William H. Johnson

Archive for December, 2009|Monthly archive page

RELIGION v. FAITH: Calvin’s dilemma

In Reflection, The Dark Province on December 31, 2009 at 11:23 pm

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11: 1

It’s after midnight.  You’re knelt beside the bed of your beloved twin sister while she sleeps.  The doctors have pronounced her condition incurable and determined she has little more than a fortnight to live.

Here before you is your best friend, your most trusted confidant and above you looms the tormenting burden of profound loss that the doctors and ministers have concluded is unavoidable.

The beloved culture of your land, steeped in a proud tradition of moral clarity, and religious zeal requires that you begin the time-honored pre-mourning rituals. Yet there on your knees as you pray for ease of passing and an eternity of bliss something on the inside nags at your heart and mind insisting that more can be done.

Desperate for hope you let that nagging feeling in; you even nurture it — only to discover that you must betray your creed to follow it.

What do you do?

This is Calvin Gooding’s dilemma in THE DARK PROVINCE: SON OF DUPRIN. For him, the answer is to deny his religion in order to follow his faith.

Are there times in our universe where faith and religion can come into conflict with one another?

Having been raised in one of the stricter  Christian traditions while maintaining my faith to this day, I found this to be a fascinating subject to write about.  Indeed, I believe that faith and religion can part ways. If the religion or major elements of it cease to be hopeful, then faith will inevitably guide the faithful to leave religion behind.

Not that one is broadly good while the other is bad. Like many mechanisms in human spirituality they serve in different ways.

Religion, being a large and complex device that organizes a system of ideas, is designed to be accessible to a multitude of people.  It provides rules to live by, answers to very difficult questions, and stories of people who shared the same beliefs and whose experiences and accounts contribute to the system’s legitimacy.

Faith, on the other hand, is a more fluid substance experienced one individual at a time. It provides a confidence that perseveres through adversity. It emerges from the deepest places of the human soul. It guides without rules or tangible system of fact-checking or registered instruction manual.

Calvin’s epic journey in this fantasy adventure tests his faith across countless obstacles that change both his religion and his faith forever.

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Traveling Scribe Series: Hermosa Beach, CA

In Inspiration on December 30, 2009 at 12:01 am

I love to travel. Love it. I find that it offers my creative base a breath of fresh air, provides a new perspective, and reinvigorates my passion for storytelling.

I don’t just mean to London, Tokyo, or Bombay.  Travel can mean going to a town a half hour from your home – a little spot barely on the map with an old 1950’s diner you’ve passed a billion times on your way home from a road trip and always wanted to stop for coffee and explore the mood and ambiance there.

This series is about my favorite places to go for inspiration.  Many may surprise you…

*****

This month’s spot: Hermosa Beach, California

Hermosa is a tiny beach city along the southern coastline of Los Angeles County.  It’s about a half hour south of Downtown L.A. Pier avenue, one if its main thoroughfares, is typically alive with foot traffic heading to the various bars, restaurants and shops that line the walking promenade by the sand.  The entire western border of the city is part of the extensive pacific coastline. The “Strand” as it’s called, is essentially a concrete boardwalk frequented heavily by roller-bladers (as well as cyclists and pedestrians) – sometimes you can even catch one gliding by the water after midnight.

What I love about Hermosa is how its lively social energy is tucked so tightly against the vast ocean. If you walk across the sand and sit by the water’s edge, the thunder of the waves will fill your thoughts and mute the light of festivity that usually flickers well into the evening. On a night when the moon is full, its rays reflect off the surface of the water making the air so bright you feel as though you’re indoors, especially when the wind is calm and the temperature outside is in the 70’s.

Sitting on that beach between dimly lit beachfront property and the calm ocean that appears never-ending along with the soft hints of the city’s night life just down the strand – it gives you the feeling that you’re seated at a great crossroads between the human spirit of carefree play and all that we find mysterious.  It calls out to your imagination and beckons you to draw your own conclusions about the world, and in doing so nurtures the creative spirit and gives it life.

My Two Dreams Come True: Father Meets Novelist

In Reflection, The Dark Province on December 24, 2009 at 10:00 pm

One of the fondest memories I have of writing THE DARK PROVINCE: SON OF DUPRIN was during the fall of 2006. We were still a family of three living in a tiny apartment in Torrance, California. My wife was away at work and I was lying in the middle of the floor playing with my then one-year-old son. I tended not to write when I was home alone with him but a moment hit me and I needed to connect pencil to paper to allow this inspiration to flow onto the page.

I picked up my pencil and notebook and then handed a different notebook and crayon to my son, who liked to draw quite a bit (and still does). My hope was that he would mimic me long enough for me to get my ideas down. He drew a little bit on his notebook, but he quickly became more fascinated with what I was doing. I can’t say with certainty what it was. He didn’t whine for attention. He simply watched my hand and pencil flying across the page leaving these mysterious markings that even then he probably knew meant something specific.

Soon, just watching wasn’t good enough for him. He decided to snuggle up close and put his face right over my page, perhaps in the hopes the words might make more sense to him. Still dissatisfied, he grabbed hold of my shirt and hoisted himself up onto my shoulders (I was lying on my stomach) eventually crawling on top of my head peering over to try to match my view of the page.

For a time he just hung out there. I wasn’t the least bit distracted. I was so focused on nurturing the inspiration and so grateful to be doing something I loved in the presence of someone I loved so much.

I cherish that moment and hold it close. It connects my life as a parent with my life as an author, merging these two dreams so that they will always be one. Because of this, I will always be grounded – regardless of the level of the book’s success.

Happy Holidays to all my Tiyllians and Duprinites. Be sure to take time to cherish all those you love, whether they are here with you to hold or passed on to where their memory can peacefully smile upon you.

Sincerely,
William H. Johnson

Moments of Inspiration: “Hotel California”

In Inspiration on December 23, 2009 at 1:59 am

The patient sound of his lone acoustic crept across the open plaza, along the sidewalks and into the street.  The song was familiar and so was the hollowness of the soul that strummed the strings.  There was no cup or hat at his feet nor signs requesting donation.  Just a man, his guitar, and a desire to play a desired song.

He didn’t sing aloud, though I did in my thoughts:

On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair – warm smell of colitas rising up through the air…

Indeed night had long fallen but this was no remote highway.  This was downtown San Diego, California – the Gaslamp Quarter.

The distant scent of ocean waves crashing upon a nearby beach swirled around me offering intermittent reminders that the kitchen at the nearby Hard Rock Café was still open.  Despite all there was to taste and smell, my senses gave all their earnings to my ears just to bear honest witness to the author of the evening’s mood.

I wasn’t alone.  Others had stopped what they were doing to listen.  Some, like me, stood on the corner of 5th Avenue and L Street, appreciating his work from a small distance.  Some stood on the sidewalk across 5th. Others joined him on the plaza, listening from benches near to him.  Some were alone, others in pairs or a small group.  Even the massive convention center with all its modern boasts paused to inhale this precious piece of human nostalgia.

In a mere moment, a small concrete plain – littered with modern monuments, the area’s most sought after shops and restaurants, even a throughway for the city’s trolley system – was transformed into an intimate lounge with plush couches in which we could all lean back and savor this last song before closing time.

Perhaps those around me were regulars, but this was my first visit to this particular den.  I was grateful for the music man, his guitar and his willingness to play for us.

Such a lovely place…such a lovely place…

William H. Johnson awarded “Rising Star”

In News, The Dark Province on December 17, 2009 at 11:20 pm

IUniverse, the world’s leading independent publishing company, has recognized THE DARK PROVINCE: SON OF DUPRIN as one of its elite titles heading into its February launch.

In November, the epic fiction fantasy by first time author William H. Johnson was awarded the “Editor’s Choice” designation by the iUniverse editorial board for superb quality in writing and editing. Editor’s Choice titles are distinguished from the majority of titles published by iUniverse because of their commercial and literary value.

On Tuesday, December 15, iUniverse contacted the author to advise him that THE DARK PROVINCE had been selected for their prestigious “Rising Star” designation in addition to Editor’s Choice. Rising Star is a one-of-kind program that provides authors with enhanced opportunities for exposure on local, regional and national levels when the title is published. As a result of this honor, THE DARK PROVINCE will be added to a relative handful of titles that will be presented to major retailers, such as Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and Borders.  As well, the new novel will be featured in a Special Collections Boutique on bn.com upon release at:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/u/iUniverse-rising-star-books/379000118/?cds2Pid=16451&linkid=1518107

THE DARK PROVINCE: SON OF DUPRIN will be available for purchase in February 2010.

The Power of Personal Journaling

In writing tips on December 15, 2009 at 11:41 pm

A friend asked me the other day for advice on writing. Without hesitation I went right to journaling as a premier tool to help new writers hone their craft.

“Write what you think and feel as though you’re talking to someone you trust,” I told her. “BE HONEST!”

“Ohh – that’s my problem!” she joked. “I’m a LIAR!”

Of course she was kidding but in every joke there is a bit of truth.  Creating convincing prose and developing authenticity in characters, settings, and relationships are common challenges faced by new writers.

Personal journal writing can help!

1)      Writing about subjects, experiences, and observations that move you will help you translate real human emotion into written language more effectively. “Believability” is crucial in drawing a reader in and maintaining their captive attention. Can the reader effortlessly be transported into the world and minds of the characters? For this to take place the reader must be able to relate on a basic emotional level.  This skill can be practiced and improved by journaling about situations personal to you and describing how you feel about them.

2)      Exploring variety in your own personal experiences will aid in diversifying the characters in your story, giving them each unique traits that distinguish them easily one from another. Sure, your main character may more or less be your buddy from school and the love interest is really the girl next door who you never had the courage to talk to, but they aren’t writing your story.  You are. Therefore for it is up to you the writer to call on your own experience to breathe life into all your characters and still make them unique; be they male or female, young or older, liberal or conservative.

3)      Writing descriptively about what you observe in your day-to-day life will help you develop your skills in describing people and places in your stories. Writers, like painters and actors, should be keen observers.  Personal journaling about places you’ve been and people you’ve seen or met will improve your ability to add realistic and compelling detail to the appearance and actions of your characters and settings.

Personal journaling makes a difference.  Writers like any artist must practice their craft. You can start out by just taking time once or twice a week to write about whatever moves you; perhaps a celebrity scandal that’s caught your attention or simply the hug and kiss your child gave you this morning.

So take a trip to the store and pick out a notebook or journal. Pick the one that seems to call to you or gets your attention so you’ll be more inclined to spend some quality time with it.  Even take a moment to pick out a special pen or pack of pencils. Then dive in and start becoming the kind of writer you know you are meant to be.

Happy journaling!

“Forbidden Promise”

In The Dark Province, Writing Sample on December 10, 2009 at 11:42 pm

The following is an excerpt from THE DARK PROVINCE: SON OF DUPRIN:

“I want to believe, Calvin. But I don’t have the faith.”

“I have it,” I said. “And I will carry it for both of us. I swear to you, Mari, I will not let you die.”

Fresh tears burned across the soft brown skin of Mari’s face.

“Calvin, no—that’s not up to you.”

“The Goddess calls us to stand faithful to the highest principles of our creed,” I maintained. “Healing and restoration are at the core of our covenant.” I could see the conflict in Mari’s eyes, the confusion and the panic. It shimmered before me so clearly. Though I had been taught all my life to watch my tongue—to be thoughtful and diligent with every word I would ever speak—I willfully gave over to the moment’s passion and refused to restrain my call to faith.

“As sure as Our Lady Beloved lives, I promise you tonight that you will soon stand on your own two feet again—free of ailment and free of this threat to your life.”

A dense and deafening silence settled between us. Mari no longer wept. Her eyes rather showed concern for me, a weighted acknowledgment of the seriousness of my words.

“You know it’s against wisdom to make promises you can’t keep,” she whispered. Her pause and the tone of her new gaze were sobering.

Suddenly I felt bare and cold. I had spoken far beyond my station. What power do I have? I thought as I quickly evaluated the promises I’d made. I was neither priest nor seer, and these were the words spoken only by one or the other.

“By whose authority do you proclaim these things?” Mari solemnly asked.

“My own, Mari, by my own authority; as a covenant-carrying Duprinite.”

Mari watched me for a moment, and then her soft gaze returned.

“It is just as it is written; the kings who performed miracles did so as common men,” I said defiantly. “This is well within my right. Please, Mari.” I squeezed her hand just a bit more, pulling myself as close to her bedside as I could be on my own knees. “Please stand with me in your heart. Believe with me for your restoration. My faith can carry us. I know it can.”

Mari nodded and began to weep once more. I leaned my head against hers and wept alongside her.

“I swear, Mari, for us death shall be just as life. If you should walk across the cool fields of slumbering souls, I will follow right behind you just as I did on the day of our birth. And the gates of Nozoria will be just as the entrance to this world, one we shall greet together!”

Mari said nothing else; she simply offered a tremulous nod. With her head still leaned against mine and holding tightly to each other’s hand, we wept, for bitterness as well as for precious hope.

*     *     *

ORDER AUTHOR SIGNED COPY NOW (for unsigned copy click here)

Writing Heaven

In Inspiration, Motivational on December 8, 2009 at 11:56 pm

I wrote my very first short story in a high school writing class.  It was about a mother who lost everything she had: her husband, her child, and eventually her own life only to have it all returned to her upon ascending into heaven. It was kind of a Job-ish tale only without the God and Satan characters jawing at each other like old poker buddies.

Oddly, I described heaven as a vast, open ballroom where multitudes of people could mingle and dance freely.  It was a space quite different from the world I knew then – a place ruled by restriction and restraint, and the Word of God took a back seat to the Word of Should:

You’re a Christian: You should do this, you should think like this, you should believe only what this says and should never want that.

You’re black: Man, you should talk like this, you should act like that, you should be friends with them, and stay away from her.

You’re smart: You should want to be this, you should be good at that, you should focus on being this so you can have all these things.

Even as an adult writer living on my own, the great Word of Should loomed over my work like a guardian, applying miniature electric shocks whenever I would wander into taboo territory.

You’re a Christian: You’re writing should reflect our values.

You’re black: You’re work should reflect our struggle.

You’re smart: Hello? GET A REAL JOB!

Despite the peer pressure (that is, me pressuring me), I began developing in 2003 the work that would one day be my first novel – ironically – a tale of a man who must defy his religion to honor his faith.

Little did I know as I completed those first character sketches and imagined a new world to set them in, I was entering my own ballroom.  And when I wrote that first manuscript in 2006; longhand, in pencil, on cheap spiral notebooks, and completely out of chronological order, a slow dance had begun.

Don’t be afraid to wait for fulfillment while pursuing your dream with your whole heart.  A well nurtured dream can outlast its critics and decriers, even when those critics are you and you.

I am roughly two months from the independent release of my first novel.  I’m not only proud of the writing, I’m grateful for the dance as well.

End-of-life planning should not be feared

In Op-Ed (Opinion) pieces on December 2, 2009 at 5:03 am

As is appeared in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, CA) on September 2, 2009:

My wife and I lost three parents over a surreal 11 months.

It began on my son’s third birthday with the passing of his maternal grandmother from pneumonia that resulted from chemotherapy treatment for cervical cancer. As she lie on her deathbed in a New York hospital, she wrote an urgent note to her family on a tiny piece of paper regarding the ventilator tube that had been placed down her throat:

“Remove.”

The doctors insisted against her wishes and she was re-sedated. Though recovery had long been ruled out, the hospital continued to run tests which led to the discovery of Leukemia.  Despite her weakened state they proposed the family authorize additional chemotherapy to treat it.

Eleven months later my father died in the cardiac ICU of a Virginia hospital.

The level of medical intervention was so great that he was assigned one nurse whose only job during their shift was to care for him. Yet one of those nurses asked her superiors to be transferred from his care because the monitoring and maintenance of over a dozen different machines keeping him alive were too great for her to handle.

My father, who remained alert up until his final hours, made it repeatedly clear through gesturing that he was not in pain. However, doctor after doctor strongly recommended sedation and at one point openly criticized me as a son for not ordering pain drugs against my father’s will.

To maintain a ventilator against the will of the patient, propose chemotherapy on a dying woman, and use pressure sales techniques on a family to give morphine to a man who insists he is not in pain – these incidents seem shocking and unethical.  Yet this is part of the status quo in today’s healthcare system.

Advanced care planning consultation can help to end this nightmare.  Allowing Medicare to reimburse providers for this service can make a change for the better by providing greater access to and awareness regarding the various end-of-life care options.

Planning for end-of-life care and the clear documentation of our choices through an advance directive helps families make tough decisions in the most difficult times. It prevents providers from billing tens of thousands of additional dollars to dying patients’ insurance unnecessarily which impacts the cost of health insurance premiums. But more importantly it gives a dying patient a voice.

Unfortunately, there are political regressives in reformer’s clothing that are poisoning the healthcare debate with tactics designed to exploit our fear of death and our limited understanding of palliative and hospice care, turning them into weapons against progress.

Consider the case of my father-in-law who, moved by his experience at his wife’s bedside, immediately developed an extensive advance directive in the months that followed her death.

On the very day my own father passed away, my father-in-law was rushed unconscious to a Pennsylvania hospital having suffered a severe hemorrhagic stroke. The hospital staff, against his family’s demands, proceeded to place him on life support beginning with the ventilator his wife had made futile attempts to have removed.

It was the presentation of his advanced directive that mollified the hospital’s resistance to these demands as it stated clearly that he did not wish to be placed on any form of medical life support when there was no chance for recovery.

Having a voice in his unconscious state, my father-in-law died peacefully two days later just as he had requested; breathing easily on his own supported only by pain medications.

His family was able to sit by his bedside and mourn the loss of their loved one without having to grieve the process of his passing.

Advanced care planning must become a respected part of the broader healthcare conversation.  It gives us a voice in our most vulnerable hour, and empowers our loved ones to potentially choose whether their final precious moments are spent privately at home surrounded by their families with trained hospice staff providing them care, or in a hospital ICU with the full power and wealth of the medical industry extending their vitality well beyond what their body could produce on its own.  It also provides a context for amendment should a patient’s health dramatically change.

The “death panel” is a regrettable misrepresentation on the part of those desperate to make the public afraid of the healthcare reform bill. But these political pitbulls are barking up the wrong tree.  Death, after all, is non-partisan.  The freedom to choose how we’re cared for during that time shouldn’t be any party’s adversary.

Obama, Black leaders status quo on race

In Op-Ed (Opinion) pieces on December 2, 2009 at 5:02 am

As it appeared in the San Bernardino County Sun on July 30, 2009:

I’ll never forget where I was on the afternoon of October 3, 1995.  I stood in the Campus Center at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., nervous from the tension around me.  To my left about 25 or so white students huddled near the double doors leading to the outside.  Directly in front of me sat about 40 black students having taken up all the couches and chairs in front of the television.  Every eye in the room was trained on the screen.

“We the jury find the defendant, Orenthal James Simpson….not guilty….”

The reaction was chilling.  Every last white student in the room either cursed loudly or hung their heads.  Some even slammed their fists against the glass doors as they stormed out. The black students on the other hand leapt to their feet, erupting in cheers.  Some wept; many embraced each other.

This nightmare has played over and over since my generation, the first to be born in integrated America, came of age.

From the 1987 Tawana Brawley case in New York to the case against members of the Duke Lacrosse team in North Carolina in 2006 – white and black America has joined forces with an opportunistic media further fortifying racial spite.  Each spectacular incident leaves the American public more divided with many white Americans left to churn over what they see as a black disregard for actual justice while blacks remain convinced that true justice will never be served in what they view as white-run institutions.

This is the status quo in American race relations today.

The latest two-step in this dreadfully monotonous dance includes familiar stock characters.  On the white side of this picket fence; an officer of the police department in Cambridge, Mass., Sgt. James Crowley, who on July 16 arrested prominent African-American Scholar Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a Harvard Professor, at his home after a concerned neighbor called 9-1-1 fearing he may be the perpetrator of an attempted robbery. This after Dr. Gates produced proper identification proving he lived at the residence.

Yet once again, civil rights leaders reveal an antiquated ineptitude in handling the emergence of just such a mass mediated mess.

As though programmed, prominent black figures such as the Reverend Al Sharpton came out and immediately condemned the police department for a racially motivated arrest.  Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick called it “every black man’s nightmare.” Most disappointing were the words of President Barack Obama who, when asked about the arrest, stated first that he was personally biased toward the professor due to their friendship.  He then went on to say in virtually the same breath, as he acknowledge not knowing the facts, that it was “clear” that the Cambridge police department “acted stupidly.”

In fact all of these men spoke without having any functional grasp on the facts.

If this is activism it’s sloppy activism at best.  We need to change the status quo in American Race relations for the sake of our children.  The political process demands this in order to have effective and productive discussions about difficult issues, such as welfare, abortion, immigration, affirmative action, gay rights, and education.

The movement has to take the moral high ground and not be author of snap judgments with supposed civil rights advocates seeming disinterested in the facts and willing to ignorantly fire hurtful comments at other Americans.

The arrest of Dr. Gates and the subsequent dismissal of charges presented a perfect opportunity to sow seeds for that change where the voices of white Americans and black Americans could speak with one voice about their concern for the truth, beckoning the nation to learn from incident.

Instead this incident, like others before it, threatens to discourage and harden more American hearts regarding the issue of race leading more to dismiss our struggle to heal the wounds of a deeply prejudiced past, becoming convinced that either things will never improve or, worse, that the real racists are civil rights advocates themselves.