On Writing

Inspiration: Opium Dollars

I have worked in a coin store for about 4 1/2 years. The job came about after I jokingly mentioned to a friend, “Hey, you need someone to photograph all those coins, right?” A couple weeks later I was offered the position. For the first few years, my sole mission was to photograph various coins for our eBay store and then ship out said coins. Last year, I started working the retail side in front of the store as well. It has been an interesting experience, and there are days I come across something I never even knew existed.

The first jarring experience came from holding a roman coin from AD 330 in my hand. Yes, you read that right. AD 330. The second most jarring was how inexpensive a 1,686 year old coin actually was to buy. Aside from that, I have discovered that from a collector’s perspective I prefer old currency, though I loath it from an imaging/sales perspective. Same goes for foreign coinage. I came across some coins from Norway once that were made from iron. I thought they were pretty neat, so I bought them from my husband. Still, I am not a huge fan of coins in general. I may or may not feel a slight animosity towards specific USA coin types due to the difficulties that arise when trying to photograph them efficiently and attractively. My favorite coins are Franklin halves, which are universally accepted as probably most lame coin variety to have an interest in. I like them because they almost always photograph beautifully. The way a coin photographs is about as complex as my interest in numismatics gets. It photographs nicely? Cool, I like it. It’s a pain to photograph? Burn in a fire. 

That being said, every once in a while something truly interesting comes into the store. We buy a lot off the public, and you never know what you are going to get when a customer pulls a little felt bag out of their pocket with a handful of coins they inherited. Most of the time the coins are common, worth a few cents or even a few dollars. Most of them come in with a story: a father fought in this war and brought these home from overseas; a grandmother has been collecting since she was a child; grandparents lived during the Great Depression, etc. etc.  Usually, whoever brings in the coins has no idea what they have inherited which leads to low, or occasionally very high expectations.

A gentleman came in recently with the usual, “These were my dad’s, I have no idea what they are, etc.” leading into a small felt bag with a handful of assorted coins. At this point, I can’t even remember what else he had save two particular items of curiosity. First, he had a small handful of sales tax tokens. These were interesting because I had never seen them before, but as tokens they fell quickly into the “these are neat but they aren’t worthy anything” category. Next, he pulled out what looked like an old trade dollar. Trade dollars are the predecessors to the silver dollars that most people are familiar with today, and also a type a coin I know very little about, aside from having some numismatic value. More interesting than the type of coin itself, however, was what had been done to it. In my experience, when coins are used for something other than a coin, it typically involves turning said coin into a piece of jewelry – often necklaces or bolo ties, occasionally rings. In other cases, people turn the coin into art such as hobo nickels or recently discovered (for me) some beautiful engraved coins like these.

This particular dollar had been cut open, hollowed out, hinged and made into a box that with a little compartment just big enough to fit a quarter. When closed up, the thing looked just like a normal trade dollar, which was the entire point. My analysis immediately gravitated to, “This is fake.” But as I looked at the coin itself, there were no immediate giveaways to an untrained eye to signify that this was not a genuine coin, despite it being able to open up like a box. Having never seen or heard of such a thing, I showed it to my co-worker who said we would have to wait for Boss-man to take a look at it before we could buy it. I took down the man’s phone number and sent him away with the coin and a promise to let him know what we found out about it, though not before taking a few pictures.

img_20161109_122154 img_20161109_122215 img_20161109_122204

While waiting for Boss-Man to return from lunch I started googling this strange little coin that had come across the counter. It turned out that it used to be common practice for people to hollow out the insides of old silver dollars and turn them into boxes. Today, they are known most commonly as “Opium Dollars,” an alleged smuggling device for small stashes of opium. I was immediately intrigued. It turned out that the “Opium” part of the history was mostly false, as the pocket inside the coin would barely hold enough opium to do any good. Instead, the coins were most often used to hide away a trinket of picture of a loved one. Like a locket hidden in your pocket. The stories instantly started brewing.

Unfortunately, the coin them man brought in turned out to be a fake. Which saddened me because I wanted to buy it, fake or not, but my measly personal offer wasn’t enough to bring the coin back to the store. However, Boss-man happened to have the real deal.

img_20161109_131640 img_20161109_131418 img_20161109_131540

 

While I had a hard time picking up the differences between the two, the interior of the coin sold me on the lack of authenticity on the first coin. In the end, despite that fact that I didn’t own even a fake one, I still found myself daydreaming about such a piece’s history. I still think about it, honestly.

I suppose that is one great thing about working in a coin store: you never know what you are going to find and what stories may lie hidden inside it.

 

 

POV Challenge: Week 2, Sample 1

challeng-banner-pov-week-2

The POV challenge continues! Details on this week’s goal here.

 


 

 

2015-06-02_172349195_9e08c_ios

 

Rain crawled down my skin like sweat, warm and salty, vile with the city’s acidic stench. I pulled the collar of my trench closer around my face, but the damage had already been done. Piss water. That’s all the rain was. I had been pissed on by every agent in the city, and now the city itself was pissing on me too. I didn’t have what it took. I had played a hundred shows back home. Sure, it was the same 50 people in the same shitty bar,  but I couldn’t even get ten minutes on a stage in the city. 

No. I had it wrong. The city was my stage.  

 

POV Writing Challenge: Week 1, Sample 3

challeng-banner-pov

Hot on the heals of NaNoWriMo and determined to keep the energy flowing, a group of writers and I have decided to take up a 4-week writing challenge. After a month of spewing words out as fast as possible, we are taking a step back and focusing on craft, specifically looking at point of view through flash fiction. If you are interested in how the challenge works and want to follow along, check out the details here.


2016-04-18_231429552_5dee7_ios

© Katie Rene Johnson, 2016

Wind lashed against Brant’s cheeks jetting pellets of river water into his skin with needle pricks. He hated the wind, especially in the city, though the way it thrashed the Brooklyn bridge edged its way up for a close second. Brant looped his thumb through the keyring in his pocket, flipping the two small keys around each other. Top to bottom. Bottom to top. A chill spidered down his neck. Nerves or wind – he couldn’t tell the difference.

A shoulder bucked into him from the left, and Brant’s toe caught on an uneven plank as he stumbled. His eyelid twitched. Safety hazard. Priority seven. His free hand flicked to the railing and he steadied himself. The wind choked out his calming breath and he exhaled in a sputtering cough. The planks might as well have been wet concrete. Each step sucked him down, heavier and heavier. Impossible to move. He inched his hand further up the rail, dragging his feet forward. The rail held his weight without a tremor. Satisfactory. The keys in his pocket tumbled over one another. Bottom to top. Top to bottom.

The wind kicked an empty water bottle along the walkway barrier. It skittered to a stop against an overflowing garbage bin. Health violation. Priority three. Brant tipped the water bottle into the less full recycle tub and skirted around them both. A paper bag made its escape on a gust of wind and Brant clenched his teeth. Not my problem. Not my responsibility. Not anymore. Almost there.

Tucked against the brick of the support tower, the wind seemed less belligerent, and Brant rolled the tension out of his shoulders. A dozen paces away, chains of padlocks encased the bridge support cables. The keys in his pocket bit into palm of his hand. The lock pushed against his leg, suddenly heavy and unwieldy. Pulling his feet out of the concrete, Brant stepped forward.

Up close, Brant could read the names drawn onto the locks with paint or marker: Danny, Joe, Sharon, Casey. Ribbons tied to various shackles clipped back and forth in the wind, edges frayed and disintegrating. He couldn’t count how many locks there were. Dozens? Hundreds? Enough that the weight had built up for sure. Safety hazard. Level four. Priority five. Brant traced his fingers up and down the cables, reaching, testing. The higher the stack, the more solid the the stands of locks. They gripped one another, locked together by downward force. One cable, two.

The third was shorter, newer. Colors hadn’t faded yet in the sunlight. The ribbons less frayed. Brant could almost reach the top of the stack. He pushed up on the one of the locks and it gave, opening a small gap on the cable. He let it fall back into place, taking a step back. The wind raced against his ears, blurring out the traffic below, the hum of passersby. His own breathing cut in and out, catching on the rise and fall of the wind. Reaching into the heavy pocket, Brant pulled out the lock. Candy apple red. Gold shackle. One name.

One of the keys slid easily into the lock, and he heard it click, even over the drone of the wind. The body rotated to the side as the shackle pulled free. Brant pulled the key from the mechanism, and reached back up the stack, pushing the same forgiving lock out of the way. The gold shackle looped around the cable, and Brant twisted the body back into place. The lock snapped shut and he exhaled sharply. The sounds of the city wedged their way into the place over the breath he had been holding, and he took a step back from the rail.

Brant glanced over his shoulder, first right, then left. No one seemed to have noticed what he had done. Easing the keyring from his finger, Brant let the keys rest on his palm, holding his hand up to eye level. He closed his eyes, drew in another breath.

His fingers wrenched shut and he pulled his arm back. Swing, release. The keys flipped through the air and over the edge of the bridge.

Inspection passed.

Save

Save

Save

Save

POV Writing Challenge: Week 1, Sample 2

challeng-banner-pov

Hot on the heals of NaNoWriMo and determined to keep the energy flowing, a group of writers and I have decided to take up a 4-week writing challenge. After a month of spewing words out as fast as possible, we are taking a step back and focusing on craft, specifically looking at point of view through flash fiction. If you are interested in how the challenge works and want to follow along, check out the details here.


2016-04-18_231429552_5dee7_ios

© Katie Rene Johnson, 2016

Attempt #2

The Brooklyn Bridge steeped history into those that cared to look for it, a handful of the millions of feet that crossed its planks reveling in the grandness of it all. Its dual arches dwarfed the ambling procession below. Couples peeled off to the side where the walkway widened, snapping photos and posing for the city in the background. Evan Thomas stepped off to the side, eyes tracing along the spiderweb of cables and hangers that gave the bridge its strength.  

A woman’s laughter lilted over the wordless drone of the crowd, as her boyfriend dangled one-handed from a hanger cable, feet dangling inches from the ground. The boyfriend flashed her a grin and swung forward as he let go of the cable. A small velvet box pressed into his shin as he dropped, and he thought for a second it might tumble out of his sock and spoil the surprise. Only half convinced it would remain, the man swept his girlfriend up in twirl, her feet lifted off the walk, hair flipping around at the spinning breeze.

The woman’s laughter tingled against Evan’s heart, and he stepped further down the into the arch’s shadow, leaving the couple behind. A bronzed nameplate at the base of the bridge tower caught his eye, and he traced a finger along its edges, reading the inscription. The bridge spoke to him, sharing its knowledge and history with him in waves of goosebumps, and he closed his eyes.

A few yards away, Sarah Ray wedged her way through the crowd. She had wanted to be home an hour ago, but her boss kept her late again. If she had left on time, she wouldn’t have been caught in the pedestrian rush heading over the river, but things never seemed to go her way anymore. The tower congestion cut off her path and a the young man bumped into her as he put his girlfriend back on the ground.  Sara spun around to give him a piece of her mind, but the mob propelled her straight into Evan.

Evan’s eyes shot open as Sarah’s briefcase collided with him and fell out of her hand. It broke open on the slats of the walkway, spewing its contents in all directions. Directing her anger at Evan instead of the young couple, Sarah shrieked, “What is wrong with you!” and fell to her knees, fingers chasing papers and dodging footsteps. The swelled migration of feet split around the two of them as Evan dropped to his knees after her, sweeping up errant pages.

The two reached for a blueprint at the same time and their hands brushed. Sarah pulled away as heat rose up her cheeks, and Evan hesitated with eyes only for the plan laid bare on the wooden plank. He moved it carefully into the suitcase as Sarah watched with incredulity. If that piece had been ruined, she would have been ruined.

Evan looked up, eyes catching Sarah’s gaze and he cocked an apprehensive smile. He held out his hand and helped her to her feet. The crowd behind them cheered as the young man behind them dropped to a knee, velvet box in hand and Evan pulled Sarah out of the way as the group swelled beyond the pedestrian lane. He hadn’t let go of her hand, and she didn’t pull it away.

“Let me make it up to you?”


Attempt #1

133 years of foot-tracked history seeped into Evan’s veins the moment he stepped foot on the Brooklyn Bridge. Millions, maybe billions of footsteps had walked there before him. He wondered over each past step’s intention: commuting, touring, exercising, escaping. How many laborers had left a trail of sweat and blood over the monument’s worn wooden slats? Evan hummed to himself as the flow of traffic pushed him along the pathway. He had dreamed for nearly a decade of crossing the bridge, and he savored each step.

Beneath the first tower, its dual arches dwarfing the ambling procession, the pathway widened and couples peeled off to the side, taking in the view of the city from vacant pockets along the cement barrier. A young man stirred nervous laughter from his girlfriend as he hung one handed from a sweeping hanger cable, feet dangling mere inches from the ground. Behind them, a man with a speckled mustache tilted his camera to the side to better catch the performance.

Evan chuckled to himself as the young man dropped down and swept his girlfriend into a gallant, dipping kiss. A small crowd cheered as he spun her around like no one was watching. It was not unlike something Evan would have done, when he was younger.

The spiderweb of cables converged on chapel peaked arches framed in a perfectly lain stacks of towering brick and mortar. A bronzed nameplate had been set into the base of the tower, and he traced his finger along its edges as he walked by.  He would have given anything to be part of the team that designed the bridge in a time without modern technology – all numbers and angles from a hand-drawn dream. Goosebumps spread up his arm and he closed his eyes for a moment, letting the the resonance of the image overtake him.

A harried woman crashed into Evan from behind. Her briefcase caught on his hip and slipped out her hand, cracking open as it landed on the walk. Papers scattered under passing feet and a week’s worth of late nights and headaches crumpled and tore apart.

“What are you doing?” she shrieked, dropping to her knees and reaching frantically for the papers that evaded her at every turn.

“Oh! I am so sorry!” Evan dropped down beside her, turning the briefcase over and scrambling after papers himself. The woman scowled at him and dropped a tattered sheet into the open case. They reached at the same time for the next sheet, and her heat rose up her neck as her hand brushed across Evan’s.  He barely noticed the touch, eyes focused on the blueprint laid bare on the wood plank.

The woman pulled her hand away, and Evan picked up the plan, setting it carefully into the briefcase before finally looking up into cyanotype eyes. He held out a hand and helped her to her feet. “Let me make it up to you.”

Save

POV Writing Challenge: Week 1, Sample 1

challeng-banner-pov

Hot on the heals of NaNoWriMo and determined to keep the energy flowing, a group of writers and I have decided to take up a 4-week writing challenge. After a month of spewing words out as fast as possible, we are taking a step back and focusing on craft, specifically looking at point of view through flash fiction. If you are interested in how the challenge works and want to follow along, check out the details here.

 


 

2016-04-18_231429552_5dee7_ios

© Katie Rene Johnson 2016

 

Cara’s feet ached. Miles in the city tallied up quickly, and despite her month of preparation, she regretted the decision to cross the bridge after a day of exploring. The inherent stubbornness kicked in the moment she stepped foot on the first plank, and she wouldn’t turn back until she had made it all the way across. But then I have to come back.

Sighing, she hitched her satchel up on her shoulder and moved on. Pain twinged in her left heel and her shoulder ached under the weight of half a dozen notebooks and her roll of charcoal pencils. Cara never went out for the day without them. Her obsession with notebooks, pens and pencils bordered on the edge of crazy cat lady, minus the fur balls. Tomorrow, I am picking one. The rest can stay home. She smiled to herself, tracing a finger along the smooth metal railing as she walked.

“On your left!” a voice snapped from behind her, and Cara jumped aside. A man in a business suit rushed past her on a bicycle, the flap of his leather bag flapping behind him. Well excuse me! Cara’s heart raced and she gripped the railing with both hands, grounding herself in its solidity. People in the city moved to fast for her country girl roots. She hadn’t even made it to the first of the two towers on the bridge before she had been nearly flattened. I don’t know if the city and I are going to get along. Readjusting her satchel, she slipped back into the pedestrian flow of traffic.

Cara had picked the bridge as the best vantage point for her first drawing. She wanted to start broad and narrow her focus over the next two days in the city. Now, she wasn’t sure she would be able to pull if off without getting run over. At least if she found a good place to stop, her feet might not hurt as bad when she started walking again.

Bike bells chimed and angry yells joined the blur of car horns stopped in the rush hour traffic below as the walkway congested. Someone bumped into Cara’s shoulder and she glanced back. She couldn’t tell who had bumped her and she let herself be pushed along in the throng of impatient travelers. For no reason at all, the line loosened up again, and Cara stepped off to the side, using an empty bench as a shield.

Then, for the first time since she stepped onto the bridge, she looked back at the city. The setting sun had turned it into a back lit silhouette of rectangles, square and triangles bunched together in one geometrical shadow.

A couple stopped at the opposite corner of the bench to snap a selfie with the city in the background. Cara cringed. How many people had stopped at this bench to take in the same exact view? It doesn’t matter. I just have to make the image my own. She set set her satchel on the bench and sifted through her notebooks. Black cover, blue cover, marble cover. Her fingers fell across a plain cardboard cover. Decided, she reached past it to her pencil roll and pulled the them out together.

Biting her bottom lift, Cara plucked her favorite pencil from the case without unrolling it and dropped the case back in her bag for safe keeping. Chewing on the end of her pencil, she looked back at the city. Her drawings always started at the bottom of the page, but here it was only shadow. I could pull in the riverbank. Texture the buildings. No. Outline them. A line sketch. Cara frowned. Lines aren’t enough. Turning her back on the city, leaned into the barrier. Maybe lines are everything. The support cables of the bridge checkered the fading sky, dividing the distant skyline like stained glass. Half way up one of the vertical cables, three balloons had tangled themselves into the hard lines, breaking up the rigidity of the scene.

That’s it! Cara plopped down onto the bench, tucking her satchel between her knees and wrapping the strap around her ankle. With a satisfied smile, she flipped open the sketchbook and lowered her pencil to the page.

Save

NaNoWriMo Relflections: In The End

15056429_10157763536395287_3576656766158497027_n

 

I have known about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for several years. For those of you who don’t know, it is a thing that happens every November where writers try and write 50,000 words in a month. A couple of years ago, I even signed up on the website, but each year I have made an excuse for not jumping on the bandwagon and getting some words down. Usually, the excuse was – I don’t have enough time. Which is a total load of crap. There is always time, some moment to put some words on the page. Even one sentence is better than no words at all.

This year, after a crazy summer that destroyed my writing groove, plans for finishing my novel Solidity by November 1st were quite thoroughly thwarted. As the end of October barreled into view, I found myself lamenting over another failed attempt to finish just one story. Even as my writing fell to the wayside, these characters still made appearances in my thoughts almost daily, sometimes even to the point I had to spend hours repeating what had transpired just to make sure I remembered it well enough to write it down when I had the chance.  Owen, Lucian and Jera are certainly persistent. In fact, they are the most persistent characters I have ever written.

In the last week of October, a post about NaNoWriMo came across my Facebook feed. Or maybe a friend mentioned it. I honestly can’t remember. I have been in a slump lately, and for whatever reason, NaNoWriMo woke me up. I decided that I needed to do this for ME. Step back and focus on myself and my goals for a month. So, on the 27th, I logged on to NaNoWriMo and announced my novel. We have a pretty active group in Bozeman, and I jumped in head first, attending a weekend of Pre-Nano events where I met and several of the locals who had all been down this road several if not many times before. I can’t remember the last time I felt so alive and inspired.

I have never considered writing as a social experience. After all, it is mostly hanging out in your own head with characters no one else can see or hear. NaNoWriMo forever changed that perception. Even during the first couple of meetings where we just sat around (and talked a bit about cats – turns out that’s a pretty good ice breaker) I went home feeling like I could tackle the universe. On the first day of the month, I wrote 1,800 words.  Which was more than I had written in probably the last three writing sessions combined. That in itself felt pretty good.

As the month drew on and I met with other local writers – people who are just as passionate about story telling as I am, people in all stages of their writing careers – I realized that I am not so alone in this dream. Surrounding myself with those who share my dream was inspiring in itself and as we moved through the month together, our stories grew.  We held each other accountable, challenging one another to word-sprints and meeting at coffee shops for write-ins. We left trails of messages on Facebook as we we coordinated and participated in home-based write-ins. Because we all have  a story (or two or three) to tell, and we all had that elusive goal to meet.

Once I committed to doing NaNoWriMo, it wasn’t difficult to keep going. The support system and inspiration from the other writers kept me as excited as the story I was writing. This project was the first time that I sat down and said, “I am doing this, no matter what. Writing first, everything else later.” I experienced waves of excitement, inspiration, dread, and guilt, all mixed together in a giant stew-pot of words and real life.

I only missed one day of writing out of 30 (I might have been achievement hunting a little bit… I blame the video games). That one day had set itself up to be a close one in the first place, and then it blew all possibility out of the water. Before NaNoWriMo, that one day and the associated disaster would have prevented me for writing for days, maybe weeks. But I didn’t stop. I got up the next morning and kept writing. I proved to myself that I can still do this, no matter what life throws at me.

November finished out at 56,000 words. I didn’t quite finish the story, but I met that goal and it felt amazing. I am so close to the end of Solidity. It will be the first novel manuscript I have ever finished – finally wrapping up a nearly twenty-year-old goal. The idea is frightening and invigorating. And I have NaNoWriMo to thank for it. I was blown away by the experience. I find myself excited to be writing again, and absolutely determined to keep going, to live my dream.

NaNoWriMo woke something in me I haven’t seen or felt in years. Combined with the friends I made during the month – who I much look forward to continuing this journey with outside of November – it was an amazing experience. I can’t wait for next year.

 

 

What’s in a Name?

The holidays sneaked up on me this year, and with them a seemingly never-ending list of to-do’s. Much to my dismay, writing of any kind took a backseat to life. While I still managed to sneak in a few sentences here and there on Better to Pretend and continue to struggle with my work on a new piece, Solidity, not much for progress was made. Save a minor epiphany.

In a very vague nutshell, Solidity is a story about a ghost named Owen and a human named Jera and the relationship they build with one another. You can read the whole blurb here if you want. The idea for this story came from a single verse in a song I have heard a thousand times that has nothing to do with this story what-so-ever. For some reason, as I pulled up to a stop light while that song was playing, I tuned in just long enough and Solidity was born. Stories are funny that way. They are also funny in the way that sometimes they just won’t leave you alone. Not for two seconds.

I wrote the blurb for Solidity shortly after the idea came to me and while I scrambled to prepare a proposal for a flash-residency opportunity. I originally intended the story to be written from the Owen’s perspective. It is very much his story and I wanted it to be his story alone – for many reasons, primarily of which was the idea of writing from a ghost’s perspective. I thought that was a pretty awesome idea… until I tried to write it. I have fought and fought with this piece and have written the start of probably six drafts that have all ended up in the trash. That is discouraging, to say the least. But still, the story persisted in my mind.

Eventually, I started thinking about Solidity from Jera’s perspective. She needed a back story and she needed a reason to come to the manor that Owen haunts. At one point, I considered writing from both Jera’s perspective and Owen’s… and shied away from it over and over again because I have read very few stories where I enjoyed two or more perspectives. And I was not confident in my ability to do it (little secret: I’m still not…). Then, one morning amidst the holiday season chaos when I finally had a few minutes to spend some time writing, I tried it.

And magic happened. Jera’s voice came to life.

I knew as soon as I had written the first two pages that Jera’s voice was going to be important to this story. I didn’t realize just how very important until I had an experience with another writer.While the exchange didn’t turn out as I had hoped, in the end I experienced and important revelation about Solidity and Jera’s character. The simple admission of doubt by the other writer about my choice of the name Jera confirmed that this is a story I have to write.

Firstly, you have to understand that I have a thing about names. Once I find a character’s name, it is pretty well set in stone. And it is one of the first things that I define in my stories. If at any point I do feel that the name is lacking, I change it, but that very rarely happens. I also have a name collection: pages and pages of names that have struck a chord with me over the years. While I used to spend hours looking through name books, now I just turn to my day job. I do a LOT of shipping. And it is very hands on, so I see a LOT of names. Jera came about from one of the labels either right before or right after Solidity began forming in my mind. I had no doubt that Jera would be my female lead.

After the comment about that choice and a reference to how it might be strange to pronounce for readers (I had never even considered this to be an issue… Even if it wasn’t pronounced just right in my reader’s head, it is still only a four-letter word and you would probably be close. It’s not like some of the names you see in fantasy novels that have three parts broken up with apostrophes and dashes and letters next to each other that don’t really make any sense…. just try and pronounce some of those! But, I suppose if you are wondering and just to clear up any confusion, Jera is pronounced Jair-ah – in my mind at least). Anyway, I Googled the name, just to see what came up.

Save two random results at the top of the page, the rest directed me to websites about viking runes. Turns out that Jera (pronounced in old Norse as Yehr-ah… so basically a ‘Y’ sound instead of a ‘J’ sound) was not only the rune for the letter J, but is most commonly believed to symbolize “harvest” or “year.” According to a Wiki article, it is a type of butterfly, which weirdly enough is also relevant.

https://i2.wp.com/runesecrets.com/img/jera-100x100.gifThe Elder Furthark rune Jera.

So, Jera’s name is a runic symbol. Not a big deal, right?  Except, I already knew that and had entirely forgotten. As research for another story I spent a good deal of time studying viking runes, particularly the set that contained the above symbol for Jera. The thing that struck me, however, as I read about this rune, was how entirely fitting it was for this story. Like, scary relevant. As in, it could not be more perfect.

There is no way to describe this other than serendipity.

Some phrases and notes that have been attributed to the rune Jera:

  • The only constant is change.
  • This too shall pass.
  • When you are at your lowest, you can only go up.
  • Time waits for no one.
  • Being at the same time permanence and transience.
  • An unstoppable energy – gradual but unrelenting, unhurried but persistent, indifferent to human influence… (This point translated to the idea of fate in my mind.)

Solidity is a piece about time and change. About two characters who are brought together by fate and who bring out the best in each other as well as the desire to change and evolve. Owen is trapped by time – stuck as a ghost for 99 years and unwilling to evolve. Jera is at a low point in her life and on the cusp of taking her future into her own hands. Both characters have decisions to make and are up against time.

The rune Jera symbolizes the harvest. When I first think of a harvest, I think of farms. But what is a harvest? You plant a seed. You water it. You watch it grow. And then, when the time is right, you collect the product. A harvest is a cycle. It begins in one place, grows, completes and starts anew. Isn’t life itself a harvest? It may be a long term one, but how often have your heard the phrase: the cycle of life. That is the grander picture, but what about the smaller moments. Childhood. Teenage years. Young adult years. Each is a cycle of its own within the greater harvest of life.

I could go on and on about the interpretations of the Jera rune, but that is really besides the point. And this post is already long. The biggest thing for me, was as I looked further and further into this coincidence, the more I knew that it was right. It is right for my characters, for this story, and even for myself.

I titled this post, “What’s in a name?” You may recognize this from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juilet.

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

It is true, that Jera’s name could be changed. She could be Julie, Jennifer, Amanda or Ruth. But sometimes there is so much to a name, that its relevence can not be denied. Jera and the idea behind it as a symbol and what that symbol can mean has become a profound image in my mind, not only in the sense of Solidity and Jera and Owen’s characters, but in its relevance to my own life.

I will leave you with the my final interpretation of Jera.

Keep moving toward a goal, no matter what. Don’t give up and accept the hardships as part of the journey. Continue to dream and evolve. When you are at your lowest, you can only go up.

Experience: Rock Concert

I can’t remember the last time I wrote a poem. In fact, I have pretty much avoided it – forever. However, a while back I went to a concert with a friend to see two bands who I had heard of but never listened to. I was aware of them, but they had definitely never been on my radar. For me, it was just an opportunity to go to a rock concert, which is definitely one of my favorite things to do.

When we arrived at the venue, I immediately knew I was out of my comfort zone. I have seen a lot of 80’s metal and rock bands, and at those concerts, the crowd is always a mix of attendees: the older crowd who remember going to concerts by the same band as teenagers, smoking cigarettes and leaving the venues through clouds of haze rolling from the doors at their ankles; people in my generation who grew up listening to and idolizing their parents’ music, and even some younger who have an appreciation for some good rock and roll.

This concert, however was different. Everyone was there in their black skinny jeans, leather bracelets and Converses. Dyed black hair or neon pink, multiple piercings in every orifice – I can say I felt just slightly out of place in my Teva sandals and Jack Sparrow t-shirt. I can’t say it was completely unexpected, but still it was a little shocking. But hey, I was at a concert, so it really didn’t matter, save the slight worry in the back of my mind of being caught up in a mosh pit or having some crowd surfer land on my head.

We arrived early, and as the venue was open seating, we made our way easily to the fence, only feet from the stage. Best seats I have ever had a concert. Despite my reservations, as soon as we approached the stage it didn’t matter who the bands were, or who the people were in the crowd. Concerts mesmerize me, and as soon as the lights fall, I am sucked into the moment, lost in the beat of the drum and the drift of the lights.

The concert was an experience, and for me one incomparable to any other. Afterwards,  I reminisced about the different concerts I have been to and realized how they all affect me. They resonate in my soul. And in that moment I was struck with the idea that I should try and capture those feelings in a poem, a glimpse into the feeling and anticipation of a rock concert.

So, hard as this is for me to do, as I am not particularly confident in my poetic abilities, I present a reflection of a concert experience.

rockconcert

Boom.

Boom. Boom.

Drum the Beat.

Cymbals crashing.

Bass chord thrum. Breathe in.

Ricochet through my soul.

Light beams flash through smokey haze

Fists in the air. Bodies pressing.

Bass line building. Drum beat calling. Breathe.

Heartbeat racing as guitars sing from the

shadows hiding the stars behind lights

beaming like lasers to the beat.

The crowd swells, sways to the drum.

Darkness shifts. Boom. Boom boom.

Melody breaks, soul

escape. Breathe in.

Voices sing.

Set me

Free.

On Writing: Musical Inspiration (Part I)

Two of the main characters in my story Better to Pretend, Jenna and Cory, bond initially over their interest in music. I knew early on that Jenna would be into music – in the opening scenes she clings to her iPod in an effort to tune out her mom and aunt. The thing that surprised me was how her relationship with Cory would evolve based on that interest. It was an unexpected but fitting revelation.

I make up the song and band names in my writing, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t based on bands I am familiar with in the real world. Jenna’s favorite band is Love and Lace, and she swoons over the voice of lead singer Crystal James. She would describe them as an 80’s metal crossover band. They rock hard but also have occasional full orchestrations somewhere along the line of a rock opera. Many of their songs are also completely ridiculous. They have good beats and melodies, but the lyrics are bonkers. And she loves it.

Love and Lace is my interpretation of my own favorite two bands led by the same singer Tobias Sammet: Avantasia and Edguy. It is easy for me to relate these two bands to Jenna’s character because of my familiarity with them. Edguy was Sammet’s original band and they have a fairly 80’s sound. I find Sammet’s voice intoxicating and he has moments that give me chills. There is about a two second moment in the song Superheroes that I anticipate each and every time I listen to the song. Sometimes, I even rewind to listen to that one instant again. I am drawn to the passion with which he sings that one note, and it consumes me.

Image © Nuclear Blast Records (Edguy: Superheroes Music Video)

© Nuclear Blast Records (Edguy: Superheroes Music Video)

This moment became reflected directly into Jenna’s story.  While Crystal James doesn’t look anything like Tobias Sammet, nor does the song even mimic the theme of Superheroes, the visceral, all encompassing effect of the music is part of who Jenna is.

As the chorus intensified, I braced myself in anticipation of the scream to beat all screams. That moment when Crystal James exemplified perfection. That moment when nothing in the world would exist save his voice and the shiver I would feel all the way from my toes to my fingers.

Three. Deep breath. Two. Eyes closed. One—

My phone rang…

[Queue emotional conversation with her dad]

…I turned off my phone and crammed my headphones back into my ears. With a deep breath, I restarted Warrior Song and sank back against the tree, hugging Dames of London to my chest like it was the only thing keeping me on the ground.

Drums. Guitar. Chorus.

I held my breath. Three. Squeezed the book tighter. Two. Another tear. One. Crystal James took me away.

~Better to Pretend~

It always amazes me as these moments come to pass in my writing. While the Better to Pretend is still in it’s original draft and I imagine that scenes like this will be fine tuned and hopefully even more powerful, I understand as the writer the feeling from which those words grew. I didn’t know when I started writing Jenna’s story as a novel (originally it was a short story, very much plot based with little character development) how her character would progress. I also didn’t realize how hard it would be to describe how a song makes someone feel. It is definitely a mental workout.

Sammet’s other band, Avantasia, is described as his project band. While he still leads the group, it functions significantly on collaborations with other artists. Discovering Avantasia is actually what eventually lead me to Edguy. I came across a song on YouTube called Dying for an Angel by a band I had never heard of at the time featuring the lead singer of the Scorpions, Klaus Meine. I listened a random song by Avantasia because I think The Scorpions are awesome. That one click led me to a slight musical obsession.

© Nuclear Blast Records (Avantasia Feat. Klaus Meine, Dying for an Angel Music Video)

© Nuclear Blast Records (Avantasia Feat. Klaus Meine, Dying for an Angel Music Video)

But that is besides the point. While Avantasia still rocks pretty hard (at least in my sense of how music should rock) they have a decidedly more melodic quality to them. They have also released a legitimate rock opera, and a lot of their songs reflect that styling. In the sense of Jenna’s character, I felt that combining these two groups together would provide the type of outlet Jenna needed for different emotional situations in which she might turn to music. Which is how Love and Lace was formed in my mind. They rock hard – total jams that make you just want to tap your foot to the beat and maybe even smile because you know the band is having a good time. They can pick up the beat and fuel a rage or they can draw out a melody with full orchestration that can transport you into your own world. It seemed like a good fit for someone plagued with the typical teenage hormones.

There is obviously more to Jenna’s story than her obsession with music and the band Love and Lace. But discovering her love for music gave me a base to build her character from, to decide who she is as a person. Better to Pretend is an interesting exercise for me in that I feel like I am writing it backwards. The story was already completed once. I know exactly where it goes and who the key players are. Aside from Jenna’s angst about moving to a new town, character development never moved much beyond describing Mrs. Stokely and her love of books. There were a few glimpses here and there, but it was highly narrative driven. At the time it worked.
As I have been progressing through the novel adaptation, I have found an immense joy in getting to know these characters. I know them better than any other characters I have ever written. Which I think is pretty awesome.
Check back for Part II of this discussion in a few days to check out the music that drives Cory’s character.

In the mean time, here are a couple of my favorite songs by Edguy and Avantasia. Because I can’t resist sharing their awesomeness with anyone. Seriously, you should check them out. 🙂

 

Edguy – Superheroes: That moment that I talked about that I wait for every time I hear this song – It starts at 2:08… just in case you were wondering. Also, this music is completely bizarre and I have no idea what it has to do with the song. But I like it anyway.

 

Avantasia – Dying for an Angel

 

Avantasia – Scarecrow: This is a long one but it exemplifies that melodic quality of Avantasia. There is something about orchestration and using unconventional instruments in a rock band that makes me very happy.

Monday Inspiration

What is on my inspiration list today?

1. Adele: Set Fire to the Rain

I was driving around yesterday and heard this song for the first time. It immediately had me thinking of moments when a character would fit into this song. Those thoughts landed on a character I thought of recently who is obsessed with EKG’s and the idea of each heart having it’s own path and signature. I am excited to flesh this character out in further detail. And also do some research on EKG’s and polygraphs: two very different ways of recording transmissions from the body.

2. Photography

© Katie Rene Johnson 2014

© Katie Rene Johnson 2014

© Katie Rene Johnson 2014

There is something fascinating about old places. This building replaced the original cabin used a school house in 1901 and had a whole 45 students at its peak. Now it serves as a small community center sits empty most of the time. I have driven by this building a hundred times and finally stopped to take some photos.

3. Abandoned Places

I came across this image of a car graveyard near Chatillon, Belgium in a random Facebook post. My first thought was, I have to go there. So, I started looking up more about it, and it turns out the cars were removed in 2010. Initially, I was completely bummed, because holy cow was this place cool and I would never have the chance to visit it personally. Regardless, I was completely fascinated that such a place would have even existed in the first place. These cars spent 70 years in the forest, leaving an incredibly post-apocalyptic type scene for photographers to capture. You would think it was something out of a movie.