Friday, March 30, 2007

Johnson Agonistes

Every author goes through a unique process in bringing his or her book to fruition. Keeping a novel on track is perhaps the most difficult. Plot points may come easily, but the writing lags. An author may be a tremendous writer, but a horrible juggler of the plot points that constitute a narrative. For most, it is a solitary undertaking and, lacking the resources to fact check, proof, and edit can make writing a novel the hardest of professions.

This weekend we are honored to host the book launch for a debut novel and its author, Robin L. Johnson. His book, James Christens, is set in Louisville, but I hope that it's not set in any kind of Louisville you are familiar with.

I won't give away a lot of the story, but here's a brief description. The metro police are stymied by a baffling series of unsolved killings. After years of investigation, they still have not been able to stop the terror of a serial murderer. It's not for a lack of clues - in fact, each crime scene is overloaded with evidence of a truly twisted mind. And yet, still no arrests.

Famed criminologist Robert Brampton is called in. The supremely confident Brampton approaches each case the same way - with assurance that his analytical techniques will unearth the killer. And the local task force finds itself now being directed by a dispassionate sleuth whose "rules" for solving a crime don't always rub the locals the right way.

I have to tell you, the killings in this novel rival those of Thomas Harris's character, Hannibal Lecter. But unlike in Red Dragon or Silence of the Lambs, this book takes us much more deeply into the backstory of the killer. I'll let you be the judge as to whether Johnson intends you to empathize with the killer, but then I doubt you'll be anything but terrified by everything you read. It's a good read.

We first encountered Robin in 2005. The story of how he reached this point is pretty interesting. Over the course of several months, Robin released chapters of James Christens by blogging it. That's right. Many of our early readers were privileged to read parts of this book more than two years ago.

Johnson used the interactive nature of the Internet to refine his storytelling and engage the reader in a way few authors are able to. One of the engaging methods he used was to run an online contest for readers who could solve plot-driven puzzles as each "chapter" was released. He buried a capsule of prizes somewhere in this very region, a capsule that could only be found by solving the puzzles. Because readers logged in from all 24 time zones, Robin ran a virtual contest for people around the world who couldn't possibly come to Inditucky to search.

The much-missed Bill Kenney, the Georgetown blogger and polymath who passed away last year, was the grand prize winner, but that's the least part of the story. Bill's encouragement and feedback were, as Robin tells it, an important part of Robin's progression from story idea to finished book.

Please consider joining us on Saturday, March 31, at 4 p.m. Robin will sign and discuss his book during a book launch party at Destinations Booksellers.

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