An Interview with Ty Johnston

Today, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to talk with Ty Johnston, author of fantasy, horror and literary fiction.

Martin: Before we focus on your own writing would you tell us about the authors and books which have had the greatest influence upon you?

As a child and teen, I was most influenced by the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien, Stephen King, and to a lesser extent, Terry Brooks. I wanted to write horror and fantasy, and in the 1970s and early 1980s, these were the biggest names in those respective genres, as well as being authors readily available to me. As I grew older and my reading expanded, I’ve been influenced by a much wider spectrum of authors, from Neil Gaiman to Ed McBain, Stephen Erikson and Truman Capote, I could go on. John Gardner and to some extent, Tolstoy, have affected how I come to writing from a philosophical angle, but the pulp writers have influenced more my actual style of prose. As for books that have been an influence, again, the list could be quite long, but off the top of my head there is The Stand, Paradise Lost, The Hobbit, the short stories of Robert E. Howard, just about everything Ed McBain ever wrote, etc.

You tried to get your books published by the traditional publishing market for many years before going along the self-published route.  Is self-publishing something you would recommend to new authors?

I would recommend self publishing to every new author, despite the fact a stigma against self publishing still remains in some circles. I’m not suggesting self publishing need to be an end goal in and of itself, though it can be, but that even writers who want to work within the traditional publishing industry should go ahead and self publish. Why? To build an audience. To show the traditional publishing folks what you can accomplish on your own. If you have success, the traditional publishers will come calling, including agents and editors. Instead of waiting and waiting and waiting for something to happen, be proactive and move ahead.

You write across a number of genres, fantasy, horror and literary fiction.  On your post about Novel Spaces you talk of the importance of writers opening their eyes to other genres.  Do you believe that the genres you work in cross-fertilise your writing and how useful is this to you?

As for how I write, I only recognize two genres, the speculative and the non-speculative. Obviously there are other genres and sub-genres and the like, but when I’m working, I only think in one of those two modes, speculative or non-speculative. I know from starting a project whether or not it will have speculative elements and the size of the role those elements will play in the story. So, yes, there is a cross-fertilization when I work within the speculative genres, because to me horror and fantasy are just different sides of the same coin, only my approach really differentiating them in my mind; even on the rare occasion when I pen a science fiction tale, to my way of thinking, is just another form of the speculative. There is less of this cross-polination between my speculative and non-speculative works, but some is still there. It all depends upon the tone I am trying to set with a particular story. Sometimes I will use traditional fantasy or horror elements, or tropes, within a non-speculative story because I’m going for a certain mood, and most times I feel this works. On the flip side, sometimes I will approach a story with fantastical elements from a more straight-forward point of view, hopefully giving what I hope to be a fresh approach.

How do you research your novels?  Do you do it before you start to write or is it more of an ongoing process?

For me, research is an eternal, ongoing process. Everything I read or watch or hear or discover or experience is research for my writing. Getting specific, since I write a lot of fantasy, I try to know my mythology and my history, especially from a practical point of view. Those who write abouts swords and castles and horses and the like from a fantasy perspective should know something about those things in the real world. And I don’t mean just book learning. Study architecture some to learn about castles. Learn about horses if your heroes are going to ride them. Learn how to carry a sword, how to use it, how it will feel in a person’s hands, how much it weighs, it’s lengths, etc. Different swords have different benefits in particular situations. Castle were built differently during particular eras for logical reasons. Horses have to be cared for and aren’t just cars you feed instead of fill up with gas. For horror, study criminals, serial killers and hitmen and the like, and know your mythology and occult. If you don’t, some of your readers will, and they won’t hesitate to point out where you screw up.

Do you have a favourite character in any of your books?  If so, what is it about this character that is so appealing?

For some while now, my favorite character has been my Belgad the Liar character, though I’ve not used him in anything new for some time now. Belgad is the main villain in City of Rogues, the first part of my Kobalos Trilogy, and he appears in the second and third books of that series, but to call him a villain is a disservice to him. Belgad can be quite ruthless and brutal at times, but he does have his own sense of honor, or at least a sense of how things should be. One thing I enjoyed about writing City of Rogues, and something several readers have pointed out, is that the line is blurred between the protagonist and the antagonist in the story. My Kron Darkbow character is the hero, but he’s not really any less brutal than Belgad, and in some ways is probably worse. It’s difficult to describe Belgad because I don’t believe there are too many characters exactly like him in fantasy literature; he’s a barbarian who has become a mob boss, and he’s quite intelligent and sometimes a little humorous. I eventually will get around to writing a trilogy of Belgad’s early days as a barbarian and his road to becoming a mobster in a land far from his homeland. And Belgad will show up again in other fantasy novels I will get around to.

If your most evil character were to give you advice what would it be and would you take it?

Probably not. I’d have a hard time picking out which of my villains is truly the most evil, with most of them being either dangerously insane or petty. I wouldn’t want to follow advice from either type of person. I wouldn’t trust such advice.

What would be a typical writing day for you?  Do you have set times, spaces, routines or rituals?

I really don’t have a “typical” writing day. I write almost every day, but some days I’ll only get out a couple of hundred words while other days I’ll get out five thousand words. I write mostly at home on an old HP desktop computer, but often enough I write out at a mall or book store or coffee shop on my HP netbook. Sometimes I use an old Mac I’ve got at home, but that’s usually for graphic design work and not writing. I also don’t have set times to write. I write early in the morning, late at night, in the middle of the night, afternoon, eveing, you name it. As for rituals, I don’t really follow any. I just try to write every day, usually writing at some point when I start to feel guilty for not having written already that day. 

If you could spend time with your favourite character where would it be?

Since Belgad is my favorite character at the moment, I would probably want to spend time doing someting semi-intellectual with him. Maybe playing chess at his place, or tasting fine ales at a decent tavern or fair. He’s not much for frivilolity, but I think I could appeal to his thinking side to get him chatting. Unfortunately, Belgad probably wouldn’t like me very much, not unless he could find some use for me.

What is your next writing project?

I’m currently busy typing in some old short stories and trunk novels I wrote a couple of decades ago on a typewriter. Most of this stuff will never see the light of day, at least not without major editing, but I’ve been meaning to transfer it to a digital format for some time now. Once I’ve completed this major task, which I’m guessing will take me a month or so, I’m not exactly sure what will be my next project. I always have a hundred or more ideas in my head, with a half dozen or so usually vying for the front spot. Most times I don’t definitively decide on my next project until the day I start writing it, though by that point I’ve got at least a mental outline of plot and characters and more for a dozen or so novels in my head. A lot depends upon my mood on any given day, but once I start a project, I see it through to the end.

Thanks very much, Ty.

You can find out more about Ty and his writing at the following places.

Ty’s blog:

Ty’s Amazon page:

Ty’s Smashwords page:

Ty’s Facebook page:

Next weekend I’ll be talking to SJA Turney about his historical fiction.


About Martin Lake

Martin Lake lives in the French Riviera with his wife. After studying at the University of East Anglia he worked as a teacher, trainer and company director. A serious accident shattered his arm and meant that he had to rein back his work. He decided to concentrate on writing and is now writing full-time. He writes a wide range of fiction. His main interests are historical fiction, short stories and fiction for young adults. Martin has a series of novels 'The Lost King' which are set in the years following the Norman Invasion of England. They concern Edgar Atheling, last representative of the ancient English royal dynasty and his fight to regain the throne from William the Conqueror. Martin has also published 'Artful' the further adventures of the Dodger and 'Outcasts' a novel about fall of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. His latest novel, 'A Love Most Dangerous' is about a maid of honour who becomes the lover of Henry VIII. Martin’s work has been broadcast on radio. He won first prize in the Kenneth Grahame Society competition to write a story based on 'The Wind in the Willows.' You can get the collection, 'The Wind in the Willows Short Stories' from Amazon.
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6 Responses to An Interview with Ty Johnston

  1. Speculative and non-speculative. interesting. That’s one way of thinking of it that makes some sense to me. I’m a splitter myself, and like breaking genres down, but there’s something to be said for the “lumpers” as well. 🙂

    • Martin Lake says:

      I think so as well. I was interested that Ty said this and it made me think how easy it is to Genre-alise other authors and how hard it is to be as clear about your own genres.

  2. Ty Johnston says:

    Charles, thanks for stopping by. Always glad to see you. And glad folks find interesting my comments about genre.

    Martin, thanks for having me on your blog today. Any time you ever want to guest post over at my space, just let me know. 🙂

  3. Great interview, Martin. I love hearing how other writers work, and as someone with a very precise writing schedule, Ty’s approach is fascinating. I also like the view of only two genres — speculative and non-spec.

    • Martin Lake says:

      Thanks for your comments, Cathryn, I’ll pass them on to Ty. He’s an interesting and generous man. I’m doing a series of interviews every Friday, many of them are historical novelists at first but I’m widening to include other genres later on.

  4. Pingback: A Reprise of my Talks with Authors | martinlakewriting

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