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Interview with author Kim Howard Johnson

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So today I have an interview with author Kim “Howard” Johnson, author of THe Last of the Time Police.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself. What kind of books do you write? When did you start? Where are

you from etc

I grew up in small-town Illinois and started out in journalism. The very first piece I ever got

paid for writing was an interview with “Curly Joe” DeRita, the last surviving member of The

Three Stooges. I was working in radio news when I went off to Tunisia to live and work with the

Monty Python guys on the set of Life of Brian. I eventually began writing on the Pythons for an

assortment of magazines, and became a regular writer for Starlog magazine. And then I started

writing Python books. I ended up moving to Chicago and lived there for a dozen years. I studied

with improvisation legend Del Close during the time when the Improv Olympic (now the iO) was

getting under way. In fact, I went on to co-write the improvisational manual Truth in Comedy,

and even became Del’s biographer years later with The Funniest One in the Room: The Lives

and Legends of Del Close. Del was the guru of longform improvisation, and taught just about

everyone worthwhile, from John Belushi and Bill Murray to Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Stephen

Colbert. But the point of all this is that I learned to write improvisationally. It turns out that the

rules of improvisation are much like the rules of good writing. For example, that’s how I learned

to start scenes in the middle and eschew exposition.

I’ve written a little bit of everything, since then, I suppose. I’ve written non-fiction (The First

280 Years of Monty Python, And Now For Something Completely Trivial, Life (Before and) After

Monty Python), I’ve written biography (The Funniest One in the Room), I’ve written memoirs

(Monty Python’s Tunisian Holiday, about my life on the set of Monty Python’s Life of Brian

in Tunisia), co-written an improvisational manual (Truth in Comedy) and a graphic novel

(Superman: True Brit) as well as other comic books.

I’ve also co-written a YA novel (The Dare Club: Nita) with my wife, Laurie Bradach, which was

great fun. And I’ve written dozens, possibly hundreds of magazine articles.

But at the moment, I’m focusing on a new series of SF novels, starting with The Last of the

Time Police (The Time Authority Book One) and the second half of the story, The Return of the

Time Police (The Time Authority Book Two). It’s my first solo fiction, aside from the comic book

stories, and I’m having a great time!

2. Most authors also read a lot in addition to their writing. What kind of books to you prefer to

read? Who are some of your favorite authors?

I have a long list of favorite authors, from the classics (Dickens, Twain, Wodehouse, Thurber)

to my own wife Laurie Bradach. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction by Max Allan Collins and

the classic Flashman novels by George MacDonald Fraser, and I think his historical fiction has

influenced my Time Police novels. If it’s funny, I’m there, although I also like Stephen King, Clive

Barker, and Neil Gaiman.

I think the most influential author with regards to The Last of the Time Police, however, would

have to be Douglas Adams and his Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I knew Douglas—we never

became close friends, but I knew him through the Pythons. My wife Laurie and I went to see

my Python pal Terry Jones, who was doing a book signing in Chicago many years ago with

Douglas. The four of us went out for dinner and drinks afterward, and had to be scolded by the

management more than once because we were getting too loud and boisterous. Then, several

years later, we were living in Santa Barbara when I was working for John Cleese. Douglas had

likewise moved out to Santa Barbara, and we re-connected. I had only been there a few months,

when I got the news that Douglas had passed away, much too young. Very sad. But Douglas and

Hitchhikers Guide certainly had a lot to do with the tone and the attitude of The Last of the Time

Police.

3. Tell us about your book.

The Last of the Time Police is a Pythonesque adventure about the two least competent members

of the Time Authority, which is charged with correcting disruptions to the established Time

Line. Stan and Jack are sent to the past to pick up a candy bar wrapper, but in the process, they

accidentally transport Leonardo DaVinci to Victorian England, where the government puts him

to work. The result is a Chronological Anomaly that threatens to wipe out all reality.

4. Do you have a favorite character in your book? Do fans gravitate towards one character more

than others and why do you think that is?

I empathize with different aspects of virtually all of my main characters. I think you have to in

order to connect with them—and to allow the reader to connect with them. Stan and Jack are

our point-of-view characters, the readers’ way into the story. One of them spends most of the

time a bit befuddled, and the other finds an unlikely romance; even though they may come off

as a bit dim, they’re intelligent enough to navigate the Time Stream.

The Last of the Time Police (and The Return of the Time Police) mixes fictional characters with

real-life historical personages. Leonardo DaVinci and Benjamin Franklin have just as big a role in

the story as Stan and Jack, and I loved being able to write them.

The most interesting real-life character, one that almost no one has heard of, is undoubtedly

Samuel Warner. He invented the torpedo, but the mystery of his death inspired my story and

several of my characters. In London’s Brompton Cemetery, there is a mysterious mausoleum

that some people believe is actually a time machine. Seriously. I’m not kidding, look it up for

yourself! It’s an odd structure built by Warner and Egyptologist Joseph Bonomi for a Victorian

spinster and her daughters. I discovered their story early on in the writing, and they all became

characters in my book.

I decided to use Leonardo DaVinci, who was inventing war machines and flying devices back

in the 1500s after thinking “Suppose he had access to British technology a couple of centuries

later to develop his inventions?” And so I began studying DaVinci and his world, and the world

I was about to thrust him into. Who would he likely have encountered in London in the 1700s?

And how would they have interacted? I decided to include, arguably, the first great American

inventor and great mind, Benjamin Franklin, who happened to be in London during that period,

and more research ensued. Finally, I came up with Stan and Jack, my two main characters,

whose blunder resulted in DaVinci being pulled out of his own era. I even had to research

the history of golf, for reasons that will become obvious to readers. I also had to navigate an

impossible romance with Maggie, a very strong female character.

Shortly after I began writing, I stumbled onto the Sam Warner story. The more I read, the more

amazing it seemed. A time machine in a modern-day London cemetery? I couldn’t not use that!

And he became a central figure in the story.

5. Do you listen to music when writing? What kind of music would best suit your novels?

I seldom listen to much music while I’m writing. I have the attention span of a cocker spaniel

puppy and I don’t dare get distracted!

6. If your book were made into a movie, who would play your characters in your dream cast?

One of my readers recently gave me a suggestion that I think is perfect. I would cast Simon Pegg

as either Stan or Sam, Robbie Coltrane would make a nice Jack, with Kate Winslet as Maggie.

I would enlist John Cleese as Lord North, advisor to King George III. And I can think of literally

dozens of possibilities for DaVinci and Ben Franklin!

7. If you had a chance to collaborate with any author, indie or mainstream, who would it be and

why?

I’ve been lucky enough to have already collaborated with several of my dream partners! I

collaborated with John Cleese on Superman: True Brit, and worked on screenplays with Python

Terry Jones, and with Jonathan Winters. Not to mention co-writing The Dare Club series with my

wife Laurie Bradach. How lucky can one guy get?

8. What’s next on your agenda?

I’m researching a history of The Committee, the legendary West Coast improvisational group,

which is slowly turning into a history of the ‘60s. As one of them told me, “The Sixties walked

through our door”—and he was absolutely right. Just about every well-known music and

counter-cultural figure from that era crossed paths with The Committee.

And as soon as I finish that, I’ll be starting on the third Time Authority book. I have to figure out

another impossible situation for them, a problem with no solution. Once I can do that, I’ll throw

them in up to their necks and see where we go from there!

 

Synopsis:

It’s “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” meets “Time Bandits” in this action-packed science fiction adventure.

Stan and Jack are the last remaining members of the Time Authority, a government unit formed to correct disruptions to the established Time Line. Although time travel has been officially outlawed, Stan and Jack must make a quick time hop to 16th Century France to clean up some of their careless littering.

Unbeknownst to them, however, Leonardo DaVinci stows away and tumbles out (along with the operating manual for the time machine) in 18th Century England. This disruption is discovered by the Time Authority, as it creates a Chronological Anomaly that begins advancing toward the future and threatens to wipe out all reality. The military and civilian leaders clash before agreeing on a scheme to build one final time machine and send Corporal Spumoni back to correct the Time Line, even though it may ruin any chance of Stan and Jack returning home.

Stan and Jack must crash-land their time machine in 1848, where they discover, due to DaVinci’s influence, a futuristic Victorian England. After nearly colliding with Maggie Wells on her flying machine, she helps them hide their broken Time Hopper. Stan and Jack realize their only hope to fix their machine is to recover the operating manual, if it still even exists. But Special Services agents, led by Maggie’s former boyfriend James Burton, are constantly searching for them. And Jack’s growing attraction for Maggie is tempered by the thought that she could be his great-great-great-great-grandmother.

Meanwhile, in 1768, DaVinci has become a favorite of King George III of England. His only rival is Benjamin Franklin. Jealous, with the help of Lord Frederick North, DaVinci frames Franklin for the theft of his own notebooks. But when DaVinci learns Britain’s plans for his own war machines, he realizes he must work with Franklin to stop Britain’s domination of the globe.

About the Author:

I am the author of the “Time Authority” series, the first book of which is “The Last of the Time Police,” and a longtime Starlog and Monty Python writer. I knew Douglas Adams, and I wrote “The Last of the Time Police” as a tribute to Douglas. It’s populated with real-life historical personages, including little-known Victorian inventor Sam Warner, whose mysterious true fate is explores in “Time Police.” I’ve also drawn on my work with the Pythons and my friendship and studies with improvisational guru Del Close to inform my story. I am also the author (or co-author) of several books including “The First 200 Years of Monty Python,” “Monty Python’s Tunisian Holiday,” “Superman: True Brit,” “The Dare Club,” “The Funniest One in the Room,” and “Truth in Comedy.”

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  1. September 17, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    Can’t wait to read your new books, Howard. Maybe I can even get you to autograph them with your totally unreadable signature! (You and Laurie both signed your book when I bought it)
    Lois

  1. October 2, 2013 at 3:04 pm

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