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New local book author leads a life of fantasy

Local author Ryan Keith Johnson holds his first two published books: one is a fantasy novella and the other a collection of poems and song lyrics. He has participated in book signings and plans to do poetry reading in local venues.

"I like to think of myself as more of a creator than simply an author."

Ryan Keith Johnson, 32, sat in the Magpie Coffee House and Café in Somerset. The 1997 graduate of Somerset High School was holding copies of his first two published books - and grinning broadly.

"I'm working on four or five books right now," he said, describing stories that encompass horror, Christian-themed fiction and fantasy.

His first book, "The King's Retribution," was more than six years in the making before being published in July 2007.

Set in the fantasy realm of Aria, a young peasant goes on a quest to find a magical mask. The 80-page novella is sold online and direct mail.

He said that his interest in storytelling goes back to his childhood days.

"When I was 7 years old, I would tell my mom and sister stories while doing the paper route," said Johnson. "Things like going on a treasure hunt, falling down the laundry hamper into another world and meeting lots of strange people."

He also credits his younger sister with encouraging his imagination. He recalled that he would play with his He-Man action figures and she would play with her Barbie dolls and they would act out storylines.

But it was a writing assignment in third grade that really started him putting his stories to paper.

He said that his first written stories were similar to what others were writing, mainly alien stories. As he learned more about the craft of punctuation, plot and characterization, he started to delve more into the fantasy genre.

After graduating from Somerset High School, Johnson began attending Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in Rice Lake to study mechanical design. He quit when he realized his passion lay in writing and animation.

He took classes in English and writing, eventually earning a degree from Brown College in graphic design. Between working on his novella and classes, he worked various jobs at UPS and Pizza Hut.

After getting critiques from co-workers and friends, he was finally ready to talk to publishers. However, he found it was difficult to find the right venue.

Several publishing houses were eager to print his work, but only for an $8,000 fee.

"I decided not to do that," said Johnson. "They continued to write me letters asking to publish my work, but I saw that they would be getting more of the benefit than I would."

Submissions to fantasy magazines garnered "lots" of rejection letters, which led to more revisions. He eventually decided to publish the novella himself instead of going with an agent and traditional publishing house.

By 2007, he held the completed book in his hands for the first time.

"I was really surprised and happy - I waited a long time to see this done," he recalled.

Prompted by his first published outing, he decided to finish another book, this one different from the fantasy genre.

"My dad got me interested in writing song lyrics when I was in the ninth grade. Between 1998 and 2010, I wrote several and I didn't want to leave them in the computer - I wanted to get them published."

He signed with another self-publishing agency to print "What I Think About You: Song Lyrics and Poetry" in May 2011.

The collection of 98 poems and lyrics are very personal to him, chronicling his feelings toward 9/11, breakups and the death of loved ones.

Although he doesn't play any instruments, he said that he would be willing to collaborate with someone to put the lyrics into songs.

"I've tried to write music harmonies but it was so time-consuming that I decided to focus on writing my stories," he said.

Although this publication won't be available online until this fall, he is already working on a second collection of poetry and lyrics dealing with high school that he plans to release in the summer of 2012.

In addition, he has a Christian novella coming out this September and he is putting the finishing touches on a horror story and collection of short stories.

For more information about Johnson's books, contact him at 715-338-4278.

"I'm still new at writing stories, but I think I'll always be comfortable writing fantasy," said Johnson.

"But I would also like to try a western or detective story."