Questions for Author BC Johnson: Ghostlight
Can you tell your readers something about why you chose this particular topic to write about? What appealed to you about it? Why do you think it is different and your approach is unique?
Ghostlight is about a pretty classic theme: the evil that men do. It's basically the idea that a normal-looking group of young men can be capable of some truly heinous stuff. I remember reading a news story awhile back about a football team that sexually assaulted a girl at a party, and then recorded themselves describing just what they did to her / thought of her.
It horrified me, obviously, but it's also just shocking and mundane. They were so casual about what they'd done, so pleased with themselves and effortlessly cruel. We like to think of evil as hiding in the shadows, as wearing a set of horns and polishing a sinister white cat, but that just isn't so. The true ugliness is right there, right where we live.
I'd say my approach is different or at least semi-unique because the evil in the book is being performed by normal humans, and the good is being done by a supernatural undead person. So that was kind of fun to play with.
How long do you think about a topic before deciding to write about it? Do you have a set of notes or a note book where you write down topics that appeal before making a decision as to which topic this time?
My "system" is chaos married to madness. Some books I've spent months (even years) thinking about before I typed a single word, and others began only with a cursory notion before I leaped into the first chapter. The first Deadgirl came to me all at once, beginning and end, and I typed it out and figured out logistics as I went. Deadgirl: Ghostlight came to me in bits and pieces; I'd been thinking about it for at least a year. Then I meticulously outlined and plotted the story, scene by scene, which is not even remotely how the first book was written.
For notes, it's all over the place. I have a two silver boxes full of index cards on my desk, where I put "Current Project" ideas and "Other Project" ideas. I also use Microsoft OneNote, or I email ideas to myself, or I sketch them out on the backs of flyers or napkins or Ikea instruction booklets. The rest is done with Scrivener as I write the book. It's a wonder I get anything written at all.
How long does it take to research a topic before you write? And for this book?
I try do enough research to seem like I know what I'm talking about, but no so much that it'll stifle me. If facts get in the way of a good story, I'll blow them up, I honestly have no problem with that. It's a hard line to walk, but entertainment is more important to me than getting minutia straight.
But, I'll generally take a few weeks to brush up on the really important stuff in my story. Make sure I'm comfortable with it. Luckily, the Deadgirl books co-opt a lot of my own experience in junior high and high school, so I don't have to reach too far.
There's a big chunk of Deadgirl: Ghostlight that's about drama class and live theater, and I was IN Drama in junior high and I worked in live theatre for nine years. Didn't have to do much research for that, obviously.
What resources do you use for research? In general and for the last book that you wrote?
I go big to small. I start with somewhere like Wikipedia, which is a great place to get the general sketch of something. Then I use the listed sources and try to dig closer to the specifics. If I can get a book about the subject I prefer that way, but I'll watch YouTube "how to" videos or published medical pieces online or even Reddit AMAs ("Ask Me Anything") from experts who seem knowledgeable. Obviously I try to double-check facts I get online, but it's a lot easier to get real information if you've got an eye for it.
How many times have you been rejected before your first novel was accepted or before this book was accepted?
Human mathematics wasn't designed to calculate that kind of number. It's high though. Dozens upon dozens of times from agents, and then once I got an agent (the wonderful ladies at the Belcastro Literary Agency), I got rejections from tons of publishers. It's just part of the game. Then, when it finally did get published, the first publisher went out of business. Curiosity Quills not only picking it up, but greenlighting three sequels, felt like some kind of crazy mushroom-induced unicorn dream.
Would you recommend self-publishing and building an audience before approaching a publisher? If so, what benefits do you see that it might have for the aspiring novelist?
There are plenty of self-published authors who are very successful (more successful than me, for sure), so take this advice with a huge boulder of salt.
But, for me, I would recommend trying to get published traditionally first. Self-publishing is always out there for you, it's something you can turn to at any time. In fact, I have a few things of my own self-published, just because I wanted to see how that side of things worked (also because one of my books was super, duper weird and publishers couldn't make heads or tails of it).
The self-published market is absolutely flooded to the eyeballs, and it's difficult to draw attention to your work unless you already have an audience from some other venue. If you have a popular food blog and you want to write a story about a cook who travels the world, I'd 100% recommend self-publishing and then marketing to your food blog audience. Then, if it gets big enough, approaching publishers would be a great route.
If you're just another non-famous urban fantasy author (like myself), standing out without a publisher or agent to help you is going to be a job of work. There's a huge element of luck – right place, right time, right person who reads it and shares it with their audience. Plus, some reviewers don't even review self-published stuff, which makes an already difficult marketing job even harder.
I'd say just try traditional publishing. Send out a bunch of query letters (you'll get a cornucopia of rejections, don't take them personally) – it's free, after all. The only price is time and incipient carpal tunnel. If it doesn't work out, no harm, no foul, and you can self-publish and start building your audience.
However, it's totally dependent on your temperament, your subject, and your lot in life. If you're a go-get-'em type-A person then self-publishing might be a hoot, a personal challenge to be conquered.
I'm more of the "drink quietly and make up stories" type of writer, and I need those beautiful Type-As to make it work for me. And I love them for it.