I met L.S. Johnson at FogCon but didn’t get a chance to know her until we hung out at the Horror Writers Association’s booth at the Bay Area Book Festival in the spring. We reconnected last month at the Broad Universe reading at WorldCon. I’m really excited about her work, some of which manages to be literary and visceral as the same time.
Officially, L.S. Johnson lives in Northern California, where she feeds her cats by writing book indexes. She is the author of the gothic novellas Harkworth Hall and Leviathan. Her first collection, Vacui Magia, was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and won the 2nd Annual North Street Book Prize. She is currently working on a dark fantasy series set in 18th century Europe.
Her description of Harkworth Hall:
Ask him about his wives.
Caroline Daniels must marry, and marry well. But in her remote corner of England, eligible suitors are few and far between and none hold a candle to her closest friend, Diana Fitzroy.
When Sir Edward Masterson arrives, he seems the answer to Caroline’s financial worries, though she instinctively dislikes the reticent, older merchant. Soon Sir Edward has set his sights on acquiring both Caroline and the decaying Harkworth Hall.
Caroline’s future seems secure, save that Sir Edward’s enigmatic secretary hints at a dark secret, and Sir Edward shows an unusual interest in the nearby bay. To discover Sir Edward’s true purpose, Caroline will have to face the horror beneath Harkworth Hall—and the woman who will change her life.
Did something in the real world inspire Harkworth Hall?
Unfortunately, yes. I wrote Harkworth Hall after the November 2016 election results. Make no mistake: that night was one of the worst of my life and as the ramifications kept sinking in, I had one of my first bad bouts of depression in a long time. I desperately needed a story where the women win.
What is your favorite scene in the book?
I had the most fun writing the dinner party scene. I love it when I can get my creepy on, and that was the first scene where the story started to really come together for me. But I have to say when I reached the very end, when Caroline is running back to her house? When I first wrote that I just started crying. It was January, not long after the inauguration, and I needed both that moment and the story that led to it.
What was your writing process like as you wrote Harkworth Hall?
The process took a lot longer than I’m used to and the revisions were especially difficult, because it was my first time writing novella length. I’ve written a lot of short fiction and novelettes and I have the requisite number of trunked novel manuscripts. But the rough draft of Harkworth Hall was 18,000 words, neither fish nor fowl in terms of what I was used to, and while it was clearly too short, it also wasn’t going to hit novel length. In the end, the final manuscript was 38,000 words. I solicited more feedback and went through more revision rounds than usual because I was so nervous about the pacing.
What was the best thing that happened during your promotion of the book?
Honestly? There was no one outstanding moment; I’ve just been so pleased by the reader response both the book and its sequel, Leviathan, have gotten. They’re hard books to define genre-wise: f/f, gothic horror, paranormal, sweet romance, historical, suspense … but they’re also the kinds of books I wish I’d had when I was younger. I had plenty of m/f romance-adventures that I enjoyed, but no f/f. To put these stories out in the world has fulfilled a long-held ambition; to have other readers enjoy them as much as I enjoyed writing them is just a joy for me.
What do you have planned next?
Oh, what don’t I have planned next! I’m compiling a second short story collection, Rare Birds, for publication sometime next year. I’ve had such a good response to Harkworth and Leviathan that I’ve decided to continue with these characters for two more novellas. I’m starting the third now, tentatively titled The Painter’s Widow. And I’m looking at ways to move forward with my larger series, featuring vampires, alchemists, and a giant snake-god all doing terrible things in Enlightenment Europe. That project is called Prima Materia, and some part of it will come out next year.
More ways to keep up with her work:
Her website: http://traversingz.com/