Brianne Johnson

YA fantasy/magical/grounded sci-fi

Katherine Tegan Books
Summer 2018

I was born deep in the heart of Texas but never liked cowboys or The Cowboys, so needless to say: I was quite the little weirdo growing up. My mom and I had moved eighteen times by the time I was eighteen—I also gained two terrific little siblings along the way—so I had plenty of fodder for stories. I wrote my first “”novel”” on my mom’s word processor at age ten, then quit writing for a while when I caught the theatre bug in high school.

I went to college in Massachusetts and spent my itinerant twenties living in all sorts of funky places off-season—Cape Cod in the dead of winter, a Vermont ski town in the heat of summer, a tiny cabin in Woodstock, and a defunct Pennsylvania dairy farm where I stayed for free (not as a squatter, I swear). Though I had nothing but time, I didn’t write as much as I thought I would: I’ve struggled with depression since I was a kid, and living in various isolated places was perhaps *not* the best decision for my mental health, though it sure seemed romantic at the time.

These days I make my home in sunny Los Angeles beneath a dying avocado tree (thank you, drought). I still do a little acting and improv comedy on the side, which I’m pretty sure is a pre-req for living in LA. I share a charming little bungalow with my lovely partner (a brilliant writer) and Finley Fergus Fitzgerald III (an oddball dog). When I’m not writing, I love to dance—I teach a class called RockAsana that’s a little bit yoga, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. If you’re ever in town, stop by and dance a spell.
I’ve been a ghostwriter for over ten years, which means my day job is writing books for other people. So while ROAR is the second YA manuscript I’ve written, it’s something like the thirtieth if you count all my prior ghosting work. I’ve had to learn how to write on deadline, how to collaborate, and how to hold onto the “”heartbeat”” of a story while also incorporating outside feedback. To be honest, I still struggle with this. I’m a people pleaser, so my first instinct is, “”Sure, I’ll rewrite it from page one if it’ll make you happy!”” It’s a constant challenge, knowing how much to stick to my guns in a revision, and how much to bend.

I’m also an editor and writing coach, working closely with dozens of authors, many of whom are writing their first novel or memoir. I’m a really good cheerleader for my clients, and that’s one of the best things I can offer you as a mentor, too: my energy and enthusiasm. I love sending encouraging emails, sharing writing quotes, co-commiserating, and checking in with you to see how you’re doing and what you need.

Also, I have a query template that I’m happy to share: this is the query I sent out with my first ms, the one that led me to sign with my first agent. I’ve shared this query template with over a dozen fellow writer friends, and to date, six have signed with agents! So I like to think the template has fairy dust. 🙂

I believe a liberal dose of humor should be applied to all things—I’d never have survived without it. Life can be hard and the publishing industry can be hard, too: there are a lot of rejections and disappointments, even once you start having some awesome wins. I’d love a mentee with a realistic outlook on this business, and I welcome honest conversations about how to craft a life as a working writer. Getting my book deal was one of the best days of my life; over the year that followed, I left my agent, which was one of the *worst* days of my life; my editor left my publishing house; and my debut got bumped a whole year. So I’ve laughed a lot, but I’ve cried a lot, too, and I want you to know I am a safe space to talk about all of it: the giggles AND the shits.

I think it’s important, at all stages of our careers, to maintain a rigorous sense of play. I mentored a high school writer through an LA nonprofit called WriteGirl where we met up every week and developed writing prompts on the spot, then wrote together for half an hour. I think prompts can be hugely helpful, especially when you’re stuck: they push your brain out of its comfort zone and help you enter a story (or a character) with new perspective. If we work together, I might throw some writing prompts your way from time to time. Use them if they’re helpful; discard them if they’re not.

Perhaps most importantly: I want you to know you’re not alone. I, too, go to SCBWI events where, after wandering around ballrooms with 1,300 strangers all day, I retreat to the parking garage to cry in my car. It’s a horrible feeling, that sort of soul-crushing loneliness, the feeling that you will never be good enough, that you are on the outside looking in. I’ve been there. I’m still there, sometimes. If you feel that way, talk to me. I’d love to help you walk through it and find a slice of sunshine on the other side.

Magic, fantasy, slipstream, grounded sci-fi, general weirdness—all welcome. I adore stories that bend my brain and dazzle my senses. In adult fiction, Aimee Bender, George Saunders, Kevin Brockmeier, Amber Sparks, and Kelly Link do this masterfully. In these stories, the magic isn’t a gimmick: it’s how the author scratches the surface of some deeper truth about what it means to be human.

I’m also interested in stories told in innovative ways—in tweets or text messages, letters, found material, etc. Again, the gimmick should serve the story, not derail it. Ace and gray-ace characters a plus.

YA debuts I’ve loved this year include CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber and THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING by Jeff Giles; also SPEAK OF ME AS I AM by Sonia Belasco and A PSALM FOR LOST GIRLS by Katie Bayerl. Even though Sonia and Katie’s books are contemporary, there’s such careful attention to language and mysticism they *become* magical. And of course, anything by Nova Ren Suma, Laura Ruby, Leigh Bardugo, Jandy Nelson, and Laini Taylor is a must.

If we’re working together, it’s because I’m excited about the story you’re trying to tell. I’m not going to say, “Cool, a story about monkeys in Antarctica! But what if they were, like, zebras, in outer space?” Your story is your story, and you’re the one who’s been living inside it: you know the sound and shape of your book’s heartbeat far better than I do.

The way I see it, my job is to switch on a flashlight and show you your story from angles you may not have seen. We can brainstorm, and I’ll give you big-picture notes and impressions, but I like to give you space to figure out where you want to go. My goal is to pinpoint areas that may need work and then gently nudge you to find your own brilliant ways to address them. What’s that Neil Gaiman quote? “”When people tell you there’s something wrong with a story, they’re almost always right. When they tell what it is that’s wrong and how it can be fixed, they’re almost always wrong.”

I’d be over the moon to work with someone who’s fallen in love with their characters—maybe more than they ever intended. Your story should be living and breathing inside you, like a banshee screaming to be set free. Grab me with voice, seduce me with language, and capture me with a killer hook. All of this can be accomplished in ten pages—and absolutely should be!

Taming, translating, and polishing up your banshee: mentorship 101.

My partner is a TV writer, so I’ve watched more TV in the last six years than in the first twenty-six. All-time faves: Black Mirror, Broadchurch, The Killing, Lost, The OA, and Les Revenants/The Returned (the French version, not the American version—why do we Americans have to mess everything up?).

I feel like I come off looking pretty dark with those as my favorites, so I should add that I also love Game of Thrones.


Okay, saving grace: I loved Stranger Things (who didn’t?) and Togetherness is the best dramedy I’ve seen in ages. I miss Key & Peele terribly. I know they’re off enjoying highly successful solo careers, and I’m happy for them, but shoot: they were the best. Whenever I’m feeling sad, I still go on frenzied K&P watching sprees. Might I recommend the airport collection? Everyone and their mom has seen “”Substitute Teacher,”” but “”Airplane Continental”” and “”Turbulence”” are seriously underrated.

Favorite hot drink: tea. tea tea tea tea LEAVE ME ALONE, COFFEE PEOPLE.
Favorite place to write: the cafe near my house that has a mug just for me.

Black Mirror for teens.
A gripping mystery told via some kind of social media.
A Lost-style setup with lush writing and complicated female characters.