Author interview: Sharon M. Johnston, speculative fiction author

This month on Aussie Owned and Read we’re celebrating the arrival of two new bloggers with round-robin interviews, so you can learn more about each of us — new bloggers and old. 

Today I’m interviewing Sharon M. Johnston, who has been with Aussie Owned since it started four years ago. Welcome, Sharon!

Sharon JohnstonI often think of you as the networking guru of the Aussie Owned team. What advice would you give a new writer trying to figure out where to start?

Ahhh! *blushes*

I think one of the keys to networking is paying it forward. Jump online, connect with influences, cool people and peers, and when one of them asks for help or you see a need that you can fill, put your hand up. For me it all started on a site called Inkpop (now defunct) where you reviewed WIPs. That’s where I met Wendy Higgins, who invited me to be part of YAtopia. Then I saw Pitch Madness needed a new blog host and I offered Brenda Drake the use of YAtopia. And it just keep rolling from there.

You also mentor in a number of pitching contests. If you could recommend one contest — or one type of contest — which would it be and why?

By far my favourite pitch contest is Pitch Wars. It’s got a great reputation with agents; has a better success rate than querying; creates strong communities of writers with the mentors, mentees and applicants; and the mentor works on the WHOLE manuscript. There are not many contests that do this.

OpenHeart_seriesThe first two books in your Open Heart series, Divided and Shattered, have hit the shelves after a fairly tumultuous beginning. How would you describe the series? And what can you tell us about book three?

The series is definitely a labour of love, and had a rollercoaster ride with unprofessional publishing peeps before finding a home with City Owl Press. The series focuses on love and what it means to be human, all wrapped up with some sci-fi and fantasy fun. The first book focused on Mishca’s journey to finding out about her origins, while book two saw Mishca understand that her family may not be traditional but that it is nevertheless important, and delved more into Ryder’s past. Book three reveals to readers the truth about Nerissa, and sees Ryder reunite with his mother and Mishca succumb to her dark side. (Cass: AAAAH! Need!) In each book I reveal more to the readers about the cast of characters and what makes them the people they are.

You’ve posted on the blog before about having OCD and anxiety. Given the push for #ownvoices works in the writing community, is this something you have considered incorporating into a work of fiction? Why?

I have definitely considered writing an OCD project, especially to break down some of the stereotypes and misunderstandings around the condition. I’m very open with people about my mental health as I believe by me being honest about it with people it will demystify some of the misconceptions around mental illness. If I don’t want to have mental health treated as a stigma, it has to start with me.

Tell us about your current project.

I’m working on and off on three projects. The first one is a speculative fiction set in Brisbane around a clan of warriors responsible for delivering karma. The second is a rewrite of a far future sci-fi called Dirty Rainbow. And the third is the latest book in the Open Heart series — I need to talk to the police about what happens in a raid so I can move forward with it.

Either/or questions

Plotter or pantser? Pantser

Speculative fiction or contemporary? Speculative fiction

Dogs or cats? Cats

Coffee or tea? Neither — chai latte

Chocolate or ice cream? Both, smooshed together and covered in caramel (I think I have a problem!)

About Sharon

After growing up listening to her father reading fables and folklore, it’s no surprise Sharon loves stories. As soon as she could read, her nose was firmly in a book. She loves reading, listening to audio books and writing.

She has a gorgeous husband and two wonderful boys. Well-known for her fantastic taste in shoes, Sharon has actually been stalked by women wanting to know where she got her high heels from. She also has a love of fur-babies – cats and guinea pigs, specifically.

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Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction author who one time got to help launch Sharon’s paperback, Shattered. Which was especially exciting as she (Cass) didn’t faint while public speaking. Not even once!


Interview: Sharon M Johnston

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing our very own lovely S. M. Johnston, author of the upcoming novel Sleeper, from Entranced Publishing, on sale this month.

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Aussie Owned & Read: When did you first think: I’m going to be a writer?
S. M. Johnston:  I can’t pinpoint it completely, but it basically didn’t become real for me until I got the offer from Entranced. I’d had some success with short stories. It felt like such a long road to publication (even though it was probably quiet average for a debut author) that I was disheartened a few times.
It wasn’t something I grew up thinking I’d make a career of it. I was taught that you get a sensible career, like a lawyer or an accountant. My dad was a financial planner, but wrote poems for fun, and I thought I’d be like that too. In fact, I started a dual degree in Law/Economics before I realised that wasn’t for me. I ended up in corporate communication and public relations, so I still was writing for work. I’ve wanted to be a professional fiction writer for the past four years. But it was only at the beginning of 2013 that it became a reality for me.
Aussie Owned & Read: Sleeper is a NA Sci Fi, which is quite a different genre for this age bracket. What intrigued you about this concept?
S. M. JohnstonActually, when I wrote Sleeper, I had never heard of New Adult. I wrote it as a Young Adult novel, and it probably would still be classified as Young Adult if it was with an Australian publisher as the MC is age is similar to Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James. Even though I had a proper YA version as well as an Australian agent asked for a revise and resubmit with Mishca being high school aged instead of at university. But that meant I had to remove the original concept of Mishca falling in love with her university professor, ’cause that would be creepy for a high schooler. And that’s what I love about NA, is you can deal with  more adult concepts. Putting it in SciFi then allows me to bend so many rules. What I struggle with in my contemporary concepts is authenticity. By putting something in the SciFi realm you have the capacity to make your own rules as well.
Aussie Owned & Read: Give us the cheat’s guide to Sleeper.
S. M. JohnstonMishca has a weak heart that’s stopped her from living life to the fullest.
Mishca gets a new heart that sees her living a life beyond the norm with new abilities, but also has freaky nightmares. She keeps it all secret.
Mishca meets a tattooed hottie, Ryder and scores a boyfriend.
Mishca and Ryder start to hot up.
Mishca goes to uni and falls in love at first site with her university professor, Colin, but hides her feelings.
Mishca friends discover her abilities and can’t decide if she possessed by her new heart, if she’s been experimented on or if she’s an alien.
 Then craziness ensures.
Aussie Owned & Read: What inspired you to write this story?
S. M. JohnstonThe whole story was inspired by a ‘What if?’ scenario based on what if two particular people meet, which was Mishca and Colin. Everything else was developed to ensure these two meet and then the fall-out from their meeting.
Aussie Owned & Read: How does it end? Will there be some sort of a sequel?
S. M. JohnstonThe Toy Soldiers series is designed to be a four book series. While it follow’s Mishca’s journey the whole way through, each of the following books also focuses on another particular in the series. Book two, Deserter, tells Ryder’s story, book three, Turncoat, tells Nerissa’s story (Mishca’s best friend) and book four is named Fodder (working title).
Aussie Owned & Read: Finally, what advice do you have for any NA authors out there looking to break into the market?
S. M. JohnstonI think right now the contemporary side of NA is overflowing, so you need something unique. People are looking for more. Don’t be afraid to experiment and think outside the square.
Aussie Owned & Read: Thanks so much for joining us Sharon; we’re sure everyone is going to love Sleeper just as much as we do!
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Lauren K. McKellar is an editor of fact and fiction, and has worked in publishing for more than eight years. As well as being Senior Editor at Entranced Publishing, she works with a host of fabulous indie authors whose books range in genre from erotic romance to thriller.
She is also an author, and her debut novel, Finding Home, came out October 2013. Her second release will be self-published in March, 2014, and is titled The Problem With Crazy.
Lauren had the pleasure of beta-reading Sleeper; and FREAKING LOVED IT!