Interview with J.R. Johansson, Author of Insomnia

A few years ago, I was volunteering at the SFWA table at WorldCon when I got to chatting with a fellow YA author and Game of Thrones fan. At the time, Jenn Johansson had sold German and Italian rights but had not yet sold to a publisher in the US. Now she’s just six weeks away from the US release of her debut novel, Insomnia (Flux), the first book in the Night Walker series. Plus, she has another thriller on the way from FSG/Macmillan. Today, we get to hear a little about her unusual road to publication and get the first look at the Insomnia trailer.


Insomnia finalInstead of sleeping, Parker Chipp enters the dream of the last person he’s had eye contact with. He spends his nights crushed by other people’s fear and pain, by their disturbing secrets—and Parker can never have dreams of his own. The severe exhaustion is crippling him. If nothing changes, Parker could soon be facing psychosis and even death.

Then he meets Mia. Her dreams, calm and beautifully uncomplicated, allow him blissful rest that is utterly addictive. Parker starts going to bizarre lengths to catch Mia’s eye every day. Everyone at school thinks he’s gone over the edge, even his best friend. And when Mia is threatened by a true stalker, everyone thinks it’s Parker.

Suffering blackouts, Parker begins to wonder if he is turning into someone dangerous. What if the monster stalking Mia is him after all?

Add Insomnia to your Goodreads TBR list.

Okay, first talk to me about the initial. What does the “R” stand for and was this a choice to attract more male readers or the way you always imagined your name on books?

The R stands for Rose which is my middle name. I originally planned to go with Jenn Johansson, but when I wrote Insomnia with a male protagonist, I decided that going by my initials would make it more gender neutral. Some guys have been known to doubt whether a girl can write an authentic guy voice. This way readers would have to choose based on the cover and concept and nothing else.

I always wonder if that really has an impact on the way guys read. I feel like I pay so little attention to the author’s name. Except when I’m like, “I know her!”

Yeah, I had the same debate with myself, then my agent forwarded me an article where they’d done a poll on guys and (especially with teenage guys) it does seem to matter to some of them. So I figured it didn’t hurt anything and we switched.

Dang it, Jenn, let me keep my illusions. Now you sold foreign rights quite a while before you sold US rights. That’s surprising for an author based in the US and writing for the US market. How did this come to pass?

Yeah, it was pretty unexpected. Shortly after we went on sub, we got an email from a YA scout who said she’d gotten her “sticky scout fingers” on the manuscript. She’d read it on her vacation and absolutely loved it. She wanted to know who had the rights because she was planning to send “a glowing recommendation” to her clients the following morning. My response to that email was, “Wow! That’s so nice to hear…oh, by the way, what the heck is a scout?” So yeah, color me unprepared. Within a couple of weeks we were at auction in Germany and shortly after that we sold in Italy. It was a whirlwind intro to the world of publishing for my debut novel, but I learned so much in a very short time. I think part of my situation was because thrillers and mysteries have been selling bigger overseas for a while and just recently started getting hotter in the US.

Your next book sold to FSG/Macmillan which makes us pub sisters. (This means you have to give me an organ if I need one and lend me money whenever I ask.) What was the submissions process like for you the second time around?

Huzzah! Pub Sisters! I’m totally cool with the organ and money deal…as long as it goes both ways. It does, right? Right, Leigh? 🙂 The second time around, submission was vastly different. First of all, the total number of editors I went out to with this book was less than the total in the first round alone with Insomnia, and we had people very interested from really early on. All of this in spite of the fact that I’d say this new project is quite a bit darker and scarier than Insomnia. In the end, we ended up selling at auction to FSG which was crazy exciting. I think this time around I was more prepared, and it still surprised me. I also think it’s very apparent how much the US thriller/horror market has changed in the past year.

I’m excited to see more YA thrillers and horror on the shelves. Are there particular challenges to writing thrillers for the YA audience?

Me too! Me too! Ahem…right, as for your question. Yes, although many of the market challenges are becoming less every day. For a long while thrillers had to have some kind of paranormal aspect or tie-in for it to sell well here. For some reason contemporary, real-world thrillers were hard to place. I think it’s safe to say we’ve turned the corner on that one, I see more sales for realistic thrillers all the time. The way this market is beginning to thrive makes it a really exciting time to write in this genre. And it’s not all that surprising. How many of us read Stephen King or Dean Koontz as teenagers?

But Insomnia has a strong paranormal element, as does Stephen King’s and Dean Koontz’s work. Help me understand the sub-genre breakdown a little better.

Correct, but the new thriller I sold to Macmillan does not and I’m not sure it would’ve sold as readily if I’d taken this one on submission back when I submitted Insomnia. I mean those subgenre areas that have been closed previously are now opening up and it’s nice to see. When I mentioned King and Koontz, I was talking about the idea that thrillers/horrors as a whole becoming more popular in YA shouldn’t be surprising because teens in general have always liked being scared.

I know I did. I read It at sleepway camp. Mistake. What can we expect from Insomnia and will I require a night light?

With Insomnia, I tried to keep the tension very high from beginning to end. I wouldn’t consider it gory or overly violent, although it has it’s moments. It’s mostly just very intense. One aspect that really helped with building the tension is the fact that the main character, Parker, is suffering from such severe sleep deprivation that he literally cannot tell reality from the lies his mind is feeding him. It makes him the ultimate unreliable narrator. Throw that kind of character into the heart of people’s nightmares, make him fight for his life, and add in a new deadly threat that could be of his own making. Yeah…I’d probably recommend a night light.

Possibly two. We’re excited to be getting the first look at your trailer. Can you tell us a little about the process of making it? 

I’m so happy to be sharing it here! It was a really fun process to make a trailer. I love doing creative things outside of writing. It’s a nice outlet and I had a blast with this. I’m all about music and tone. For me it all comes down to the music matching the feel of the story. This music had the perfect vibe to it that I was looking for and I listened to a LOT of music before I found it. After I had that crucial step in place, the images I used were so perfect it was like they came straight out of my head. I was able to use the actual font from the cover of the book, so that lent a nice bit of continuity. I’m really happy with the finished product. It’s creepy and dark with more than a hint of madness—just like the book. Hope you enjoy!

To celebrate the trailer reveal and the release of INSOMNIA, Jenn is giving away a signed ARC, an INSOMNIA bookmark, postcard, and a branded candy-pill bottle. Plus, this giveaway is international!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

IMG_8183_CROPPED_WEBJ.R. JOHANSSON has a B.S. degree in public relations and a background in marketing. She credits her abnormal psychology minor with inspiring many of her characters. When she’s not writing, she loves reading, playing board games, and sitting in her hot tub. Her dream is that someday she can do all three at the same time. She has two young sons and a wonderful husband. In fact, other than her cat, Cleo, she’s nearly drowning in testosterone.


62 Responses to Interview with J.R. Johansson, Author of Insomnia

  1. cait Apr 29 2013 at 3:58 am #

    Oh my gosh. I NEED this book. It’s going on my NEED-shelf on Goodreads right now. What scares me? Not a clue. Probably something uninteresting like spiders or drowning.

  2. Fly to the Sky Apr 29 2013 at 6:36 am #

    I can’t wait for this book!!! The trailer looks super amazing!!

  3. Emily Apr 29 2013 at 6:38 am #

    Bugs–every single kind. Even butterflies when they get too close. To this day, I scream and have other people kill them for me when they get too close. One time, a June bug landed on my pillow… Threw that thing out.

    Thanks for the giveaway! I am so looking forward to this one! 😀

  4. Deborah Kreiser Apr 29 2013 at 6:59 am #

    This looks coooool! Can’t wait to read it!

  5. Peggy Eddleman Apr 29 2013 at 8:31 am #

    I am reading this ARC right now– and I am LOVING it! And I loved the interview. Fabulous job, ladies!!

    As far as what scares me? Anything happening to my kids, spiders, and being trapped. But mostly, anything happening to my kids.

  6. Krutula Apr 29 2013 at 9:29 am #

    A lot of things. I am scared of ghosts, dark places, spiders, snakes (pretty much all creepy-crawlies!)
    Oh, and losing my memory – that scares me a lot.

  7. Megan Duff Apr 29 2013 at 10:09 am #

    Congrats Jenn! I’ve been looking forward to Insomnia for a long time so I have a bad case of grabby hands right now 😉

    As for what scares me….hmmm. Probably complete isolation, having only myself to rely on.

    • JR Johansson Apr 29 2013 at 2:01 pm #

      Thank you, Megan! 🙂 I love grabby hands!!

  8. Nikki Apr 29 2013 at 10:12 am #

    This book looks awesome, thanks for the great giveaway!

  9. Nikki Apr 29 2013 at 10:13 am #

    Oh, and I am desperately afraid of needles.

  10. Kathryn Purdie Apr 29 2013 at 10:47 am #

    Love the interview and trailer! Every time I learn about your book, Jenn, I’m more intrigued and know I MUST read it (even if I’ll also need a night light)!

    • JR Johansson Apr 29 2013 at 2:02 pm #

      Aww, thank you, Kathryn! 🙂 A night light sounds like a good plan.

  11. Vivien Apr 29 2013 at 10:51 am #


  12. Jessi Apr 29 2013 at 10:52 am #

    I’m totally scared of all bugs and clowns.

    Pumped about this book! Thanks for the interview, ladies!

  13. JR Johansson Apr 29 2013 at 11:01 am #

    Thank you so much for the fun interview and for hosting this reveal, Leigh! I had so much fun pulling this together with you and am a long time fan of PubCrawl. 🙂

  14. Kathryn Purdie Apr 29 2013 at 11:02 am #

    Oh, the thing that most scares me–ghosts! (The mean kind.)

  15. Jess Keating Apr 29 2013 at 11:12 am #

    What an amazing trailer! This is the top of my list for must-read creepy books this year. Great interview, Leigh and Jenn!

  16. Sara Raasch Apr 29 2013 at 11:14 am #

    Ahhh INSOMNIA will be out in the world SO SOON!! *twitches with excitement*

  17. Samantha Apr 29 2013 at 11:14 am #

    My jaw dropped, I love the cover and loved the plot. I think it should be disturbing, if Parker were inside my dreams he would spend his nights running aways from spiders, I hate spiders. I really want this books 🙂

  18. Kristina Apr 29 2013 at 11:31 am #

    Interesting question, ’cause I can’t really think of anything specific. I never see nightmares, I think scary movies are boring, I’d be rather interested in meeting a ghost or even a demon… But my so-called “worst nightmare” would be having something staked through my chest (it has to do with my sensitive skin in the chest area, no vampire-obsession, lol).

  19. Alexa Y. Apr 29 2013 at 11:44 am #

    Insomnia sounds awesome! I enjoyed reading the interview, and I think it’s cool that it got picked up overseas first. Can’t wait to check it out!

  20. Shannon Apr 29 2013 at 11:48 am #

    That’s a great question….it made me thing, and I realized there are actually a lot of things that scare me. Some are physical and some, not so much. Snakes, demons and possession, drowing, burning alive….I could go on. Eeesh, now I kind of have the heebie jeebies!

    Congratulations on the book Jenn and thanks for the interview Leigh! Can’t wait to read Insomnia!

    • JR Johansson Apr 29 2013 at 2:04 pm #

      Ooh, burning alive. Yeah, that gives me the shivers, too. 🙂

  21. Sue Carroll Apr 29 2013 at 11:49 am #

    what scares me? I hate having darkness behind me, it has a weight and presence – blame it on living in a house as a child with a tight windy staircase but the light switch at the bottome of the stairs! The book sounds fab.

  22. Stephanie (Go Flash Apr 29 2013 at 12:16 pm #

    Bees scare me! And walking to close to an open railing.

  23. Nikki Apr 29 2013 at 2:00 pm #

    I am SO SO SO excited for this book. 😀

    As for what scares me…… the dark – but only when I’m indoors, for some reason. I think it’s the feeling of being in an enclosed space and not being able to see what’s right in front of you (or behind you…).

  24. Becky Wallace Apr 29 2013 at 2:40 pm #

    This book looks fantastic! I have a total, overwhelming fear of sharks. They give me horrific nightmares.

  25. Claire M. Caterer Apr 29 2013 at 2:43 pm #

    Fabulous trailer! I can’t wait to read the book!

    Scared? Me? No way. Unless you point me down some creepy dark cellar stairs. Or put me in a dentist’s chair.

  26. Tamara Apr 29 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    This book looks so amazing! I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

    As for what scares me, it’s bugs, any kind of bug freaks me out. Also dolls, the creepy old dolls with the eyes that follow you around.

  27. Taffy Apr 29 2013 at 3:24 pm #

    LOVED the book! Great interview and trailer.
    I hate crabs. I like to eat them. Not see them scuttle around on the beach by my toes.

  28. Kayla Apr 29 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    WOW!! Can’t wait to read this! I’m terrified of being chased. Even things like Pac Man freak me out.

  29. Karis C. Apr 29 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    Well honestly i have never been truely scared except when i thought i lost a family member weather lose as in died or we are at a park and i can’t find them. My family is the most important thing to me and i never want to loose them <3

  30. Lea Apr 29 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    Can’t wait to read this book (maybe I’ll even try it in Italian??)! Thank you for the giveaway!
    And what scares me? Needles, and walking alone at night.

  31. Renee Suzanne Apr 29 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    This book looks absolutely stunning! Can’t WAIT to read it! As for what scares me? Death. Any form besides going quiet-like in sleep just rattles me to the core. o.O

  32. Kimberley Jones Apr 29 2013 at 5:26 pm #

    Great interview and great trailer 🙂 I cannot wait to read this book.
    I am always scared of failing which sometimes stops me from even trying. I know that’s stupid but I just can’t help myself 🙂

  33. Kim Apr 29 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    I read a lot of Stephen King’s stuff as a teen. I’m so glad to see more horror/thriller YA books out there. I’m super excited for Insomnia, and lucky enough to already have a copy <3

    But this was probably my favorite part of the interview:
    of this in spite of the fact that I’d say this new project is quite a bit darker and scarier than Insomnia
    Scarier? Darker? That sounds so fabulous! Can’t wait to find out more 🙂

    • JR Johansson Apr 29 2013 at 6:27 pm #

      Oh yes, those that like the creepiness of Insomnia, will love this new book out from Macmillan in 2015. It is the first book to actually scare me while I was writing it. 🙂

  34. Sudha Apr 29 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    A world like Anna Dressed in Blood come to life would be so scary!! I never thought books could come to life and when the scary ones do that’s be so weird and maybe scary!

  35. Danielle D Apr 29 2013 at 10:20 pm #

    Looking foward to this book, as for what scares me..being locked in a sound deprivation chamber

  36. Llehn Apr 29 2013 at 11:09 pm #


  37. Ryan Apr 29 2013 at 11:34 pm #

    I want that book!

    • Ryan Apr 29 2013 at 11:35 pm #

      (I’m scared of poopy diapers.)

  38. Jessica Apr 29 2013 at 11:58 pm #

    Grasshoppers scare the crap out of me. Like no joke, I begin to die when I see one!

  39. Maud Grefte Apr 30 2013 at 6:41 am #

    What scares me?
    Needles, heights, spiders, the idea of being buried alive (especially the last one) :’)

  40. Alicia Batista Apr 30 2013 at 10:47 am #

    Spiders! I am SO scared of any type of spiders or mice or bugs.

  41. Jessa Apr 30 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    I am SO excited for this book. And I despise spiders and will run shrieking out of the room upon sight of one.

  42. Samantha Davies Apr 30 2013 at 7:23 pm #

    Spiders absolutely terrify me!
    Thanks for the giveaway this sounds like a very interesting book!

  43. Angela L. Apr 30 2013 at 7:44 pm #

    I am so excited to read this book!! It looks super good! And spiders are the one thing that absolutely terrifies me!

  44. Lizzy Charles Apr 30 2013 at 11:33 pm #

    This book looks amazing!!!! Can’t wait to read it.

    for the raffle– what scares me? Spiders. Big time. And murders who act human. Terrifying.

  45. Tiffany Drew Apr 30 2013 at 11:33 pm #

    Bugs, rodents, war. I’m a big scaredy cat!

  46. Alyssa Llanes May 1 2013 at 2:39 am #

    I’m seriously afraid of flying cockroaches.

  47. Ina M. May 1 2013 at 6:41 am #

    Thanks for the cool giveaway! As for what scares me… heights, mostly, but I’m trying to overcome that!

  48. Heather C. May 1 2013 at 10:11 am #

    I’m scared of something happening to someone in my family, especially my son =(

  49. ArticleDirectorybyAl May 3 2013 at 2:15 am #

    Interview with J.R. Johansson, Author of Insomnia

  50. Brooke May 3 2013 at 2:02 pm #

    The possiblity of my kids being hurt in any way really scares me. I always want them to be safe and I want to protect them.

  51. Shani May 3 2013 at 3:01 pm #

    I’m scared of a LOT of things but…I’ll just go with snakes for now. Urgh.

  52. cheaplouisvuittonhan May 4 2013 at 3:14 am #

    Thank shoe designers’ tendency for sharp toes, spindly shoes, and narrow silhouettes for the aching publish-heel ft.

  53. Susan May 4 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    This book has a similar premise to one of my favorite books (and series) of all time: Gone by Lisa McMann. I would love to see how this one is imagined differently. What scares me? Hmmm, I am afraid of things that are within the realm of possibility, like scenarios from Hitchcock movies…what if you were mistaken for someone else and people were chasing around after you to find out what you know. (Which of course, you don’t know…). I also usually find the hinted at rather than explicitly shown to be scarier. It is the build up/anticipation that is scary, not the reveal.

  54. Tiffany May 4 2013 at 10:53 pm #

    On a physical level, bugs. Especially roaches. *shiver*
    But on a more emotional level, it would be failing. And disappointing people. Not living up to certain expectations.

  55. Anddeea May 5 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    I am afraid of being alone in a completely dark room. It’s not the dark I am afraid of, it’s just the room. It’s almost the same as claustrophobia but the funny part is I don’t have claustrophobia.
    Thanks for the giveaway! >:D<

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