An Interview with
David E. Johnston
By Heather Rice
Sometimes an idea starts in your head and you just have to get it down on paper. Since his childhood days, the imaginative David E. Johnston has been conjuring up tales of adventure and, as of 2021, he now has 15 books of fiction and multiple short stories behind him. Writing out of his home in New Castle, DE, where he lives with his wife and furry minions, David continues to design twisted tales of mystery, maleficent monsters and the morality of mankind.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes. My entire life. I was always fascinated by books, and stories. I would listen to long play records that had narration of movies that I enjoyed as a child, or folklore and tales from other countries. My grandmother had an old iron behemoth of a typewriter to work up papers and notes for her church group, and when she wasn’t working with it, I would type away, creating fanfiction for Transformers and Star Wars way back in 1984. The first episode of Transformers aired on my 10th birthday, and I never looked back. I had these vast imaginary worlds. At 12 I started a massive work that ended up being over 1,000 pages in length. It’s been lost to the halls of time, but I still remember pounding out page after page on my Apple IIgs, late at night, and hoping the file would save on my floppy disk.
What inspired you to write your first novel?
I was inspired to write my first novel that I would push to publication, because of a gaming group I had a little later on. The involved stories and situations we shared together were too precious to be lost and forgotten, so I set it on myself to write it all down, fill in the natural gaps, and get it printed. I worked on it for years, piece by piece, a chapter here, a paragraph there, but ultimately, I finished it. And refined it. And edited it about a dozen times. And it was still terrible, but I published it. And then I reworked it again, all these years later into something close to the original version, but a better read. It was more to pay tribute to what the time we had shared together, and share that story with others who might find it interesting. Now, it’s all about sharing stories and telling good tales.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Doing them justice. I don’t want to belittle or disrespect women, so I try very hard to NOT ‘write them as a man would’, but instead write them as blank pages with their own desires and motivations. Certainly there are some things that I will never get right, but I try. I remember the story of Ripley, from Alien, originally being written as a male character, but look how that turned out. I wish I could do something like that, but I focus more strongly on writing strong women, who do not have to hinge on a man’s every word and action. It’s an ongoing struggle, because my whole life I’ve read books and watched movies with those tropes, but I won’t give up on it.
Which of your characters did you most enjoy writing? What makes them special?
The character I most enjoy writing, is always ‘The Next Character’. Whomever it is, whatever world they are in, whatever story they are in, I can’t wait to reveal their stories to others before their magic fades. Of my past creations, I’m always partial to the villains. Everybody loves a good villain, to add flavor to the protag and their struggles. Lucy, from To Get His Goat is a guilty pleasure, but I think I really enjoyed Serpe, from The Carnal Fee the best. He’s just so salty and delicious to slip into. His wicked grin and twangy voice. His glaring eyes and nefarious intentions.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
It varies wildly. Bourban (In York) took years, and then there were rewrites and edits, and ultimately the final version of the tale…but something like Colors of the Spirit didn’t feel that long at all. Normally when I’m gripped by it, I have to see it all the way through, or I go insane. The pending sequel to (The Curse of) Lilith still haunts me at night before I drift off. I’ve tried several times on finishing that tale, and I just feel paralyzed that I’m not going to do it justice, even though I have the majority of it in place and planned. I feel there are still some twists that will come up that even I’m not expecting, because Mary is just as rebellious toward me as she is toward the Fertility Church. If I can’t stop her, then I wish anyone who tries the best.
What is your kryptonite as a writer?
Distraction and depression. If I fall into depression, I used to be able to write endlessly, but it was not as good as my inspired writing. Now, depression locks me down, and I am too listless to force myself to commit anything to the work, and that is the weakest place I can get into. Even if I am in the groove, I find myself distracted by changing the music I’m obsessing over in the background, as my inspirational tunes…but maybe that’s my mind taking a breath while I ponder the next paragraph or chapter. I’ve won these wars a few times…but I wish I could kill off these demons permanently…or at least put them to work helping me edit, or something. Maybe mixing drinks. Hmmm.
Who is the most influential person in your life?
This is going to sound terrible…but no one. If I could point to any one person, it would be Doctor Who. I took to that show and loved it, adored it, and learned from it. It raised my vocabulary, taught me manners, and life lessons on being kind, humble and other important tenets. Violence is never the answer, hard work pays off, knowledge is power, etc., etc. My mother was gone most of the time working, so I didn’t get much from her except basic reinforcement (that’s NOT a criticism, it’s just how it was). My grandfather worked and then read most evenings. My father was never in the picture, ever. My uncles were all grown and moved out (except for one troublemaker who was a womanizing drunk), and my grandmother was quite religious and while kind, didn’t offer much input on things. We loved each other, but no one really tried to impress themselves on me…so I was free to influence from other things. And that was Doctor Who. Every Saturday night at around 11:00 or 11:30 pm, I would turn on my little 10-inch black and white set, tweak the antenna, and watch until I passed out. That was it.
What do you value most and why?
Certain relationships. I’m a bit of a doomsayer, despite my attempts to stay optimistic, so I automatically assume that every relationship will sour, every friendship will end in betrayal, because we’re selfish beings in the end, and we are born alone and die alone.
I still try. And some people matter more to me. And I will bring myself to blood, if it will help them out. I can’t explain why it is that way for some people, when others I wouldn’t help one iota…but it is. And that’s where I am.
Pardon me while I re-evaluate my depression. 🙂