Why did you pursue writing?
I’ve been an avid reader since I was four — Dr. Seuss, Winnie-the-Pooh — and have been reading ever since. I became seriously interested in writing in my late teens. Literature fascinated me, both prose and poetry: the way writers can convey emotion, moral and ethical sense, social sense, and how they can affect people. I started writing poetry, feeling particularly drawn to it as a way of looking at life and the world, and continued to write with the coaching and guidance of my college English Lit professor and advisor, who encouraged me to explore writing in different styles and forms. At one point, when I was feeling frustrated that I didn’t have anything “important” to write, he said: In your twenties you still don’t have much to write about, you haven’t lived enough; but someday you will and the writing you do now will prepare you for that. I continue to write poetry. This is my first novel.
What inspired your book?
A few years ago, I was mulling over the idea of “what if computers turned on us?”
Not in an Artificial Intelligence vein, but more what if someone turned computers on us, used common everyday computers and devices to attack or kill people? What if your smartphone or tablet suddenly was electronic poison? I thought it particularly terrifying (in the way Hitchcock’s “The Birds” is terrifying) that something from your common everyday life would go from benign to suddenly coming after you.
Those ideas raised questions of not only “how would someone do that?” but “why would they do that?” What kind of person or people would do that and, if they operated from a moral belief, what was their morality and how would they deal with their morality and the devastation? I let that stew for a year or so, during which time I was becoming more and more concerned about the emerging research on climate change, loss of natural habitat, extinction and related problems. I was doing a lot of reading on those issues. Then one day, in late 2013, I woke up with the idea of a story where a person uses computers as a way to bring the worldwide human population down to “environmentally sustainable” levels.
The novel FOUR emerged from those thoughts and a desire to see where the story would go with the four principal characters I imagined. I also felt the story could bring together the kind of emotional, ethical and social issues confronting people today regarding climate change, the destruction of the natural world, religion and the commercial/consumer culture.
How long have you been publishing your work?
This is the first work I have published. (Fingers crossed.) Friends who have read my poems have suggested I publish them, but as of yet I haven’t.
What’s your writing environment like?
Mostly I write at my desk. It has a nice view of a park, with trees and grass, some wildlife— squirrels, birds and rabbits, the occasional groundhog, ducks and geese.
It’s peaceful and quiet and gives me a chance to intently focus on what I am writing and to have my research materials and notes handy. Although I also enjoy writing at home, it can be difficult there, because my cat cannot for the nine lives of him understand what interest I have in that thing I keep tapping my fingers on, so he lies on my wrist or the keyboard to point out he could use a good scratching behind the ears or under the chin. (I sense he’s being intentionally distracting.) On occasion
I’ve done writing at a coffee house, but, when planning to publish under an anonymous pen name, you develop a bit of paranoia about who might see what you’re writing and compromise your anonymity.
What projects are you currently working on?
My current new project is a novel based in the Amazon rainforest. The characters include contemporary Americans who have gone there on a business trip and then venture into the jungle. I have spent many weeks in the Amazon rainforest, with photos and notebooks of my experiences there to draw from. I feel the rainforest makes a spectacular site for a story— not only the incredible beauty and danger of the jungle, but also the amazing people who live there.
Chris Johns is an anonymous pen name for a writer from Milwaukee, WI.
Purchase Four: https://www.createspace.com/5186783