A Q&A On The Furnace with Timothy S. Johnston

Q. THE FURNACE is described as a “Locked-Room Mystery.” What do you mean?

A. The basic idea is a group of characters trapped in a location and one of them is a killer. An investigator arrives and has to solve the mystery.

Q. Like a traditional Agatha Christie novel.

A. Yeah, I’m a big fan of Christie. Her novel AND THEN THERE WERE NONE is a classic example of a Locked-Room Mystery. Or her play THE MOUSETRAP. Characters trapped in a single location, one of them a killer, a storm, power outages, increasing death count … I love that type of story, whether it’s a play, a novel, a movie or television show. I wanted to write one, but update it.

Q. So now it’s a … thriller? Horror science fiction?

A. Technothriller set in outer space I guess. Detective story. It’s hard to pin down.

Q. On the cover it says “Inspired by THE THING and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.”

A. I’ll start with THE THING. John W. Campbell’s novella was actually called WHO GOES THERE? It’s a great story. The movie adaptation in the 50’s, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, wasn’t especially true to the source material. It lacked the feeling of isolation and horror that Campbell created. But John Carpenter, in the 80’s, made his version and went back to the source for it. He did a far better job getting across the mood and paranoia of the original, and the idea that if they didn’t beat this menace, it was the end of the human race. Period. And of course the feeling that the characters couldn’t go anywhere because of the environment was important as well. That’s crucial in any story of this sort. Carpenter just nailed that.

Q. The environment in THE FURNACE is definitely harsh.

A. Yes. I wanted that, it’s essential. I wanted the story to take place in the worst environment imaginable. No one comes or goes. If you go outside for too long, you die.

Q. Is that why the station is so close to the Sun?

A. Definitely. I wanted that isolation, the fear. The characters feel it. The Investigator certainly does. He’s out of his element, off balance by it. I want the reader to feel it as well.

Q. The stakes were huge in THE THING, and also in THE FURNACE.

A. I think that’s important. You have to worry about the outcome in order for the book or movie to make an impact. If the characters fail, then it’s worst-case scenario. Game over, for everyone. The larger the stakes, the more compelling the book or movie will be. The more tension as well. You also have to care about the characters. If there’s no connection between the reader and the protagonist, then you don’t feel tense when his life is threatened.

Q. The protagonist in THE FURNACE is interesting.

A. Kyle Tanner. He’s had a rough past. He’s a loner. He doesn’t have many personal relationships because of his type of work. He investigates homicides and deals with really bad people every single day.

Q. He’s isolated.

A. Yes. The environment reflects his emotional isolation. Not just being in a dangerous location near the sun, but also out in space, alone. Working alone. It’s an important part of his psyche. What he does for a living is tough. He’s closed off emotionally, but he knows that solving mysteries does help people. He feels for the families. It’s a dichotomy of his character that I wanted to explore. I want readers to identify with what he’s going through, to worry about him. To care about him.

Q. It definitely creates tension in THE FURNACE. And what about INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS?

A. Jack Finney created an amazing take on the theme … people who aren’t really people. Who’s my friend? Who’s my enemy? It creates the ultimate paranoia, where even your best friend could be one of them. The original was called THE BODY SNATCHERS, then later INVASION OF was added to the title. It’s such a popular story … there have been four movie versions of that book alone.

Q. What’s your favourite?

A. The Donald Sutherland one in the late 70’s. Sutherland, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum. It’s a great cast and done really well. And the ending … it’s a classic.

Q. THE THING and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS both feature aliens of some sort, be it plants or creatures. What do you want potential readers to know about THE FURNACE?

A. No aliens of any sort. I prefer writing human stories, focussing on human issues. On history or biology. I don’t mind reading about aliens, though I’m extremely particular.

Q. What are your favourite books?

A. THE FOUNDATION SERIES by Isaac Asimov. GATEWAY by Frederik Pohl, ENDER’S GAME by Orson Scott Card, most of Michael Crichton’s novels. Finney’s BODY SNATCHERS of course. Joe Haldeman’s THE FOREVER WAR. MARS by Ben Bova.

Q. Speaking of Asimov … he enjoyed mysteries too.

A. I loved his Robot Novels. THE CAVES OF STEEL … a murder mystery with a twist. The investigator’s partner is a robot. Great idea … and a great series as well.

Q. There aren’t many murder mysteries in science fiction, are there?

A. Not much anymore I guess. I’m inspired by books, by movies, by television shows … you name it. I thought a murder mystery thriller in space would be a great idea.

Q. Is THE FURNACE your first novel?

A. I actually wrote something else before it … I felt so inspired by film and locked-room mystery novels to write THE FURNACE, but I wanted to make sure I could actually do it properly so I waited for a bit. Wanted to make sure I could actually write a novel first. So THE FURNACE is the second novel I’ve written, but the first released.

Q. You have a website?

A. Yes. I’d love for people to visit it. It tells a bit about me, my writing. I’d like readers to register as well, meaning I’ll send them news updates about upcoming novels and so on. I’d also love readers to send me feedback. The website is www.timothysjohnston.com and my email is tsj@timothysjohnston.com

Q. One last question: what inspired you while growing up? To end up writing books like THE FURNACE?

A. Horror novels, science fiction novels and movies. I read THE EXORCIST before I was thirteen. Terrified me. Loved it. I fell in love with Lester del Rey’s young adult space thrillers … they just don’t publish books like that anymore. Fred Pohl of course. Jack Williamson. Asimov and Heinlein. Ben Bova. And films of course. I remember as a kid in the 70’s watching great SF movies. The f/x would be considered poor by today’s standards, but the themes and concepts were brilliant. SOYLENT GREEN, SILENT RUNNING, PLANET OF THE APES, THE OMEGA MAN, ROLLERBALL, LOGAN’S RUN. Then of course came ALIEN, THE THING, the new version of THE FLY … just amazing stories inspire me.

Q. Thanks for your time.

A. I love discussing compelling science fiction. It was my pleasure.



*** For further reading, an interview with TSJ at The Qwillery about writing The Furnace.

The Furnace from Timothy S. Johnston and Carina Press is available wherever eBooks are sold.

THE FURNACE by Timothy S. Johnston