Escapist Entertainment — More Important Than You Might Think

Escapist Entertainment — More Important Than You Might Think

(Originally published 1 December 2022 at Crime Writers of Canada.)

Remember when your parents complained that you weren’t working hard enough? When they told you to get a job, do your school work, or wash the car? Or they piled pressure on you to get better marks, win awards, and get accepted into university? And while the stress mounted, you could only sit in your room, in the dark, wondering why no one understood that you were on the verge of cracking?

The teen years are tough. Mine were.

So how did I make it through the depression, anxiety, and long periods of low self-esteem, an issue from which I still suffer?

I didn’t turn to drugs, or alcohol, or self-harm. I didn’t self-sabotage relationships, because I saw those as necessary and helpful. Instead, I sought out escapism. I latched onto anything that could take me away. Books, film, video games. I didn’t discriminate. I soaked it all up. Authors like Michael Crichton, Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, Agatha Christie, Isaac Asimov. Murder mysteries really appealed to me. Christie’s And Then There Were None, The ABC Murders, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd were beyond creative. I discovered the theatre too. Sleuth, Deathtrap, The Mousetrap, and 12 Angry Men. Those were so compelling, and when I watched them, I found that I didn’t think about anything else. I couldn’t, even had I tried.

But then my marks started to drop! At the time it was a strange correlation to me, but totally logical to every adult on the planet. If I spent too much time watching James Cameron films … oh boy. Game over. Too much time reading at night? I couldn’t drag myself out of bed for school. But then, when I overcorrected, my marks increased, but my mental health took a hit. Work too many hours in a week? Say goodbye to creativity. Stop reading novels? Say hello to a miserable grouch.

I soon learned to hit a balance of school/work/escapism so one didn’t overwhelm the other. This was harder than it seemed, and it took years to master. By then I had kicked my writing into high gear. I worked at my craft, learned a skill, got a few degrees, worked a job, started a family, and still managed to watch thousands of movies and read hundreds of novels.

And I’m telling you — escapist entertainment helped me get through the hardest times.

And my adult years have been just as tough as the teen years! Are you familiar with the Myers-Briggs Personality Test? I’m your classic INFJ — an introvert. Social events are brutal. They take a toll. Afterward, though, I’ll watch a movie at home, in the dark, by myself. Murder, mayhem, mystery, thriller … it doesn’t matter. It’s to serve a purpose — to take me away from reality and fuel my creativity.

Those authors saved me. The movies saved me. Games and TV have been my religion.

So where’d it get me?

My science fiction murder mysteries are a complicated and bloody formula of Christie + Crichton + Asimov. My first novel, The Furnace, is an homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing. I won the 2015 Clue Award for The Tanner Sequence. My current series, the first book of which is The War Beneath, features a futuristic James Bond fighting a cold war, underwater. I won the 2018 Global Thriller Award for it.

I owe all this to those brutal teen years and life as an introvert. I embraced escapist entertainment, used it to keep me going, figured out a balance in my early twenties, and haven’t looked back. I’m turning fifty-two this year, and I’m constantly looking for escapist film, books, and games. My family sometimes ask me what I’m doing. I might be watching a movie or playing a cinematic murder mystery video game like Until Dawn. Some might feel a sense of guilt for that, but not me. So how do I respond?

Research, I say. I’m doing research for my next project.

It’s how I fuel my creativity, how I write, and how I function as an INFJ in a chaotic reality.

Escapist entertainment helps me survive.

“The Shadow of War is a slambang thriller set in an all-too-plausible future. Fans of Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton will be spellbound.” — Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of The Oppenheimer Alternative

Thanks to Crime Writers of Canada for publishing this article in The Inside Scoop.  

Check out the Book Trailer for my newest thriller, an underwater heist!


“The Shadow of War is a slambang thriller set in an all-too-plausible future. Fans of Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton will be spellbound.” Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of The Oppenheimer Alternative

“Johnston presents readers with a diverse set of characters, along with a complicated world for them to navigate. The novel shines when describing the technology, as when the characters discuss the beam weapon, nicknamed ‘The Water Pick’ … Fans of high-tech SF will enjoy the concepts and worldbuilding here …”Kirkus Reviews

“Johnston weaves an engrossing tale … it’s easy to highly recommend The Shadow of War as an outstanding and gripping sci-fi technothriller.” — Midwest Book Review

“I need to see Oceania on the big screen!” FIVE STARS from Readers’ Favorite

“…a terrific read! Smart, thrilling, intriguingly plotted and, like all previous entries in Johnston’s ‘Rise of Oceania’ series, A-level entertainment. And that opening chapter—WOW! Page-turner is an understatement.” — Michael Libling, author of Hollywood North: A Novel in Six Reels and The Serial Killer’s Son Takes A Wife


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THE WAR BENEATH:  FIRST PLACE 2018 GLOBAL THRILLER Action / Adventure Category Winner, 2019 Silver Falchion Award Finalist, 2019 Kindle Book Award Semi-Finalist, 2018 CLUE Award Semi-Finalist, & 2019 CYGNUS Award Shortlister

THE SAVAGE DEEPS:  FIRST PLACE 2020 CYGNUS Award Winner, 2019 GLOBAL THRILLER Awards Finalist, 2022 Kindle Book Awards Semi-Finalist, 2019 CLUE Award Shortlister

FATAL DEPTH: FIRST PLACE 2021 GLOBAL THRILLER Award Winner, 2022 Silver Falchion Award Finalist (Best Action Adventure), 2021 CYGNUS Award Semi-Finalist


“If you’re looking for a techno-thriller combining Ian Fleming, Tom Clancy and John Le Carré, The War Beneath will satisfy … a ripping good yarn, a genuine page-turner.” — Amazing Stories
“One very riveting, intelligent read!” — Readers’ Favorite
“If you like novels like The Hunt for Red October and Red Storm Rising,
you will certainly enjoy The War Beneath.” — A Thrill A Week
“If you’re here for thrills, the book will deliver.” — The Cambridge Geek
“… an engaging world that is highly believable …” — The Future Fire
“This is a tense, gripping science fiction/thriller of which Tom Clancy might well be proud . . . When I say it is gripping, that is the simple truth.” — Ardath Mayhar
“… a thrill ride from beginning to end …” — SFcrowsnest
“… if you like Clancy and le Carré with a hint of Forsyth thrown in,
you’ll love The War Beneath.” — Colonel Jonathan P. Brazee (RET),
2017 Nebula Award & 2018 Dragon Award Finalist
“Fast-paced, good old-fashioned Cold War espionage … a great escape!” — The Minerva Reader

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