Author Interview: Chad Thomas Johnston

Picture of author Chad Thomas Johnston

Chad Thomas Johnston feels his website should feel like Christmas to its visitors. Of all the authors I’ve interviewed so far, I must profess kid-like Christmas joy at having come across such a varied creative talent as Chad. Enjoy.

Giveway: One randomly drawn reader who comments on today’s post will receive a free electronic copy or signed print version of Chad’s novel! Rumor has it, the book will arrive in some out-of-this-world packaging…

1. Please provide a brief synopsis of your book. 

Nightmarriage is a whimsical work of creative nonfiction—a memoir in essay form—that focuses on what I playfully describe as the “terrors of marriage and the perils of parenthood.” The book is autobiographical, and focuses on the first few years of my life as a husband and father.

The title is a portmanteau of “nightmare” and “marriage,” and serves as a preview of the kind of wordplay that appears throughout the book. I have always loved cartoons and tall tales, and people tell me my work reads a bit like both—I love this assessment! The blank page is a playground for me.

Cover of Nightmarriage by Chad Thomas Johnston

2. Tell us a little bit about what motivates or inspires your writing.

I’ve always written in some capacity—either as a pretentious poet in high school, an even more pretentious singer-songwriter in college, or an aspiring (and probably equally pretentious) essayist in adulthood.

On one level, I write for therapeutic purposes. I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and I find that writing feels a lot like assembling a puzzle, with each word serving as a piece that contributes to the final picture. Writing satisfies my need to immerse myself in an all-consuming project; it keeps my obsessive brain occupied. When I don’t write, my brain grinds away on far less enjoyable things, and often far more frightening things.

But writing is not purely therapeutic. I also write because I love writing. Or maybe I should say what I usually do about it: For me, writing is 20% rapture, 30% dutiful plodding, 30% fear and trembling, and 20% rewriting the same sentence over and over. But like a bug to a bug-zapper, I find myself drawn to writing, and it fries my brain and also electrifies it at the same time.

3. It’s hard to pick just one, but what do you consider your favorite novel and why?

John MacGregor’s Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal. It’s not really a novel because it’s not fiction, but I largely read and write nonfiction. In the case of this book, truth is stranger than fiction anyway.

It’s an in-depth analysis—a biography and a psychoanalytic exploration—of a reclusive janitor who, over the course of his life, wrote a 15,145-page fantasy novel and created over 300 paintings to accompany it, all without anyone knowing about it. He also wrote a 5,000 page autobiography that gradually evolves (devolves?) into a story about a tornado named Sweetie Pie.

His neighbors discovered his work when he was on his deathbed, and it has become a celebrated body of Outsider Art. The author studied Darger’s works for fifteen years, and he explores it for over 700 pages, and uses his expertise in psychology to evaluate of Darger, ultimately suggesting that he may have suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome.

Cover image of Henry Darger Biography

4. What is the name of your blog and what can readers expect to find there?

My website,, is devoted to my creations, which include writing, visual art, and music. On the sidebar, there are widgets for my free Christmas album, Stalking Stuffers: Coal for the Stocking in Your Soul, and a 35-song compilation album (DJG Was Here) I assembled to coincide with a gallery event (2011’s “Quietly Contributing: The Poster Art of DJG Design”) for Kansas City-based artist Danny Joe Gibson, along with other downloadable goodies.

I mention the Christmas album because I feel like a website should kind of feel like Christmas morning, offering visitors lots of presents and surprises—lots of things a person can download and enjoy, basically.

Image of Chad Thomas Johnston Blog Banner

5. Are you traditionally published or self-published?

For Nightmarriage, I went with an upstart publisher that had international distribution. I considered self-publishing, but knew nothing about formatting e-books—especially with the varieties of e-readers available around the world. So I signed with eLectio Publishing, knowing they could put Nightmarriage out in over eighty different e-book formats internationally.

They also released my book in print despite the “e” at the beginning of their name—they are no longer solely an e-book publisher. I have found their staff very helpful, and I look forward to working with them more in the future on other projects.

I designed the cover for Nightmarriage myself, and can be contracted to design covers for other books, too. Other books I have designed covers for include Shawn Smucker’s Building a Life Out of Words and Dwain Smith’s Bullheaded. I always create my own typography—something I learned from Danny Joe Gibson.

6. Can you offer one or two helpful tips for fellow writers when it comes to marketing and publicity? 

In a word: Twitter. A lot of people think it’s something celebrities use to tell the world what they’re eating for dinner, and that’s partially the case. But it’s also an amazing tool for networking. I use it obsessively to connect with other authors, potential readers, existing fans, the media, publishers, book bloggers, etc.

I met my former agent on Twitter. I’ve gotten manuscript requests from the media through tweeting. I met singer-songwriter Derek Webb, the founder of, through Twitter, and later interviewed him in person. My current writing gig at IMAGE Journal’s excellent “Good Letters” literary blog came about through connections I made on Twitter. Both of my book cover design opportunities came about because of Twitter connections, too.

I know it’s not for everyone, but it suits my personality, the way my brain works, and the way I connect with people. So it can be used as a powerful tool. Your readers can follow me at @Saint_Upid on Twitter.

7. Describe your writing background. 

I have two degrees in communication studies, and I took some writing coursework along the way. But I’ve always written, so that’s always been happening in the background, apart from school or work.

Even in elementary school, I used to write little books. I’d bind them with cardboard and Christmas wrapping paper, and my classmates would check them out from my “library.” My mom says she knew writing would be a part of my professional future when I began doing that.

8. What does your drafting and/or editing process entail?

I follow Anne Lamott’s advice and write “shitty first drafts,” and let them be what they are.

Then, I take the advice of my friend Jennifer Luitwieler (author of Run with Me: An Accidental Runner and the Power of Poo), and I leave that first draft alone for a few days. Then I revisit it, and edit it two or three more times before I decide it’s done.

The editor for IMAGE Journal’s blog, Cathy Warner, is editing another book of mine (titled The Stained-Glass Kaleidoscope). When I find myself at the bottom of a very deep writing hole, she’s the one who lowers the rope and hoists me out.

My friend Jennifer Harris Dault, who edited most of Nightmarriage and spearheaded and edited 2012’s The Modern Magnificat: Women Responding to the Call of God, also serves as a sounding board when I need editorial guidance.

9. What future projects can we look forward to?

I’m always writing new essays for IMAGE Journal’s blog, and I’ll soon be editing The Stained-Glass Kaleidoscope. I may or may not publish it in one piece—I may break it up, as it’s fairly huge. I wrote it before Nightmarriage, and honestly, some of it may not be viable at all. We’ll see.

I’ve also had a collaborative work of fiction in the pipeline for awhile now, but my coauthor and I have not touched it in quite some time. We’ll see if we can resuscitate it. It’s been in deep-space cryo-sleep for a few years now.

10. Is there anything else you want your potential readers to know?

Yes—they should check out IMAGE Journal’s “Good Letters” blog. I am humbled to share that particular writing stage with so many notable people. Bradford Winters, who wrote for HBO’s Oz, and who writes for FX’s The Americans, is there. Caroline Langston, a contributor for NPR’s All Things Considered, writes there. Poet Peggy Rosenthal does too, and she is just the sweetest lady. Editor-in-Chief Gregory Wolfe wrote a biography of Malcolm Muggeridge that prompted Christopher Hitchens to reassess his own perceptions of the book’s subject—no small feat!

Reading the essays of all the other contributors always challenges me to elevate my own writing. Writers need people like that in their lives to keep them sharp, and to keep them from becoming creatively stagnant.

Finally, I know your readers are wondering if they can buy signed copies of Nightmarriage from directly from me—or am I just imagining this? Either way, they can. I autograph them with a metallic silver Sharpie, and mail them in metallic, silver bubble mailers. Getting one in the mail is like finding a tiny UFO in your mailbox. So readers should really order them for all their relatives, and especially their archnemeses.

You can connect with Chad Thomas Johnston and his social sites via his blog.

Nightmarriage is available via Amazon US and Amazon UK.[signoff][/signoff]All images and permissions appear courtesy of Chad Thomas Johnston.

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Author: Jeri Walker

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  1. Love this interview and I loved the book. There is honestly no one like Chad, and I’m happy to interact with him on Twitter and read his works. Keep it up good buddy. Keep. It. Up.

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  2. What an inspiring interview on so many points Jeri. Thanks for sharing Chad with us.

    Therapeutic seems to be an often unspoken benefit of writing. Whether it’s a book or a blog.

    LOL. I love your call to action Chad! It shows you hang been around the author pros.

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  3. Patricia, I love calls to action. My background is public relations, so I can’t help myself! 😉 Thanks for reading!

    You too, Lorraine and Landra, although I’m not sure what Lorraine was saying outside of her posts being deleted. Ha! 🙂 Thanks for reading all the same.

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  4. I gotta say this, Jeri you find some of the coolest people sometimes. (my next line that would normally come would be to harrass you in some way but I am trying to keep myself from tormenting people I haven’t officially met yet).

    I am on board with you entirely for the OCD thing. It seems an odd thing when you find I have OCD an ADD at the same time. I can become engrossed in one thing so easily yet can find a multitude ways of distracting myself from doing it.

    I will be checking out your blog next and am pretty sure I will be adding it to my feedly list.

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  5. Chad, I loved this interview. Anytime you mention Christmas to me my ears perk up… LOL. I think many of us write as a therapeutic measure to what ever ails us. For me I write because it’s a challenge and a way to share stories. I have a fabulous editor… :))). I do all my own illustrations, a labor of love for me. Time will tell if I have a skill set worthy of a publisher’s attention. 🙂

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  6. Jeri – you have found another gem of an author. Well done! He sounds like someone I would like to know. Writing is therapeutic for me as well. I get really cranky when I don’t get to write.

    Do you think you could manage to draw my name as the winner today? I won’t tell anyone that my name was the only name you put in the box to draw from. 🙂

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  7. Jon, Susan, and Geek Girl—You guys are too kind. I appreciate your enjoyment of the interview, and hope you’ll check out “Nightmarriage” too. I’ve been promoting it pretty consistently on top of writing new work, trying to get my daughter to sit still long enough to buckle her into her car-seat, and trying to keep our house from becoming a satellite location of Grey Gardens (in terms of the completely-trashed factor). So if you like my interview and/or my book, please help me spread the word about the book—it will certainly make my job easier! 😉

    Thanks to all of you for reading!

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  8. Jeri- This was an interesting interview. When someone wants to do something that makes you feel like Christmas, I am in. I am not a writer but I can see where writing could be therapeutic. Basically writing is releasing your inner self. I wish Chad good luck on his new book.

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  9. Jeri – I loved reading this interview. Chad sounds like a wonderful writer and a really fun person. A kid at heart it sounds like. I know my first few years of marriage and parenthood could be described as a nightmare sometimes. 🙂

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    • Elizabeth,

      I am most definitely a kid at heart. Life’s too serious to experience without the companionship of one’s inner child, after all. 🙂

      Thanks for commenting!


      Post a Reply
  10. Jeri – Very interesting post. I have found myself recently getting stuck writing and being creative. I find it motivating and interesting to see how people who have been published go through the process. Using Twitter was very interesting to me. I am just becoming familiar with Twitter, so I think I need to invest some time in learning more.

    Thank you for sharing!

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  11. “wordplay” – what fun! And I love the illustrations.

    Next time a writer asks me for marketing advice, maybe I’ll try saying: “Twitter.” But as you say, Chad, it must suit the personality. There lies the problem – not everyone falls in love with 140 characters. But some do.

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    • Leora,

      I agree. It’s definitely not for everyone. It does suit many writers well though. Are you a writer?

      I actually got to meet and pass my book to New York Times-bestseller/New York Post book reviewer Susannah Cahalan in person because of Twitter recently. Her words on the subject: “I kind of hate Twitter. But if you’re a writer, you have to use it.”

      So regardless of the truth of Twitter fitting or not fitting individual authors, I tend to agree with Susannah about that last part. I love Twitter, and see the necessity of it for connecting with untapped publics. Susannah hates it, and sees the need for it, too. Too funny, huh? 🙂

      If you need a starting point, I began by following a) agents (and landed one that way eventually), b) people I admired and/or found interesting, c) writers I liked. Soon, I found myself following the followers of those people, and discovered that a bizarre network of like-minded people existed beneath the surface of things.

      Since disappearing down the Twitter rabbit hole, I have never thought of quitting. It’s just been way too useful for me. It may not have similar results for you or JeriWB’s other readers, but I say it’s definitely worth exploring.

      My two cents! 😉

      – CTJ

      If not Twitter, I hope you find some way to do what you need to do in your

      Post a Reply
  12. Writing, art AND music are all at his blog– well heck how have I not found him in the blog-o-sphere already?!! Thanks Jeri for hosting such an interesting interview here and to Chad for the great answers.

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    • Christy,

      I just saw that you followed me on Twitter, and I’ve followed you back. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond! 🙂

      – CTJ

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  13. Excellent review. I had a hard time deciding what tickled me most, sending my archnemesis a UFO, Christmas or the story of the writing janitor, but I think Chad’s choice of favorite book took the prize.

    Thanks for the introduction to Chad.

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    • Debra,

      That book is amazing, seriously. You should read up on Mr. Henry Darger. He’s fascinating. I got to stand in his reconstructed room at the INTUIT gallery in Chicago, and it blew my mind.

      Thanks for reading! 🙂

      – CTJ

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  14. Jeri, thanks for this interesting interview. Really for introducing me to this interesting person. I’m definitely heading over to Chad’s website–who couldn’t use a little Christmas in September? I’ll check out the “Nightmarriage” too. Might be a good gift for my new-dad-nephew.

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    • Thanks for reading, Jagoda! 🙂 And please do pick up “Nightmarriage” for your new-dad nephew. It might suit him well! 🙂

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  15. Chad sounds like a creative and innovative writere. Love how he outlines his book on marriage and parenthood.

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  16. Great interview – I especially like the advice on using Twitter to connect… twitter is one of my weakest assets right now so I guess I have lots of room to improve!

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  17. Hi Jeri: Thanks for the fascinating interview!

    And Chad, I will hook up with you via Twitter as soon as I post this comment! I, too, love Twitter. But I don’t think I’ve been aggressive enough in using it as a marketing tool for my book. I’m afraid to cross the line between being informative and being annoying. Perhaps if I had your sense of humour and whimsy, Chad, I could cross the line without people knowing.

    I look forward to interacting with you, in the Twitterverse, and on our blogs.

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    • Doreen,

      I look forward to exchanging tweets with you! Thanks for reading! 🙂

      When it comes to walking that tightrope between being annoying and interesting/informative/helpful, I always try to a) entertain, b) give people something that I genuinely think they’ll like/benefit from/etc., and c) I phrase it in a clever way if I can. I feel that at least shows that I’ve put thought into what I’m doing and not just spamming peoples’ feeds. 🙂

      – CTJ

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  18. You sound so talented! Love how you sign the books and mail them. Tiny UFO’s in the mailbox is a great description! I know that would make me happy.

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    • Krystle, it says a lot about Chad that he takes such great care in mailing his books to readers 😉

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