We had the good fortune of connecting with Johnny Payne and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Johnny, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
My career has been one continuous risk. As a writer, I have tried to excel in many genres: novel, drama, poetry, essay, libretto, review. I’ve even written under the pseudonym of a Frenchman. I wrote in foreign languages. I change my style constantly. My brand is an anti-brand. Into my work as an artist, a teacher, and a program director (my ‘company’), I bring collaborations: with composers, visual artists, virtual reality. I am currently directing my own plays. The prospect of failure is always in view and if I fail, the fault is mine, because I created the risk. That has made me stronger and less afraid. It would have been easier and more lucrative to create an image, a style, and ‘stay on brand.’ But I find that boring and in the end, it would make me predictable and tiresome. The shock we’re all living through right now has punctured the myth of ‘anybody can be successful.’ I have used this opportunity to encourage my students to become more inwardly directed, to nurture their spiritual dimension and not always to be looking outside for affirmation. We need to be good human beings right now, instead of always fretting about the product, or who’s looking at us. All that stuff can burn up in a minute in a California wildfire. It’s not a time to be a raving egotist. Help your brother. Have compassion. Dare to love. That’s the biggest risk of all.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I represent “one book at a time.” I am patient and methodical. I write it as many times as needs to be written. I am not Michael Jordan, but watching The Last Dance, I do identify with one of his qualities: relentless discipline toward the goal. Don’t let anything get in the way. I’ve disappeared from view more than once, as far as public recognition. Right now I’m riding high, but I had to slog through relative anonymity at different points. You can’t let it break you. I never stopped writing. I’m up to my ears in projects now, but I was ready for that, because I never went away.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I like to eat in the neighborhood and I’m out Alahmbra way, so Shanghai, Den Tai Fun, or many other Asian places I frequent, including the humble Pho Super Bowl. A week long trip is one I did with my wife in May, driving the open desert to Las Cruces, New Mexico, at the base of the Organ Mountains. A rental house is pretty cheap, and the scenery can’t be improved on. People are laid back, and there is no end of Mexican food, because a hatch Chile is growing on every corner. Hike at White Sands or one of the slot canyons. Breathe some fresh air.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I shout out to my current publisher Marti Gorman, owner of City of Light Publishing, https://cityoflightpublishing.com/ for really understanding what I am about in my writing. I feel like I have a true champion and that we’re on an exciting venture together, as partners. She has overcome great obstacles and it has only increased her determination. Her work with children’s books and as a member of her community of Buffalo, NY makes her an inspirational figure.
These are my images.