I visited with author Johnny Worthen this week after reading his latest book, THE BRAND DEMAND. Johnny writes books I like to read and I wanted to give readers an insight into this mystery thriller, as well as pick his brain about some insider secrets for other aspiring authors.
Galen is political. Galen is fed up. Galen is a blackmailer.
A criminal and self-styled Robin Hood, Galen must face down a ruthless enemy who
does not share his ideological limitations.
In the footsteps of Edward Abbey’s THE MONKEY WRENCH GANG, THE BRAND
DEMAND follows a group of political activists who strike at the system with cunning and
guile while getting rich doing it.
Galen takes risks and money, but when his plans go awry, he quickly learns that politics
are no substitute for wits.
Galen has to come to grips with his own boundaries of action and love while running for
his life in Southern Utah. He has to stay under the radar, dodging skinheads and corporate
moguls, Latter Day Saints romance writers and cheating husbands and—of course and
Johnny, The Brand Demand is a departure from your previous works. When did you write it in relation to the others you’ve released?
I consider myself a multi-genre author. Since no one has asked me to specialize, I haven’t. “I write what I like to read. This guarantees me at least one fan.” Although my debut, BEATRYSEL is a literary horror, and my second book ELEANOR, THE UNSEEN begins a YA Paranormal trilogy, this is more a reflection of what was first out of the gate. Contemporary mystery/thriller is one of my favorite genres and I tend to write plenty of them. THE BRAND DEMAND is the first of this genre out of the gate, but not the last.
THE BRAND DEMAND was one of the first books I wrote. It was born out of the Bush years and my own frustration and imaginings. Over the years, I returned to it time and time again, tinkering and fixing, adjusting and reworking as my craft improved, until I could take it no further alone. Then I hired an editor in Nevada to help me fix it some more. When she was done, I sent it out in the world looking to get it published.
My main publisher, Jolly Fish Press, passed on it, thinking it was too controversial for that point in my career with them. JFP has me primarily as a YA author, though they are bringing out THE FINGER TRAP, a comedy noir detective thriller in the fall. They suggested I keep it in my quiver and they’d look at it again later on.
Being impatient, I didn’t wait. I submitted it to Cherokee McGhee, a small press in Virginia specializing in mysteries. Greg Lily, the publisher was wonderful to work with and bent over backwards with JFP to coordinate the release of THE BRAND DEMAND so as not interfere with my other releases this year. Another couple of edits, coordination on cover and stuff and I have become a mystery writer.
I’m not patient either! We could talk days about how you found the right publisher for your work – maybe we should in the future? But back to THE BRAND DEMAND, why a mystery with all these politics and religion thrown in?
Political ideology is the primary motivation for the protagonist, Galen Reed. It is his deeply felt beliefs in social justice that drives him to act. This ideology and its limitations and weak tethering are the crux of the book.
Religion is mentioned only insofar as it wields political power and is a central identifier in the community. THE BRAND DEMAND takes place in Utah and there is no separating the LDS church from the conservative politics in that state. Further, the LDS church has been known to reach well beyond Utah to influence social issues – Prop 8 in California being a prime example. To discuss politics in Utah and exclude the Mormon church would be dishonest.
That honest look at the world is largely what I loved about this book, as well as recognizing familiar places and history weaved in. The first chapter should come with a sensitivity warning – potentially pushing buttons left and right. Why risk possibly alienating readers in the opening pages?
I assume you’re talking about Levi, the bad bishop. THE BRAND DEMAND is an adult book. It looks at real situations, real dangers and real institutions in a fictitious way, strange as that sounds. The scene sets the theme and mood of the rest of the book; hypocrites and bad guys are made to feel uncomfortable and made to pay. What is a more telling example of a hypocrite that a clergyman taking advantage of his flock? In Utah, that flock must be Mormon. There are bad apples in every institution and to deny that is arrogance. Here I present someone who so goes against their beliefs as a philandering bishop that it becomes the perfect symbol for the rest of the book. Compare Levi to Galen as the book progresses and then at the ending.
I’m not attacking the religion, I’m attacking the hypocrites who preach it but don’t live it. I think it humanizes the church but I’ve seen that it can upset people. If they can make it through the first chapter and understand what I’m doing, readers should be in the proper mindset to understand and enjoy the rest of the book.
Well done. Personally, I love books that keep things real; grown up books that make no apologies about the world. Once past that chapter it becomes exactly as promised, a thriller that kept me guessing until the end. What is your secret to unpredictable twists?
THE BRAND DEMAND is a unique book for me because I woke one day and had the ending. I felt the triumph and tragedy of a single moment and then went to work building a book around that singular moment. I felt it like a sorrow, like a memory, an epiphany of understanding. I won’t say I worked backwards, but I always worked to that one moment.
To justify that moment, I needed a journey, I needed real life threats and stakes beyond anything a bourgeois zealot might expect to face. I needed my suburban activist to face real world pressures, violence and dangers. I needed him to realize a connection to what he was fighting for. The twists came from my cruelty in putting Galen through the trials he’d have to face to come to that moment. The details came from research and horror at the world we live in.
Is this a stand-alone novel or can readers expect more to come in Galen’s world?
Depending on the success of THE BRAND DEMAND and my publisher’s wishes, there might be more. I have laid a foundation. One thing to note for my loyal readers, is the unified world I create in my Utah novels. Characters from one book often appear in others. Look for Luke in THE FINGER TRAP this fall.
I saw the hidden gem in this one knowing your upcoming publications. I love when authors do that – a literary treasure hunt for those devoted fans. How long does it take you to write an average novel?
Honest, but lame answer: A lifetime. My life up to the point the book is finally sent to the printers is all incorporated into each book.
More useful answer: Once I decide on a project, I give myself one month to pre-write, outline and imagine, create characters, find names. Plan the attack with waypoint, scenes, ending, and theme – always theme. Once I have my pieces together, I try to write 1,666 words per day. I keep daily logs of my progress and make myself reach my goals as if it’s my job and I’ll be fired if I don’t. It’s kinda’ true and kinda’ not. It’s all insane mind-games to force me to put the black on the white. At this rate I get a book in about two months. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Then I edit the book. For some books, like THE BRAND DEMAND, the editing went on for years. For others, like my most recent works, a month is usually enough to get it where I want it to be. I write a synopsis or five and a blurb while it’s still fresh in my mind and then I let my readers have it for a run through. Then it’s off to market and I start another project.
Let’s stay on the subject of insider secrets for other aspiring writers. I envy you being this prolific writer, a new book releasing every few months. What I’m learning about the industry is most authors have numerous novels already finished while they keep their heads down, always writing more. How many of your books are written and waiting to sell?
I have written twelve novels as of now. Six have been picked up by publishers. Of the remaining six, five are ready to be picked up by a publisher. Two are in series that begins this fall (Tony Flaner in THE FINGER TRAP). I’m expecting my publisher to pick those up by and by. The others are being shopped to agents for larger markets.
Twelve. I have a lot of writing to do if I ever expect to find similar success. What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned so far on your journey?
On the bad side, rejections surprise me. I expected them, but I also thought I’d get used to them. I haven’t and they never stop. Writing as much as I do, trying as hard as I am, I’m putting myself out there all the time. Every day I get rejected for something. It’s mentally debilitating.
On the good side, I love the other authors I’ve met. They too suffer from the rejections. They are comrades in arms. I love talking about writing, sharing with other authors, and just hanging out. I’ve met so many different authors, different kinds, different backgrounds and everything, and yet I feel a kinship to them all. The only thing better than hanging out with a bunch of writers is hanging out with a bunch of fans of my books.
I would have to agree on the genuineness of the kinship with fellow writers. On the publishing front, are there more books we can look forward to? And if so, when?
Beyond THE BRAND DEMAND, this year I have the second book in THE UNSEEN trilogy: CELESTE. DAVID, THE UNSEEN BOOK THREE is schedule for 2016.
This fall, I release upon the world, my anti-hero slacker, detective, Tony Flaner, in the social commentary, comedy, mystery noir, THE FINGER TRAP.
While all this is happening, I’m placing my unsold titles. I have a literary horror called WHAT IMMORTAL HAND, that I won’t let go of until I get the right home. It’s awesome. I have a new crime thriller called A BLIND SQUIRREL that’s cool with a capital C. It’s one of my Utah novels so has characters from my other books in it. I just finished a YA adventure called ANDI KENDRICK: THINGS BEQUEATHED which will be a good follow-up for fans of THE UNSEEN trilogy. My un-ready book is a YA dystopian that I put aside to ferment for a while. And finally, this week marks the final days of my pre-writing for a Science Fiction book (and potential series). WIP name: Coronam.
I can’t wait to read all of them. Where can readers find and connect with you?
For locals in Utah, come out to the Sugarhouse Barnes & Noble, Saturday April 18th from 2:00-5:00 p.m. for the official BRAND DEMAND Launch party and signing shindig. Here’s the invitation to the Launch Party Shindig
Thanks for stopping by, Johnny! Readers can check out my Goodreads review of THE BRAND DEMAND HERE. It is a fabulous read so do yourself a favor and pick it up today.