In 1970, the Johnson family trekked from Hatch, New Mexico, to Colorado. The trip ended when their car's radiator hose blew out in Durango. The father, a longtime auto-parts salesman, walked into a NAPA store and asked for a new hose by part number. The shop's owner, impressed, offered him a job on the spot, and the family put down roots in Colorado.
Of the three children in the Johnson Family, the youngest, Stace (rhymes with "space"), went on to become an all-around geek, with interests in Ray Bradbury, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Dan Fogelberg, John Keats, cars, computers and gaming. But his main passion was writing. Now, at 55, Johnson is a science fiction and fantasy author, a poet and a musician. He'll present his work at the 52nd edition of MileHiCon, which is running online for the first time ever, October 23 through October 25.
Johnson has participated in the annual event dedicated to everything science fiction and fantasy nearly every year since 2001.
“I’ve been going to MileHiCon long enough that I know many of the attendees,” he says. “The next best part about conventions is the networking, both with fans and other publishing-industry individuals.”
Johnson's first piece of writing was published when he was in middle school. It was a letter to the Durango Herald, responding to another letter that criticized junior high school students for wearing rock T-shirts and playing Dungeons & Dragons. At Durango’s Fort Lewis College, he studied creative writing and computer science.
“The presence of my mentors like Leonard Bird, Melanie Tem and Ed Bryant inspired me to keep writing,” Johnson says. “As they have all passed on, I now find that my inspiration comes from wanting to give something back to all the writers who gave something to me in my childhood.”
But writing has only been one part of his life. In 1989, Johnson dropped out of college because he had too much on his plate, including a new son and a job offer from a motel franchise in Arizona. He moved to Phoenix in 1990, eventually finding work in management with Little Caesars. In 1996 he returned to Colorado, where he worked his way up the pizza chain and began installing point-of-sale systems for every franchise in Denver. He also took a commission job with IBM for eighteen months in the mid-2000s. In 2014, he went on to become a systems administrator at Adams County Communications Center, a 911 Colorado facility in Commerce City, where he was promoted to IT manager in 2019.
“What I like most about my job is knowing that I’m part of maintaining the infrastructure that allows people to get help in times of dire need,” Johnson says. “It’s a very challenging and very fulfilling career.”
Happily, Johnson's IT jobs didn’t stifle his writing. From 2004 to 2009, he penned around thirty articles for computer consumer-market magazines Rocky Mountain TechLine and ComputerEdge. He’s also written poems, songs and flash fiction.
“Nonfiction work has always been more steady and lucrative than fiction or poetry,” Johnson says. “But writing it doesn’t spark the brain cells the way that creative fiction, poetry and music do for me.”
In 2013, he entered a poem contest for the Apex Book Company to promote Colorado author Tom Piccirilli’s book What Makes You Die. The prize was an advanced copy of the book. “Apparently, my poetry was strong enough to win,” Johnson recalls. “I had met Tom a few times and seen him read at a few events, but didn’t really know him well. I reached out to him about the win, and he said he would be happy to personalize the copy for me. But unfortunately, he passed before I could arrange to see him.”
In 2014, Johnson wrote a poem called "The Kestrel," which paid homage to Gerard Manley Hopkins; it was published in the science fiction and fantasy magazine Tales of the Talisman. Then in 2016, he published a poem in the University of Wisconsin’s literary journal, Cream City Review.
“[That poem] was a collaboration between Deena Larsen, Robert Lavett Smith and me for the inaugural issue of I/O, a tech-friendly version of Cream City Review,” he recalls. “The root of the collaboration is an acrostic poem I wrote decades ago. Deena and Robert wrote short companion poems for it, and we tied them all together with an additional layer of meaning using QR codes. It was a great melding of my love for both words and technology.”
Aside from writing and IT, Johnson is also a filk musician and singer. In filk music, singers and songwriters take well-known tunes and rewrite them with lyrics that reference science fiction or fantasy. Think Weird Al, only geekier. Johnson, self-taught on guitar, ukulele and keyboards, has appeared as a writer or filk performer for Westercon, MALCon, WhimsyCon, Denver Pop Culture Con, Aurora Public Library’s Mini-Con and more Front Range conventions.
“One of my recent parodies is set to the tune of ‘Wanted Dead or Alive,’ by Bon Jovi,” he says. “I wrote some cheeky lyrics for it about Han Solo and called it ‘Scoundrel.’”
Whether he’s performing his latest filk song or writing and publishing his next poem or flash-fiction piece, Johnson wants to provoke emotions in audiences.
“At my last in-person gig, I was asked to play Dan Fogelberg’s ‘Leader of the Band’ by an audience member,” he recalls. “It wasn’t in my set, but I played it anyway. By the time I finished the song, two people in the audience were crying, including the person who requested it. That was totally unexpected. I don’t like making people cry, but at the same time, I know that my performance affected them, and that’s humbling.”
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