Eric Johnson is retired from the National Guard. He has been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan in his 15-year career as an active duty Soldier and a National Guardsman. He has used his experience when writing military science fiction, and aims to relive or transfer those experiences to his writing. He has also written erotica as well as a steampunk short story. He currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
Find interviews like this one on the Military Veterans in Creative Careers podcast.
Justin Sloan: Thank you for agreeing to speak with us, Eric. Before we delve into your writing, what did you do in the military? How did your transition out go, and what were some major takeaways?
Eric Johnson: I was a Forward Observer for my whole career and later on a Joint Forward Observer (Or an 0861 for anybody in the USMC). I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan (once each) and deployed (non-combat) to Kuwait, Egypt, and Montana (2000 firefighting from Fort Hood). The last three years of my fifteen years was with the Army National Guard.
JS: Is there anything you would do differently if you could go back and do it again?
EJ: Definitely wouldn’t have gone National Guard, that’s for sure. I’ve done some retarded things in the military (like anybody else), but the biggest mistake in my mind was going National Guard. Other than that I’d probably do things much better, but overall I don’t regret my choices and the ones I made.
JS: Tell us about your 2-4 Cavalry series. Where did this story originate and what pushed you through to the end?
EJ: It actually started during my tour in Afghanistan, where I slowly started to get inspired to write. To be honest with you, the Hammer’s Slammers series by David Drake was the main inspiration to do so. His portrayal (himself a veteran of the Vietnam War) gave a very down to earth look at warfare, and frankly was accurate and a style I enjoy writing myself. So, after I got back from there, I slowly formed the unit up and started to write it more and more. Now, after five years, it’s second nature to write the various stories. But the reason I created 2-4 Cavalry is that I had ideas in my head and went with it, on how I would like to run a unit as opposed to depending on the “tried and true” method. Granted, David Drake isn’t an idiot. I have my views on his universe and fit my desires into them. At a time it clashed and at book five I had to drastically change things as I was getting more technical than he liked, and that’s fine. I created my own universe and honestly like what’s come out of it so far. I’m excited (when I do write) to work on them, to figure out the minutiae of day to day business (if it applies to the storyline) and so forth. They have to move on like everybody else, and like any other unit in the military.
JS: What was the process of publication like?
EJ: Fairly easy. Smashwords is very particular formatting for their books, but otherwise it’s easy to do. Amazon KDP is really easy to upload and submit books to, so I usually work with those two, and use Premium Distribution from Smashwords to get my books out more.
JS: Do you on write about military related subjects? How did your time in change how you write (would you write differently if you hadn’t served)?
EJ: I focus a lot on military related topics, such as news events and such. But my service helped me be “right” and more accurate on things that I’ve noticed that civilian authors only assume (rank structure, how to act/react to various situations). To be fair, there are some good civilian authors, but more often than not I prefer veteran authors because they don’t pull the punches that most civilian authors do in order to appease their readers. And to be honest with you, I don’t think I would have written the same if I had not served in any capacity. That’s because I have actual experience to make it feel right to the reader, especially veterans.
JS: Do you find your writing helped in any ways, such as coping with your military time or bad memories and whatnot?
EJ: I had a psychotic break a few years ago, and that was the culmination of things I pushed aside, saying “I would deal with them later,” and therefore in some cases came to an ugly head. Granted, some of it was due to the unit I was in, and I couldn’t cope with a toxic environment (I don’t operate in one if I can help it). So I ended up losing my mind, literally. Writing about it gets it “out there,” much like Primal Scream therapy (as well as real world therapy), and out of my system and it calms my mind down, which has helped a lot.
JS: What is your writing process? Why do you write, and what do you do about writer’s block?
EJ: I usually stick to short stories, and my books are essentially anthologies so to speak, as I don’t like long stories if I don’t need to write them. I figure that if I can write it in a paragraph or two, and not have to make it a monologue, then I’ll do that. I’ve been praised for not wasting words, so if I can make a point that you, the reader, can understand, then I will write what’s necessary and nothing more. Over time I’ve adjusted my writing to focus on what I want to write about, such as particular themes and the overall picture of that story.
JS: How did you learn to write? What resources are out there for others to learn to write (classes, books, etc.?)
EJ: Trial and error honestly, as I wrote short fan fiction stories for Battletech but never went farther than that. There’s a lot of resources, and I’d be lying to you and the reader if I knew them all.
JS: What are your favorite military related books out there? What about a few from other genres? What is it about those books?
EJ: Hammer’s Slammers will be my favorite for the genre, and as mentioned its hard hitting, down to earth, and plain realistic for a veteran to follow and agree with. There are other various books, both fiction and non-fiction, as well as regular science fiction (SF) books. As a matter of fact, Have Spacesuit, Will Travel got me into SF in general, and I’m quite glad I am into SF as a whole. But it’s just the various ideas and concepts that come out that help inspire me and provide ideas that I may be able to tweak so I can use them. But given that I’m more into military SF, I generally stay in that realm.
JS: What’s next for you, as far as books are concerned? Are you writing something now?
EJ: I’ve gotten inspired by Appleseed (great manga by Masamune Shirow), and am trying to make a 28th century Earth into a political hotbed of stuff that happens today (power plays, war by proxy or overt conflict, etc.). It’s helping me expand my writing ability, imagination, and to do something besides cookie cutter engagements on the fictional battlefield. So far, my beta readers like where I’m going with it and the variety is a welcome change even for myself.
JS: What have been some of your biggest struggles in pursuing your creative passions? Did everyone believe in you along the way, including yourself?
EJ: Usually the struggle is just finding stuff to write, so sometimes I’m not writing. Sometimes I get inspired to come up with a story and focus on that when I can. I have other pursuits that sometimes get in the way of writing… But those who’ve read my stuff have supported me along the way and I appreciate that.
JS: Did you have a publishing plan? Is your ultimate goal to be a fulltime author, or what lies in store for you?
EJ: I generally try and get my work published ASAP, given that I don’t go through a publishing house. So once I get it edited and setup, I publish it. My ultimate goal is to pretty much write as much as I feel like. Again, I have other priorities that don’t involve writing, so I sometimes focus more on those and get to writing when I can.
JS: Thank you again, Eric. Before we sign off, can you leave us with one main piece of advice for all those aspiring writers out there that want to follow in your footsteps and pursue their dreams?
EJ: Just keep on focusing on getting the story out. Some people can write a story and get famous, or known, but for others it takes time and some luck to be successful. So, I would recommend having the stamina to keep on working it if you’re not successful at the beginning, as success takes some effort to achieve, and is not always instant.
Amazon Kindle Profile: http://www.amazon.com/mn/landing/B003NQA7QK?_encoding=UTF8&tag=hupa08e-20&linkCode=shr&camp=213733&creative=393193
Other interviews like this one, along with the author’s advice, can be found in the book Military Veterans in Creative Careers.