Skip To Content
Photos by Helen Lam.

Interview: EK Johnston at OPL’s Teen Author Fest

By Helen Lam on November 2, 2018

It was a dark and stormy night. Actually, it was a fairly windy fall day in the Glebe at the OPL’s Teen Author Fest 2018, on October 27th.

Attendees ran up and down the creaky stairs of Southminster church with books under their arms. They drifted calmly between tables during the author meet-and-greet, getting some one on one time with the writers. YA readers are an introverted but inquisitive bunch, quiet but unafraid to ask the important questions when it comes to their new favourite books.

TAF panels were especially interesting for fans that like to an intimate look into how stories are made. Authors shared about how they created memorable characters and built the worlds they inhabit. They spoke about their inspirations and how they see YA literature becoming more diverse. Each author’s process is unique, but Apt613 has learned some things we’d like to share with you:

  • Almost all writers have day jobs or second careers.
  • #MSWL is an important hashtag for writers and editors. A very important hashtag.
  • Editing and redrafting a novel is always, categorically, without reservation, a complete and unyielding nightmare.

Well, there you have it. Get writing! NaNoWriMo is upon us! In the meantime, Apt613 caught up with featured Teen Author Fest author EK Johnston (That Inevitable Victorian ThingExit, Pursued by a Bear), for her thoughts on the sci-fi/fantasy genre and the writing life.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Apt613: Your novel, That Inevitable Victorian Thing, takes place in an alternate Ontario where the British Empire never fell. Readers have loved the blend of historical and futuristic elements. What made you want to write this story?

Johnston: Usually my “how I got my idea” stories happen while I’m driving a car…but this one actually came to me on a bus! I was obsessed with Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South, and we had just seen Pacific Rim in theatre, and I thought it would be fun to combine them both in the same fanfic. Then I remembered that I could write a book instead, so I reworked everything, and That Inevitable Victorian Thing was the result. I wanted to write a future where humanity stuck together, and I wanted to build it on a slightly better past, because people around the world have always been ignored when they speak up for human rights.

Usually my “how I got my idea” stories happen while I’m driving a car…but this one actually came to me on a bus!

In recent years, we’ve seen a rise of more diverse characters and authors in the sci-fi fantasy genre. What do you think has contributed to this trend? How do you hope the genre will continue to evolve?

I think my chief contributions are small, and relatively off-camera, so to speak. I lift up voices wherever I can, and amplify stories that have been stifled for too long. I hope we get more stories from a growing variety of writers in the years to come, and I look forward to reading them!

A: What advice would you have for young people who want to start writing their own sci-fi/fantasy stories?

J: I think the key with starting a sci-fi/fantasy novel is to actually start it. It’s so tempting to stay in world-building more; it’s so much fun! But eventually you have to put the story down in words too, and that can be a challenge.

A: What is the best thing and worst about writing for a living?

J: The best thing about writing for a living is getting to write.

The worst part is definitely copy edits. I hate copy edits. They make me very anxious.

I realize that sounds obvious, but it’s such a gift. I wrote through college and while I was working retail, and getting to do it as a job is just…amazing, even when it’s hard. The worst part is definitely copy edits. I hate copy edits. They make me very anxious.

A: If you were trapped on an iceberg, what novel would you bring to read, and why?

J: Stealing Fire, by Jo Graham.