Anais Concepcion

Author Spotlight: Jocelyn Johnson

Jocelyn Johnson (photo taken from author's website) Jocelyn Johnson (photo taken from author’s website)

Jocelyn Johnson has been writing since childhood, and her passion for writing accompanied her through global travel from Tokyo to Cusco, Rajasthan, Rio, and many places in between. Writing remained a constant throughout the evolution of her life as she went on to marry, become a mother, and a teacher. As her life changed, so did her writing.  Literary Roadhouse reached out to Ms. Johnson to ask about how her work has developed over the years, and what her first novel, written as a teenager, was about.

Literary Roadhouse: When did you start writing and why?

Jocelyn Johnson: Since forever, I’ve been writing and drawing stories.  I remember, in the 6th grade, devouring S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. When I learned that she’d completed that work as a teenager, I spent a year drafting my own first novel on my IBM personal computer, back when each piece of printer paper was edged in perforated strips.

LR: What and who do you like to read?

JJ: I’m drawn to short stories and novels that surprise me and place me among outsiders. A few books I’ve loved in the last decade: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by  Charles Yu,  We the Animals by  Justin Torres, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell,  and  We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.  I recently reread the gorgeous, grotesque Beloved by Toni Morrison, and was, once again, appalled and riveted.

LR: You’ve been writing for such a long time. How would you say your writing has developed over the years?

JJ: I’ve developed an expectation to work harder, and on more complex problems. I’m willing to re-imagine characters, scenes, whole strands in order to figure them out. Also I try to be  a little braver and more emotionally honest in my fiction these days.

LR: What can you tell me about the first novel you wrote as a child? What did that explore? What were the characters like?

JJ: The novel I wrote as a teenager is about Shadow, a lovesick, mohawked boy from San Francisco who travels east to find his girlfriend after she is sent away for attempting suicide— light, right?  At the time, I was interested in disaffected youth; I was disaffected youth.  

When I decided to write a novel as an adult, I found an old draft of Shadow, and drew on the bones of that original story. Nearly all of the particulars changed when I re-imagined my protagonist as sixteen-year-old Aisha Bell, a young photographer girl of color who falls hard for another girl. The short story “The Hasselblad” was born from this transition in the novel.

Ms. Johnson’s essays and fiction have appeared in Life with Objects, Storyglossia, Salome Magazine, Literary Mama and elsewhere. Her work has placed first in the University of Virginia’s Museum’s Writer’s Eye Contest, been anthologized in Jane’s Stories “Bridges and Borders”, and received honorable mention in the E.M. Koeppel fiction award. Her short story “The Hasselblad” placed first in the Richard Bausch Short Story Contest at Our Stories (Spring 2012). Her first novel (written as an adult), Our Savage Hearts, is represented by New Leaf Literary and is currently on submission.

Jocelyn Johnson lives in Virginia with her husband, son, and two dogs. She blogs about parenthood, art, the world we live in, and the intersections between these things, at her website www.jocelynjohnson.com.

Read Short Stories or Ray Bradbury Cries

Let’s talk Ray Bradbury. You have likely heard of him. If you’re American, there is a good chance you read his novel Fahrenheit 451, or the Cliffnotes thereof (I’m onto you), in highschool – or kindergarten, if you went to private school. You may recall that the title refers to the auto-ignition point of paper where it catches fire without being exposed to an external flame. You were also probably taught that the book is about government censorship, and that Bradbury wrote this book in the early 50s in response to McCarthy era book banning.

That interpretation makes sense if you ignore everything Bradbury had said since the late 1950s. Shortly after the book’s release in 1953, Bradbury reinforced this interpretation in several interviews about the book, but in the late 1950s, his comments regarding Fahrenheit 451 became more nuanced.

His real purpose in writing the book, he insisted, was to warn readers about an illiterate society infatuated with mass media. Indeed, in the book, earbuds come between Mildred and Montag in their marriage. The government only begins censorship after society has abandoned books in favor of other types of media.* Bradbury stressed his concern that other types of media would replace books. Sound familiar?

Bradbury is decrying censorship, but he blames society for letting it happen. Don’t let Ray Bradbury down. He even wrote 27 books and over 600 short stories just for you.

Six. Hundred.

You take that number and then you go over it, and that’s how many short stories Ray Bradbury wrote. Here’s a list. Notice how the Wikipedia page dedicated solely to Bradbury’s short stories is listed as incomplete.

From now on I am going to rate all short stories on a scale of 1 to 6 Bradbury’s. Bradberries? Someone, anyone, please design for me a type of berry (raspberry?) with Ray Bradbury’s face imposed on it. I will use this berry to judge all other short stories.

Right, this post has a point. Well, now there are two actually.

1. Fahrenheit 451 is talking about us, more than it’s talking about the government. Don’t let Bradbury’s dystopia come true.

2. If you don’t read more stories, I will award you zero Ray Bradberries. Zero.

*Don’t remember this? Fahrenheit 451 is only 159 pages long. It’s worth a reread (or a first read).

Anais

Why I Need An Online Reading Group

Do you read what I read?

Maybe. Probably. I don’t read obscurely. Let me prove it. The last five fiction books I have read are The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin, War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, 2BR02B by Kurt Vonnegut, The Green Mile by Stephen King, and World War Z by Max Brooks.

See? Nothing rare or unknown. Those books have been widely read, and yet I have very few people to discuss them with. It’s a bizarre complaint in the age of the Internet. How have I not found a community to discuss books with?

¯_(ツ)_/¯

The best answer I can invent, with no guarantee that this is my truth, is that I like to discuss stories with people that I know.

I have some evidence to this theory. When I finish a book, I harass my closest friends and family with a froth of words that loosely describe my rabid feelings about what I just finished. Take care to remember that these poor souls have not read whatever whipped me into a frenzy. And yet, they bear through it (often with admirable enthusiasm), knowing that eventually the caps lock will be released. Eventually, I have to breathe. Eventually, normal human interaction will begin anew.

But that isn’t fair to them, and now I have this podcast: the unexpected salvation to my personal relationships. But more importantly, a community where I can discuss stories with people that I know, and will over time get to know better.

I am talking about my co-hosts primarily, but the community isn’t limited to just the four of us. It’s open. Listeners can become commenters at will, and the most vocal will become as known to me as my co-hosts are. I can’t wait to meet them.

I am also particularly excited by the choice to read short stories. They will keep the community glued. They are short, accessible, and often jam-packed with as many thought provoking kernels of wisdom and questions as a novel.

Some of you may have noticed that I listed 2BR02B in my list of books. That is a short story, and still, I frothed over that story just as much as any of the other novels on that list. Short stories are not truncated novels. They are full stories that capture as much of humanity as a novel can. They can be just as funny, seductive, discomfitting or scary as any long form book.

And you can read them in one sitting. Perfect for a weekly podcast. All the story to chew on, none of the time-suck. I hope you’ll read some short stories with me — that you’ll read what I read.

Anais

The Case of the Third Co-host

Gerald Interview

The Suspect: Gerald Hornsby

The Mystery: Will Gerald join Literary Roadhouse as a co-host?

Evidence: Shortly after concluding today’s three-way video call with Gerald, Maya and Anais met on a call of their own. They agreed that Gerald will bring great energy to the podcast. “He has a great voice,” they said, “And his interests differ enough from ours that opinions and short story submissions should vary.”

They decided to invite him to join the podcast, but had no way to know for certain that Gerald would accept. They had a hunch that he would, but they’re serious podcasters. A hunch isn’t enough. They needed facts.

Anais believed that if Gerald submits to Maya a good headshot and a short bio for use on the podcast webpage, then that is a sure sign that Gerald is in. She slipped him a short story, left in an inbox he was sure to find at least six hours into the future. Time zones were never her forte.

She signed it, perhaps a bit too hopefully,

Your fellow co-host.