S. I. Hayakawa once said, “It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish.” One of Tom Johnson’s favorite quotes, he has certainly created many lives to live in his collection of published books. Tom who mostly writes fantasy, superhero, and mystery books took some time to answer some questions for Books to Read.
1. When did you know you wanted to write books?
Tom: I’ve had the writing bug since about age 10 when I tried to write and draw a horror comic book story. In the early 1960s I was stationed with the US Army in France and working as desk sergeant for the MPs. While the units were on patrol, keeping the world safe from communism, I started creating characters and writing short action scenes, but now I was interested in jungle stories like Tarzan – I had recently discovered Edgar Rice Burrough.
2. What was your first book published? Give a brief synopsis.
Tom: My first published book was a non-fiction in 1980 when I researched a popular hero character from the pulps, an early spy called Secret Agent X. But if you wish, let’s go back a bit. Remember those slow nights I tried to create fiction in France? Well, after a tour in the jungles of Vietnam in 1970 the writing bug wouldn’t leave me alone and I took some of those characters and plots I created in France and wrote two SF novels in pencil, Jur: A Story of Pre-Dawn Earth and Savage Land of Jur. I had the first story typed into manuscript and made copies and sent them to SF publishers. The rejection slips started coming in just as fast as I mailed them out. So I stuck the manuscripts in a drawer and concentrated on learning the writing craft. Through the 1970s I wrote articles for magazines, and newspaper columns, and it was during this time that my first book was published, the non-fiction research into Secret Agent X.
3. What inspired you to write the story?
Tom: I had been collecting the pulp literature of the 1930s & ‘40s, and noticed that little was really known about some of the early magazine heroes of that period, and the magazines were still cheap and fairly easy to obtain, so I bought complete runs of most of the character pulps and started reading and researching them. My wife and I also started a hobby magazine called ECHOES in 1982 under our new imprint, FADING SHADOWS. ECHOES quickly picked up readers from the US, Canada, Europe, Africa, and Japan, and fans of the old pulp magazines began contributing articles and art. We published ECHOES for 22 years, ending in December 2004. In 1995, we had started fiction magazines also under the FADING SHADOWS imprint, and these also ran until December 2004, a run of nine years with new stories in the pulp tradition. I was also writing new stories during this period, and in 2002, after a suffered a stroke, I rewrote that first JUR novel with the help western author, James Reasoner, and submitted it again. It was finally accepted and the publisher wanted the second novel, and a third. After a lot of rewrites I was finally publishing those old plots I created in France so long ago.
4. What was your feeling the first time you held your first published book in your hands?
Tom: Well, of course, I bought a lot of extra copies to give to all my family and friends. I had struggled to become a writer, and to finally see a book in my hand, whether the 1980 non-fiction on Secret Agent X, or the 2002 fiction novel, Jur: A Story of Pre-Dawn Earth, my dream had finally come through.
5. What is you latest book? Brief synopsis. Tom: Several more of my non-fiction research books were eventually published, as well as more novels, short story collections, and anthologies. My most recent fiction novel is The Man In The Black Fedora, which has been receiving some nice reviews. “Crime is on the rise in New York. Teams of professional thieves rob an art gallery and museum, while across town hoodlums murder elderly shop owners. From the chaos rises a new hero! His team will challenge the underworld for a reckoning.”
6. Are you working on anything now?
Tom: I’m writing children stories right now. A Canadian publisher is preparing his 5th anthology, and I’ve been writing for his anthologies since Volume 3, with several stories per volume
7. What did you want to be “when you grow up” as a child? If it changes explained why your aspirations evolved.
Tom: I wanted to be an entomologist while in high school, but a poor boy wasn’t going to college without money. I joined the Army for a couple of reasons, the first was to get away from ranch and farm life. My dad was a cowboy and wanted me to follow in his footsteps. The Army was a better choice for me than working a life as a cowboy. The Army put me in the MPs, and I liked Army life, and decided to make a career in the military, thus I never continued my schooling for entomology or paleontology (another deep love). However, I never lost my interest, either, and readers will find something about both entomology and dinosaurs in my books.
8. Anyone(s) who you contribute to you wanting to be a writer? Tom: The great writers of the pulp magazines, and that includes Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan), Robert E. Howard (Conan), Lester Dent (Doc Savage), Walter B. Gibson (The Shadow), and the classics like Call of The Wild, White Fang, Treasure Island, etc.
9. What advice would you give someone who wants to publish their first book?
Tom: Never give up. If you’ve got the writing bug, there is no hope for you, you are going to be a writer, so tough it out. You’ll make it. Look how long it took me.
10. With the knowledge you have now about publishing books what advice would you give yourself years back when you first started?
Tom: Take writing courses. Learn the in-roads to writing, and read the genre you want to write.
11. Where can we find you and your books (website, email, social media, etc.)