“My grandmother had a lot of stories of ghosts and things, talking about how trees have spirits in them,” says Johnson. “There were a lot of ghost stories, a guy running by with no head – just a lot of odd, scary stories. I grew up believing in that stuff.”
Now, Johnson has made a believer out of horror fans with the release of his debut book, “Yes Trespassing,” an anthology of two dozen short stories about ghosts, ghouls and poltergeists, and all manner of things that go bump in the night.
The stories – many of which had already built Johnson’s writing reputation through their inclusion in multi-author horror anthologies – run an amazing breadth of subject matter, although they are genre specific. Already, Johnson is being lauded for his chilling tale “Water Buried,” about an asthmatic boy left home alone – or is he? – and the mind-bender of a psychic tale, “Some Things Aren’t Anything.”
Those spine-tinglers and others in “Yes Trespassing ” have quickly put Johnson on the literary map.
“In some stories, what you expect to be a straight narrative devolves into lunacy,” writer J. Daniel Stone, author of “Blood Kiss” and “The Absence of Light,” says of Johnson’s debut. “Then, what you expect to be lunacy, turns out to be nothing of the sort. You just don’t know what road Johnson wants to take on.
“You can’t get these stories out of your head.”
For Johnson, a Brooklyn, N.Y. native who still lives in the borough with wife Erica and their 8-year old son Rowan, “Yes Trespassing” marks a labor of love, and a career as a writer destined in the making.
Johnson tells Highlight Hollywood he began writing stories ever since he was able to hold a pencil.
“I wrote my first story when I was five,” Johnson recalls. “It was called ‘My Life As a Convict.’ In the end, a prison guard gets his head cut off. You could tell what road I was on.”
By age 10, Johnson was immersing himself in the works of H.P. Lovecraft. H.G. Wells and Ray Bradbury, and sitting rapt watching the other-wordly, supernatural phenomena TV series “In Search Of….,” all the while honing his own writing chops.
And even as Johnson worked as a non-profit organization grant writer, he never stopped exploring the literary world, until he eventually became a part of it.
“I wasn’t writing for any kind of monetary reasons, and as I got older, I wasn’t just reading horror any longer, I was reading Faulkner and Kafka,” Johnson says. “I began writing other things not genre-specific, but I learned it was hard to get that kind of work published. And that horror, dark fantasy writing was not only my first love, but it’s a genre that has a loyal legion of fans and admirers.”
Johnson began submitting stories for horror anthologies, and when great reviews came in, he continued, to the point “where I began thinking I have enough for a book, using the published stories and writing some new ones.” He enlisted the talented services of Michael Bailey, who co-edited the book, and befriended author John F.D. Taff, who aided Johnson in structuring the book that would become “Yes Trespassing.”
“No one writes a line like Erik T. Johnson, ” Taff writes in the forward to “Yes Trespassing,” adding that Johnson employs “brilliant use of individual, superbly crafted lines in his stories to make a point, highlight an eccentricity or nuance a character right into life.”
Johnson’s eccentricities are in full display in “Yes Trespassing,” from the eerie cover photo of Johnson at age 5 standing with his sister in an ominous Connecticut woodland, to his offering scribbled notes on the editing of the book, laying bare the process of the finished product.
“I wanted to show the messiness of it,” Johnson explains. “Writing is polished and the end product is often sophisticated, but I wanted to go a little farther, show the reader how sausage is made, so to speak. And a lot of readers have gravitated toward that.”
Many have lauded Johnson on building novel-length worlds in stories that run just 10 pages or so, which Johnson says “is the best compliment I could receive.”
“My writing is dense and intense,” he says. “I wanted to use a shorter form of writing, but many of these stories really are, on the whole, condensed novels.”
And Johnson’s next book may not be condensed at all – he’s currently working on his first full-length novel.
“You know, you always question yourself,” Johnson says. “But when this book came out, I was gratified to learn readers actually liked my stuff, even loved it, so that’s encouraging. I’ve always had the support of the smaller writing community with the genre of horror and dark fantasy, but of course you always want to reach a wider audience.
“I have to think the best is yet ahead.”
“Yes Trespassing” by Erik T. Johnson is available on amazon.com.
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Written By: Roger Hitts, (Roger Hitts is a two-time United Press International columnist of the year whose writing appears in a host of national and international publications. He lives in New York City with his wife Daphna Inbar and their daughter, Liana.)
Photographs are Courtesy: Erik T. Johnson
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