Short Sharp Shocks! 72 is Weed by Night by Sarah L. Johnson. The book is published on the 2nd July but is currently available for pre-sales. It has a cover by Adrian Baldwin. Prior to publication Dean and Sarah talked about it...
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Welcome to DEMAIN Sarah! A pleasure to have you here. Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you became a writer?
SARAH L. JOHNSON: For the money and fame of course! I figured by now I’d have put a gram of cocaine up my nose and wrapped my Ferrari around a telephone pole. Naturally I’m disappointed in how this has turned out.
DP: Haha – I like your honesty. Um, okay, what’s your background.
SLJ: I used to be a respiratory therapist, working in acute care and ICU. You see folks at their most vulnerable in those settings. You also see a hell of a lot of funny things. Like a guy walking into the ED (after driving himself there) with a paring knife just sticking out of his head like a weird antenna. Those sorts of experiences and details make it into my work all the time.
DP: Wow, that’s...odd but I guess you have to have a sense of humour in those situations. Was that your first introduction into the horror genre?
SLJ: No - As a kid I was obsessed with this fairy tale treasury full of gruesome illustrations. Particularly one story about a mouthy young lady who sassed the wrong crone and then every time she opened her mouth, bugs and snakes fell out. Man, I loved that book.
DP: My Lord that sounds amazing! What’s your Short Sharp Shocks! About?
SLJ: Weed by Night is a story about matrilineal magic and sibling bonds. Kaia and Jack are teenage twins, sent to live on their grandmothers’ farm for the summer. Kaia is used to being the inferior twin. Jack is smarter, bigger, better, at everything. So, when her mom’s moms clearly favour her over her brother, it’s a pleasant surprise. But then Kaia starts dreaming about the garden, and then she starts to worry about Jack.
DP: And so she should...in writing Weed did you have to do much research?
SLJ: I’m a curious person so I read about all sorts of things all the time just for fun and often end up writing about them later, but generally speaking I hate research and do as little as I can get away with. For this story, I grew up in rural Alberta, so there’s a lot of my lived experience in it.
DP: Cool, cool. So, what has been your biggest creative success to date?
SLJ: Co-writing Terrace VII: Wall of Fire with my writing partner Robert Bose. A collection of stories based around the theme of lust and Dante’s tower of purgatory. I adore collaborating with other artists and creators, and co-writing these stories was so much fun it’s probably illegal in Kentucky.
DP: Haha! What books / authors do you read and do they influence you?
SLJ: I love weird books, queer books, books that take big swings at messy ideas and leave a splatter. Hanya Yanagihara, Poppy Z. Brite, Anne Carson, Yoko Ogawa, Megan Abbot, Donna Tartt (holy shit, The Secret History is a scary book). Everything influences me and I hope that never changes.
DP: I love Tartt’s work for sure. So what does horror mean to you?
SLJ: Horror is an experience, not a genre. For the purposes of marketing, I get it, but I’m a contrary person so I’ll happily run around slandering a lauded work of literature by calling it horror if that’s what I felt when reading it. If you haven’t read Bunny by Mona Awad, please correct that at your earliest convenience.
DP: I haven’t so I will. Thanks for the recommendation. What draws readers to the horror genre? What do readers look for?
SLJ: That’s such a good question and I often ask it of myself as a writer, reader, and publisher. Good horror doesn’t have to scare to be enjoyable, but good horror will intrude on your sense of safety in some way. Good horror poses questions you may not want the answers to. Good horror puts the bad thoughts in your head. Good horror lingers.
DP: It certainly does! Is there a new writer out there that interests you right now?
SLJ: Hailey Piper is coming out with some exciting stuff. We published her short story collection Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy through The Seventh Terrace and it’s just killer. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work in the years to come.
DP: Ah yes, we know Hailey well. Great writer. Is there anything you are afraid of?
SLJ: My fears would make terrible stories because lists of awkward things I’ve said to strangers are what keep me up at night. My only fear worth writing about is my sleep paralysis demons, and I’m not brave enough yet [to put that in my work].
DP: Creatively is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet?
SLJ: It would be cool to try acting one day.
DP: Nice – I would like to try that myself too. There’s been a couple of times I’ve had to stand in on a play I’ve directed/produced when an actor’s been sick etc and I wasn’t a great fan but as I’ve got older I’ve been giving it more and more thought – perhaps I should sign up for some lessons. Is writing for you a long term or short term career?
SLJ: Who knows? I plan to make the most of it until I have to fake my death and start a new life in Moldova.
DP: Sounds great – the lockdown – how did you handle it?
SLJ: I’m an introvert, thus very good at entertaining myself, so it took me a year to get bored. I’ve been running a lot, dabbling in witchcraft, learning how to make cool cocktails, teaching creative writing over Zoom, getting high and losing my socks. I really can’t complain.
DP: Oh, I hope you found your socks! Final question then - do you have any funny stories to tell in relation to your writing...
SLP: I met George Saunders once. He put his hand on my shoulder for a photo and drew a cute doodle in my battered copy of Tenth of December. I nearly wept.
And why not?!
Thanks a million for your time Sarah - really enjoyed that. The best of luck with your Short Sharp Shocks!
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Dean M. Drinkel