Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Troubles of Writing "The Troubles of Johnny Cannon" Part 1: Discovering Johnny.

The Troubles of Johnny Cannon has been out for a few months now, and I thought you might be interested in reading some "Special Features" about the book. So I'm going to make a series of posts detailing the inspiration, the process, the evolution, the challenges, and the surprising joys of writing a novel that was over ten years in the making.

First up, Discovering Johnny Cannon.

Johnny, out of all the other characters in the book, went through the most changes from the moment I first started mentally writing it up to the day the book hit shelves.

When I first, first, FIRST got the idea, his name wasn't Johnny Cannon. It was Johnny Cross. He was seventeen, the star quarterback for his high school, and trying with all his might to hide a very intense secret. What was that secret? Well, it went a little something like this:

Yeah, when I was originally writing the story, Johnny was a half-angel.  (AKA, a nephilim)

Gosh, what was I even thinking? (NOTE: This all started in 2002, so this was well before Supernatural, or Percy Jackson, or anything else.)

As I went on, I began to realize that I really didn't enjoy writing a story that involved angels and demons and angel hunters and the like, so I tweaked it a bit.  I left the supernatural powers behind and instead made Johnny a cyborg.

Yeah, no, that wasn't much better. But it's what I went with.

I also changed Johnny's name from Cross to Cannon because I realized that Alex Cross was an established character and I wanted to avoid using a name well known. (Little did I know that Johnny Cannon was an animator for Disney back in the day and also is currently a politician in Alabama. I love it.) But the Johnny stuck because that was the name of both of my grandfathers, so I felt like it was important.

Anyway, I wanted Johnny to have superpowers because I wanted him to have an out of this world adventure. I wanted him to be recruited by JFK to fight communism along with other kids, and I wanted it to be awesome. (I'll get more into why I originally wanted this so badly in another post)

So that was the story I originally wrote. Johnny Cannon and the Bay of Guinea Pigs. A story about a kid who doesn't know he's part alien cyborg, who is super fast and super good with a gun, and who has super hearing and super strength. He joins a group of kids and together they try to hunt down a soviet scientist and also rescue Johnny's brother Tommy from the clutches of Fidel Castro.

I eventually dropped Johnny's age from seventeen to twelve because it worked better for when I wanted his origin to take place, five years after the story of PT-109.

In The Bay of Guinea Pigs, Johnny leaves Cullman in the middle of the night for Washington DC after Captain Morris comes to recruit him. Eventually, Johnny rises as the leader of the group and they head to Cuba to rescue his brother.

And, wisely, every editor in publishing rejected that story. 

But what I kept hearing was that everyone loved Johnny, but they didn't like the un-human part of his story.

So I worked it again, dissected it, and I found his true voice. It was the voice of every relative I have in the south. The voice of my grandfathers and my dad. The voice of myself, even.

Johnny became this kid who was nothing special, nothing to look at, and nothing but a hard-headed, stubborn, sarcastic kid who, somehow, did amazing things.

And that's the best kind of hero.

Want to read Johnny's story? The Troubles of Johnny Cannon is available wherever books are sold!


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