William H. Johnson

Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category

The Busy Bee Gets the…Honey?

In Reflection, The Trubaker Orphanage, Writing on June 23, 2012 at 5:57 pm

I’ve come to realize that the busier I am the more I get accomplished. A no-brainer isn’t it? I mean, it makes sense that the more you’re doing, the more will get done. However, as writers we often use how “busy” we are as an excuse as to why our writing life is less than productive.  I myself have gotten much busier over the last year, and I have questioned my ability to produce as a writer on more than one occasion. But perhaps in some case we’re just not busy enough to produce the way we’d like…

What I’ve found in my reflection has been somewhat comforting–more than somewhat actually. I’ve found that my own personal rhythm is best supported when I am constantly in motion. My work thrives when I am answering the call of many passions. It seems that the more hats I wear, within reason, the more productive I become with each hat’s purpose as long as I get out of my head and trust that rhythm.

As many of you know, I’ve transitioned from teaching and directing theatre full time to teaching full time in a public high school. It may shock you to know that I teach math (why not English? You may ask. But that’s another topic for another post). Being a full time high school math teacher, a new teacher at that, has been quite overwhelming but rewarding as well especially since I worked with students who tend to struggle in school. In addition to teaching I am also a football coach for the same high school. I’m a father of two small children. I’m a husband. I’m in graduate school working on my M.Ed.

Yikes, right?

If I think about it too much I get stressed, I confess. But when I look at what I’ve accomplished in the last six months including my writing, I can only nod my head with gratitude. Through this challenging time I’ve grown in every area. My rewrite of THE TRUBAKER ORPHANAGE is clicking along just fine and I’m quite happy with what’s been produced so far.

I certainly don’t recommend this for everyone. It works for me because my centers of passion are being acknowledged and affirmed — my passion for education, youth that could be at-risk, and the positive role sports can play for young people. Working in these areas generates new energy that allows me to produce in all areas of my life including my writing. Indeed, I may write in spurts; pour tens of thousands of words on the page in a 7-10 day period that is preceded and followed by a “dry period”. What I’ve learned is that these aren’t actually dry periods at all. They are seeding periods, where inspiration and imagination are sown like seeds.

This rhythm has kept me on pace toward my goal of releasing my second novel over the summer of 2013 (TRUBAKER) and my third novel over the summer of 2014 (RISEN). Who am I to complain about something that’s working, however unorthodox it might be?

I remain deeply grateful for my family and their support and love for their mildly workaholic Daddy and husband–and to all my readers and blog/twitter/facebook followers. Your company on this journey has been invaluable.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have a 2000-word research paper to finish by midnight! 🙂

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“We’ll miss you, Mister. Will you miss us?”

In Reflection on June 14, 2012 at 8:31 pm

The talk of summer has been sporadic between the students and me this week. It’s been mostly business. Preparing for the final exams. Hassling the kids who’ve given up, telling them that every moment they apply themselves is valuable, pass or fail.

Quietly, for all of us, the clock has been ticking. Friday, tomorrow, is the last day of school. For some it’s just the last day of a school year. For some it could be last day before heading off to the continuation school to make an attempt to catch up on credits already lost early in their high school lives. For me the feelings are mixed. While I’m relieved that my first year is almost over, I’m also feeling more than a touch of seperation anxiety.

These kids will always be the first students I worked with during my first full year in public education. Regardless of how deep their struggles–the struggles were many– and no matter how challenging some of them were to work with on the bad days–and there were bad days–they will always be the first. They were a motley crew of teenagers; strong minds battling real loss and crises among academically disheartened souls at a crossroads among hardened hearts who’ve given up on school and have chosen to wear a brash smile until the school will no longer admit them.

Regardless of their story, they were all my students; kids I shared with other teachers, families, and the community. For an hour of a day, Monday through Friday, my classroom was where they belonged. Bonds had to be created first and foremost for any learning to take place, individual bonds and one that consisted the whole group. Tomorrow they’re released from my one-hour-a-day care and those connections will be left to sway in the breeze until their forward going relevance is determined and they evolve to memories or bonds of a new kind.

Tonight, I’m giving in to that quietly overwhelming combination of relief and sadness to see the year end. I’ll be proud of the students that gave themselves a chance to pass a class or state exam that they’d previously failed. I’ll honor those few A students who found their groove and soared amidst of the occassional chaos of students who didn’t share their commitment. I’ll choose to have hope for the kids who will retake the required course or state exam, some of which  will be seniors, and pray they are able to overcome their fear of making an honest try next year.

As writers we live with passion for our characters. Just as they often did this year, my characters both from published works and works in progress will step aside and quietly honor these real young people who inspired  as many highs, lows, and flashes of grace as any imagined landscape I’ve ever visited.

My [Inappropriate Gesture] to Gasoline

In Reflection on June 3, 2012 at 6:26 pm

88 cents. During El Nino in 1998 the price of gas at the Thrifty on Hawthorne Boulevard in Lawndale California dipped to 88 cents. I remember the first summer I lived in Los Angeles I would drive up to Burbank to study with improvisational theatre guru Gary Austin at the Third Stage Theatre on Magnolia. Before making the trip back down to the beach cities where I lived I would gas up at the Mobil station at Magnolia and Buena Vista.  $11.50 to fill it up.

I’m not going to go off about the foreign policy and energy policy failures of the past (and present) that has enabled our addiction to foreign oil. That’s another blog, another story, another conversation. I’m not going to evoke tired provocations about wars being fought over oil or any of that. I’m just going to point out that the same smelly substance that fuels my car today costs the almost five times more than it did back in those days when I was a new Californian, wide-eyed and wandering up and down the freeways of L.A.

It does nothing new. It still stinks. It’s just as toxic. Its just as flammable. It’s just as crappy for the environment when it’s burned in a combustion engines. It doesn’t cook me breakfast. It doesn’t protest against racism. It doesn’t eliminate homophobia or promote gender equality. It’s the same [bleep] it was 15 years ago yet it costs $4.50 a gallon.

That’s not inflation, that’s extortion. So I bought this:

2012 Nissan Leaf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s an electric vehicle. No gas. No oil. None. End of controversy.

Now don’t get me wrong, EVs aren’t the cure-all for the world problems either. My little electric vehicle isn’t going to cook me breakfast (though it takes the gas cost out of my grocery shopping). It isn’t going to protest racism (though I did by a white one. Progress? Progress?). It doesn’t reduce homophobia or promote gender inequality (though my wife does look gorgeous in it. Progress? Progress?) I am, however, taking a giant step out of the gas game—and friends—it is a stupid game. Gas prices change for no good reason at all and fluctuate DAILY.

So that’s it. That’s my tiny little statement about gas from my desert oasis home. I’m hoping for many great years of service from my new car. Who knows. Maybe years from now I’ll be declaring, “once you lose gas you don’t go back.”

(Progress? Progress?)

2011 Year In Review: Ten Writing-Related Things I am Thankful For

In Dark Province Book Two, Reflection, The Dark Province, The Trubaker Orphanage on January 3, 2012 at 10:25 am

New reviews: In 2011, readers and book bloggers spoke their mind about my debut novel, THE DARK PROVINCE. The reviews were as diverse as the nations they hailed from but you know what? I’m thankful for all of them; for the 5 stars and the 1 star—I appreciated them all. Art is meant to have personal meaning whether it evokes I think everyone can relate to this in one way or another – who can honestly say they haven’t struggled with their faith, especially in times of hardship?” or it evokes With [the main character’s] roots firmly entrenched in a certain religious ideology, he had a difficult time having an open mind, and it struck the wrong chord in me.” I’m grateful for everyone who has taken the journey.

TFWScribes: Around February I was invited to jump into writing discussions with writers Jamal Hankins, Christie Taylor, and Chandra Harkins. What later formed was a closely woven family of artists who have committed themselves to challenging discussion of social issues and the craft as well as the advocacy of each other’s goals. This group is more than just a writer’s group, they are truly kindred spirits.

Completion of New Novel : In the spring of 1997 I wrote a short film that became a turning point for me in how I approached the craft. It was driven by heart and inspiration rather than heady ideas. Since then that work has evolved as I have grown, never ready to be told. In 2011 that old story spoke up and demanded to be written as a manuscript. I’m happy to say it got its wish. The book is called THE TRUBAKER ORPHANAGE and God willing it will be out over the summer of 2013 if not sooner.

Progress in Dark Province Sequel: How great it is to be reminded from time to time that there are readers who are counting the days for a sequel? It’s extremely gratifying. As an artist there is no way to know how that piece will taste when it does finally reach their dinner plate. But having completed half of the manuscript and all of the story summary, I can say that SHE IS RISEN will be sculpted with the same fervent passion and love that her predecessor was.

Twitter followers: I am so grateful for chats at all hours about every and any thing that is life or writing. You’re funny, thoughtful, passionate people who have joined my journey to the tune of 2,915 of you. I am thankful for you all.

Facebook friends: Whether you’re in my writing world or friends from the various eras of my personal life you have kept me connected, creative, and inspired. Thank you so much!

LitChat/StoryCraft/UFChat/WriteChat/Writersroad/Bookmarket:  A freelance writer in Manhattan Beach, California told me back in 2009 that twitter was a great place for writers to come together. I had no idea. Twitter chats have been amazing. While my graduate school program and volunteer work kept me away for the latter part of the year, I am still a Litchattic and every other chattic there is. Thanks to the great moderators who keep these excellent forums open and vibrant.

Dark Province Webseries: On November 6, a group of actors came together in Los Angeles to read the first 7 episodes of a Dark Province web series that is in the exploratory phases. What angels they were to put their considerable gifts to action if just for an afternoon table read. So much love to each one of them.

Kat Magendie’s “Writing Out the Fear”: The first guest writer on my blog was author Kat Magendie. Not only does this author have a beautiful soul but she can write like southern soulful cooking! She graced my blog with some motivational words of encouragement to any writer who hits a wall and struggles to keep the flame lit. Thank you Kat! I hope your heart is mending well this holiday season.

Guest posting on Cathryn Louis’ Blog: As Kat blessed my blog with a little inspiration, Cathryn Louis gave me license to be scandalous on hers. I was honored to post a little symbolic cross-section of my literary infidelity as I swung back and forth between the worlds of RISEN and TRUBAKER. Thank you and God bless!

Three Way-Cool Things About Transcribing a Handwritten Draft

In Reflection, The Trubaker Orphanage, writing tips on August 29, 2011 at 11:28 am

What did I just spend 6 months doing? I have a couple notebooks full of writing in pencil. I have colorful tabs to organize and point the way to chapters and parts of chapters that I wrote months ago. I have a summary/outline that changed a couple of times along the way. Now what?

Transcribe, scribe! Onto the computer I go. Most of you probably know by now that I write longhand in pencil. I seem unwilling to go high, mid, or low tech with the writing of my first drafts. One might think that transcription is a royal pain. Why type 80,000 words right after you wrote them? Isn’t it doing double work?

Nonsense! It’s actually a pretty cool process. Here are three reasons why:

1)   It’s like a mini-vacation. Yes, I did say vacation. Where’s the special destination? Your story! The reason I call it a vacation is because you get to “tour” your hard work with no pressure at all. You don’t need to change a thing. I actually recommend that you leave most of what you wrote by hand as it was. This isn’t the time to dive into revisions. This is the time to get acquainted with your accomplishment. Some of this you haven’t seen for months, reintroduce yourself.

2)   It gets you prepared for some serious revising and rewriting. Sometimes I call transcription a “half pass” meaning, yes—I do correct little things, a sentence here or there, add a sentence that I don’t have to think about. But if I have to wonder for more than a nanosecond I leave it alone. When I have questions or things I want to explore changing, I write them on a separate piece of paper and save it. When it comes time to do that first major rewrite I have not only familiarity with the piece as a whole but direction. I feel like I did my homework and I can proceed with confidence.

3)   It gets you pumped up! Dude, dudette, you just finished a novel! That’s what I’m talking about!! Get pumped, celebrate. Enjoy those moments when your fingers fly because you put together an inspired scene that came out how you wanted! (They didn’t all come out that way, but there will be some. Enjoy them!)

I am about halfway through transcribing THE TRUBAKER ORPHANAGE. Another few weeks and I should be done with this step. Do you write longhand and transcribe? Share your stories!

What I Learned from Finishing My Second Novel

In Reflection, The Trubaker Orphanage on August 5, 2011 at 11:31 am

This past Monday at 3am Pacific Standard Time, I completed the draft of my second novel, currently titled THE TRUBAKER ORPHANAGE.

The roughly 80K draft was written in exactly five months, longhand in a pair of notebooks. Upon finishing I have the same feeling that I did when I finished the Dark Province draft—I feel good…but…I’m motivated to keep working.

The next step for me is transcribing the work onto a computer, which I am about 10,000 words into at this time.

Things that were similar to the process of writing THE DARK PROVINCE:

  • Again I went with the plotter method. I wrote a nine-page summary before starting the draft process.
  • The story is told in the voice of the primary storyteller who is also the main character, Carlton Trubaker.
  • I was inspired by themes close to me. For TDP it was religion/faith and sex in culture. With TRUBAKER, it’s about family…what makes a family and how all children—all people—desire to feel a part of something.

Things that were different from the process of writing THE DARK PROVINCE:

  • I drew great inspiration from actual places. The small desert down in which the story is set is modeled after the city of Beaumont in Riverside County, California. I have made several trips out to Beaumont for inspiration including an overnight trip years ago when I was developing the story. (Couldn’t exactly visit the Dark Province…that might have put a bit of a strain on my marriage.)
  • The love story was front and center. The romance element of THE DARK PROVINCE is significant but not the primary engine for the story’s action. TRUBAKER is a gutsy love story about two childhood friends above all else. It made the journey of writing feel more like an exploration of love and partnership than a quest for salvation as it was in TDP.
  • American social issues came into play such as racial tension and at-risk kids in the foster system. This required a different kind of reflection and research to write.

What I learned from writing this draft:

  • I am partial to a strong narrative voice coming from the main character. I like to tell stories from the perspective of someone who experienced the story they are telling. I began this draft in third person intimate. About halfway through the story I switched to first person and it rolled from there.
  • Once again, a plotter never has to be subservient to their summary. My summary changed for the better both times I used this method.
  • When you’re working on a piece and your soul says change course and write this other piece and you have a clear vision of the story beginning middle and end, listen to that voice! I took a break from the DARK PROVINCE SEQUEL to write this on March 1. Five months later I have a new draft in my hand. Now that this story is on paper, I will soon be back underway with the DP sequel.

Finishing a Manuscript: Seeing the Light and Remembering Darker Times

In Reflection, The Trubaker Orphanage on June 3, 2011 at 1:42 pm

I see it. I can feel it. The light at the end of the tunnel. My second novel, The Trubaker Orphanage is 3-4 weeks from first draft completion. What an amazing journey it has been with the second major phase, and possibly the most personally sacred, coming to a close.

It’s a fascinating thing to realize, particularly for this piece which holds so much personal sentimental value. It’s a story that has been with me since late in my college years. It’s evolved, grown and matured with me as I have grown as an artist and a writer. It represents moving on from dark times and disappointment – an allegory about loving myself first so that I could love others.

There should be no surprise, then, that The Trubaker Orphanage is a love story–a gutsy love story about two childhood friends who owe their lives to a small town’s patron saint and owe each other a chance at a future together. Nothing stifles love like old hurts, however,  and nothing stifles the future like the past. This year, I have personally said goodbye to some old ways of thinking and the space vacated by these long overdue expulsions has been replaced by the determination and inspiration to finish the job.

I realize as I steam toward the light that I’m not alone. In addition to my amazing readers of THE DARK PROVINCE, my friends, loved ones, and writer comrades on twitter and facebook–two old friends particularly feel close by. One was a young man, fellow theatre artist, and college comrade who who took his own life thirteen years ago. He had agreed to play the brother of the main character in its original manifestation as a short film, Bus Stop, way back in 1997. That character that he played, “Jack”, has morphed to “Jake” the main character and narrator’s father. The female lead, Libby Nakamura was inspired on a day spent with another old friend, a true cheerleader of my dream to write and share my stories. She was a television actress in her childhood and was preparing at one point to play the inspired role of Libby in the piece’s second manifestation: a short film called Dream Girl. She passed away at age 28 in 2002 of an extremely rare disease. Today they’re both gone but I feel them close by. As I realize that I can count the days until I can hold a new finished draft in my hand, I am thankful to them—to the challenges and to the choices I’ve managed to make this year to make space for a new creation.

3-4 weeks.

3-4 weeks.

Alright, enough stargazing. Back to work.

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?

Patience is a Virtue, even for Writers

In Reflection, writing tips on August 17, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Last night was tough. Concentration was hard to come by.  The words seemed to come soooo slowly.  I kept looking at the clock: two hours of my three hour writing block was gone and I felt like I’d barely written anything.

I tried starting a section a couple of different ways but nothing caught. I tried music; songs that I related to the story, songs that evoked any emotion at all. Still nothing.

So I waited. Leaned back, laid down and just thought about my main character and other characters in the scene. I stepped into each of their minds and meditated on their desires and what they wanted from one another.

Time passed.

Then with about 15 minutes left I took a third strike at the wall and broke through. It still didn’t feel great but I’d committed to write so I did just that. All told I got to about 1000 words out longhand in 45 minutes (I extended my block a half hour), finished chapter 3 of the manuscript and achieved most of what I wanted to achieve in the session.

Another plug for hanging in there, keeping at it, and being patient!

My First Sixty Days as a Published Author

In Motivational, Reflection on May 18, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Hundreds of books sold. 5-star reader reviews on Amazon. Interviews with my hometown paper and an online columnist. Booksigning events in four cities. Reviews on the way from a sci-fi fantasy website and a book review blog. Positive, supportive communities on Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and Youtube.

The first 60 days of being published have truly been a whirlwind.

Meeting new people has been amazing; like the freshmen at my alma-mater who aspire to be talent managers, screenwriters, novelists. Or the bartender at my favorite restaurant in the town I grew up who, though not a fan of fantasy, read the prologue and decided to give THE DARK PROVINCE a try. From the woman at the local print shop to new friends across the world I’ve met on Twitter – sharing this novel with people has been like sharing a secret with a friend. For almost seven years these characters have been known only by my wife and I – and now people I’ve never met can refer to them intimately by name.

Then there are the people who I’ve not seen in over a decade. Like my college roommate who was so excited that I’d written a book he immediately took out a laptop and shared it with members of his bowling league.  Ten orders were placed.  An old football teammate from high school attended my Virginia booksigning event with his fiancé. I had always admired his gifts as an athlete and his social savvy. Here, seventeen years later he shares with me he’d like to write. Still another friend I’d not seen in years shared with me how the book’s premise spoke to him as he’d been spending a lot of time reflecting on how his own faith and religion conflict. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so inspired.

Sure, there have been the detractors. Those who are determined that indie publishing is the greatest waste of a writer’s time and money. Admittedly, being human, I’m not immune to their passionate cries. I’ve been here before. In the past I have started something new and innovative, and have seen initial success but allowed myself to be intimated by the work ahead and convinced by those who might be threatened by my pursuits to slam on the brakes and abandon ship.

Last night just before drifting off to sleep I wrote a pledge in my “positivity journal” – I will not quit. I will not back off. I will not surrender to my or anyone else’s doubts. I will not be intimidated by the greatness of the task ahead. I will pursue this to the end. I’ve come too far, seized too many moments, been touched by too many people to abandon my dream just moments off the launch pad.

Today is the beginning of the next phase of marketing. I leave my virtual small town and head out to a sea of predominantly unfamiliar faces to share my work.

Ironically, similar to novel’s protagonist, I have to make a choice between my own “religious tradition” of doubt and intimidation and my “faith” that I have written a work worth sharing with everyone who enjoys reading fiction.

Today, I choose faith. You’re welcome to hold me to it.