Sarah L. Johnson is a coffee loving Canadian with a passion for writing. After publishing several short stories, Johnson has recently published her first novel, Infractus (Coffin Hop Press). Wanting to learn more about her background, her current Writer in Residence fellowship, and Infractus, Johnson allowed me to interview her for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: What were some books you loved reading when you were growing up? Are there any that you still revisit?
Sarah L. Johnson: I was reading adult fiction at such an early age, it’s really interesting to re-read those books see what went entirely over my head at the time. Books like Lolita, Interview With the Vampire, and Fried Green Tomatoes. Even Anne of Green Gables reveals a whole new dimension from the adult perspective.
Yanes: When did you realize that you wanted to make a living as an author? Was there a single moment in which this goal crystallized for you?
Johnson: Full-time author has never really been a goal for me, though I have mastered the art of the writerly side-hustle. Teaching, editing, working in a bookstore, and such. The reality is that most writers, even the ones you see hitting the best seller lists, still support themselves in other ways. For me at least, having a day (or night) job keeps me hungry to write.
Yanes: You currently live in Calgary. What is the writing community like there? Also, what are some of your favorite coffee shops in the area?
Johnson: Oh, the writing community here is outstanding. So generous and supportive. Honestly, I’ve been spoiled. And there are always loads of literary events happening, making it really easy to connect with other writers. Waves and Rosso are great local coffee and writing hangouts.
Yanes: You are currently a Writer in Residence at the Alexandra Writers’ Centre Society. How do you think this will help you grow as a writer?
Johnson: Exposure to diverse voices, styles, and perspectives has broadened my horizons and sharpened my editing skills for sure. Most of all, it’s inspiring. While levels of talent and skill may vary, everyone has the ability to tell a story. Everyone.
Yanes: Your first novel is called Infractus. What was the origin of this story?
Johnson: My religious upbringing planted a lot of those seeds. Even when religion and I amicably parted ways, I still had years of scripture study in my head. Infractus is my way of reimagining those biblical stories of good and evil with perhaps a bit more nuance and complexity.
Yanes: Infractus is set in Vancouver. How do you think this city shaped the story?
Johnson: It’s a city I’ve spent time in, and I’d listened to a radio series about addiction and street life in Vancouver. It resonated with me as exactly the place my teenage protagonist would go to disappear. That setting proved foundational to his character development.
Yanes: Infractus is centered on the life of Mouse. How did your conception of the character change as the story developed? Were there any ideas you originally had for Mouse that were dropped as the plot grew?
Johnson: The story initially started with him as an adult, but I found myself flashing back so often, a mentor suggested that perhaps Mouse’s coming of age experience wasn’t backstory, but rather the story. She was right. And I was mad as hell, because it meant another rewrite. In the end I restructured the novel to be more chronological and a much larger part of it focuses on Mouse’s childhood. All for the better, I have to admit.
Yanes: When people finish reading Infractus, what do you hope that they will take away from it?
Johnson: That good and evil are reductive absolutes that don’t exist in the real world, and identity is more about what you do than where you came from. But mostly I hope I’ve written a story that connects with readers, that they’ll think about the world and the characters long after the last page.
Yanes: What is next for Infractus? Would you like to create a sequel for it? Do you hope to see it as a movie one day?
Johnson: The sequel to Infractus is already in the works and will hopefully be out in a year or so. As for movies, it’s not something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, but it would be swell to see someone else’s vision of my book on the screen.
Yanes: Finally, what are you working on that people can look forward to?
Johnson: I’m editing The Dame Was Trouble, an anthology of the best Canadian women’s crime fiction for Coffin Hop Press. Being involved in a project from the publishing side of things is quite interesting. I’m also working on an urban fantasy about a taxi service ferrying the recently deceased to their final destinations.