- Nikky Lee
10 Questions with Mara Lynn Johnstone
Mara Lynn Johnstone grew up in a house on a hill, of which the top floor was built first. She split her time between climbing trees, drawing fantastical things, reading books, and writing her own. Always interested in fiction, she went on to get a Master's Degree in creative writing, and to acquire a husband, son, and three cats. She has published three books and many short stories. She still writes, draws, reads, and enjoys climbing things. She can be found up trees, in bookstores, lost in thought, and on many social media.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself! Where do you call home and what do you write?
I come from California — which is a bit too close to the sun right now for anyone’s liking — and I write all manner of fantastical things. Science fiction, fantasy, combinations and crossovers, sometimes a touch creepy, but more often whole-heartedly fun. I write the kind of adventures I like to read, with characters who spark joy. Robots, aliens, elves, shapeshifters, and witty banter.
2. What drew you to that particular genre and/or age group?
I’ve always liked reading about other worlds and exciting possibilities. When I was a kid, I decided that since I would probably (probably) not get to do all the spacefaring and dragonriding that I loved in person, then the next best choice would be to write about it all. So I did. I stand by that choice.
3. What’s your best known work?
I’m most excited about the book that just came out: Spectacular Silver Earthling. The title character is an egotistical robot who’s filming a space TV show, and finds unexpected Plot Developments on an alien world. The planet is more dangerous than expected; it might be inhabited after all; and the filming crew has to risk everything to save their show (not to mention their lives). Hubcap the robot will face all challenges with wit and talent in equal measure. It was great fun to write.
4. What inspired you to write it?
Years ago, I was watching a lot of Dirty Jobs and Mythbusters, and I wondered “What if a show like this took place in outer space?” I started putting together ideas, found a place to use a worldbuilding concept that had been in the back of my head for years (no spoilers, but it’s an interesting bit of alien biology), and once I had my main character, I was off.
5. Tell us about your writing process. Are you a plotter, pantser or somewhere in between? How do you research?
I’m a big fan of planning, with a little wiggle room for unexpected developments. I’ll figure out the general arc of where I want the story to go, then do a lot of brainstorming for the scenes directly in front of me — sometimes it feels like furiously laying out the tracks right in front of the train, though I can see my destination far ahead. I tend to keep two Thinkin’ Documents while I write: one for jotting down every stray thought and for working through thorny problems, and the other for an orderly list of all the gems plucked out of the mess. It’s a system that’s served me well. I can go over every possible solution to a plothole, then file the winning answer along with my notes on what I plan to write in the next chapter. No losing track of ideas. And yes, I Google whenever something pops up that needs more info than I have in my head. I’ll keep track of what I find in the same way.
6. What’s the strangest or most interesting thing you’ve researched for your writing?
Oh man, that’s a long list. For this particular book, I researched several real animals for the invention of some alien life forms, and also an existing system of writing that’s done by tying knots (quipu). For my next book, I’ve researched physics, gorillas, and sign language. I look forward to seeing what else I’ll learn.
7. What’s the most personal story/scene you’ve written and why?
I honestly don’t explore much that’s deeply personal to me through writing, at least not consciously. While many writers use fiction to work out trauma or find catharsis, I’m here for the adventures and joy. I’ll definitely put in bits that I know very well from personal experience — this character got the same kind of grades I did in school; this one is my height; this one has exactly my sense of humor — but it’s usually pretty subtle. The things that feel most personal to me are the kind of characters I can see myself getting along well with, and joining in grand adventures. My favorite characters function like imaginary friends, since I can picture them with me in any given circumstance, improving a boring day immensely. (In a long line at the store? A curious friend from another world who’s never heard of conveyor belts will liven up the afternoon like nothing else.)
8. Who are your literary influences? In what way?
My list of favorite writers is long, but I tend to appreciate them for elaborate worldbuilding and compelling characters both. In no particular order: Mercedes Lackey, Wen Spencer, Kevin Hearne, Martha Wells, Neil Gaiman. (Neil in particular is a fine role model for how to conduct oneself as a famous writer on the internet, where trolls abound. And he writes good stuff too.)
9. What books are on your bedside table right now?
A stack written by friends and acquaintances — it’s amazing how my To Be Read collection has grown since I dove into the writing community. There are so many promising books out there. I just finished Heroes & Harbingers by ARK Horton, which is very cool. A magic school book for those of us who grew up with them, and want to read about the teachers now instead of the students (and with more diversity than some series I could name). I definitely recommend it.
10. Last and most important, where can we find your books/stories?
Anywhere books are sold! Online giants and local bookstores both. I have a handy collection of links on my website: https://www.maralynnjohnstone.com/books
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