Author RJ Johnson was first inspired to write novels when his second grade teacher bound a short story he wrote for his class. Reading everything he could get his hands on, he knew it was only a matter of time before he tried his hand at writing one of his own. In 2012, his first novel, The Twelve Stones: Book One, was released. Within its pages, Johnson tells the tale of an individual who had uncovered a set of artifacts designed to save the earth from certain destruction. Johnson has since released two additional books in the Twelve Stones series, the most recent being published in March of 2014.
In addition, Johnson has also published three books in his Jim Meade: Martian P.I. series, beginning with Rosetta in May of 2012, with the story continuing in a pair of sequels released the following year.
When he’s not writing, RJ Johnson produces talk radio in San Diego. Readers can learn more about him and his works at his website, rickersroad.blogspot.com.
A loaded question right off the bat! Well done. My upbringing was like one of those cliched stories you’d see in a bad ’90s Hallmark movie. My mom and dad met, had me, divorced. Got back together, had my brother, divorced again. My mother finally got her happy ending when she married my stepdad and moved our family up to Big Bear Lake California (a small resort town just north of Los Angeles). It was that move, more than anything else, that shaped me into who I am today.
I grew up surrounded by pine trees, open air, and beautiful scenery. Big Bear serves as the main inspiration for Onyx (the town where the protagonist in The Twelve Stones grew up) and I keep most of my scenes in California, as I love this state. I’ve lived all over the U.S., and absolutely nothing compares to the surreal beauty of Southern California.
Not just that, but Big Bear was a huge part of who I became. There’s no doubt in my mind that all the very kind people I met Big Bear (from fellow students I made friends with, to the teachers and Scoutmasters who guided me through adolescence) made me the writer I am today.
When it comes to writing, what aspects of the process do you find most enjoyable? And are there any aspects that you struggle with or find more tedious?
Writing is one of those things that I’ll never stop doing… Believe me, I’ve tried. I think the part I find most enjoyable about writing, is the actual process. Like any author, I hate every bit of writing I’ve done as soon as I’m finished, but I love the process. Every bit of it. Even the parts that suck.
Creatively-speaking, who have been your biggest influences?
My biggest influences are generally a mix of the big names (Stephen King, Tolkien, JK Rowling), but lately I’ve read so many different authors, they sort of all fall into the mix as far as influences go. One thing I’ve really enjoyed over the last few years are the random freebies from other indie authors. There’ have been a few bad eggs out there, but for the most part I’ve really enjoyed my selections so far. In fact, you’ve got one of the best on your site right now (Michael J. Sullivan).
How have you evolved as a writer over the years?
I think the biggest way I’ve evolved over the years as a writer is I’ve become more disciplined and put together a regular schedule. I’m a big proponent of “If you write, you’re a writer.” So, the only way I can allow myself to think I’m a writer is if I write.
I used to have the bad habit of binge writing my books (15k words a day for three or four days in a row, and then nothing for weeks). I try to be more consistent these days. A good day is when I’m able to knock out at least 1,000 words. I do miss my binge sessions though. They were fun, but as a producer in talk radio, I just don’t have that kind of free time to do that any longer.
What book (or book series) do you wish you had written?
That’s a hard question, I’ve been thinking about this for awhile now.
I think I’d love to have written… hmm…
I think I’d like to have written something that affects people. Something like The Jungle, or Brave New World. Something totally subversive while at the same time being totally accessible to people.
Who stars in the movie adaptation of The Twelve Stones?
Wow, I love this question, mostly because I started The Twelve Stones as a series of screenplays back in 2004, so this is something I’ve thought about since the series’ inception. Over the years, a few of the actors have changed, but, I think this is a pretty good list of who would look like who.
Alex McCray: Zac Efron
Emily Harper: Alison Brie
Scott Ermy: A Michael Cera/Jesse Eisenberg type
Christina Ip: Great question. Ten years ago, I had Lucy Liu as the character here, now, I can’t see her as anything but Watson. I’d say Skye from Agents of SHIELD, but again, that’s a little too close to The Twelve Stones and she likely wouldn’t be available for it. So long as it’s a smart ass Chinese woman, I’m happy.
Rupert Kline: Paul Gross (I know that’s not a big name, but, he starred on a CBS show back in the 90’s called Due South as a Mountie who pursuing his father’s killer. Fantastic actor who is incredibly underrated).
Geoffrey Tate: Dean Norris. I’m a sucker for Breaking Bad and the dude is perfect for the role as I’ve written it. Just one of those happy coincidences.
If you had to offer one piece of advice to a young writer, what would it be?
Hey you! Young writer. Don’t pretend you’re going to be the next big thing if you aren’t writing every day. No one is guaranteed success. Do the work.
In your opinion, who have been the top three Saturday Night Live cast members in the show’s history?
Oh, great question! Undoubtedly, SNL has been one of my favorite shows on TV since I was ten years old. But, how do you measure the top three performers from a show that’s been on for over thirty years? Success after SNL? Or willing to do anything on camera, and writing a great sketch every week? Personally, I’m a fan of the cast members who showed up week after week doing the work.
So, in a very incomplete list, I’ve listed the three cast members I enjoy the most.
1) Chris Farley – RIP
2) Will Ferrell – I’ve forgiven him for Anchorman 2. It was a long road, but we made it.
3) Tim Meadows – Absolute star who didn’t get enough recognition post-SNL.
By the way, the top three currently starring:
1) Taran Killam – I actually starred in a play (The Music Man) with him when I was in the 8th grade. Great story in this.
2) Cecily Strong – Watch her. She’s going to be everywhere in five years. If only she’d break up with Mike O’Brien (another cast member), then she’d be perfect!
3) Nasim Pedrad – She gets no screen time, but she’s awesome every. single. time.
Tell me about the 8th grade play. How did that come about? What was your role, and how did it go?
It was just apparent from the get go that the kid was a star. It was just a great experience for all of us that probably had a big hand in shaping all the kids who participated in one way or another. I know it did for me. Think Sandlot, but for drama geeks. Most people aren’t lucky enough to recognize the pivotal moments in their life while they’re happening, but, I got a glimpse into it at the time, and I’ve been forever grateful for that.
What are you working on next?
Right now I’m working on a few projects, but primarily I’m trying to get the fourth book of The Twelve Stones out. (The Twelve Stones: Ideasthesia). As soon as I’m done with that, I’m probably going to go back to Mars with my Martian P.I. series (something I’m incredibly passionate about). Then again, I may just finish The Twelve Stones series with the fifth book, just to get it done for the fans. People have been incredibly generous when it comes to my first book series. Who am I to stand in their way of giving me money for it?