Mara Lynn Johnstone and I met via Twitter when I was preparing to become an indie author. I was an ARC reader of her debut SciFi novel Spectacular Silver Earthling, which stars a robot with attitude, whom a friend compared aptly to Bender from Futurama. In this interview, she talks about the inspiration for her world building and whacky characters.

Tell us a bit about you. Where’s home and what’s your life like outside writing? 

I live in California, where the weather is lovely when things aren’t on fire or flooding. Husband, son, cats. I do a lot of writing-related things even when I’m not working on my own projects: organising events and anthologies for the local writers’ club, judging for contests, and planning multiple cooperative projects with other writers. Plus I play a lot of D&D with good friends, which is an excellent form of storytelling that sometimes leads to actually writing things down.

What drew you to your genre/audience age?

I’ve always loved reading fantasy and science fiction— all the exciting adventures that I couldn’t expect to do in real life. While I would have loved to grow up to be a dragon-rider, dimension traveller, or shapeshifting magician, I made the decision early on to write about it instead. I’ve never looked back.

What are some big themes your writing explores?

I’m sure if you look closely, a lot of my stories boil down to “Treating others well gets you farther than treating them badly.” That’s a pretty basic trope, but it’s amazing how many different ways you can show antagonists who are cruel and sow the seeds of their own downfall while the protagonists cooperate. Now that I think about it, the last three books I wrote all hinge on the main characters making friends who help make victory possible. It’s definitely something that’s held true in my own life, so I’m not surprised it comes through in fiction. Anyone who’s worked retail can tell you that the nice customers are the ones who get all the favors, while the pushy ones only think they’re getting a better deal. Friendship is magic in all forms.

What drives your point of view characters? 

They often have a catastrophe to avert, a kingdom/species/planet to protect, but sometimes the core conflict is as personal as specific friends that they care about intensely. My characters tend to be optimistic and resilient, though with a definite range on the “dignity to silliness” meter. A good sense of humor is crucial in coping with all manner of crises.

Some are more like me than others, but there’s always a facet that makes them feel familiar on a deep level. An element of “Oh yes, this is what I would do.” That can mean being patient and chronicling part of their life through art, or being the centr of attention with witty things to say, or being ready and willing to befriend any random animal that crosses their path. I like to say I’m an ambivert: just as happy reading alone as dancing on a table with friends. I can see myself in the quiet characters just as much as the wisecracking loudmouths — as long as they’re kind. And I like to think that all of my main characters would make good friends, just in a variety of ways.

How much do your point of view characters resemble or differ from you? 

A Swift Kick to the Thorax Book Cover, floating manuscript pages over outer space background, pen floating below, bite mark in bottom right corner of pages.

And for the record, Robin Bennett of A Swift Kick to the Thorax has the most similarities of any character I’ve written, simply because her first short story was an exploratory bit of nonsense that I didn’t expect anyone to ever see. Ha. It turned out to be great fun, and snowballed into two novels and an endless list of short stories. I regret nothing.

What influenced the settings they inhabit? (What real world places, experiences, studies etc influence your world building?) 

I keep a collection of ideas to use in fiction someday, and that includes many interesting locations. The sandstone beaches and bizarre rock formations in Spectacular Silver Earthling were based on those at Salt Point State Park. The car chase through a lightning storm in Swift Kick was inspired by a photo of thunderstorm weather over farmland. I am endlessly fascinated by how many awe-inspiring sights there are in our world; more than enough to create a whole galaxy of others. I’m always taking note of more. 

What do you gain from writing your books and what do you hope your readers will gain from them? 

I have fun with it, first and foremost. Delightful adventures; memorable experiences; fictional friends who are near and dear to my heart. Since I grew up reading constantly, I’ve lived many a life through other writer’s books, and I hope to bring readers along for the ride with my own. There’s so much to do and see: excitement and drama, exploration and close calls, good times and cathartic emotion. My characters can find things to enjoy in even the darkest times, and they’ll see you through to the other side. Often with a feeling of “Woo, that was intense! Let’s do it again.”

Where can we find your books?

maralynnjohnstone.com/books

Headshot of SciFi author Mara Lynne Johnstone, a white, brunette wearing blue rimmed glasses, a big smile, elf ears and with a blue stuffed dragon perched on her shoulder.

Mara Lynn Johnstone grew up in a house on a hill, of which the top floor was built first. Interested in fiction, she went on to get a Master’s Degree in creative writing, and to acquire a husband, son, and three cats. She has published several books and many short stories. She writes, draws, reads, and enjoys climbing things and can be found up trees, in bookstores, lost in thought, and on various social media.

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Related Reading

You’ll find more talk of fantasy characters, setting and world-building inspiration in:

Fantasy Author Features: Nikky Lee (YA SFF)

Debbie Iancu-Hadad (YA Fantasy & SciFi)

Natalie Kelda (YA SFF)

Nikky’s Interview Of Me

Ash Oldfield’s Interview of Me