Wednesday, January 6, 2021

2020's Reading

 It’s time for my annual reading report card.

My goal for 2020 was to read 50 books. I read 55. I am so awesome.

This year saw certain themes arise in my reading. A new love of Ursula K. Le Guin is a late one as is a fascination with Indian holy books and Eastern philosophy. There are the usual classics I’m catching up on, a few books I read for work—books on craft, theory, and editing,  including my own. All in all it was a fascinating year in pages. Almost made up for hellish year that just passed. Here’s the list:


The Professional Thief, Edwin Hardin Sutherland

An Appointment with God, Mark Kirkbride

Gates of Fire, Steven Pressfield

The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wallace-Wells

The Time Machine, H. G. Wells

5


Inspirational Poetry, William Blake

Naked Came the Florida Man, Tim Dorsey

An Appointment with God, Mark Kirkbride

High Magick, Damien Echols

The Successful Author Mindset, Joanna Penn

10


Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Consider This, Chuck Palahniuk

The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Revelation, Poppet Cycle Book 1, Donna J. Munro

Changing Wax, Jared Quan

15


LUW 85th Anniversary Anthology 

The Lottery and Other Stories, Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

1619 Project, New York Times 

Take Off Your Pants, Libbie Hawker

20


Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro.

Art & Fear, David Bales & Ted Orland

True History of the Kelly Gang, Peter Carey

The Waves, Virginia Woolf 

Under the Black Flag, David Cordingly

25


Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett

Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert 

Nausea, Jean Paul Sartre

Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert (again)

30


Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald

After Progress, John Michael Greer

The Virginian, Owen Wister

Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon

The Bhagavad Gita, translated by Eknath Easwaran

35


The Practice of Poetry, Robin Behn & Chase Twichell

The Mormon War,  Brandon G. Kinney

Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

Taking the Path of Zen, Robert Aitken

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Laurence Sterne

40


The Invisible Man, H.G. Wells

Writing in the Dark, Tim Waggoner

Jaws, Peter Benchley

How to be Good, Nick Hornby

Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh

45


Intimations: Six Essays, Zadie Smith

The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin

The Invention of Sound, Chuck Palahniuk

How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method, Randy Ingermanson

Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin

50


Solutions and Other Problems, by Allie Brosh

The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K. Le Guin

South of the Border, West of the Sun, Haruki Murakami

Rape of Nanking, Iris Chang

The Dhammapada, Eknath Easwaran

55



For 2021 I'm trying for another 50. 

Read on, my friends. Read on.




Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Pandemic Greetings

I realized I haven’t communicated for a while. Publish or parish. I gotta write something. I gotta communicate. My fans are dying to hear from me. Fields of dying bodies, eclectic readers and tie-dye aficionados, buzzards readying their beaks. This is my fault. This blood will be on my hands. Isn’t that just how the year has been? Here I am, sitting around in my underwear on the couch shotgunning Coke Zeros with a ball point pen, scrunched atop a blanket of indeterminate color, and I’ve got to produce something. I gotta write.

This brings up the rather testy problem of figuring out what to write. If I could think of what to write don’t you think I’d be writing? I’m a writer, you know. Writing is what I do. I tell people I’m writing when I’m writing and sometimes when I’m thinking of writing and when I have to explain why I’m in my underwear at 5:00 p.m. and have to invent reasons why the blanket is that color.

But I’m a professional. I can do this. Here it is. I’ll write something. Here it comes. I’m inspired.

Recently, I celebrated Thanksgiving and there’s something about that holiday that encourages me to give thanks, or at least count a couple blessings. A countdown. That’s a kind of writing. I can do it in words. Write them down. Writing!

I have a lot of blessings. I can work from home in my underwear with Coke Zero in my chest hair. This isn’t a Covid thing. I was doing this before, so it’s a big blessing my lifestyle hasn’t been unduly altered. I can write, when I want to. Really. It’s happened. That’s a good thing. That’s important to me. Blessed. Like Brian Blessed - FLASH!



Locked away from my sane friends, barring the door to my insane ones, I’ve come to appreciate friends. And sanity. It’s nice to know you’re not alone when you’re alone. Zoom has been a lifesaver and I’ve learned that if you hold the computer just right, underwear is just fine.

I’ve come to understand what it is I actually need to survive. Food. Lots of food. More food than I used to need apparently. Food is important. Heat is nice. Blankets help when you don’t dress for the cooling temperatures. Liquids are good. Coke Zero is a liquid. So is bourbon. I checked. Wikipedia is very wise. Thanks internet knowledge core.

Hobbies are vital for survival in these days of American decline. All work and no play makes for a creepy lodge vacation. I have lots of hobbies and I’ve even found a few new ones as I keep myself within this house all day, and yard at night; pants optional. Among my new hobbies are:

    Day drinking. 

    Sleeping.

    Slurring.

    Beard braiding.

    Eating. (That’s an old one, but I’ve been taking it to new levels.)

    Judging.

The last one is really a time taker. Getting on the internet, watching numbers rise and open hospital beds dwindle I’ve tried to find an easy way to judge my fellow pandemic travelers. Mostly, because my friends are sane, the judging goes out to creepy family members, strangers, and people who make the news for getting kicked off airplanes. The metric is: how much are you willing to be inconvenienced to keep other people from dying? If the answer is, "I won’t wear a mask and I won’t believe in science," you score very low on my judgment chart and I send evil waves of malevolence your way hoping you’ll lose your car keys or discover the wonders of Giardia-infused intestinal squirts. I can be mean. Don’t cross me.

I’ve also come to judge people by fashion. Tube tops after Labor Day is a privilege not a right. Crocs. Just Crocs.

I wonder if I’m not being judged too. I’m pretty sure I am. Waves of disorder waft over the domicile like whispered inside jokes. Strange things have been happening. The most alarming is that someone has cursed my washing machine. It is shrinking all my clothes, particularly my pants. A sublime spell. There’s a wizard out to get me. I must atone.

It hasn’t been a complete waste, these many months hiding from disease which is out to get me. I have found a new job. It’s a work at home gig, something I never considered to be full-time employment, but has surely risen to that, particularly in the cold weather. I am a professional door opener for cats. Yep. It’s going on my CV. There are doormen at all the nice buildings in New York (I read about them), well now at Casa Worthen, there is me. I’m not as nicely dressed, or even actually dressed sometimes. I don’t wear a hat all the time, but sometimes I do. I wait by the back sliding door ready to oblige our two cats who test the limits of their control over me by a dozen passings each day. They look at me and smile in their cat ways. I think they’d tip if they had money, but I know better than to let my cats have money. I shiver to think of the mischief they could do on Etsy alone.

So I go on with the cats and couch and the drinks and the food and the blanket whose original color is a mystery lost to time. I get by. I think. I plan. I wait for the vaccine and a return to sanity. I count my blessings. I write.

Gotta go. Roy’s at the door.

Merry Christmas 2020

—Johnny



Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Letting Go of Tony, IN THE WAKE OF CAPTAIN LORD

Tomorrow the third Tony Flaner novel, IN THE WAKE OF CAPTAIN LORD, falls upon the world, to sink or swim as it will. It will be out of my hands. It has been for a while, I guess, but tomorrow is the official day.

Tony and I have had a long relationship. It was Tony who convinced me to become an author, a full time writer, a schlunk who quit a day job to pursue a dream. THE FINGER TRAP was a watershed moment in my life, a moment where, for the first time, future clarity and direction shown bright and clear.

And Tony had stories to tell.

After his origin story, his "coming of age" if you will, he got to fall in love in THICKER THAN WATER—family and past and future all mixing together. Again a simulacrum of my own existence. I had two books that were wonderful.

And now Tony takes a cruise to Alaska, just like I did. It is hard to separate us two sometimes. At the time I think it was me, but when I recall that cruise now, I often see it through Tony’s eyes. 

Even then, when I stepped foot on that ship I knew that Tony walked with me. Though I remember distinctly writing another book on that trip, remember even the chapters I wrote in stolen time in a vacant barroom as the family slept in, Tony was wandering the decks, imagining mayhem. He talked me into asking the crew to show me some places usually off limits to non-fictional characters.

When I got home, Tony mulled and pondered and planned in my subconscious. A plot was formed, a cunning confusion rife with Utah connections. You can take the detective out of the state, but you can’t take the state out of the detective. Where would Flaner mystery be with it scathing social commentary? I don’t know, but Tony would’t like it.

The story was born.

IN THE WAKE OF CAPTAIN LORD is Tony in full stride. His origin story is told, his growth story is there, here is Tony realized and familiar. His arc is true and in keeping with his life. Though not a series, but a serial, ie the books can be read in any order, it does repay those who’ve followed Tony from the start and hopefully encourages the latecomers to check out his earlier words. That was the plan anyway.

Now the plan is out of my hands. Tony sails alone tomorrow on the Success up the Inside Passage to Alaskan tourist towns with murder on the high seas. The world will judge.

It is a sadly sweet moment, exciting and weighty to release this. Each book is like that, but this time, with Tony here, I feel more confident that he can handle himself. He’s shown me he can and he’s eager to tell his tale. Like me, Tony loves an audience.

Bon voyage!




Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Changing Details

In the best of times it’s hard to keep up with the changes in society as a writer. It’s hard to keep up as a citizen with the daily stream of disaster scrolling down our Social Dilemma monitors. This is one of the reason that authors need to embrace editing. Notice I said need, not should

Case in point. When I wrote the THICKER THAN WATER, Tony Flaner’s fantastic Moab Adventure, I made jokes about marijuana. Before it came to print, Colorado had legalized it and I had some re-writes to do. Since it was a plot point I had to finesse it into new form, even projecting that Utah would get medical dispensaries, which they subsequently have.

Flip phones were a thing in the first draft of THE FINGER TRAP. I know that makes the book sound positively ancient, some antediluvian romp with big wheeled bicycles and hoop skirts, but the smart phone thing was just barely launching when the idea was burgeoning. Such is the speed of society.

In my newest Tony Flaner book, IN THE WAKE OF CAPTAIN LORD, launching next week (Squeeee!), I set the action on a cruise ship. Yeah, when I wrote it, causing was still a thing. This was like last year. People were on cruse ships nine months ago, It hasn’t been that long, but my god does it feel like it has been. The story is light and sarcastic in the Flaner mold and a fantastic book I’ve very proud of, a first rate mystery with twists and chuckles if not outright, “oh my god did he really just say/do/think/smell that” moments. I did hesitate bringing it out in 2020, but I’d already made the promise and I figured that cruising would make a come-back. Eventually.

Harder to decide was the virus. Yes, a virus plays a part in the book, at least in a background way. Norovirus, also known as the cruise ship disease was/is the threat most crews fear the most. This was before our beloved Covid. I thought of changing the threatening virus, but hell if that didn’t just put the story into dark territory with an ending, I, like the rest of the world can’t guess.

So I left it with Norovirus, ran the jokes, the shower, and kept to the mystery comedy, If the book were written today, doubtless it’d be different. I probably would’t put it on a cruise ship, .who knows. 

Truth is, even in the best circumstances, there can be a considerably delay in writing a book and printing it. In speedy times, anachronisms are to be expected. Luckily, I think most readers haven’t caught up the speed of change any more than their authors have,.

My point is, go out and buy IN THE WAKE OF CAPTAIN LORD now and enjoy an excellent read,


Stay safe.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Join Tony for a cruise


I’ve been on three cruises in my life. Cruising here is means riding a big floating hotel in the ocean for a while as opposed to driving slowly up main street with a bucket of chicken looking for girls on Friday night. 

Each cruise had its own flavor, some were demonstrably better than others. The best, hands down was our cruise to Alaska. It was so good in fact, that I took Tony Flaner along, at least in theory. I should have written the whole thing off as a research trip, but alas, Tony took too long to get his act together and fall onto the page.

Nevertheless, cruising. Yes, we’re about cruising today. It’s not for everyone. And lately, I’d say it not for anyone. Covid has turned it all into a real mess. Tony only had to contend with Norovirus, “cruise ship flu” when he went. Not that that was the real danger. There were badgers out there that menaced him more. Kinda.

So, although I’d recommend Alaska cruising up the Inside Passage most days, these aren’t most days, and I can’t now. But that’s okay, because you can go with Tony Flaner up the coast of Alaska and have more adventure and butter drenched desserts than you could dream of in your Overeaters Anonymous midnight meeting.

Remember, that when you read a book, your synapses react and reform as if the experiences you’re reading about actually are happening to you. So… yeah, I’m offering you an Alaskan cruise for the low low price of $5.99 for the ebook and $17.99 for the all inclusive paperback. Boarding begins on October 15, but reservations are being taken now at:

CLICK HERE

Be safe everyone and read on!




Saturday, September 19, 2020

Historical Document

 I was asked by Jared Quan, the current League of Utah Writers Historian to do a set of interviews discussing my career and the place of the League in it along with other stories of daring dashing do. He'll get around to editing it all together in a more concise format, but in the meantime, the first interview was conducted and uploaded. Here it is, for those interested in my writing journey



That's it for now. Catch you next week.

—J

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Chasing Tomorrow

 So this happened.


I'm in this.

This marks my second short story reprint. My tale, The Lodge which originally appeared in Peaks of Madness, was selected by the League of Utah Writers to be included in this year's award-winning anthology. I say award winning anthology, because in order to be considered for the book, the story has to have placed in the League of Utah Writers writing contest, which The Lodge did. It won a Second Honorable Mention in the category of Horror, which is kind of like a fourth place. I'll take it.

Anytime I get words in print, I celebrate. Chasing Tom

Check out Chasing Tomorrow for a collection of excellent stories. It's cheap on Amazon.