Exploring the craft: Author Johnny Worthen deconstructs the novel at writers workshop

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ST. GEORGE  – For every book Johnny Worthen has published he has a least a hundred rejection slips from publishers who didn’t know what they were passing up. He keeps them on the back of his study door.

“I probably have a thousand rejections up there now, easily,” he said.

His friends think he’s a little crazy for keeping them but Worthen knows they are badges of honor, tributes to his vision and tenacity.

The paper talismans must have done the trick. No less than three Worthen titles will be published this year and among what has to be an embarrassment of riches he is the League of Utah Writers’ 2014 Writer of the Year.

“I can feel it like a medicine,” he said of his work. “When I don’t write, I’m depressed but when I’ve had a good day of writing, it’s elation.”

Author Johnny Worthen
Author Johnny Worthen

Millions of words have tumbled from his fingertips to form stories across multiple genres including young adult, mystery and thriller.

His best-selling YA series ‘The Unseen” that began with “Eleanor” was followed by a sequel, “Celeste” in July and the anticipated third installment is set for release in April 2016.

A political mystery, ‘The Brand Demand’ came out in March and in a rare literary trifecta, “The Finger Trap,” Worthen’s modern and sarcastic spin on the noir detective story, hits virtual shelves in November.

“He can’t use a gun. He can’t fight. He can’t even run fast but he’s got a devilishly sharp tongue that gets him into a lot of trouble,” he said of The Finger Trap’s lead, Tony Flaner.

Worthen’s detective is hardly a paragon of virtue. Flaner is a lazy, Utah everyman who has never finished a thing in his life.

“He thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room because he can lay you down with sarcasm,” he said.Finger Trap Worthen

It’s rare for an author to work in more than one genre but it’s part of a successful process for Worthen.

“It challenges me. I don’t know if I’ve made a mistake or if I’m just stupid,” he said laughing. “I’m exploring the craft. Since nobody’s paid me to exclusively write one thing yet, I’m all over the place.”

In the middle of all this success, Worthen is taking the time to teach aspiring writers a few things about getting the job done when it comes to writing a novel.

Worthen is one of the featured authors teaching at the St. George Book Festival writing workshop Friday.

He’ll bring his experience and his sharp wit to the class, “There are NO Rules/10 Rules of Writing.”

“The class becomes, very much for me personally, a discussion of a concept I call scaffolding where we learn to edit out those pieces of our writing that aren’t necessary that were necessary when we wrote it,” he said. “You recognize that these things are, as Elmore Leonard says, the things that people will skip over.”

Worthen hopes writers will take advantage of the opportunities the book festival and the workshop offer.

“No matter what you write, you all face the same problems of character development, or perhaps just marketing a book after it’s been published,” he said. “And you really need to know that there are other people doing the same thing because we are an isolated breed.”

Worthen uses the workshop to hone his writing skills as well.

“When I can teach these classes, when I can come down to St. George Book Festival, it forces me to re-evaluate my own writing and own theory and forces me to be able to explain it to someone else,” he said. “You truly don’t understand something unless you can teach it. This keeps me honest.”

Event details

  • What: The Writer’s Journey – Writing Workshop
  • When: Friday, Oct. 23, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Where: Dixie Applied Technology College, 610 S. Airport Road, St. George
  • Registration: $5 early bird, $10 at the door; Speaker Box Lunch Fee: $20 early bird, $30 at the door (limited); Telephone 435-625-1743

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