William H. Johnson

Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

Writing Out the Fear

In Motivational on May 26, 2011 at 3:35 pm

A Guest Post by Kathryn Magendie

Before I was published, whenever I’d read about an author who wrote a book and never wrote another one, I’d say, “If I had the chance, I sure wouldn’t be hesitating. I’d sure be writing to beat the band!” I simply couldn’t understand why a writer who had the chance to have his/her next book published would not jump on that chance with all the glee and energy and writing writer write they had, especially if that book was a success.

Until my own books were published. Then came the understanding of how fear plays such a part in this business.

An artist and I were in a conversation about not letting the negativity get in the way of creativity. I said to the artist how we have to have the dark and the light in our work, but we have to make sure the dark is not someone else’s shadow. Much of what you hear after you publish your book is Everyone Else’s Opinion—if you are not careful, you begin to listen to too many voices/opinions. Finding a way to separate the “should not listen to” versus the “this will help me in my journey” is a difficult one.

After my first book, Tender Graces, was released, I woke up with anxiety so fierce that my stomach tied in a snarl of knots. Fear of what someone may say about my work. That I’d disappoint readers. That faded as time went by, because I stomped over it—how else could I go back to work? But it came again with the release of the Secret Graces, and then with Sweetie. Will people still love me and my characters? Did I do okay? Are my words reaching anyone? Will I be loved?

My friends, I understand why some writers do not write that second book. An author can become paralyzed with fear. That fear can permeate and penetrate and become so prevalent that creativity is stifled. Imagine writing a book and being compared to other writers—but—imagine writing a book and being compared to yourself! Harper Lee, Stephen King, Oscar Wilde, Gail Godwin, Ralph Ellison, Margaret Mitchell, Elizabeth Berg—all have one thing in common: they wrote a book. What they don’t have in common is some went on to write more and others never wrote another book, or at least one that we know about.

If I had not stomped over my fears, skirted around the dark that is someone else’s shadow, ignored my terror, more work would not have come to me and then to readers. Writers and artists and singers and dancers and actors—all those whose work is out for public consumption and review and deliberation—must find a way to stop the: “I have to be loved by everyone. My work must be adored by everyone. I am afraid of what will happen. I am afraid of success/failure/mediocrity.” And instead, we must do what we love and do it the best we can and do it with love and hope and strength and honesty.

Of course, we must also do it in a way that sells, don’t forget that. Art aside, love of books and reading and writing aside, it has to be deconstructed into the business side of things as well. Heart and Brain go hand in hand in this business. What a terrifyingly fascinatingly wonderful business!

Am I still worried about the books I write to be released into the hands of readers? Well, yes. But am I letting that stop me? No. Step out from that shadow and show yourself. Be brave and hearty in whatever you love to do. How will you know what you can create until the creating is accomplished?

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Kathryn Magendie is the author of Tender Graces, Secret Graces, and Sweetie. Her novella Petey will be released in the anthology The Firefly Dance along with authors Sarah Addison Allen and Augusta Trobaugh in July 2011. Her final Graces novel will be released fall 2011. Visit her at www.kathrynmagendie.com, www.tendergraces.blogspot.com, follow her on twitter @katmagendie, or on Facebook at Kathryn.magendie


What Makes a Good Love Story?

In Reflection on May 12, 2011 at 2:59 pm

I love a good love story. All kinds. I don’t think I discriminate too much. It can be the flash flood kind of love that can happen when a crisis opens the doors of two hearts or the slow developing kind when two bashful or chaste souls explore each other with the most conservative signs and gestures.

What is it that makes a love story a good or compelling one? I don’t have the answer for every reader or moviegoer but here are a few thoughts on my criteria as I busily construct one of my own.

The characters must be worthy. I know this may sound uppity and judgmental but I don’t think we’ll go on a journey of love with just anyone. We as readers and watchers of film can be as discriminating as we are with partners we would choose. When characters fall in love, for us to follow we must have a certain threshold for loving each of them individually. One of my favorite love stories in film is that of the characters Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat) and Shu Lein (Michelle Yoeh) in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The basic premise of their love story is that she was once married to his brother who has since passed away. Though it is obvious that they love each other, both have chosen to show restraint out of respect for the fallen brother. They are noble warriors yet gentle and kind to one another. The respect that they have for each other and their sense of control over their considerable gifts make them a compelling couple. We want these two together and that in itself is more than half the battle.

Love itself must be treated with the respect it deserves. We’re all familiar with “love is patient, love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4) but I think love in the context of storytelling, like in real relationships, is also very personal. It is universal yet unique to the people involved. It is as weighty as an ocean and lighter than the air above that ocean’s surface. And like water and air it takes the shape of whatever physical bodies that enclose it. So let us not pollute it with the feeling of something mass produced on an assembly line. The old “A look, a kiss, and a screw” approach has had enough reps. Let’s give the love in our story the dignity of an identity that reflects the players involved. Again, with Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien the story spends so much precious time with the “look” that says so much between them—that carries the ocean-sized weight of their convictions to remain apart we want to jump through the screen and force them together. Honor is divine for them and so they choose not to blaspheme while delivering moment after moment of step zero-point-five. This is their love; unique to them and it helps to make it compelling. Once we want the characters to have their love the last thing we want handed to them is some kind of generic passion that doesn’t befit them.

Pacing, Pacing, Pacing. Please…foot off the accelerator and out of the slow lane! Story pacing is important in itself (and another conversation altogether) but the pace of advancing love is even more delicate. Too fast and it’s shallow. Too slow and the passion is undermined. Again this is determined by factors unique to a story, world, and characters. Tension by way of grand restraint is the way of things for Shu Lien and Li Mu Bai in Crouching Tiger… As I said just moments ago, they spend much of the picture on “the look”. They peer at each other through a fortress wall they build in the name of honor and respect. Just as they appear about to demand that wall be torn down they are separated. With worthy characters and a unique affection that befits them, now it’s just time to sail the delivery ship at just the right clip.

There is a love story within so many stories. Crouching Tiger… isn’t even about Shu Lien and Li Mu Bai as a couple. The story centers most on Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi). She has a love story of her own that plays out over the course of the film. I use this story and couple because it is one of the few love stories that I can experience again and again and still be moved.

What makes a good love story for you?