This week we talk with Chris Johnson. Chris is an Australian author who lives in Brisbane with his wife and daughter. His books blend the esoteric mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, with a dash of Twilight Zone, and a twist of dry humour. He has published numerous short stories and novels, and has many more to come.
Chris Johnson’s story and book ideas come from a rich background as a stage magician, a mentalist, a psychic, and even a computer systems programmer! He also blames growing up in the 1980s on a diet of Atari computer games and television shows. Onstage, he used to read people’s thoughts; bend spoons, keys and forks; and he predicted newspaper headlines up to a week before their publication (including the Los Angeles Riots of 1992).
Nowadays, he still performs, but he also entertains people through his stories, which always include an element of the weird and wonderful, the bizarre or the supernatural.
His first book, Twelve Strokes of Midnight, is a collection of short stories, steeped in twists and turns, containing threads he says may lead into his other works and even each other. Each short story in the Devil’s dozen coincides with a clock strike, drawing you into the witching hour and the impending horrors watching you from the shadows.
Tell us about ‘While He Was Sleeping.
While He Was Sleeping is told through the voice of Robin Mitchell, a teenager in a Central Queensland town. His best friend Norman Cole is comatose in hospital after a freak bike accident, which Robin believes involved foul play from a group of bullies who used to terrorise Norman in school.
During a hospital visit, a strange girl appears and talks to Robin and Norman’s family. Her name is Maerie and she claims to be Norman’s girlfriend, a secret Norman kept from them all for fear of teasing. Robin notices strange activity on the EEG machine near Norman that ceases when Maerie leaves the room.
Soon, bizarre accidents and events happen around town, centring around Norman’s bullies, who die in strange circumstances, and Robin who suffers violent dreams. He realises there is something about Maerie… and he could be next.
What was the inspiration behind it?
The original idea came to me in 1988 while I was in my senior year. I had been reading about psychic phenomenon, a subject that still interests me, and came across a concept in Tibetan Buddhism and a lady named Alexandra David-Neel. It involved incredible effort in visualisation. I won’t describe too much for fear of spoilers, but I wanted to try it until I realised the possibilities.
How long does it take you to write a book?
The first draft took about six months. During that time, I had my own hospital stay which slowed things down, especially the six weeks of bed rest. All up, it took eight months with the editing and redrafts.
If you could cast actors to play your lead characters, who would you choose and why?
Mel Gibson could make a great father to Robin who could be portrayed by a young Sean Astin. That’s the way I thought of them while writing it.
What aspect of While He Was Sleeping are you most proud of?
I’m proud that, at such a young age, I was able to visualise this story in such a mature level. You see, I was a senior high school student when I first outlined the story. Yes, I changed a few parts when I finally wrote it, a minor tweak, but the story stays conceptually the same. It brought back so many memories of growing up in that era.
What does being a writer mean to you?
Writing is a backbone of entertainment. I’m also an entertainer at corporate events and some private parties. Although most of my work as a mentalist is off-the-cuff, it requires a basic routine or script. My hypnotic words are scripted too. Watch a movie, and you see something a writer’s work come to life through actors.
So being a writer is important from the beginning stages of many great pieces.
Whether you wish to deliver a message to your readers about domestic violence, global warming, or something else, a writer must keep one thing in mind: you must entertain your readers. That’s most important and is what they remember most.
Do you find it hard to find time to write?
Juggling it with other parts of life, yes. Besides being a writer, I wear the hats of a husband, a father, a son, an entertainer, a businessman, and me. Balance is always key, and I’m lucky to keep that.
Do you have plans for your next book?
I have plans for many books. The trouble is knowing what’s next. There are more books from the Craig Ramsey series, a possible sequel to Bootstrap’s Journey (my time travel adventure), and a host of new material that exploded from my ears. (And a self-help book related to my work as a corporate entertainer).
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Most research happens before I start writing, as I did for While He Was Sleeping. It contains elements of Tibetan Buddhism and mysticism. I researched it thirty years ago when I wrote the first outline. Yet it still helped to check out certain groups online and check other pieces when the need arose.
My technique was similar for Dead Cell. I researched weapons, their drawbacks, and the CIA experiments on psychics. Being a psychic entertainer helped fill things more. And I even asked a doctor friend of mine about some medical instruments.
Research is important but don’t wow the audience with a documentary. The story is king.