You May, If You Desire, Sing
John Brown’s baby had a cold upon it’s chest…
John Brown had a little Indian…
John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave…
It’s happened hundreds of times. So if you’re feeling the urge, by all means, go wild. The world will be brighter for it, I guarantee, and we will still be here when you get back. Here are some handy helps if you’ve forgotten the lyrics.
Okay, now that the important stuff is out of the way, you can read about the author below.
The Short & Sweet Press Bio
John Brown is an award-winning novelist and short story writer. Servant of a Dark God, published by Tor Books, is the first in his epic fantasy series set in a world where humans are enslaved by creatures of immense power. Brown currently lives with his wife and four daughters in the hinterlands of Utah where one encounters much fresh air, many good-hearted ranchers, and an occasional wolf. His agent is Caitlin Blasdell of Liza Dawson Associates.
- Find a transcript of Brown’s remarks at the American Librarian Association (ALA) conference in Chicago here: Speculative Fiction, Gateway Drugs, & Literacy.
- Get press releases, high-quality images, and links to interviews in the Newsroom.
Now, if you have time and interest, the long version follows. It’s a sizeable thing for a mere debut artist. But what else have you got to do? You are, after all, surfing the internet.
The Bio with Blood & Vitamins
Growing Up With Flowers and Fists
Born in Utah in 1966, John Brown was named after his great grandfather, a lawman who lived through many colorful early-1900 episodes featuring chases, escapes, saloons, runaway convicts, American Indians, pugilists, and moonshiners. It’s uncanny that Brown married a woman by the name of Nellie, just as his great grandfather did (I mean, what are the odds–how many Nellie’s are out there who hook up with guys named John David Brown?)
Brown’s father and grandfather were both florists. This meant he grew up working with pansies and fitzers in the family business. But his father and grandfather were also boxers, which meant he heard the family’s many true-life man tales, which, interesting enough, were always about facing an assortment of brutes outside the ring. And so Brown grew up cherishing carnations and lilies as well as the ideals of staring down cowards and the bare-knuckled laying of men’s noses to the sides of their faces.
During his middle grade and High School years Brown spent a great amount of time hanging out, dating, singing in the school choirs, lifting weights, and dreaming of becoming an animator. His father taught him how to make a fist and throw a punch, but Brown never joined a boxing club, failed to continue his karate lessons, and ended up trying to prove his manliness with low-level hooliganism. Too bad he didn’t take at least one licking because the family business, after operating since 1913, tanked. And so ends a legacy of pugilistic florists, for Brown never bloodied any of his knuckles in an honest fight and has too many injuries of his own making to want to do so now.
Brown’s parents were literature nuts. Most of the family vacations were four-day visits to Cedar City, Utah to enjoy the hotel pool during the day and Shakespearean plays and ubiquitous tarts in the evening (pastries, my friends, not painted ladies). Furthermore, Brown’s mother did decorate the basement family room with three-foot high character illustrations copied from some old collection of Chaucer his grandmother kept about. Illustrations that scared the soup out of him as a child (still scare the soup out of him), and left him thinking The Canterbury Tales were tales of horror and dread. Nevertheless, at no time was Brown one of these people obviously destined to write from his youth.
He didn’t really start reading until he found The Hobbit in sixth grade. Even then he was a slow reader and produced no texts. Yes, the Rankin-Bass Christmas specials (Rudolph, Snow Miser-Heat Miser, Santa Claus is Coming To Town) awakened in him the desire to create films featuring cute reindeer and song, but such dreams were easily obstructed when his 8mm movie camera (for which he labored many hours in the hot sun as a nursery water boy) got crunched in the luggage conveyor belt at the Athens, Greece airport. Not many years later the dreams were laid aside.
Dutchmen, Bicycles, and Rancher’s Daughters
At 19 Brown left for a two-year LDS mission in the Netherlands and Belgium. Serving (on foot and bicycle) in the cities of Nijmegen, Amersfoort, The Hague, Gent, and Rotterdam, Brown became fluent in Dutch, grew great thighs of power, and fell in love with the natives, both European and Indonesian.
After his mission, he pursued his education at BYU. His thighs transported him up and down the rugged trails about Provo, Utah on his mountain bike. There truly are few things as glorious as pedaling along an alpine trail with the walls of rock rising about you, the stream burbling at your side, the wind rustling the aspens, and the sun shining down in glory. Brown will forever be thankful to the Dutch for introducing him to the gift of two wheels and a set of gears.
Of course, knowing Dutch brought even greater blessings than the legs of a Greek god. It landed him a job where he became friends with a girl who sparkled with wit and beauty but also knew how to drive a tractor and push cattle (not insignificant charms to a city boy). It wasn’t long before Brown, in the spring of 1989, married Nellie Johnson whose family had ranched and homesteaded one of the coldest parts of Utah.
Nellie wore white in the temple ceremony (nothing else is allowed in Mormon temples), but in the brides’ room deep in the bowels of the temple she changed into her black wedding dress and, traversing the halls, emerged, as some of the shocked and aged patrons mentioned at a later time unknowingly to her father, like a denizen of the underworld. A very pretty denizen, but a denizen nevertheless. All of which illustrates the fact that Nellie is like a number of the horses she grew up with–beautiful, strong, and liable to kick you in the head if you get her dander up. Hee-yah!
(If you’re one of those who wonder what the heck a Mormon is and whether we are carrier monkeys of evil, I reveal all here.)
On Monkey Fascination & Being a Potential Cult Leader
Brown had thought about art and chemical engineering as degrees, but when sitting in an honors English class his first year of college, he listened to a professor quote how Emily Dickinson could tell she was reading poetry when she felt “physically as if the top of my head were taken off.” Brown thrilled at that notion and knew he wanted to take the tops of people’s heads off. However, instead of pursuing medicine, he promptly enrolled in the English program.
The English program was wonderful. However, it did not help him learn to take the tops of people’s heads off in the way he had been hoping. Although there were many wonderful classes and interesting professors, alas, by the end he was weary of a good majority of literary theories and critical stances, which didn’t take the tops of heads off so much as wither them. Determined to turn over a new leaf and become practical, he decided to go into, ta-dum, accounting (no, that is not an error in the text).
Compounding Brown’s problem was the fact that he exhibited monkey fascination with far too many things. He eventually had to be told by the university president in a nice letter that, having amassed 225 credit hours of instruction, he had one semester to get the heck out of Dodge. Brown got, but not before he was accepted triumphantly into the Masters program in accounting. (You didn’t think you could get rid of him that easily, did you, Mr. BYU?)
Many facets of business appealed to Brown’s monkey brain, including starting an investment club which made no money. However, Brown was told by one of its impressed members–a college-educated, Mexican software engineer named Ivan (Brown has yet to figure out the Russian connection)–that he would “make a very good cult leader.”
However, not being a polygamist (um, rancher’s daughter, guns, rodeo nooses…) nor a strong drinker of Kool-aid, Brown decided to forego what surely were a number of lucrative opportunites in the business of extremist organization. Instead, he signed on with Arthur Andersen in San Francisco as a business consultant. He worked there for a few years, leaving just before the Enron scandal broke and took down the company. No, Brown was not involved in that side of the company, which allows him to still laugh at the parody of the Sprint cellular ads that were going around at the time. The parody is provided below for your enjoyment, even though the whole mess was like a thistle in the shorts for those who were bilked.
Leaving Livermore, California, Brown and family drove to their new home (and his new job) in Westerville, Ohio. It is interesting to note that the first inhabitant to show itself on their porch and welcome them to their new home was a very large and very dirty snapping turtle. It did not ring the doorbell.
The Dried Squid of His Dreams
During all those lovely first years of marriage, Brown toiled to write stories. He tormented his wife, children, friends, and neighbors with drafts. However, not until he attended a workshop put on by Dave Wolverton did he finally start to get what the removal of the tops of heads was all about. Soon after the workshop he won a first prize in Writer’s of the Future—a massive international contest for new writers.
The contest flew him to Cocoa Beach, Florida for a week long workshop with professional authors and other winners, arranged for a swamp view of a space shuttle launch (forget the alligators–another winner wore thin dress pants thinking he was safe and learned the hard way that Florida mosquitoes can pierce such flimsy cloth to pimple your hiney with scratchy bites, making it exceedingly hard to sit in a workshop), published him in their annual anthology, and paid him $2,000. He was on his way!
That was in 1997. By 2002 Brown had yet to finish another manuscript. Seeing the writing on the wall (actually, the lack thereof), he began to realize that perhaps this fifteen year dream of taking people’s heads off was beyond the capacities of a man with a monkey brain. It was, in fact, as if he were carrying about his child’s blankey, except this was more like a squid that had dried and shriveled and was attracting flies. He didn’t have the right personality type, didn’t have the DNA, maybe God Himself was set against it. Whatever the reason, the bottom line was that Brown, as a finisher of stories, sucked.
Boot Camp or Death Camp?
However, not wanting to let a dead horse lie, Brown heard about a literary boot camp to be conducted by Orson Scott Card the summer of 2002. He applied and was accepted. And so, having tormented his wife nigh unto death, he decided to torment her one last time and take that year’s tax refund, fly to Utah, and attend.
Actually, the more truthful version is that he went to his wife on his knees and instead of smiting him to the earth with equity and justice and then shocking him with a cattle prod for good measure, she said, “Okay, if you think this will do it, go. But if it doesn’t, this has to be the end.”
Some may attribute that response of extreme supportive patience to Brown’s unethical use of cult leader magnetism. This is not the case. Cult leader magnestism does not work on Nellie. It has been tested. However, chocolate has been proven to produce certain desireable effects, especially Belgian leonidas. But in this case there was no chocolate involved. And so we shall leave it to the reader to ponder upon that scene and the logic and motives of an excellent woman.
The day before the boot camp, Brown came to his senses—he could be taking the family to Disney World and making memories with that money instead of chasing his dried-squid dream. Besides, what could Card tell him that he hadn’t already read in his books? Brown called the airline to cancel, but they wouldn’t refund his money. Without the cash, there would be no Mickey or Minnie. So he flew to Utah, resigned to make the best of it.
The first two days contained a flood of insight. Then came Wednesday when Brown was supposed to write his story. He went to the library early, stayed very late, and produced nothing. Not willing to give up, he tried Thursday morning before class, during breaks, during lunch, and produced nothing, nothing, nothing. By that evening, sitting at the Orem Golden Corral, pushing around his chicken and mashed potatoes, he knew it was the end of the line. He would give all his writing books away, burn his manuscripts, and never look back. Because it is true that you can be happy and not write.
Then Brown did something, and it was as if someone had plugged him in. Was it a prayer that had been answered or high-caloric food? The lights went on, the music started playing, his story rolled out in front of him like a red carpet. He rushed out of Golden Corall and wrote, wrote, wrote every spare minute he got. On Saturday, the last day of the boot camp, he turned the story in. There were groans at its size, but after reading it, many there felt delight. Card himself said its issues were mere “paint spots on a palace” (a struggling author can do nothing but love a pro who shows such a generous spirit).
The story went on to sell multiple times. But the key was not that Brown had written a decent story. He’d done that before. The key was that he now knew what had been holding him back. He set a goal to write three novels in the next five years, went home, and immediately began to produce.
In 2007 he signed with his agent Caitlin Blasdell. In 2008 he signed a very-nice, three-book deal with Tor Books, the largest publisher of science fiction and fantasy in the world.
In 2003 Brown’s employer made a push for its employees to work remotely. Loving the West, he and his wife decided to leave the verdant woods of Westerville, Ohio and move back.
They were to find a temporary dwelling while they decided which community in the West to live in. Would they settle in Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Idaho? Their temporary dwelling was Nellie’s grandmother’s house on the property she’d homesteaded for out in the boonies of Utah.
The house was 900 feet square with one bathroom that had a trick door. The bathroom was right off the kitchen, and so every now and again, the door, which had no lock, would suddenly lose its grip and swing open so you could say hello to any guests who happend to be sitting at the kitchen table.
Brown never intended to stay. He likes cities. The nearest town was almost five miles away with a population of 500 (if you count a horse or two). The only store in the area was a Sinclair gas station where a number of vested and scarfed ranchers liked to hang out for coffee and cocoa. The nearest shopping was an hour’s drive. His office was out back in a souped-up cow shed that had an infestation of flies not unlike the house in The Amityville Horror. There was only the one bathroom for him, his wife, and four daughters (if you didn’t count the working outhouse in the back). There were mice. Of course, there was also a black cat and her nine black kittens that came with the place (in the winter this mother cat and the seven kittens who ultimately stayed could often be seen standing on their hind legs like so many meerkats to see over the snow piled along the walkways).
Despite the remoteness, the Bear Lake area displayed many charms—wildlife, wondrous solitudes, 110 square miles of lake, warm neighbors, good-hearted ranchers, and an annual testicle festival (okay, maybe the festival isn’t actually “charming”). He tried once to move the family to civilization, but what can a man do when faced with the wishes of four loving daughters and a superb wife? Not to mention a pair of red-tailed hawks who like to buzz him when he hikes the hills close to home.
And so Brown lives and writes at a new house with four glorious, locking bathrooms only a mile away from town on a road that’s called Coyote Drive or Lost Sheep Circle depending on which sign you read first.