William H. Johnson

Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

Why I Dumped Screenplays to Write a Novel

In Indie Publishing, Motivational on January 26, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Coming out of college I had my mind pretty set on screenwriting. I saw everything visually and frankly watched more movies and saw more plays than I read books. For years I slaved over spec scripts for television drama and feature film while at the same time working on my own personal projects that I wanted to produce and direct myself.

The more time I spent working for the studios, the less interested I became in using that path to fulfill my dreams. I became inspired by indie films and decided the way to go was to produce and shoot my own pictures without having to lock horns with a studio executive editing my work to look like projects past in order to increase the bottom line.

I wanted the freedom to create something truly original, but things didn’t go quite as I’d hoped. The costs and collaboration needed to shoot short films at my desired standard marred my ability to experiment with the medium. To film even a simple drama set locally in present day was beyond what I had access to. Not to mention the new budget I’d need to create the finished product into an indie DVD! It was really depressing.

My wife, who had been working on a manuscript for a number of years, suggested I try writing my work as a novel. With nothing to lose I wrote a chapter or two and it came out nicely. But I remained unconvinced. I yearned for the big picture.

Then a friend turned me on to iUniverse and I began researching self publishing. I was shocked to find how easily one could publish and distribute a book. Mind you, this is coming from the perspective of an indie filmmaker…compared to the half million dollars needed to produce a film on the cheap, the cost of self publishing a book looks like a few pennies in a bucket.

In the film world, it would cost somewhere between the budget for The Dark Knight and Avatar to make my debut novel into a movie. Another piece I’m working on would be closer to the budget of Cider House Rules. But as books they cost precisely the same to make: a few thousand dollars.

And I get the freedom to write any story I want. I get to be the writer, director, and production designer. I get to design the sets and sculpt every expression on all the actors. Talk about a control freak’s paradise! All I needed to do was sit down and do the work. And that I did. I began writing the first draft of the THE DARK PROVINCE in June 2006 and was finished by Thanksgiving and I will get to see it released next month!

Today it’s easier to produce and sell your book than it has ever been. Access to the best editors, cover designers, and printers are just a click away. Though the apparent cutbacks in acquisitions by traditional publishers are enough to leave a writer in despair, a simple change in perspective can send that same writer into the streets, dancing like nobody’s watching.

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First Glimpse of the New Baby

In Indie Publishing, Reflection, The Dark Province on January 22, 2010 at 11:17 pm

When my wife was pregnant with our first child I often told her: “God, I wish he would hurry up! I want to get his autograph!” It was the best way I could describe the anticipation of finally meeting this new member of our family. After ultrasounds, birth classes, talking to the midwives and actually feeling him kick around in her womb, he’d become somewhat of a celebrity to me and I was dying to catch a glimpse of our new star.

Now, five years later, THE DARK PROVINCE: SON OF DUPRIN is that new celebrity in our home. Anything we hear from production is like hearing a new baby’s heartbeat.

We got the news about receiving editor’s choice for writing and editing quality. A few weeks later the news came in that the baby was recognized as “Rising Star.” The heartbeat was healthy. The ultrasounds looked good; ten fingers ten toes. But oh to actually see it!

Last Wednesday we finally caught the first glimpse. My production manager had agreed to send me a screenshot of the cover once the designers were through with it.  I knew it was coming. Still, when I got up that morning and checked my e-mail, my mini meltdown alarms went off when I saw the message in my inbox. I called out to my wife who’d risen earlier and she rushed upstairs.

“Can you handle it or do you want me to look first?” she asked.

We agreed to open the file together.

And there it was, literally staring back at me: a pair of blue eyes almost completely overtaken by an orange hue. They were the eyes of a woman gazing through a gray mist just as I had envisioned and shared with the art director.  Below those eyes were the words: THE DARK PROVINCE…and just below that in smaller letters embedded in a yellow stripe…SON OF DUPRIN.

Beneath that perfect stripe the gray mist opened to show the silhouette of a man walking through a tunnel of stone into white light: the archetypal image of rebirth. Again, it was just as I envisioned. Beneath that traveler’s feet stretched the name “William H. Johnson.”

I was speechless.

Suddenly all the weeks I’d waited felt like a dream. Like that cover had always been sitting right in front of me, where I could easily see it.

My wife printed a low res version of the book cover, front and back, and taped it to a small book for me to keep on my desk so I could pick it up from time to time and feel like I was holding the baby.

My son, who is just starting to read little books, said to me yesterday.  “When you’re book comes out, Dad, I’m gonna buy one.” I didn’t bother to mention that it was a book written for an adult audience and not really appropriate for the little guys. I have time to explain that one. Instead I just gave him a hug and thanked him for his pledged patronage. Then he bounced away to do bead art with his little sister.

I feel very blessed to have a house full of “Rising Stars” and am looking forward to the latest addition…just weeks away!

Book Cover Blondness: Gina’s Revenge

In Humor on January 20, 2010 at 1:30 am

Let me begin this story by saying that officially I am not one to associate intelligence with hair color. I’m not a “haircolorist.” I swear! I have plenty of blond friends.

That said, I will confess that for quite a while I teased my dear blond-to-the-core friend Gina from high school for a question she posed to me one day in social studies class. We were studying the “Civil War.” Over the course of a few days our teacher took us through many of the basics: the war’s impact on the slavery policy, the historical significance of General Robert E. Lee, the Battles of Bull Run, etc.  Somewhere about three quarters of the way through the unit Gina turned to me and asked:

“Yeah, but Bill, who won the Civil War?”

In time this became an iconic moment in our friendship, periodically relived throughout high school, in e-mails during college, and while reconnecting over facebook years later.  She remained a good sport about it, blaming her “blondness.” Little did I know she was waiting sinisterly for just the right moment when I would slip and fall prey to an inner blondness of which I was unaware…

Now fast forward to last Wednesday morning. A preview of my book cover arrives in my e-mail box from my production manager and I enter a state of unadulterated shock. I quickly decided that I needed some immediate reactions so I logged onto facebook looking for friends I could show it to.

There online was Gina. I was so excited and nervous to share the image that I went ahead and messaged her. Her usual cheerful reply popped up.

“Gina!” I wrote, eagerly. “Are you near a computer??”

She paused for a moment – and then it hit me. We’re IM chatting on facebook. Um..DUH.

Busted.

The time had come. Her revenge was at hand. She promptly updated her status:

I just had a friend I was chatting with ask me if I was near a computer. Guess I am not the only one who has blond moments 🙂

So ends an era, I guess. Now a new one begins.  I’m not talking about becoming a published author. No, I’m talking about the Era of the Tie Score.

Bill 1 – Gina 1.

Back Pocket Mistress – a story of literary infidelity

In Reflection, The Dark Province on January 14, 2010 at 10:45 pm

The first novel I was SUPPOSED to write severely pissed me off.  We had a falling out.  It was a disaster.

For nine years I was virtually married to this small town story with a small but poignant supernatural element. It began as a short film I wrote in college. Then it became a feature film screenplay.  Then a long screenplay, then an unmanageably massive screenplay.  Then a novel….then a screenplay again…then a novel again…then…

<pant pant>

I was lost at sea for sure. My project was out of control.  I was its indentured servant on good days and chained in its prison on the bad.

Then, when it seemed like all hope was lost, I learned about chapter summaries.  Brilliant! I’ll write the summary start to finish and then whatever I put in that summary will be what it will be.  Done. Ka-put.  I would retake command of this vessel and fly to the sunset.

The summary began. Like a bull in a rodeo it leapt about snorting angrily.  This beast would not be tamed.

Finally I decided a mind game was my last hope.  I looked that small town story in the eye and said:

“I’m putting you down. You hear me?? I’m putting you down!” And then I reached in my back pocket and waved a new story in her face. This story was passionate and seductive, with present eyes that had watched me patiently throughout my struggles.  And let me tell you, she was developed.

She had it everywhere it counted.

Her name was THE DARK PROVINCE – a story about a very conservative man thrown into a forbidden world its people had sworn to avoid.

“You see this?” I cried to my small town story. “I’m working with HER for a while.  And if you don’t act right I’ll keep working with her and you won’t ever see the light of day!”

Secretly I expected my mistress to be only a brief distraction.  I expected to be back in the arms of my long term lover in a matter of days, hopefully having spent some time in couples therapy and empowered to finish the job.  But just days later I held in my hand a completed chapter summary…for The Dark Province.  It fell out of me like a child’s toy I’d been hiding in my shirt.

I showed it to my wife (my real one, that is), who was well aware of the back pocket mistress. Her words were simple on the matter:

“Write it.”

That was the last I saw of the small town story.  Within six months the first draft of an epic fantasy adventure was written. Next month it will be published as my debut novel.

I know that small town story is still out there, though. One day she’ll be back and we’ll work things out. Our turbulent relationship will settle and bear the fruit, this I believe.

But for the time being THE DARK PROVINCE and I are having our moment and taking our adventure together one step at a time.

“A Game of Pleasure”

In The Dark Province, Writing Sample on January 6, 2010 at 8:14 pm

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

I stood not far from the entrance as I watched Tjoldana remove her coat and place it neatly in the closet on a small hanger. My anxiety only accelerated to find she was wearing only sparse undergarments underneath—a black finely netted covering up top that was deliberately translucent with a matching piece on her full hips covering only the most critical area in front and disappearing between two rightly present symbols of her curvaceous health behind her.

Brothers and sisters, allow me to be straightforward; this woman’s body sloped and turned curves in ways that would put a master sculptor in a wheelchair for the duration of his lifetime. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t take my eyes off how her tight waist exploded gracefully to a set of hips. Though paired, each hip could stand alone as sufficient on most of the women I knew. What was amazing about it was there was no trace of indulgence or gluttony of any type. It was this woman’s body’s nature to be full and push the boundaries of her shape out into the spaces beside and behind her. And with all of her firm blessings around her waist and hips, still, the Goddess spared no expense when endowing her chest.

Tjoldana was a full deck of cards.

After taking a moment to proudly show off her wares, she seemed almost to laugh softly to herself. I suppose it was clear that I was overwhelmed. Her small laugh seemed to yield a trace of pity. But pitiful or not, I was set to be the subject of some very advanced affection. Advanced, I feared, well beyond my qualifications, let alone the threshold of my convictions.

“Tell me your richest fantasy,” she whispered, stalking toward me as a spider might her prey.

“Fantasy?” I replied in broken speech as I felt the unfortunate need to swallow several times as she drew near.

“Yes. Surely you had one in mind when you selected me over my fair comrade.”

“No, actually,” I squeaked back at her, “I chose you because the aggression in your comrade’s eyes looked intimidating, and I feared certain injury.” My single-witted reply seemed to draw a smile from Tjoldana, and she paused in her amusement. I hoped it might buy me time to strategize a way out of my predicament.

“You’re very intuitive,” she said with an amused inflection. “D’ is … well, she engages her partners with a sort of tunnel vision; she is a poor improviser. She knows what she wants and doesn’t deviate. I, on the other hand, want to know what you want. Tell me so I may bring your fantasies out of the prison of your mind and unfold them upon your skin.”

Tjoldana placed her hands on my clothed chest and began descending them toward my waist. Her solid brown eyes defined her state of presence—how they held on me patiently awaiting my commands. I had none. All I had was a dreadfully quickened heart rate and rapid breaths to provide accompaniment.

The game had begun.

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