Please welcome Joshua Phillip Johnson to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Forever Sea was published on January 19, 2021 by DAW.
The Qwillery: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?
Joshua Phillip Johnson: Thanks so much for having me here! I have very vivid memories of writing Pokemon fan fiction on the computer in my parents' room. I saved it on a floppy drive that I labelled "Stories of Fun Adventures," and I must have added to it every day for about 6 months. I eventually moved on to other things, but that was the start for me: imagining myself in a world with tiny monstrous friends going on fun adventures. I lost that floppy drive at some point, which is probably for the best.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
JJ: I'm a pantser who is trying to be a plotter! I'm bad at outlining, but writing is so much easier for me when I take the time and slog through the plotting process before I draft.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
JJ: All of it! Writing is really hard for me, but it's a challenge I really love. Most difficult, though, is probably pushing past my internal editor on a first draft.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
JJ: Other books primarily, but also the environment, politics, conversations with friends and other writers, relationships with family, colleagues, and friends. I tend to think everything in a writer's world makes its way into their work in some form or another, but books and the environment are probably top of my list for conscious and intentional influences.
TQ: Describe The Forever Sea using only 5 words.
JJ: The uncut hair of graves.
TQ: Tell us something about The Forever Sea that is not found in the book description.
JJ: There's a frame narrative surrounding Kindred's story, one told by a mysterious character known only as the Storyteller. His parts are some of my favorite, so I won't spoil them!
TQ: What inspired you to write The Forever Sea? What appeals to you about writing fantasy?
JJ: I live in a place that was once covered in tallgrass prairie, and there are still remnants of it around here. I was inspired by that (mostly) lost landscape. Fantasy is my favorite genre to read, and I love writing it, too! Maybe it seems naive or childish, but I'm so interested in stories about magic, in part because it's awesome, but also because it feels really relevant to our world today. My favorite band, Cloud Cult, has this great line in one of their songs: "Everything is magic 'til you think it's not." So much of the world feels that way to me, and so stories that find joy in magic--both literal and metaphorical--are still my favorite!
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Forever Sea?
JJ: I'm lucky to teach at a university, so I spent time talking with and interviewing a colleague who studies the prairie. I also read books about prairie landscapes and had my copy of Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie at hand whenever I was writing. For the boat bits, I went sailing with friends of mine who have a small sailboat and spent a wonderful long afternoon at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. I'm sure I still got plenty of things wrong, and those mistakes are all mine.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for The Forever Sea.
JJ: I was so fortunate to get two wonderful covers for the book.
1) The US cover is by the brilliant Marc Simonetti, and the jacket design is by Katie Anderson. The cover shows The Errant, a harvesting vessel that features prominently in the book, cutting across the Forever Sea, a fibrous spray of prairie plants filling the air around it. It's amazing and I love it.
2) The UK cover is by the amazing Julia Lloyd, and it depicts Kindred, the main character, standing in the Forever Sea, staring ahead at the ghostly image of a ship in the near distance. Much of the book pivots around Kindred's desire to know what's beyond the known parameters of the sea--what's beyond the horizon and what's below the surface, and it's so meaningful and cool to have a cover with her being in the Sea.
TQ: In The Forever Sea who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
JJ: Little Wing was maybe the easiest to write. She's the quartermaster/second in command aboard The Errant, and she's a character I love deeply. I'm not sure why, but her parts always came very naturally to me. Maybe because she's straightforward and focused in ways I only wish I could be. Anyway, I love her.
Hardest was Kindred, which is a problem since she's the main character! She can be quite internal and reactive (much like me), and I often found her at odds with a plot that was pushing forward. Writing her character may have been a bit of self help for me. :-)
TQ: Does The Forever Sea touch on any social issues?
JJ: Definitely! Environmentalism is always a social issue; people are disproportionately affected by scarcity and environmental problems based on race and class, and any climate solutions we come up with will need to seriously engage racial justice and social justice issues. I don't think that The Forever Sea is any sort of key text for these things, but they were all in my mind while writing.
The other is sexuality. Writing this book helped me come out as bisexual. This novel isn't about that process; Kindred is much more comfortable with her sexuality than I was while writing, and I'm still not in a place where I'm ready to talk much about it, but those ideas are certainly present.
TQ: Which question about The Forever Sea do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
JJ: Hmm! What a great prompt! I'd love someone to ask "Which plant mentioned in the novel is your favorite?" And my answer would be prairie smoke! It's such a gentle, unassuming plant, and when it blooms, it lets loose these long, fuzzy hairs that catch and move in the wind like tendrils of smoke.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Forever Sea.
JJ: The first is from Kindred's first time really experiencing the Forever Sea: "What had been before only an unremarkable throw of green, monotonous and monolithic, became more for Kindred. She saw the rise and wave of more big bluestem around her, and other plants too--each one articulating radical existences in the spaces between light and dark green, between yellow and gold, between stalk and stem.
"Every blade a doorway and every shadow an entrance to a life Kindred had never known but which called to her all the same."
The second is a riddle Kindred buys: "Little-light, fallen from above. Sun sight without eye. Young, I follow dawn. Old, I drop young."
TQ: What's next?
JJ: I need to revise the sequel to The Forever Sea, but I've also started work on a new project. It's still too fresh to really talk about, but I can say it's a fantasy novel with a math-based magic system, weird death rituals, and dangerously different ideas about green energy.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
JJ: Thanks so much for having me!
The Forever Sea
DAW, January 19, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 464 pages
The first book in a new environmental epic fantasy series
set in a world where ships kept afloat by magical hearthfires sail an
endless grass sea.
On the never-ending, miles-high expanse of prairie grasses known as the
Forever Sea, Kindred Greyreach, hearthfire keeper and sailor aboard
harvesting vessel The Errant, is just beginning to fit in with
the crew of her new ship when she receives devastating news. Her
grandmother—The Marchess, legendary captain and hearthfire keeper—has
stepped from her vessel and disappeared into the sea.
But the note she leaves Kindred suggests this was not an act of suicide.
Something waits in the depths, and the Marchess has set out to find it.
To follow in her grandmother’s footsteps, Kindred must embroil herself
in conflicts bigger than she could imagine: a water war simmering below
the surface of two cultures; the politics of a mythic pirate city
floating beyond the edges of safe seas; battles against beasts of the
deep, driven to the brink of madness; and the elusive promise of a world
below the waves.
Kindred finds that she will sacrifice almost everything—ship, crew, and a
life sailing in the sun—to discover the truth of the darkness that
waits below the Forever Sea.
Joshua Phillip Johnson lives in a little green house on what used to be the prairie with his partner and their child. His work has appeared in Syntax & Salt, The Future Fire, and Metaphorosis Magazine, among others. He teaches at a small liberal arts university. The Forever Sea is his first novel.