A Farewell Tribute to Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture

Last week, we lost a dear friend of mine and a member of the Writing to be Read author family, Tom Johnson. Tom was a multi-genre writer for most of his life, mostly pulp fiction in the traditions of the classics, but in recent years, he dedicated himself to children’s fiction, with the intentions of creating stories for today’s children which reflect old fashioned values and morals in the traditions of the stories his mother read to him as a child. Tom took part in Round 2 of my “Ask the Authors” blog series, (which will become a published book by WordCrafter Press soon), and I interviewed Tom about his children’s stories back in 2018. He had some great things to say about writing for children that may be relevant here, since the Writing to be Read theme for November is young adult and children’s fiction. With that in mind, I’m reprinting that interview in part here, (you can read the full interview here), as we remember our friend and fellow author. Tom may be gone, but his wisdom lives on. This is what writing for children meant to him.


Kaye: Although in the past, you’ve written and published many different genres, you are currently writing only children’s stories. So, let’s talk about that. Tell me a little about your stories.

Tom: My children stories are about 1k and meant as bedtime tales, and to be read in classroom or library settings. They are short stories with little morals to teach children something about life.

Kaye: Are they a series or stand alone?

Tom: They are a series, and published in anthologies about once a year. There have been four anthologies so far. I was invited to participate beginning in volume #3. The anthology is called Wire Dog Storybook. Here is the background. True story. A young girl, Ellen Walters, asked her father, David Walters, if she could have a dog, and he said, “No.” So she found an old wire hanger and shaped it to resemble a dog, and called it wire dog. David Walters was fascinated by her ingenuity and created the Wire Dog storybooks. So the stories usually feature Ellen and Wire Dog, but always Wire Dog. Five of my stories have been published so far, and I’ve written three more for the 2018 yearbook when it comes out at the end of the year.

Kaye: What age group are they aimed at?

Tom: I feel that we should begin reading to our children by age one. With that in mind, my stories are aimed at the age group of 1 to 5. However, older children will enjoy the stories, as do adults.

Kaye: What differences do you see between writing for children and writing adult fiction?

Tom: Adult fiction usually means, “no holds barred”, while writing children stories you want to stay away from violence, horror, and adult themes. Keep in mind, young children absorb what they hear quickly, and some themes could have an adverse effect on young minds. When writing for children we must keep this in mind.

Kaye: What appeals to you about writing for children?

Tom: Do you remember the old radio show for kids, Let’s Pretend ? It produced shows for children that acted out fairy tales and light adventures – nothing as harsh as today’s cartoons that are aimed at our youth. Well, I have the chance to import my love for adventure in tales easily understood by young people; children who some day may also experience that same love to pass on to their children. Stories that give our children a moral to live by, not “It’s clobbering time!” Or Pow! Bang! Boom! It’s something my mother did for me when I was little, and now I have the same opportunity, and I’m not going to pass it up.

Kaye: You have wanted to write for children since you were little and your mother used to read to you.

Tom: Oh, yes. I hope that mothers are still reading to their children. They learn at such a young age, and we’re missing an opportunity if we fail them when they’re young. They will never forget what they learn as children, it’s when their minds are growing and grasping at everything. I think one of the first words they learn is, “Why?”

Kaye: What were your favorite children’s stories?

Tom: Really, I would have to look them up in the book of fairy tales on my shelf. There were so many she read to me. Knights saving young damsels come to mind. I remember one particular fairy tale where the princess was on a glass mountain, and the young knight had to save her. She watched each day as a knight riding brown horse attempts to scale the glass mountain, then a knight on a white horse, and so on, until the final day when a knight riding a great steed scales the mountain, and we find out that he was the knight on the brown horse, the white horse, etc. It wasn’t the color of the horse, but the persistence of the knight that finally achieved the goal.

Kaye: In what ways do the stories you write emulate those favorites from your childhood?

Tom: Like the fairy tale I mentioned above, my stories will also have a similar moral – it’s not the color of the horse, or the knight’s armor, but his persistence that wins the hand of the princess. Do the right thing, for the right reason. Persevere. If you don’t succeed today, try and try again.


The stories that we hear and read in childhood often stick with us into our later years. Even though Tom wrote other fiction through the years, as he grew older, it was the stories that his mother read to him as a child that inspired him. That’s what writing children’s fiction is all about.

Tom Johnson Books

Tom’s other works included pulp, crime and science fiction stories right up there with the best, and many may be familiar with his promotions for them on Facebook. His covers seem to reach out and grab your attention.  He published over eighty books during the span of his career. In that previous interview, Tom claimed that Alien Skies was born from his most unusual inspiration and the Guns of the Black Ghost was written as a homage to Walter Gibson’s The Shadow radio drama. You can read my review of Pangaea: Eden’s Planet here.

Tom Johnson and wife Ginger

Writing was a big part of Tom’s life. It was important to him. But, Tom was more than just a talented and dedicated writer. He was also a loved life partner to his lovely wife Ginger. She was supportive of his writing, and I believe she edited some, or perhaps all of his work. With Ginger at his side, Tom lived a life doing what he loved – bringing his characters to life.

Tom, farewell. You will live on through the plethora of books and stories you’ve left us with, but you will still be greatly missed.


Are you a Tom Johnson fan? If so, feel free to leave a few words in the comments telling us what Tom meant to you, or share a memory, or just tell me which of his books is your favorite.  Thank you all for joining me in saying good-bye.

 


Jeff’s Pep Talk: Finding the Right Writing Group

Jeff's Pep Talk2

Finding the Right Writing Group

Every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

A good writing group is something of a rarity. Not because there aren’t hordes of talented writers out there looking to provide and receive feedback in a friendly, encouraging environment, but because finding a writing group that complements your own experience and skill level can be tricky.

I’ve belonged to several writing groups, and I’ve even backed out of a couple because I could tell they wouldn’t be a good fit. It’s good to have a group, especially if you’re just starting out. The feedback provided by peers can be enormously conducive to leapfrogging higher and higher up the skill chain. Sort of like leveling up in a role-playing game. Forgive me for mixing metaphors, but my level ten warlock leapfrogger was once a paltry and underpowered level one.

A lot of us come from a liberal arts background, so we’re familiar with what a writing group entails. Many humanities majors find college-level workshops and seminars frustrating, because the feedback offered can vary so wildly from asinine to inspired to well-meaning yet unhelpful. Like I said, skill level is important. One of the first criterions for finding a group that fits is understanding you won’t get much out of peers who’re more or less skilled than you are. It may sound kind of cold, but don’t join a group of newbies if you aren’t one. You’ll have to be honest with yourself here. It just won’t do you any good if you can’t incorporate someone’s feedback because it’s either too advanced or too basic.

Another major criterion for finding a good group is to meet with people who have similar tastes and interests. Probably not going to help much to show your young adult romance novel to a bunch of hardcore military sci-fi buffs. Well, not necessarily. It’s not so much that folks who’re interested in other genres can’t help you. It’s just that they’re not as likely to know the ins and outs of what you do, and that can be problematic if they encourage you to change elements of your stories that are perfectly fine and otherwise perfectly saleable.

Internet writing groups can be a great place to start. My first major group out of college was an online science fiction forum. I shoveled a hell of a lot of stories through that place, and the feedback I received proved enormously helpful. The other writers there preferred a different strain of speculative fiction than I did, but my style and theirs were close enough it didn’t matter in the long run. Plus, I got to develop my voice in a dynamic environment, exacting, demanding, yet also encouraging. That’s kind of the sweet spot.

Finding an online group is as easy as a Google search. For the more agoraphobic amongst you, it doesn’t even require you to leave the house, but it stands to reason, meeting people face-to-face is almost always the preferred method. There’s likely to be some local writing groups in your area, especially if you live in the city. Just Google it; see what’s out there. Might take some trial and error, but if you can find a workshop environment you like, you might even be able to sniff out a publishing opportunity or two. Plus you get to socialize with other writers. We’re a friendly bunch, once you get to know us. Just don’t feed the horror guys. They’ve got something nasty growing in their guts.

Don’t forget, too, that there are plenty of great, more-or-less reasonably priced national workshops. Thousands of people pour into conferences, cons, and other smaller workshops every year, and participating in them can be pretty exciting. The basic point is that although you write in a vacuum, your work is ultimately meaningless if you can’t see its flaws and acquire the ability to revise appropriately and then publish it. And you want to get published, right? Right.

Last but not least, you could always go for an MFA. Speaking of seriously expensive, how about those Major of Fine Arts degrees, huh? I’m kidding (not at all kidding). I’m an MFA guy, so I know how valuable a good academic writing program can be. One thing of note, MFAs tend to focus on literary fiction, which means you’ll have to look around a bit if you’re more into the popular stuff. I come from such a place, however. I know from whence I speak.

MFA degrees are pricey, but the upshot is once you’ve got that nice shiny diploma, you can teach. Now that may either floor you or make you queasy. Not everyone is built for academia, after all. Still, to have the option, and to have acquired expertise along the way, it’s a valuable proposition, no?

The basic truth is that writers are pretty secluded creatures most of the time, and it can be of enormous benefit to get out into the world and exchange words and ideas with like-minded people. We never really grow out of the need for it, either. Sure, publishing may become easier the longer you do it, but the writing itself most assuredly won’t. And like I said, it’s difficult to see the flaws in our own work. Think like a muscle. Resistance make stronger.

And don’t be afraid if you’ve never been a part of something like this before. One of the biggest crimes I can think of in the world of art is talented people keeping that talent to themselves. They could be wonderful, masterful. Who’d ever know? You’ve got to start somewhere. Plus, having a good group often gives you that little kick in the ass you need to keep your nose to the grindstone. That’s never a bad thing. Gentle kicks in the ass, now. Remember, it’s a sensitive area.

Regardless of what road you travel by, keep working through the long months and years and eventually you’ll find the right alchemical reaction to become the writer you want to become. Just know that a good group can help you make the transition in half the time. Think long and hard about maintaining your personal writing bubble indefinitely. Good art does not, should not, and never will exist in a vacuum. I’ll stake my claim on that one.

Show people what you can do. Otherwise, all your significant, burgeoning ability is akin to a world-class meal prepared for four yet fed to the dog. Yeah, the dog’s happy, but he’s not likely to praise you for your exceptional flavors. Until next month, everyone. Pep talk over. Now go out there and be some doggy!

. . . body. Go out there and be somebody. Sorry.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

GB Cover

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s Pep Talk segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.


“Jeff’s Pep Talk” Delayed

Did you come here looking for great words of wisdom on “Jeff’s Pep Talk”? Don’t despair. You can find them this month on this Sunday, October 6, right here on Writing to be Read. Don’t miss it!


#Bookreview – The Long Walk by Stephen King (Richard Bachman)

via #Bookreview – The Long Walk by Stephen King (Richard Bachman)


Jeff’s Pep Talk: All Hail the Late Bloomers!

Jeff's Pep Talk2

All Hail the Late Bloomers!

By Jeff Bowles

The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.

It’s a forgone conclusion water never boils when you watch it. As aphorisms go, it’s kind of true, I guess. I know that in my own life, there have been times I’ve wanted something so bad, have focused on it so intensely, that it was almost no surprise I ended up with nada in the end. Do you feel that way about your writing career? Stuck? Unappreciated? Have you felt that way now for years or even decades?

It’s pretty rare for an aspiring author to strike gold on her or his first time out. Most writers accept this as fact, but I often wonder how many of us have internalized it. Stories of the ubiquitous wunderkind abound. It stirs our imaginations, the young upstart genius who, in earnest, works diligently to produce that one perfect novel and who, after a little effort, lands themselves a literary agent, then a book deal, then a movie deal, then…

But what about folks who don’t achieve much until they get a bit older? What about the late bloomer, who works just as hard as that young upstart, but for whom success has been slow in coming?

For a lot of people on the outside looking in, a writer’s inability to move the proverbial ball forward is often a sign of poor motivation, or worse, a lack of true talent. Unfortunately, the megastars have tainted the pool in this regard. For one, writers who achieve success while young tend to be tragically nonchalant about publishing and what it really takes for the vast majority of their peers to reach the same level. Selling yet another novel or short story is no big deal for them, and in my experience, more than a few of them fail to see the struggle the rest of us face. I don’t mean to call anyone out, of course. It’s just that perspectives shift wildly depending on who you talk to.

I don’t know about you, but I like to believe in a little thing called fate. Sometimes the things we want most just aren’t right for us, and it’s only after the fact, after we’ve struggled to attain them, that we realize we were perhaps meant for greener pastures. Whatever comes my way in life, I can’t actually argue with the cards I’ve been dealt, and neither can you. You can try, I suppose. Let me know in the comments section below how that’s worked out for you. Yeah, maybe it’s taking you longer to reach your goals than it took others. We can try to control things, buy self-help books, attend seminars about producing more commercially viable writing, but the reality of the situation is that thousands upon thousands of really talented folks struggle on a daily basis to be heard. It doesn’t mean we have to hate what we do. In fact, in can empower us to enjoy it even more.

There’s some solace to take if you’re perhaps getting on in life and are wondering if you should pack your silly writing dream up and focus on more worthwhile goals. Feeling dejected, rejected, and abused is not an age or experience thing. We all know what it’s like. The good news is that many of the most talented and successful authors you’ve ever heard of didn’t get their careers rolling until later in life. Bram Stoker, for example, didn’t publish his first story until the age of forty-three. And William S. Burroughs, the author of Naked Lunch, didn’t find the strength to take his writing seriously until the tragic death of his wife.

Luckily, you don’t need tragedy to learn the same lesson he did. It’s never too late. Not ever. You can’t predict when or where lighting will strike, and if you choose to quit, you won’t see all your effort pay off. It can’t be denied, there is something special about that wunderkind model. I wanted to be that guy. I’m sure more than a few of you did, too. But there’s also something to be said for experience, wisdom, patience, and dare I say it, deliberate and well-measured progress (also perhaps known as SLOOOOOOW progress).

So maybe you didn’t write a book until your kids were grown, your spouse had asked for a divorce, you lost your job, or whatever else you’ve been through in life. Isn’t it safe to say you’ve experienced things you and only you can write about? A treasure trove of experience, actually. And maybe you’ve read a few good books along the way, too.

We never know how much something means to us until we no longer have it. Never assume anything when it comes to this fate business. And don’t beat up that dead horse in your own mind. No, success is not a window that closes after a set time. Enjoy the work, love the craft, keep producing, and never stop dreaming. And I mean, it could be worse, right? You may have never started writing at all. Trust me on this one, folks, the world would be a far less magical place if you had.

Until next month!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

GB Cover

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s Pep Talk segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.


#Bookreview – Delilah a Frontier Romance by Kaye Lynne Booth

thumbnail.ebookvia #Bookreview – Delilah a Frontier Romance by Kaye Lynne Booth


The Numbers Killer: A Crime Thriller that keeps readers guessing

The Numbers Killer

Things aren’t always what they seem, and The Numbers Killer, by Jenifer Ruff is no exception. In this psycholigical thriller mystery, people are are turning up dead and Agent Victoria Roslin is a tough police investigator who must race to catch a killer. The stakes are raised even higher and the clock runs faster when it turns personal and Victoria is targeted. It seems the killer has her number. Can she solve the mystery of how the victims are connected. Can she catch the killer and catch the killer, or will she become the nest victim of the Numbers Killer?

The Numbers Killer is a well-crafted mystery that keeps readers guessing. There’s nothing cozy about this mystery. Ruff keeps the action moving and throws in plenty of surprise twists right down to the last pages. I give  it five quills.

five-quills3


Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.