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.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Rest of My Fall Schedule

Hey buds,

With the weather cooling and holidays lurking like starved hyenas in the wings, I thought I'd offer up my schedule for those seeking some personal interaction, information and entertainment.

First is the Monkey Retreat This weekend October 17-20.

On Saturday October 26th, I'm double booked.

From 9:00-2:00 come out to the Wasatch writers Conference

Weber State University Davis Campus
2750 University Park Blvd
Layton, UT 84041-9099
"Add Flesh to the Bones"

Now that your story is on paper, what do you do next? How do you develop it into something unforgettable? At this year's conference,
learn how to develop and blend your plot, world, characters, and theme into something unforgettable.

Multiple Presenters, including Featured Presenters: J. Scott Savage and Johnny Worthen

Lunch hour is on your own. Several restaurants nearby.

Raffle items, including craft books, critiques, and other swag, available all day. Tickets are $1 each or 13 tickets for $10.
Presentation – 11:00 a.m.
Writing To Theme

From 3:00-5:00, I'll be at the Sandy Barnes & Noble for an author signing event.

Barnes & Noble at The Shops at South Town
10180 S. State Street
Sandy UT, 84070

At the University of Utah my A STUDY OF MYSTERY class kicks off on Tuesday October 29 and runs every week through December 10 from 6:00-9:00. This is a great class about a great genre going over authorship and pre-writing. When you leave the class you should have a fully functional, actionable outline to write a cracking good story.

Also for two Saturdays, I'll be running my CREATIVE WRITING BOOTCAMP. This runs two Saturdays for four hours each and will be filled with writing advice, sprints, critique and good times. A popular and fun class to be sure.

Beyond a few League chapter meeting and board meeting, that should take me to hyena feeding.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Letting go of Tony 2

Usually when I release a new book I do so with a bit on melancholy, the feeling a parent has when sending their child off to school on the first day, knowing that they must stand on their own now. It’s out of my hands. My love is unconditional, but now they must walk alone.

Not so with THICKER THAN WATER. Releasing the next Tony Flaner mystery is a joyous sparkly, party of triumph and silliness. Tony had his first day of school already. He did well, but dropped out for a while to find himself and a new publisher. It’s been a long strange trip, but his return is, for me, nothing less than triumphant.

I love Tony Flaner. Many people compare him to me. I am one of the models for my flawed slacker, a big one, but not the only one. More importantly, Tony is a model for me. He’s my hero. I look to him for tenacity and resilience, a cynical attitude and sarcastic wit.

We’ve been friends for many years, Tony and I. He taught me my vocation and together we learned completion (see THE FINGER TRAP). Tony and I won the highest award we ever strove for, the Diamond Quill from the League of Utah Writers, one of my favorite writing organizations. I’m not just a member, I’m the president. But I wasn’t then.

Then Tony got lost. Publishing intrigue struck just at that moment of triumph and Tony fell out of print. It has taken this long to bring him back. June saw the return of THE FINGER TRAP and August saw the release of THICKER THAN WATER, the second Tony Flaner mystery that signals that the series is safe and sound and ongoing.

Echoing the themes of Tony’s fictional life, the journey to return the series to publication has been an exercise of push and pull. Push as I kept writing Tony, Pull that fans asked for more. Also it was hard to do and the feeling of accomplishment in bringing him back is itself a reward. Selling a bunch won’t suck, but having the moment of holding a Tony Flaner mystery was, well, triumphant.

It’s been a struggle to happen but it has happened. Flaner fans will love THICKER THAN WATER. Tony told me so. It’s an exploration of family and the debts we owe our ancestors. It’s got more local color than Moab at sunset, a love story, a killer whodunnit, and plenty of indulgences for Tony to be Tony.

And best of all, it’s available.

A personal triumph for me, another day in the life of Tony Flaner.

You can pick up a copy THICKER THAN WATER, and THE FINGER TRAP at Amazon now. Let me know what you think of them if you read them.