J. Johnson Higgins is the author of Legend of the Dark Messiah series.
J. Johnson Higgins began his writing from a young age. In elementary school he was once asked to write a short myth as an assignment. From that point forward he continued writing short stories about magic and alternate worlds for fun. He continued this process on into his college years.
His first novel, The Mask and the Sword, was published in 2007 and reissued in 2010. The novel is largely recognized as a refreshing new take on the fantasy genre that combines an original modern-feeling world with a page-turning political conspiracy nicely woven into the plot. He has since published a sequel, Volume II – A Wicked Storm and has additional publications forthcoming.
He is a fantasy and horror author, policy analyst, and musician holding a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, a Master’s in Public Policy, and is a current Ph.D. student attending the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). He currently lives in Maryland.
What’s your favourite part of the lifestyle of an Author?
My favourite part is getting inspiration for my stories from the most random things that the average person would not think twice about. For example, I may be riding the train and see a person outside while I’m waiting and, without knowing anything about their personality, pick up a profound vibration from them and know that I’d like to replicate that instantaneous aura when I introduce a new character I have in mind. I really enjoy life in those random moments and it makes you appreciate everyone’s quirks. Who would we be without them?
What made you start writing?
I first started writing things when I was pretty young. I made up characters, drew pictures of them, and sometimes wrote short stories to go along. That creative process never really stopped but the stories just became more and more sophisticated. I believe the taste for writing started when I was in school.
Is there an Author that you consider your inspiration?
I have a few. The first is James Patterson for reminding me that novels can get to the point quickly and be a lot of fun; they don’t all have to be “loose and baggy monsters.” Another is Robert Ludlum for having a writing style that produces vivid images in my mind as actions take place. I like to do the same. Last, I’m a huge fan of the late Stieg Larsson. As a fiction author myself who regularly writes about female lead characters with truly supportive male companions, I find it encouraging seeing others who are clearly feminist in their creative work and activists in their behaviours and actions outside of it, too. I think we could use more Steig Larrsons in the world.
What’s your number one tip for an aspiring Author?
Use an outline, bullet points, or a storyboard. Prewriting helps build your confidence in the trajectory of the story as a whole so that you can focus on the minor details as you go and not be overwhelmed by the size of the project.
What type of book do you like to read and does this differ from the genre that you prefer to write?
I notice that I like to read modern fiction, classic 19th century novels, and historical non-fiction; conversely, I typically write what is considered fantasy, urban fantasy, and I’m moving in the direction of horror these days. I used to read a little fantasy when I was much younger but not much at all these days.
Which one of your characters would you most like to spend time with?
That’s a hard one. It’s either Rebecca from my forthcoming novel Francis Oblivion and the Bad Undead or Shelly from my series Legend of the Dark Messiah. If I had to pick one, I suppose it would be Shelly. She’s a fun and interesting personality and we have a lot in common from the get-go. She plays the guitar really well, goes to shows all the time, and is kind of a weirdo who wears it on her sleeve. I feel like in real life, I’d probably run into her frequently and might even be compelled to ask her out, if I could work up the courage.
Which book do you consider a must-read?
Probably Jane Eyre. That book exemplifies the inner voice of a character telling the reader what they are thinking, how they feel, how they perceive things, and there’s a reliable & trustworthy narrator. That’s a winning combination, in my opinion. Also, I notice that any description given to the reader eventually gets used later. There’s no waste in the system. I like that. I can’t stand a book that describes in great detail things that are actually not important to the characters or the direction of the story.
What’s been the hardest edit that you’ve had to make? Why did you want to keep the material in?
This sort of speaks to my last point. I’d written a scene where Cassidy and Sebastian—the lead and a supporting character in the Legend of the Dark Messiah series—travel through a network of secret passageways under the city to get to a special rendezvous point. I know this occurred but because of editing, the reader isn’t aware or even told about it. It was reduced to Sebastian simply saying that he knows of a faster way. The scene was neat, would have made the world more detailed, and would have made the growing positive interaction between the two characters more continuous but honestly, it wasn’t necessary in the grand scheme of things so I cut it in order to keep the tension strong and keep the pages turning.
If you could live in a book, which one would it be?
Living in a book and liking a book are 2 very different ideas. Strangely, I’d never want to live in the twisted worlds that I often read about. I can’t say I would want to live in any. Life’s hard enough without someone (or something) actually trying to kill me at every turn. That’s interesting.
If you could pick an author to write your biography, who would it be?
I would pick Larry S. Gibson. He wrote a biography covering Thurgood Marshall’s early years titled Young Thurgood. He seems meticulous with the historic details but didn’t make the storytelling aspect suffer as a result. He’s good at highlighting the key points among many relevant ones that one could probably spend all day discussing.
Is there any conflict between what you want to write and what you think your readers will like?
There is the occasional reader who expects that because my writing is considered “fantasy” that it must conform to all of the common conventions. The only convention I maintain is that magic is the core subject matter but I tend to deviate on everything else.
Also, I deliberately leave some physical descriptions of my characters vague. I do this because I have a very active imagination that always fills in blanks differently each time I read and write. That is, I like to give their broader demeanour, the fact that they are attractive or not, or wear glasses, etc. but I might not goes as far as to define the beauty, plainness, ugliness, etc. for the reader because I’ve tended not to like when other authors have attempted to do it for me. I only ever provide more detail when it is meant to stand out from the norm or is a trademark feature—Cassidy has pink hair, Rebecca has a scar on her face, and Shelly’s hair is short and boyish for example. Similar to the way a playwright or screenwriter leaves the specifics up to the casting director and the actor could be almost anyone capable of delivering the performance, I like to leave some aspects of their physical being up to the reader; they become the casting director. I’m sure someone hates me for it but you’d be surprised at how many people tell me that they saw the character so clearly as a result. It’s because their mind casted the role. I’m teaching people to use their imagination while focusing on the character I’ve written.
What effect can a review have on you, if you read them at all? Both the good and the bad.
I read these when I get them but mostly to see if anyone has made any worthwhile observations that I haven’t considered about my writing. I tend to ignore the negatives because I’d decided a long time ago that I was already writing the kinds of stories that I wish someone out there would write. At least I liked it. Someone will always have something to say and I encourage them to write their own story if mine did not work for them.
Can you sum up your life story in ten words or less?
Constant mental activity with occasional products demonstrating that I existed.
What’s exciting you about your next project?
My next project is a novel currently titled Francis Oblivion and the Bad Undead. The manuscript is complete but it’s not out yet, as of this interview. It’s a different genre than I usually write in. It’s my first full-length horror novel and it’s also written in first person. I tend to write in third-person. These points have made it a bit more of a challenge but I’ve really enjoyed it. This is a vampire novel that harkens back—pun intended—to the type of vampire story found in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Francis is not a love interest, an anti hero, or a hero; he’s an elusive, persistent, and terrifying villain who operates in the heroine’s periphery, where I imagine vampires might actually be if we were to ever encounter them. We would be prey that doesn’t quite understand what’s happening around us. The delivery method also follows techniques found in other classic horror novels like Frankenstein and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s a collection of matter-of-fact and odd accounts that together paint the full picture that no one character has access to but the reader does. I think readers will enjoy it.
Thanks to J for some really fascinating insights into his work, we can’t wait for Francis Oblivion and the Bad Undead, it sounds amazing!
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