Sunday, July 5, 2020

Quills 2020 Virtual Conference August 13-16th+


I want to invite all you writers out there to come to Quills, the League of Utah Writers Fall Writing Conference. This event will be virtual so the whole world can come. It’ll have scores of recorded classes that’ll be available for some time, including early access for those who register soon. there’ll be live Zoom workshops with great authors and teachers, me included, so that’s cool. Chances to pitch to agents and editor and a general virtual new normal Covid-19 writing fest. Here’s the flyer and check it out at August 13-16 plus (classes stay online for a while).

By the way, League of Utah members get $40 off the conference cost. Membership costs $30. You can thus get deep discount and join a League of Utah Chapter and Zoom in with us for critique and more writing goodness. Just saying. My main chapter is called the Infinite Monkeys. More info here: You don't have to live in the state to join. Lockdown has opened the world.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Great News in Johnnyland

I've been sitting on the news as it developed, as we moved through negotiations in a pandemic across time zones and oceans. For many moons I have been silent, waiting, hoping, working. Buoyed by my agent, Terri Baranowski at Gateway Literary, I told a few earlier this week, but now, for sure, today, it is in the can.

I have just signed the biggest contract of my career. My epic science fiction series has a publisher. And a really good one. Flame Tree Press has acquired the rights to my Coronam Trilogy!


Flame Tree is an international publisher with offices in New York and London, globally distributed through Simon and Schuster which makes me now an international author, or I will be when CORONAM begins in 2021.


Happy Dance!

I really adore this series. It’s timely, epic and vast. It’s Dune meets Childhood’s End with a detour through Sixteenth Century history and a long stop at Roanoke. I call it social science fiction because of its themes and rhythms.

It’s a happy day.

I may be locked in my house, cringing at current affairs beyond my control, but the contract is signed and I am exploding with excitement. Writers tend to be isolated souls, weathering constant rejection and loneliness, seeking validation of any kind. For any author, a moment like this is historic, meaningful and rare. A longed for relief that justifies the pain and confirms the faith.

Thanks for sharing this with me.

Stay tuned and stay safe,

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Grifty Shades of Fey

I had the honor of being part of an unusual project this past year. Fiction Vortex, always on the cutting edge of publishing, arranged for the publication of an anthology of original stories about Faeries, with undercurrents.

It's a handsome book and I share pages with such friends and inspirations as David Farland, Patti Larsen and Michaelbrent Collings. Michael Cluff is another great and longtime friend.

My contribution, A BARGAIN WELL MET, took me out of my comfort zone. I'm not a fantasy guy usually. Sci Fi I can do. gritty contemporary, magical realism, urban fantasy sure, but trope fantasy was a challenge. I finally focussed on my own back yard, on a piece of untended land our laziness has created but which has a long tradition. A fairy garden. The inspiration caught and one of my most tender stories ever was born.

If you're looking for a great read in these hard times, might I recommend GRIFTY SHADES OF FEY.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Charm

My WHAT IMMORTAL HAND just got a new cover. Here it is.

Pretty cool huh?

Why a new cover? Glad you asked. This is actually the book’s third cover. The first was this:

Then this:

Finally this:

I like them all. They’re all cool and eye-catching, but the first two failed to capture the essence of the book, at least from a marketing standpoint.

The book is a literary supernatural thriller, a horror perhaps. Compelling, scary, brooding, even disturbing. The previous covers failed to adequately express this. One would like to think that a cover is just a way to keep the pages together, but in the real world of commerce and business (shudder), it has to make promises of content and mood, so the buyer knows what they’re looking at, so they will be more informed to investigate, and so buy the book and so make everyone happy.

This is a great book. I am very proud of it, a feeling shared by my publisher. It is a testament to out faith in it that we are still tweaking this wonderful tale to expand its audience.

If you haven’t picked it up yet, do so now. I’ll wait. Amazon Link


Wednesday, January 1, 2020

My 2019 Reading Success

One of my 2019 resolutions was to read fifty books. I am here to announce that I hit that goal and more. As I make the same pledge again, fifty for 2020, let me share with you my lovely list of sixty—yes sixty books—that I consumed this year.

It is a potpourri of subjects, some self severing, some recollections. Fiction, non-fiction, read, listened to, written and edited. Not a moment spent reading these books was wasted, in fact having thoroughly embraced the literary lifestyle, I will confess that reading is an absolute joy. Do yourself a favor; read. There’s nothing like it. Pleasure, wisdom, fancy.

Books read by Johnny, 2019:

Writing as a Sacred Path, Jill Jepson
Becoming, Michelle Obama
Art Matters, Neil Gaiman
While Mortals Sleep, Kurt Vonnegut
The Curse of Lono, Hunter S. Thompson

Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis
The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran
Open Veins of Latin America, Eduardo Galeano
One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey
The Magic of Thinking Big, David J. Schwartz

Donn’s Hill, Caryn Larrinaga
The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien
How Dams Fall, Will Falk
No Sunscreen for the Dead, Tim Dorsey
Decline and Fall, John Michael Greer

Generation of Swine, Hunter S. Thompson
The Secrets of Story, Matt Bird
The Counterfeit Connection, Johnny Worthen
Beyond the Cabin, Jared Nathan Garrett
Rubberneck at the Cloud Nine Club (Club Cloud and Queen), Victor O’Neal

Nothing is True, Everything is Possible, Peter Pomerantsev
Song of the Lion, Anne Hillerman
Thicker Than Water, Johnny Worthen
2,000 to 10,000 Words, Rachel Aaron
Hocus Pocus, Kurt Vonnegut

Mr. Paradiso, Elmore Leonard
True Hallucinations, Terence McKenna
A Magical Education, John Michael Greer
Cave of Bones, Anne Hillerman
Squirm, Carl Hiaason

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
Homo Deus, Yuval North Harari
Deck Three, Bryan Young
Lady Bits, Kate Jonez
She’s Come Undone, Wally Lamb

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach
The Tale Teller, Anne Hillerman
Deadly Gratitude, Lori Donnester
Damned, Chuck Palahniuk
The Blessing Way, Tony Hillerman

In The Wake of Captain Lord, Johnny Worthen
Doomed, Chuck Palahniuk
The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz
The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
Write to Market, Chris Fox

The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
The Practicing Mind, Thomas M. Sterner
Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer
On Tyranny, Timothy Snyder

Revelation; Poppet Book 1, Donna Munro
Authority, Jeff VanderMeer
Acceptance, Jeff VanderMeer
The Many-Headed Hydra, Peter Linebaugh & Marcus Rediker
Candide The Optimist, Voltaire

Warpaths; Invasions of North America, Ian K. Steele
The Hermit of Big Horn County, Johnny Worthen
Empire of Light, Alex Harrow
On Fire, Naomi Klein
Between Two Hills, Johnny Worthen

Join me in another fifty this year.

Monday, December 16, 2019


This week I completed the first edit of my twentieth book. This is the moment when I consider the book done, or “in the can.” There’ll be more edits later on if it is to see print, but at this stage I can put it down and start something else.

Twenty books.

It seems like a lot and a little at the same time. I know people who can pump out eight to ten books a year and others who’ll write one in a lifetime. The number is meaningless really, except as a moment of reflection. Not that the weather would concur, but it is winter, a time to assess.

Every book has been its own journey, each one happening in a different way. Some have been planned out to near staleness, others have spilled from my fingers in a gush where I was barely present. With each one my skill has improved. With each one I have pushed myself to new boundaries of ideas and form.

Twenty books isn’t bad for as long as I’ve been writing. I’m happy with it. Knowing my process it’s a solid outcome. About three books a year, more at the beginning of my career, fewer later on when repeating myself is a real threat.

My super power in this endeavor is simple. I finish what I start. It is a basic rule and one that has never failed me. I know a lot of writers who have a stack of unfinished manuscripts. I know a lot of authors who have a stack of finished ones. The difference is everything.

I have other rules of writing too, but none have been as demonstrably useful as finish what I start. It’s got me twenty books.

There’s an element of stubbornness here to be sure. When the moment comes in each book, and it always comes, when I hate what I’m writing and the devil on my shoulder has a great suggestion for another better, story, I no longer even pretend that he could be right. I don’t listen at all except maybe to take a quick note, add it to the list of story ideas, and then bullheadedly press on.

Since I write all my books on speculation, that is I write them and then try to sell them, I have to be this way to finish. Deadlines and expectations are necessary even artificially invented to trick me into productivity. One day perhaps, the deadlines and expectations will be real, I’ll be on the clock with a editor breathing down my neck to get a book done in time for publication, the check already cashed, but until then, it’s all on me.

I’ll get there one day, if I live long enough. I’ll open those doors with my finished books, the twenty I have and the more that will come.

That’s the plan anyway.

I’m seven years into my ten year plan to be an overnight success.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Observing My Birthday

Today’s my birthday. The bots already know this, the NSA has it recorded, Google sent me a balloon, so I’m safe to admit it. When you get to be my age, birthdays have a decidedly different flavor than they used to. Everyone remembers the anticipation of presents, the cake and party, then the driver's license and the right to enter a liquor store. After twenty-one it tapers off to a nice personal holiday with a dinner out or friends in. And then, every once in a while, it is existentialist anniversary.

Guess which one I’m having?

I’ve had worse. I’ve had anniversaries populated by skull-cracking regret, fear, and loneliness. Those are fun, but this time, it’s more of a self-help holiday, coming on the heels of a long season of reading good books.

What I’ve discovered, and what I am working toward now, is the move the Observer back to a safe corner.

What does that mean?

I’m sure there are psychological terms for it. I may be talking about Ego and Id and all that, but for artistry, let me say that we have within us an Observer. This is us, viewing the world from a distance. Distance is key here, it’s how we get proportion. As writers, we rely on the Observer to recollect events that were too overwhelming at the time to contemplate. In the most turbulent hours of our lives, awash in misery or jubilant in joy, there is a part of us recording it.

The Observer isn’t just for writers. It’s the one who can judge what we are doing and puts things into perspective. Remember how mad you were about being cut off in traffic and then you find out a friend is terribly ill? That’s the Observer pulling you back.

What I’m trying to do is move my Observer back a ways. He’s been pretty up front lately, not seeing things any more clearly than my usual reactive self. I’d like to be able to consciously enter that Observer space in times of stress, recognizing the safety of distance from events to my real being. From there, I should be able to act with more deliberation, if not more wisdom.

I’ve run into the idea of the Observer in several of the books I’ve read this year, though they don’t call it that. I’m familiar with the concept from my time when I was actively pursuing philosophy. Life came along and I forgot about it.

One of the books that suggests, but doesn’t name the Observer is Ruiz’s THE FOUR AGREEMENTS, a pop-spiritual book from the 1990s that became a staple of the New Age movement. I finally got around to reading it this year. The Observer approved.

To spoil it, the first agreement concern how we speak and view the world through language, a fantastic concept for anyone involved in words. It says to speak “impeccably,” using the word as a synonym for un-sinfully. Herein we see the poison of self-doubt and self-deprecation as well as the damage we can inflict on others. In order to "be impeccable with our words," we have to be in control of our language which can only happen when we take conscious care to do so. That’s the Observer, or in this case, maybe an Editor. It’s harder than it sounds and requires that distance from reality that only the Observer’s nest can provide.

The other Agreements follow straight on with this. “Don’t take it personally,” a shout out to Hanson’s Razor and a sympathy for what other people might be going through. “Don’t make assumptions” is a call for delaying judgement until you have the information. This one is murky to me, since you can never have all the information and eventually decisions need to be made. Finally, the last one, which sounds absolutely juvenile since it is the Cub Scout credo is “Always do your best.” Though sounding trite and obvious, a conscious observation of our efforts will reward us by making our actions impeccable as well.

It’s a tidy little four rule rubric to make interpersonal relations honest and clear. The Observer allows this to happen.

The Observer offers also a passive retreat, it is the quiet place of a meditation. That is where I first found him. When practiced in meditation, I could retreat a distance and be comfortable in my own skin, even under stress.

So I’ve been meditating again, exercising and contemplating proportion, distance, and impeccability. I’ve found ways to slow time to be more in the moment. Here the Observer is absolutely required.

I see the passage time, feel the decay of my body, the turning of summer to fall, another birthday for me, another day of potential for great things or regrets. These things I try to see from a safe distance, observing in the moment. Not easy, but I’m trying.

Happy birthday.