Horror Writers Association Blog

Interview with Horror University instructor Johnny Worthen


Here’s the second of our interviews with StokerCon 2017’s Horror University instructors. Take it away, Johnny Worthen!

Johnny Worthen: Mistakes Were Made

Concrete advice on tightening your writing from an editor, author and student of the craft. We’ll concentrate on specific issues and hot buttons. See what doesn’t work. See how to fix it. From passive voice to head-hopping to adverbs and scaffolding, a dense class in modern style to please editors, readers and writers.

Johnny Worthen grew up in the high desert snows and warm summer winds of the Wasatch Mountains. He graduated with a B.A. in English, minor in Classics and a Master’s in American Studies from the University of Utah. Johnny is best known for his award winning, nationally acclaimed, best-selling young adult novel, Eleanor, The Unseen. Then you can pick up Celeste, The Unseen Book 2 and know what’s going on so you won’t be lost when you read David, The Unseen Book 3. Johnny entered the world of mystery with his award winning novel, The Brand Demand, a tale of blackmail, activism, and ethics. He followed that up with The Finger Trap, a genre-bending, coming-of-age, mid-life crisis, social satire, comedy noire (with quiche) that introduces Tony Flaner, a slacker, every-man detective who can’t throw a punch but will slay a room with sarcasm. Johnny’s debut novel, Beatrysel, an occult horror, and its companion story, Dr. Stuart’s Heart explore the dark sides of love and Magick “I write what I like to read,” he says. “That guarantees me at least one fan and a hectic job for my publicist.” When not pounding on his keyboard, attending conferences and conventions, Johnny Worthen can be found with his wife and two boys in Sandy, Utah.


Tell us something about your Horror University workshop that is not in the original description.
An ugly truth: Good writing is only one facet of a successful book and it’s probably not even in the top five. It’s not as important as people think, however it is the one thing that an author can actively improve upon and will tip the scales for publication and reader enjoyment.

What skills or achievements make you ideally suited to lead this workshop?Professional editor and writer. I’ve worked with dozens of editors from all over the country. I’ve been on both sides of the slush pile, rejected writer and rejecting editor, so I have an idea of how crisp writing helps get the next page turned.

Why do you feel that your workshop subject is especially important?
There are few things in this business that a writer can truly control. Their prose is one of them, possibly the only one. It is here that a writer improves first and foremost. Simple ideas of language and pacing, showing versus telling, improves the art and artist. It’s foundational. As Picasso said, we must learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.

If you could participate in one other Horror University workshop, which one would you choose and why?
Jack Ketchum: Writing from Experience, Writing from the Wound. I believe the truest writing is therapy. Horror particularly is a genre for exploring and treating emotional wounds. Harnessing that energy into writing is what we’re all trying to do.

Do you approach the craft of writing horror differently from other genres?There are fewer reader expectations in horror than in other genres. It is a gamble as to content and ending, theme and twists. I always feel an immediate anxiety when picking up a horror, like boarding a rollercoaster. It is the most experimental and surprising genre I know, based in physical and emotional reaction. There’s not the assumption of a happy ending, no bounds of reality and justice we’ve come to expect from other genres. Horror is freeing for the writer. Its audiences tend to be mature. Anything goes. The bad guy can win, and often does. As such, there’s a raw truth to it I adore.

Apart from teaching your workshop, what are you most looking forward to at StokerCon?
I’m looking forward to the atmosphere and the people. I’m excited about “bar-con,” where we let our hair down and chill—The Happy Hour event particularly. I’m looking forward to meeting friends I’ve known professionally but have never actually met in person, meeting in person new friends I’ll know for the rest of my career. I want to linger with wild and wooly horror writers who bleed on paper and share my confusion and angst.

What do you most hope that those attending your workshop take away from it?Muscle memory for good editing. The ability to see correctable stylistics mistakes easily during an early pass if not original draft and have writers come trust in their own prose to avoid over-manipulating readers reactions.

StokerCon 2017 will be happening April 27th to April 30th aboard the historic Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. Click here to get your tickets now!

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