Horror writer Scott Johnson ’19 is a graduate of the online Popular Fiction MFA program, and one of the first writers from that program to have a book published. He discussed his 11th novel (16th book overall) which will be published by Bloodshot Books in the next year.
Q: What is the name of your new novel?
Johnson: UNGEHEUER. It’s a German word that means “monster.” My first book came out way back in 2004, and I’ve been writing ever since.
This is also the second book I’ve had published that is connected with Emerson. While at Emerson, we have to write a thesis novel. I wrote two. One of them, I used for the class in layout and design to learn how to put together a book, a cover, the whole thing. That was Shy Grove: A Ghost Story, and that came out in 2018. When it was done, I was so proud of it, I self-published it as an experiment. It got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, and it also won Emerson’s Graduate Publishing award. To date, it’s been my best seller, and I’m incredibly proud of it. The second was my thesis, UNGEHEUER. That was the one I workshopped through the curriculum.
Q: What is the novel about?
Johnson: This book is a love-letter to the old creature features from when I was growing up. A group of amateur cavers accidentally free a horde of ancient monsters from an old mine shaft. The creatures get out and go on a killing spree. It falls to a park ranger, a book-store owner, and a pair of teenaged campers to figure out what the creatures are and how to stop them.
Q: When did you first come up with the idea for the novel?
Johnson: The town in which I live has a huge German population, and I’ve always been fascinated by folklore and monsters. It just seemed a good fit.
Q: Not to disclose your email address, but it has the word “horror” in it. Are you a horror writer?
Johnson: My web address is actually creepylittlebastard.com, so, yes. I’m proud to be a horror writer. Horror’s something I’ve always felt I was good at.
Q: What writers have influenced you?
Johnson: That’s a long list. Top of the list are Richard Matheson, Clive Barker, Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, Gary Braunbeck, Mike Arnzen, [Emerson College Senior Writer-in-Residence] Jon Papernick, Tim Waggoner, and Ray Bradbury.
Q: What are your favorite horror stories?
Johnson: If we’re talking short stories, I love “The Funeral” and “Witch War,” both by Richard Matheson. If we’re talking books, The Shining (King) and The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty are top of my lists.
Q: What is your previous writing history?
Johnson: I didn’t start writing until later in life, when I was about 35 or so. Before that, I’d always been the guy who told spooky stories around the campfire, but I never really thought my stories were worth anything. Then I got into a writing workshop class by happenstance (I needed a credit, it fit my schedule) and that was that. My first professionally-published story came out of that class, and I’ve never looked back. From that class, I wrote my first novel, which got picked up by a traditional publisher, and I’ve been writing ever since.
Q: What and when was your first novel?
Johnson: My first novel was An American Haunting. It came out in 2004 through Harbor House Books out of Augusta, Georgia (now closed).
Q: What is/has been your profession?
Johnson: Teacher, technician, writer, musician, comedian… I’ve had a weird life. But every experience leads me to write with more authenticity.
Q: What made you want to take the Popular Fiction online MFA program?
Johnson: I wanted to step up my writing game. I already teach in an MFA program (Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania), but I feel like I always want to improve. The MFA program at Emerson gave me a chance to expand my knowledge and skills, so I went for it.
Q: How did the class help your writing evolve?
Johnson: It made me ask questions I’d not thought to ask, and made me consider my whole storytelling ability. It’s easy, once you’ve been published, to say, “I know what I’m doing,” but you don’t grow that way. Growth comes from never sitting back. It’s important to keep evolving as a writer.
Q: Your first novel was written in your 30s. A lot of people would’ve given up on writing their first novel in their 30s, yet alone get it published. What drove you to write it?
Johnson: If I’m being honest, I did it just to see if I could. The thing is, I’m always trying to push my boundaries. The easiest way to get me to do something is to tell me I can’t, then I do it just to prove I can.
Q: What else would you like people to know about yourself and the novel?
Johnson: About me? Not much. I mean, I do lots of things, but more about the book: It’s inspired by real places and real folklore. Dripping Springs, the place in the book, is real and I used to go camping at the Roy Creek park, which is also featured in the book. Also, the book (as does all of my work) deals with some heavy emotional themes, and also involves a real “hero’s journey.” I can’t really tell much more about it without giving away major plot points, but it’s one helluva ride.