part is just getting it all in, and working through it naturally, although I did leave some of the awkwardness there. It is the trademark of teenage years in real life. While I am a fan of YA lit myself, I don’t always agree with how little of the actual experience they get. What if Bella had acne? How does Edward go to the bathroom? Does he need to, as a vampire? And Harry! What is Harry Potter’s take on the Internet? Do wizards have computers? What about Katniss’s driving test? And her career path after the Capitol is disbanded? The teen years are about identity, and new experiences, finding something to work toward, and overcoming challenges; and these first and foremost come first from our own selves, whether it is our BO or pimples or insecurity, uncertainty, or poor time management skills.

Editing is always the biggest challenge for me. It is the acknowledgement [that] what I wrote the first time is not perfect, or needs to be changed.

Are you currently working on a follow up novel?

Yes, but I am running into some of the same problems I had with book 1. I have the first three books technically written, but book 1 underwent some changes which domino-effect the rest, and I have to streamline it carefully. I need to start paying my mother for all the talk therapy she gives me over this.

There is a short story I have written as an interim for books 1 and 2 (entitled “Awakening”) coming out soon in an anthology I worked on with my writer friends from Southern New Hampshire University, where I am currently getting my master’s degree in English and Creative Writing. There is a whole series planned out, with little puzzle pieces of it all scattered around my brain’s living room floor.

Do you have any other projects outside of the Starlight universe planned or in the works?

Several! I have submitted my debut adult literature novella, Soul Descent, to Nextnovelist.com, where they have a pool of readers select one book for a grand prize – there’s money involved, so I was highly motivated – and I’m working on getting pumped for Novelist November, that thing where you write a whole novel in one month. I’m going to try!

I also want to work on giving back somehow. My dream is to start a charity website where people can “verify” (affirm, or thank, or mention) the good deeds a person or friend does for them. Readers would vote “yay” for their favorites, their votes counting as “Brownie Points,” and the most voted good-deed-doer gets a brownie care package and a gift card from some participating company I’d have to get signed on. My tagline was the inspiration: “Bake a Difference.” I need some help getting started with it though, so it’s been put on the back-burner. (P.s. Anyone interested? Tweet me!) I thought it would be a good indie author promotion piece, too. I know from doing a lot of my own marketing that it can be very hard or very expensive. I think the brownies would help.

YA Fiction can be a bit tricky for some authors. It walks a line between adult and children’s work, and it requires a solid understanding of teen struggles and interests. How do you understand them so well? Does it involve dissection?

Conflict is universal, so understanding one automatically helps you understand the others. You’ve got a good idea, starting with dissection.

Thinking about conflict is like thinking about the hierarchy of animal classifications in science (Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species – still know them after all these years, didn’t even have to Google that!). Domain is like ‘Conflict.’ Then you break it down through the system and the symptoms: Fear, anger, rejection, jealousy, isolation, alienation, regret, loneliness, hatred, etc. All of them are interrelated, but different, even if they happen at the same time (like twins!) or stem from the same instance. For example, when I was in high school, I was still shy, and so I felt rejected, and I was hurt, and I felt lonely.

The trick is different people will handle the same things differently. I know my characters very well (I have them go through the Keirsey Temperament Sorter II just to add more depth) and so I can predict how they will act. My protagonist, Hamilton, for example, has been called arrogant, and he is. He’s worked hard to get where he is, no doubt, but since he is proud and used to applause, he is simultaneously irritated, intrigued, and afraid of a new challenge. On the other hand, his ‘supposed counterpart,’ Starry Knight, thrives on challenges because she is confident, not proud. There’s a difference, but it is still the same in many ways.

Realistic, consistent characters make a story great. The worst movies have the poorest writing, particularly with characterization. No amount of sex, blood, or gore can atone for poor characterization.

Realistic, consistent characters make a story great. The worst movies have the poorest writing, particularly with characterization. No amount of sex, blood, or gore can atone for poor characterization.

Okay, you get some awesome news from a stranger. Is it, A) You’re a Wizard, B) You’re the son of a Greek God, C) You won a lifetime supply of Sponge Bob toothpaste, or D) A dashing and talented Transdimensional Traveler asks you for an interview? 

Oh there are so many awesome ways to answer this question. Go ahead and pick one: A) I’m a Christian, so I already have awesome news, B) I want Wal-Mart store credit for that toothpaste, or C) If this is like a “chicken or beef” question, I am bringing pizza.

So, I’ll just mark you down for “D” then. Moving on: Who or what are some of your biggest influences? 

I have a background in teaching English and English lit (I know I’ve just lost half my audience here) so my writing style is varied, but purposeful and playful at the same time. I cannot tell you how many hours of my life I have wasted trying to get students to learn. People talk about the war on terror, but the war on education? We are not interesting enough or connected enough to get enough screen time. Our weapons aren’t scary enough, I suppose.

Personally, I love C. S. Lewis. His voice was the first one I could hear as I read his work (there was no British accent, though.) When I think about how to write something, I write trying to get my own voice to work in my head. For someone as quiet as myself, I have a loud-mouth inside of me, but I still have to focus. I love to read, but I don’t read as nearly as much as I should. Part of the reason I write books is because I am a very picky reader.

On an elitist note, I hate postmodernism to a large extent, so I classify myself as a neomodernist (Matrix fans will love that) against the post-postmodernism stuff going on. Basically, I believe people are flawed – and all of my characters are flawed – and not necessarily hero material (Hamilton) but they can be. Or at least, they make for interesting, passive villains.

When I think about how to write something, I write trying to get my own voice to work in my head.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Yes, but part of the advice I was given as an author was to charge people for advice. $50.00 please.

Okay, here’s a freebie:

My most famous advice is to blackmail someone famous (cough *Ryan Seacrest* cough) into helping promote your work. It is time, energy, and money consuming. Worth it, but costly! But seriously, it is a lot of work. Competition is fierce. I told someone once I felt invisible in high school, but it is nothing compared to how I feel some days, now. I feel like I am trying to get the rest of the world to pay attention, and no one is listening.

Final question: With the rise of Justin Beiber and Miley Cyrus, what are the chances we’ll survive the next century?

If they were a threat to our evolutionary or social well-being I’m sure they would have been quietly hauled off to ‘rehab’ like the others. From a conspiracy theory point, they could be government pawns or spies sent to distract us from all the problems of the ‘real world’ we would be better to spend our attention on. Statistically speaking, celebrities are not known for their longevity. I think we’ll be okay in the end.

On a side note, I think it would be great of them to use their fame for giving back and the betterment of mankind. To my knowledge a sex tape has yet to make the world a better place, but giving time, love, and resources to those who are in need has.

Thank you so much for the lovely chat! And the skinny-no-foam-extra-milk mocha.

The café is closing, and night is upon us. Back to the world we know, and has made us known.

That sounds very optimistic. Anyway, thanks again for sitting with me to talk about your book and…oh, hey, the police are here. 

For the readers, you can follow C.S.Johnson on her Facebook and Twitter, and pick up your copy of the Starlight Chronicles: Slumbering at all major outlets. Also, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for my exciting new fundraiser to help bail me out of jail!

CSJohnson

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