My mentor and colleague Scott A. Johnson currently has three books out in his Stanley Cooper series, the third was released this year. I wanted to chat with him about Stanley and his world. The Stanley Cooper Chronicles are urban fantasy/horror on par with the Dresden files; there’s humor, horror and heart all rolled up into one.
KD: Can you tell us a bit about where Stanley comes from? He’s a really relate-able everyman–an average guy forced into some intense, terrifying situations. He reminds me of someone, but I can’t put my finger on who…
SAJ: Stanley Cooper is an idealized version of me. He’s what I would like to think I would do in his place. Lots of writers and directors have a character who represents their fantasy selves. For John Carpenter, it’s Snake Plisskin (or any other character played by Kurt Russell). For me, it’s Stanley Cooper. That allows me to give him the world through my eyes and experiences, and allows me to make choices for him that make sense in my twisted little world.
KD: And the lovely Maggie? I think she’s a great supporting character, a really fair representation of a strong woman. What were your inspirations for writing her character?
SAJ: Maggie is everything I find attractive in a woman. I can’t stand modern characterizations of women where they’re played as weak, simpering creatures that need a big strong man to take care of them. Bleh. To me, the women who have always been attractive have been self-reliant, and just as comfortable in sneakers as in heels, should the situation call for it. To me, attractive women enjoy being women, but also aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. It’s not super skinny, perfect hair and makeup, and designer dresses. It’s the sense of humor, it’s the confidence, it’s the strength. That, to me, is what’s missing from many modern female characters. Writers tend to go one direction or the other, coward or militant. What many forget to do is write a good person first, then the gender doesn’t really matter. Maggie is, to me, an ideal representation of the most attractive woman in the world.
KD: How many books can we expect in the series? You leave us with a hell of a cliff hanger at the end of Ectostorm. Do you have an endgame in mind for Stan-the-man? (No spoilers, of course.)
SAJ: That’s up to my agent. In all honesty, I could be happy writing the adventures of Stanley Cooper for the rest of my life. There are so many stories that I have in mind for him. The next book, Birthright, will involve Stanley’s son. But there’s no endgame in sight. I came close to killing him off at the end of Ectostorm, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
KD: Tell us a bit about your experiment using Kickstarter to fund this project. (Kickstarter is a website where creative types post their projects and ask for supporters to pledge donations to reach a certain goal.) Do you suggest other writers use this? Do you feel this is the logical response to the way publishing is headed, with fewer advances?
SAJ: The Kickstarter thing came about because I wanted to know if there was a demand for more Stanley Cooper, or if I was just pissing in the wind. Because the books are currently published through a micropress (That’s Twisted Library Press, folks. Super nice people) with no advance, it’s difficult when things happen like computers crashing and such. I put up a small figure, put out the word, and said, basically, if you guys want the next chapter in Stanley’s life, here’s a way to let me know. If no one had wanted it, I wouldn’t have written it. The response was humbling and awe-inspiring. I can’t even begin to express how thankful I am for the fans of Stanley Cooper. I put in a few incentives, like certain levels of donation would get a character named after the donor. That character eventually died, of course, in a brutal fashion, but it was a way for the people who funded this to pick up the book and show their friends and family and say “Look! I got my head cut off in this book!” For other writers, I think Kickstarter is a fantastic opportunity, but it’s one of those thing where you really need to know how to network, you need a fan base, and you need to have confidence. If you throw a project up, but don’t get the word out or are completely unknown, your chances of success are less than if you know how to work Facebook, mailing lists, etc.
KD: What scares Scott? Tell us about your influences. The Stanley Cooper series feels a lot more Urban Fantasy than some of your previous works, makes me think of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series, mixing humor and really dark subject matter.
SAJ: That’s a tough question. I’m not afraid of standard things like, say, spiders or big dogs or lightning or the dark or anything. Those kinds of things don’t bother me in the slightest. The things that scare me are things like disease, or dying alone, or religious zealots. One of the reasons why, I think, zombies are frightening to people is that the monsters are their friends and family coming to kill them, and it makes them examine just how dark they’d be willing to go. Could they shoot their own spouse? Their child? That kind of thing terrifies me.
My biggest influences are writers like Richard Matheson, Clive Barker, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradberry and Edgar Allen Poe. Also Jim Butcher and Douglas Adams. As far as writers go, in my mind, there are no better. My family is another source of inspiration to me.
Y’know, for a long time, I wrote every book with the mindset of “this has to be HORROR” and there came a point where writing became work to me. I lost track of a very fundamental truth: Writing is an outlet. It’s work, yes, but it should be a release and should be fun. That’s what the Stanley Cooper Chronicles are. It’s me having fun, telling stories that I think are cool and interesting. When a person loves what he’s doing, it’s not so much work as it is joy. To me, Stanley’s world is a place in which I can get lost for hours.
KD: What’s next from Scott A. Johnson? Book four? (I hope, given how you left us at the end of Ectostorm.) Or something different.
SAJ: Again, that depends on my agent. I’d love to write book four, and five, six, seven… Like I said, I’d be happy writing Stanley Cooper for the rest of my life. In addition, my agent has two more books of mine that she’s shopping around. I’m also writing short stories.
KD: What’s currently on your bedside table? (Or ereader, but that doesn’t have the same cozy appeal.)
SAJ: I have a stack of books that goes up to my knee of books I need to read. I do book reviews for Dread Central, so I get a lot of books sent to me. I’m re-reading Tearstone by David Day, and reading a couple of books from Creeping Hemlock Press’ “Print is Dead” line of zombie books. Fantastic and original stuff coming from them.
Here’s a photo of Scott and I at my graduation from Seton Hill University: