Book Nerd Interview
Jean Johnson is the national bestselling author of the First Salik War novels (The V’Dan, The Terrans), the Theirs Not to Reason Why series (Damnation, Hardship,Hellfire), and the Guardians of Destiny novels (The Guild, The Grove, The Tower). She believes the best part about being a writer is the joy of entertaining others. The second best part is inspiring them to do greater things than they would normally imagine, and to honor those who have tried. This is one of those stories, and she hopes you both enjoy it and are inspired by it.
What was your first introduction to literature, the one that made you choose that genre to write?
Oh, geez…I honestly don’t remember that far back. It’s all a blur of wonderful books. I can tell you that in elementary school, my two favorite book series were the Laura Ingalls Wilder novels, and the Narnia books. I could point to exactly where they were on the bookshelves from any point in the school library, lol…so… Hm. I suppose the Narnia books solidified my love of fantasy as a genre. For science fiction…definitely Star Trek, the television series, and Star Wars, the movies. My father took my sister and me (I was barely 5 years old) to go see it in 70mm…which didn’t have the Jabba the Hutt scene cut out, as it had been reoved in all the 35mm releases. I remember being bugged repeatedly by the fact “the fat guy in the furry vest” wasn’t in any of the re-showings they did on t.v. afterward, or on the video tape releases. I thought I’d imagined it, until I saw the “special deleted scene” footage a couple decades later.
What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about you?
I’m pretty boring in most respects, just a human being. Maybe the fact that I’m a card-carrying minister? (Literally, I have a nice professional plastic i.d. card in my wallet proclaiming me an official minister.)
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
How to think critically, and how to learn. It’s not enough to memorize facts & figures. All that does it gets you an unthinking robot or parrot, doing what you’re told to do, saying what you’re told to say. If you can figure out HOW to learn—how to go looking for facts, how to propose theories, how to examine evidence, how to let go of the ideas that aren’t accurate enough and grasp for ones that are more in line with actual observations—then you can master anything. I have never been fond of rote memorization…and not just because my memory sucks at times, lol.
Did you learn anything from writing The Blockade and what was it?
I learned—or rather, relearned--that when I’m exhausted from illness, it’s hard to be clever and creative. I keep forgetting to take time out to go see others’ creative energies, because that does actually revitalize my own energies. I relearned that art can inspire me to greater heights; the fantastic cover art produced by Gene Mollica (love his stuff!) inspired me to improve upon a key scene in the story and make it far more awesome. I think everyone is going to love the story matching up to the cover art.
What was your inspiration for the series?
A mix of things. The fascination with and desire for a somewhat more realistic approach to First Contact from a government/political viewpoint…and a freely admitted lashback at corruption in politics.
Which character have you enjoyed getting to know the most over the course of writing First Salik War?
That is a good question. This is one of a very few set of stories that have first draft manuscripts that will never fully see the light of day (lol). Mainly because I’ve been working on this universe for decades, so yeah, first attempts suck. I knew more about Jackie and her culture (duh) than I did about Li’eth, so I got to invent a lot of stuff for the V’Dan nation—it’s been an interesting observation that in pretty much every culture out there, human tend to stratify their societies, whether it’s through elevating one gender above the other (silly, imho), or castes with one job being more important than another (silly to restrict who can work which job, imho), etc. Yet realistically, these things happen. So in some ways, the V’Dan culture as a character was interesting getting to know.
In changing things up from the original half-written manuscript, one thing I decided on going into more detail of the known qualities was Jackie’s Hawai’ian heritage. I did a lot of research on a lot of websites, and tried to get the feel and the flavor right. I haven’t heard one single complaint from any Native Hawai’ians, so…I think I managed to handle that with respect, and that pleases me deeply. (Not to any Hawai’ians reading this; if I goofed up, it’s my fault, mea culpa, my apologies…but also remember this is from a perspective of 175-ish years into the future, so there’s a lot of science fiction style speculation on various ways society and so forth may have changed…though I honestly didn’t really change much.)
For those who are unfamiliar with Jackie, how would you introduce her?
Humorous version: Ex-military civil servant psychic gets stuck in uncomfortable role of Ambassador of Humanity to Alien Races and…wait, what do you mean there are more Humans out there??
Somewhat more serious version: Jackie MacKenzie, translator and public servant, just wants to help her fellow Humans communicate, cooperate, and get along better. But thanks to her unique confluence of skills and experiences, she ends up in a position where she has to represent the entire Terran United Planets in protecting them from new, alien enemies while trying to acquire the allies needed to put an end to an interstellar war.
What part of Prince Li'eth did you enjoy writing the most?
The scene with the wine cooler in THE TERRANS. Absolute gigglefest, while writing it. Poor unwitting Li’eth…
If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Within the same universe, I think it would be interesting for Jackie to meet Ia and her crew…but a bit explosive in at least one way: Jackie is fervently a supporter of the right for the Salik race to exist, in the hopes that they can learn to get along with aliens and stop eating them alive. She has a lot of hope for the future. Ia…is a massive precognitive who is fighting for the majority of people across the entire galaxy to live good lives through cooperating with and coexisting beside one another. She doesn’t have any of that hope left for the Salik race, and is determined to stop them by any means necessary. I think the two of them would get into a verbal fight over the ethics of their two stances, and I’d be like, “Aw, yisss! Pass the pak’with! This is gettin’ good!” (V’Dan version of popcorn) while watching it. (Yes, authors can be this evil, enjoying our characters’ miseries.)
Across series…I think Jackie would get along well with Kelly from the Destiny universe (heroine of THE SWORD and recurring character in the Sons of Destiny and Guardians of Destiny novels). I think Kelly would be eager to pick Jackie’s brains about the Terran United Planets government system, and Jackie would be fascinated by the idea of a realm with magic, and wonder how closely psychic abilities align to what mages can do, and vice versa.
And if I had to pick a character in someone else’s series, then I think Jackie would love to meet Pat, the Fed character in the webcomic A Girl And Her Fed, by KB Spangler (she also has some wonderful books out). Certainly, Jackie would have a wonderful time meeting and chatting with the ghost of Benjamin Franklin…though I’m not sure she’d be quite as happy to meet Speedy, the neo-conservative supergenius talking koala. But sit her and Pat down together to talk about the directions a nation’s government could be steered in? Oh yes, definitely, she’d treat that discussion quite seriously and with strong respect for what Pat and his fellow Agents at OACET are going through, in their universe.
You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers. What would it be?
Change is rarely comfortable, particularly social, cultural, and political change. The only thing I ask is that you consider how to make things better for the most number of ALL people, not just those who look or think or act like you do. Diversity is our strength, not our weakness. Any decent farmer will tell you that if you plant only one type of crop, if something comes along to damage that crop, you’re going to be rendered broke and starving. Diversify. Diversify in who you interact with, whether it’s by race or creed or gender or nationality. Understand that most of us are Decent Human Beings. And demand it in your stories. Demand it of your heroes. Demand diversity in novels and movies and television and video games and more. And stand up for those who are different from you. Reach out a helping hand to your neighbors, not a harming one.
What is your greatest adventure?
Lol, I live a pretty boring life…but I have done some traveling. I think traveling solo to Australia to stay with friends for a couple weeks might qualify. Traveling to Israel for an archaological biblical tour, too. Having the chance to take a river cruise down the Rhine… I’m planning on visiting Iceland and Finland this next summer (the World Science Fiction Convention will be in Helsinki), so that’ll be another bit of an adventure. Um…individual moment in time…probably the way I impressed a Bedouin on being able to ride a camel, including when it knelt down at the end of the ride and I didn’t even wobble. (You grip with your thighs, duh.) He was really impressed with that. I’d only ridden horses a couple times over the decades, never a camel before then, but I did know what to do from reading about it in novels and research I’d done.
Where can readers stalk you?
Facebook at “Fans of Author Jean Johnson”, my website at www.JeanJohnson.net, on Twitter @JeanJAuthor, Patreon/JeanJAuthor, Tumblr JeanJauthor
Though committed to helping their V’Dan cousins, the Terrans resent how their allies treat them. The V’Dan in turn feel the Terrans are too unseasoned to act independently. And the other nations fear that ending the Salik War means starting a Human Civil War.
Even as Imperial Prince Li’eth and Ambassador Jackie MacKenzie struggle to get their peoples to cooperate, they still face an ethical dilemma: How do you stop a ruthless, advanced nation from attacking again and again without slaughtering them in turn?
"Fabulously fresh [and] wildly entertaining." –New York Times bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz