C. S. Johnson - Award-winning Epic Fantasy Adventure
C. S. Johnson is the award-winning, genre-hopping author of several novels, including young adult sci-fi and fantasy adventures such as the Starlight Chronicles series, the Once Upon a Princess saga, and the Divine Space Pirates trilogy. With a gift for sarcasm and an apologetic heart, she currently lives in Atlanta with her family. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, Outpouring.
Please give us a short introduction to what Outpouring is about.
Outpouring is the sixth book in my Starlight Chronicles series. It’s pretty far into my main character’s journey, but Hamilton is a “two steps forward, three steps back” kind of character, and I honestly love that about him; there’s not a lot of people who genuinely appreciate the struggle that comes with failures and setbacks, and I’ve had too many of my share in life to escape them myself. In the series, Hamilton is a very selfish character, who is very accomplished and very popular, so there’s not a lot of blowback when he is obnoxious or rude – and when he discovers he is a fallen star who has supernatural powers, it’s not actually much better. But as the series progresses, Hamilton(very slowly!) learns what it means to take up his calling, commit to a greater cause than his own happiness, and sacrifice for others, especially those who love him for who he is – flaws and all. When Outpouring starts, he’s fallen in love and it’s greatly helped his overall demeanor, but he still falls into pitfalls of selfishness and wanting that happy ending. But life’s not just about being happy or good, and that often means we suffer in an unfair manner.
What inspired you to write about a teenage-superhero who finds trouble with the world?
I started writing the book series in lieu of therapy, after graduating high school and college and seeing how my youthful sort of idealism didn’t mesh well with reality, but reality by itself only led to nihilistic cynicism. I liked putting Hamilton into the opposite of my shoes, and then watching him sort of get dragged out of that mindset; I tell people who ask that I started out as an idealist, and then I was a failed idealist, and now I am a redeemed idealist. I liked putting Hamilton in high school and giving more of a personified feeling to the struggles that come with growing up – such as greed, blind trust, and narrow-mindedness. I also like the supernatural aspects of the book series because it helps illustrate more complex concepts; a reoccurring motif in my work is usually how dragons can be symbolic of depression, for example, although Elysian, the dragon in this series, is probably the exception to that.
Tell us more about Hamilton Dinger. What makes him tick?
Hamilton is a very intelligent, accomplished, and ambitious teenager, and he’s quick to show it. He’s able to make the smart choices about all the important things – homework, sports, gaming and dating – so when he is tasked with filling in the role of city superhero, he’s quick to try to make it about his image and how he looks rather than actually working on developing his power and skills to protect people. He starts off as very cynical and selfish, pretty much toxically so, and as the series forces him to grow and he eventually leans into it himself, he’s much more hopeful and genuinely interested in making the world a better place for other people. He is very compassionate, but still demands a lot of others and himself, which can be good, but also can lead to perpetual disillusionment and disappointment (and therefore an inflated ego).
Why did you pick Apollo City as the backdrop for your story?
I wanted a good mix of city and suburbs life. The small city approach made it a good fit for the story, and it was also something I could use from my own experience.
Readers say this was a very emotional book. Why did you take this approach?
I taught high school for many years, and I know the teenage mind very well, which is why Hamilton is such a realistically drawn character with real flaws and the very real ability to change, even if it’s slowly (I laugh when my adult readers tell me they can’t stand him; that’s the point! My high school readers, on the other hand, more often than not love him almost immediately). For this book, I like the emotional core of the story because if it’s not important to them, it’s not going to make a difference. And I do want people to see the difference in Hamilton, and also in themselves.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I’m a mother to two half-darling, half-demon children, so I might as well be a mostly-useless-or-underrated-skills sort of ninja. I can open bags without scissors, I can add multiple numbers (most of the time) in my head, and I can kiss a boo-boo and make it feel better. I always wanted to be a mother, and after I had my daughter, my husband and I were able to move me to a stay-at-home mom position full-time. I tell people I write part-full-time now.
On the writing front, I am starting to do my own audio books, too!
This is the 6th book in the series. Can it be read as a standalone? How do the other books in the series tie in with this one?
I think you can read it as a standalone, but it’s definitely something that you can appreciate more if you read a few books before it at least (if you start somewhere other than book 1, I recommend no later than book 3 or 4.)
Please tell us more about the cover and how it came about.
I have a fantastic book cover artist for this series. Her site is http://www.amaliach.com/ and I cannot recommend her enough! I have known her for years and I am a big fan of her work.
Why Epic Fantasy? What drew you to the genre?
I like fantasy best in general when I write my works, because you can take reality’s boundaries and manipulate them to understand the real world better. I’ve never read a good fantasy author who wasn’t grounded in realism. Epic fantasy in particular was a good fit for the use of the hero’s journey, and since it’s YA, I was able to add some qualities of a mock epic, too (you can take me out of the English Lit classroom, but you’d be hard-pressed to take the English Lit out of me.) Teenage years in particular have a strange quality of being completely unreal and real at the same time, and I liked making this a reality with Hamilton. For example, in Outpouring, there’s a chapter where there is a supernatural monster attacking the city downtown, and Hamilton is stuck taking the SATs. He has to get the tests done or he can’t apply for some early college courses while he’s in his senior year, and he’s not allowed to leave the classroom until the testing is over. But there’s a monster downtown. So what does he do? The adults would say pretty quickly, “Leave and go take care of the monster,” but the responsible, overachieving student would be more hard-pressed to answer that question. Adults know that even if you don’t jump start your college years in high school, you can still be very successful; but someone who’s planned for this for years is less likely to see it as an easy choice.
Do any of your characters ever take off on their own tangent, refusing to do what you had planned for them?
Yes, and unironically, it’s usually the villains of my pieces. While I don’t believe in releasing the devil from his due, I do believe we can still sympathize with him, and use that to recognize our own fallibility.
Are any of the characters in the book based on real people?
Legally, I think I must plead the fifth here. But I can say all of the main characters each have some of my own traits, and I was very much the narcissist Hamilton was in high school (only I was quieter about it!)
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
I wouldn’t say so. I just try to get some time in. I spend a lot of time daydreaming if I am not writing. My writing is an island of calm in a sea of insanity.
What are you working on right now?
I just finished up a new novella, Dragon Tears, the prequel to my new series, The Alliance of the Dragon Sword. This is the series I’ve been wanting to write for my husband for many years now; since he is my own hero in many ways, and my heroes often remind me of him in my writing, I figured I’d ask him what kind of adventure story he would like to go on. So this is my attempt to give him the adventure of his choosing. The Starlight Chronicles was in lieu of therapy, and I guess for this year, The Alliance of the Dragon Sword is in lieu of a vacation.
I am also working on keeping up with my new podcast, Stranger Conversations, where I sit down for an hour or so and have conversations with people I meet over the internet. I let them pick the topic and we chat about it. The podcast is my charity project, since I believe in humanizing people on the internet (it’s hard to remember there are real people behind our avatars some days) and it also helps fund my Giving Back initiative, where I give out a grant each month to a new graduate from college to help with their student loan payments. When I graduated college, I had loans to pay back, and the stress I felt ended up leading me into a cycle of depression. Now that I am an author, I wanted to find a way to give back on something I knew was absolutely soul-crushing to me. I just started it up in the last couple of months, so I am pleased with the limited help it’s been able to bring to my grant recipients (there is a form to apply for a grant on my website, if any recent grads are interested.) I’d love to see the project grow and be able to give out more.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I am the empress of my own media empire, and I am staking out my online territory very carefully and slowly. One of the best things I’ve found has been Ko-Fi.com (https://www.ko-fi.com/writercsjohnson) and Subscribestar (https://www.subscribestar.com/c-s-johnson) to interact with my fans, who can use the platforms to directly support me and I can use to more directly reward them. So if you’re interested in my work, I highly recommend starting there, and you can also check out my website at https://www.csjohnson.me to see my other books and projects.