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.

 


“Tabitha’s Death”: a Y.A. novel that dares to journey into taboo realms

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Tabitha’s Death, by Jordan Elizabeth is a dark fantasy journey into death and beyond. This book is masterfully crafted to present the often taboo subjects of depression, cutting and teen suicide. Speaking as someone who has lost a son to teen suicide, I thought the subject matter was handled with sensitivity and tact. Even as a work of fiction, Tabitha’s Death carries messages many teens may need to hear.

Tabitha thinks she wants to die and tries to take her own life, but she finds it’s not that easy.  The Grey Man snatches her away from death and won’t let her die until she completes certain tasks for him. As she journey’s through the strange realms beyond death, she learns that there’s more going on beyond death’s doors than she’d realized and her life maybe wasn’t so bad.

A truly inspirational approach to Y.A. fiction, resulting in an entertaining, yet thought provoking story. I give Tabitha’s Death five quills.

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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.


Jeff’s Pep Talk: Finding the Right Writing Group

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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!

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


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“Flower Fairies: Portal to the Land of Fae”: A delightful introduction for young and old

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Flower Fairies, by Judy Mastrangelo, is book 1 in her Portal to the Land of Fae series and a delightful introduction into their world, no matter what your age. Each page is filled with colorful images which highlight the natural world and enmesh it with the world of fantasy. Laugh with fairies and elves as they dance and play among the plants and flowers. Manstrangelo’s bright illustrations bring her well crafted descriptions to life and immerse you within the imaginary world of fea. There is no age restriction on the hearts these tiny fairy children will capture.

I’m looking forward to my next adventure into this magical land when I read the rest of the books in this series. I give Flower Fairies five quills.

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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.


“Not My Father’s House”: A work of historical fiction true to western genre

Not My Father's House

Historical fiction has almost as many flavors as there are time periods to write about. Not My Father’s House, by Loretta Miles Tollefson is an historical novel with a western flavor that leaves the reader smacking their lips for more. A true frontier wilderness tale, Tollefson takes true events and places from the annals of the wild backwoods of old New Mexico territory and crafts a tale of the struggles and hardships of frontier life in the untamed mountain wilderness.

Suzanna is a young bride of mixed blood, soon to be a mother when she moves from her father’s home in the village of Don Fernando de Taos, venturing into the backwoods of New Mexico territory to make a home of her own and raise her family with her husband Gerald and their friend Ramon. She knew she’d have to battle the elements and critters in the untamed mountain valley, but she never expected to have to battle with herself when cabin fever sets in each winter. Nor did she ever imagine that her biggest threat in the wilds would come from a predator that stalks her on two legs instead of four.

A story of female strength and courage in a time when the lands were still wild. Not My Father’s House is a finely crafted story in the western tradition. I give it five quills.

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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.


Stalking horror and dark fiction in October

Horror & Dark Fiction Theme Post

In screenwriting, horror is very formulaic. The setting isolates the characters in a situation where their lives and/or souls are in jeopardy and the characters always make poor choices which throw them directly into the path of the psycho serial killer/monster, i.e. the villain. This horror movie commercial for Geiko sums up horror movies nicely: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYae3ZAAbLc. I get a kick out of it every time I watch it. But that isn’t to say that there are no good movies. When done right, horror movies can keep you awake at night because they play on our deepest fears. And fear is a powerful emotion.

In October Writing to be Read has been stalking horror and dark fiction. In fiction, horror stories don’t have to be as formulaic as horror films, (although they can be), but they have many of the same components. There is usually a battle of good vs. evil, as horror and dark fiction stories seem a natural fit for this theme. Dark fiction stories mesh well with fantasy, thrillers, science fiction and western genres, among others. They just seem to work well together. Whatever flavor of dark fiction you choose to examine, horror is, and always has been, in high demand.

You can’t have a conversation about horror and dark fiction without hearing mention of the masters such as Edgar Allen Poe, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Dean Koontz, and Anne Rice. These dark minds have created some of the most memorable horror stories, ones which stick in readers’ minds because they are so twisted, and dark, and horrific, playing on the fears we harbor within ourselves. Stephen King and Anne Rice are the masters of horror for me. Who is your favorite horror author? Let me know in the comments below.

This month we looked at two award winning and best selling authors of dark fiction on not one, but two segments of “Chatting with the Pros”, who may be right up there with the best of them: Paul Kane and Jeffrey J. Mariotte, and a double review featuring Kane’s Arcana and Mariotte’s Cold Black Hearts. In addition, I interviewed author Roberta Eaton Cheadle about her first dark fiction novel and the transition from writing children’s stories into writing horror, and I reviewed that novel, Through the Nethergate. And “Growing Bookworms” Robbie Cheadle discussed the pros and cons of allowing children to read stories with scary or sad content.

 

 

 

In addition, this month myself and three of the Writing to be Read team members: Art Rosch, Robbie Cheadle and Jeff Bowles, have stories in the WordCrafter paranormal anthology, Whispers of the Past, and Robbie and I both have stories appearing in Dan Alatorre’s horror anthology, Nightmareland.

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It’s been a great month for horror,and to top it all off, WordCrafter is co-hosting a Halloween book event on Facebook with Sonoran Dawn Studios, the All Hallow’s Eve: Little Shop of Horrors Party. With games and giveaways with cool prizes, music and scary audio stories, it should be a lot of fun. I hope you’ll click on the link and drop in and spend some or all of your Halloween with us: https://www.facebook.com/events/2389123051407696/ 

 

Like this post? Let me know in the comments. You can be sure not to miss any of Writing to be Read’s great content by subscribe to e-mail or following on WordPress. If you found it helpful, please share.

 

 

 


Spend Your Halloween at the “All Hallows Eve: Little Shop of Horrors Party” Book Event

Book Event Promotion

It’s almost Halloween! Don’t sit home and be bored. WordCrafter is partying with Sonoran Dawn Studios with the All Hallow’s Eve: Little Shop of Horrors Party on Facebook.

  • Free promotion for authors
  • Music
  • Audio stories
  • Games and giveaways with great prizes

The author voted best scary audio story will receive a $25 Amazon gift card, so come party with us and let your vote be counted. Join in the fun and support your favorite authors on Thursday, October 31st. Just click on the link below and then click ‘Going’.

Author takeover slots are still available, but time is short, so contact Sonoran Dawn Studios from the event page to reserve your time slot now. Bring all of your ghosts, goblins and ghouls and let’s party! See you there!

All Hallow’s Eve: Little Shop of Horrors Party

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