Inspiration: Fate

I have always believed that things happen for a reason. Some people might call it fate, others serendipity. Maybe even luck. I accept things as they were meant to be or not.

In January, I began preparing a selection of Solidity for submission to a writer’s workshop at an event called MisCon, which is Montana’s largest “Comic Con” type event. I have had my eye on this event for years and grudgingly missed the year that George R. R. Martin attended as a guest speaker accompanied by the Iron Throne. Last year, Terry Brooks attended as a speaker. I had to miss that one too.  This year, Jim Butcher is the author feature. I haven’t read his books, though I know a lot of people that highly recommend them. Regardless, I am looking forward to finally sitting in on a panel by a New York Times best selling author.

But that is besides the point. When the first of the year hit, I decided that I was going to MisCon this year, no matter what. To enter the writing workshop, you have to submit a piece of writing for evaluation. I set to work refining my favorite 10 pages of Solidity to date. Not a week after making that decision, I received an email from The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards Alumni Council. They were sponsoring a writing residency in New York City, and I just happened to meet the requirements for submission. Having already started a 10 page writing sample, I adjusted my focus to reflect the expectations for the residency, which I had to apply for. Who wouldn’t want a week of distraction free writing in a nice, historic hotel in the middle of New York City? From the beginning, I imagined my chances were fairly slim for acceptance. After all, they were only taking two writers and they had decades worth of writing alumni from their awards program eligible for submission.

I am an obsessive planner. Once I decided I was going to submit, I started researching details – just in case. The dates of the residency turned out to coincide with the week of vacation I had already reserved earlier in the month. How handy was that? I checked one box on the list of Fate-related circumstances. Then I looked at plane tickets to NYC. I have a dear friend who lives in Maryland whom I have been planning to visit this year. Knowing that, I started checking plane tickets to the east coast before Christmas and no matter what dates I looked at, tickets were sitting between $400 and $600. I figured NYC wouldn’t be much different. Turns out, plane tickets for that exact week were only $250, round trip. I checked another box on the circumstance list. Add up the fact that I already had a 10 page submission in the works, the fact that I am a Writing Award alumni, and the fact that I have never done a residency before (which pushed me up on the list for consideration), three more checks made their way onto the list.

At this point, I was feeling pretty good. Everything pointed to the idea that I at least had to try, and I submitted my proposal a week ahead of the deadline. A problem I struggle with on a daily basis is that I hate waiting. I am an instant gratification type of person. Once the waiting stage sets in, I obsess over possibilities, potential, plans – pretty much anything that in some way can pertain to the idea of whatever thing I am obsessing about. I end up searching for a lot of distractions. One such thing came in the mail about a week later – an autographed copy of the newest album just released by my favorite band, Avantasia. Not only are they my favorite band, but they serve as a partial muse for Better to Pretend, inspiring the band that main character Jenna obsesses over. I follow the band on social media, and accompanying the release of the new album, they announced a world tour – something that is rare for this band. For something to do, I looked it up knowing I wouldn’t be able to make it to any of the concerts as they most definitely wouldn’t be coming anywhere close to Montana. My hunch was right. They had two shows in the USA: one in NYC, the other in Los Angeles. Then, I looked at the dates.

Considering I have resigned myself to the idea I will NEVER see them live, what were the chances they would be performing somewhere I had the slightest chance of being? I figured nonexistent. Turns out they were going to be in New York City the literal day I would fly in should I be accepted for the residency. I am not going to lie. I had a minor (okay, major) freak out session. Add about 20 checks to the fate circumstance list for good measure. At this point, waiting for news on the residency became almost painful – especially since the deadline for submission was still a few days away. I waited and waited and waited and weighed my options.

I started seriously considering going to NYC regardless of the residency. Doing so would be my first official solo travel venture. Solo travel is something I have always wanted to do, and something I have continually put off for any number or reasons (excuses). I had also figured my first solo trip would be over seas, particularly to Scotland and a town pretty close in size to my hometown in Montana. It seemed like the logical step. Now, I was considering my first solo venture to Manhattan, where the island is home to more people than live in the entire state of Montana. Somehow, it seemed infinitely more intimidating.

More waiting. More obsessing. More driving myself and those around me crazy. The deadline finally passed. It was only a matter of time. I did something I never do – I checked my horoscope. If I do look at a horoscope, it is because it happens to be there, say on the sidebar of the Yahoo homepage. Sometimes they are vaguely fitting, most of the time they are way off. They are never specific. I looked at the February horoscope. It started with that day, which had nothing remotely relevant. The weekly look wasn’t any better. I flipped over to the overview for the entire month.

As the month begins, it’ll soon become clear to you that a writing project…will take up the majority of your time and energy. Fortunately, this is something you not only want to do, but it’s something you’re talented at doing…

…There’s no doubt you’re working on something significant. Perhaps that book you’ve always wanted to write is finally ready to come out of you. Go for it!…

…Expect an honor, award or other type of recognition… You’ll feel validated…

Reasonably, I kind of lost my shit.

I stewed on this for a few days, then I did something else I never do. I bought a one-way plane ticket, two nights in a hotel room, and a concert ticket. By this point I was pretty sure the universe was trying to tell me something. Everything I did seemed to point to me being in New York City that specific week in April. My stress level multiplied by about a thousand. The planner in me could barely handle not having a finite plan. I waited some more.

.

.

.

I didn’t get the residency.

By the time I found out, I had mostly decided that it wasn’t going to happen. And I was okay with it. I really, really wanted to be accepted. It was an incredible opportunity. But as much as I wanted it, it didn’t matter. I am going to New York City. The planner in me rejoiced as I booked the remainder of my trip.

I still believe that things happen for a reason. The series of events that lead me to booking that first plane ticket were the only reason I did it. The domino effect of fate, or serendipity or whatever you want to call it made me take a leap that I have been putting off for ages. Had the residency not come up, I wouldn’t have looked at plane tickets to New York. I wouldn’t have cared about the Avantasia world tour, because I knew they wouldn’t be anywhere I could get to easily. I never would have spent a week scouring over Solidity for 10 pages of perfection that in the end led to revelations about the story. You get the idea. I really do believe this was meant to be.

You can tell yourself a million times how much you want something. You can dream about it, talk about it, write about it, and obsess about it for days, months or even years. The fact of the matter is, if all you ever do is talk about it, it is never going to happen. You can’t make something happen unless you commit to it.

Writing has always been my dream – my passion. I have had successes. I have had validation that it is something I am meant to do. However, if you look at the reality of it, I have been calling myself a writer for years and I have yet to finish one of my three novels. The only thing I have completed since I was a freshman in college was a poem. I always have an excuse: I don’t have time; I am too busy; I am too tired. I want to travel, but I don’t have the money. I want to see the world but I am afraid to do it alone. There has always been one reason or another that something doesn’t happen. And I have nobody to blame but myself. That is kind of a hard pill to swallow. As much as I want to put the blame somewhere else, the only thing really stopping me is myself.

In two weeks, I am going to New York City. I am going to spend a week visiting locations that are relevant to Solidity. I am going to spend a week focusing on my writing and photography. I am going to see my favorite band by myself – a nearly once in a lifetime opportunity. I can’t say that I won’t lose track of my writing again when I get home and go months without putting words to a page. It might be a few years before I am able to take another solo adventure. The thing is, now I know I can do it. I am capable of taking a leap of faith. No more excuses.

“One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” ~ Paulo Coelho

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Experience: Morning Writing Session

As I sit in the park working on Solidity, just north of a hedge separating the grass from the graveyard, no less than 6 crows pecked their way through the dappled shadows, calling out and back to their companions amongst the headstones. It seems fitting as I write a scene from a story about ghosts, graveyards and ravens. Would it be creepy to move my camp into the cemetery? This morning has a vibe. #inspirationiseverywhere

© Katie Rene Johnson 2015 © Katie Rene Johnson 2015 © Katie Rene Johnson 2015 © Katie Rene Johnson 2015

Inspiration: Travel

I have always loved to travel. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do near enough of it in my life. Sure, there are the short weekend trips, but I want to explore the world – venture into new places, wander the remnants of past times that have been so hugely inspirational to my writing. Someday, I want to travel for the sole purpose of finding things to write about. Someday.

In the meantime, I will settle for whichever opportunities arise to take me somewhere new and I recently had such an opportunity. Last year, my dear friend Lindsey moved from the West coast to the East coast – quite literally, Washington State to Washington DC…ish. I have never really thought about traveling to the East coast save the obvious New York City venture, but with Lindsey stationed there and knowing that she herself had not had much of an opportunity to explore, I thought it would be a great chance to have a real beans, explore the world adventure with a good friend. So we did.

Over the course of a week, we dipped our toes into the plethora of wonderful things to explore between Washington DC, Baltimore and New York City. I am not much for museums or zoos, or aquariums, or even guided tours of anything. I like to get out and walk, discover things that you might not see from the window of a bus. I like to be immersed in a new place, taking in the sights, smells and sounds so different from my home in Montana. We planned our trip as kind of an introduction to all of these great places, and now when I go back, we can explore those we liked the best in greater depth. We did a lot of walking. A lot. Just exploring the National Mall in DC we walked at least 7 miles in one day and still didn’t see everything. New York City much the same. I could write about this trip all day, but instead I will show you a little of what we saw.

Washington DC

We spent two days in Washington DC. The first we wandered the National Mall to take in as many monuments as we could. We only missed out on a couple as we wanted to beat rush hour getting home – something that can turn a 20 minute drive into 3 hours. The second day we visited Arlington Cemetery and the National Cathedral. I would love to go back to DC and explore more of the monuments and get off the beaten path a bit and away from the tourist. I am pretty sure there were as many tour buses as there were cars.

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Walking up to the Capital Building. Unfortunately, the rotunda was under construction, but still impressive.

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The statue of Lincoln is impressive. I honestly didn’t realize how huge this monument actually was. I also wondered how many people take the time to look away from his giant figure to take in the stained glass windows on the ceiling.

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One thing I loved about DC was how it could make you feel like you were not in the middle of a modern city. Yes, this is a monument, but it looks like something from another time. The beauty of these structures truly left me in awe.

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Speaking of stepping back in time, probably one of my favorite places was the National Cathedral. It reminded me much of Notre Dame, both in its size and grandeur. The attention to design and detail in the architecture of churches has always drawn me in.

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And if an epic church in the middle of DC wasn’t enough, we stepped back into the gardens which truly could have existed in another world. It is amazing the things you find in the city when you take the time to look.

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The Memorial Amphitheater near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers is another impressive beauty. It’s presence, however, was dwarfed by the vigil of the guards at the tomb. We witnessed a changing of the guard, and it was a truly beautiful, humbling experience.

Baltimore

We had grand plans for Baltimore. Both Lindsey and I love to read and had hoped to visit the Edgar Allen Poe Museum as well as his grave site. Another point of interest was the George Peabody Library. We didn’t make it to any of them. Baltimore has been in the news a lot lately for not-so-great things… but we figured we would give it a shot. The Edgar Allen Poe destinations aren’t far from the Inner Harbor and the Library is on a college campus. We both figured things would be peachy, but after trying somewhere to park near the E.A.P. grave and circling around the block multiple times through some rather unsavory neighborhoods and by more than a couple people who seemed highly entertained while talking to themselves and wandering in circles on the sidewalks, Lindsey and I high-fived ourselves for our decision to head out to Ft. McHenry, the only place on our venture where she had been before and somewhere that she knew to be safe. Who knows, we probably would have been fine, but we just had that super uncomfortable feeling that things weren’t totally chill. Ft. McHenry was great though, and we strolled around the Inner Harbor Area for a while too. I can’t deny that Baltimore wasn’t my favorite place. But we gave it a shot. And I have a soft spot for boats… especially old piratey looking ones, so the day wasn’t a total loss.

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New York City

I am not going to lie. I could gush about New York City for days, and we were only there for 8 hours. I absolutely loved it. I would go back in a heart beat. I could spend a month there and never get bored. Of everywhere we went, the Big Apple definitely had that culture shock  aspect to it. In Montana we don’t have cities. We don’t have skyscrapers. There are less people in the state than Manhattan Island by itself. And it was incredible, even if 90% of the things that we wanted to see were hidden behind scaffolding. It just gives me an excuse (not that I would ever need one) to venture back there again. It was a whirlwind trip that started and ended with a 3 hour train ride, included trips on the subway, a stroll through central park and down 5th Ave. We were rained on, terrorized by a homeless man and Lindsey was pooped on by a pigeon (the latter two in the first hour we were there). We tried some good ol’ New York Pizza, ate dinner at the top of the tallest building in the Western hemisphere  – on floor 102! – and I had the two of the most disappointing lattes I have ever tasted. There was no excuse for the one beneath the Rockefeller Center, though the one in Penn Station wasn’t terribly surprising. Regardless, it was a day to remember and a fabulous finale to a week of epic adventures. (I apologize for the weird order of the pictures. For some reason the ones I captioned decided to sit somewhere other than where I told them to… )

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It rained the entire time we were in the city. By the time we reached the top of One World Trade center, I wasn’t sure we would be able to see anything at all. We timed it just right, though. Clouds moved in and out. Sometimes you could barely see the buildings right below us and then there were moments like these where you could see all the way to Times Square.

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Lindsey and I grew up listening to the Beatles. We spent hours listening to their music. It only made sense that we would visit the John Lennon Memorial in Central Park. Our teenage selves would never have forgiven us if we didn’t.

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A perfect way to top off the day. Sweeping views of the city, a fancy dinner and a glass of wine.

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We survived. It was an epic week long adventure and much needed reunion between friends. I can’t wait until next time!

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.

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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.

Inspiration: Photography

© Katie Rene Johnson 2014

Photographs can be powerful tools for inspiration. For many years, I carried a camera around with me whenever I went somewhere new or even well known so that I could take pictures to go along with my writing. Initially, it was on hiking or camping trips to find hidden locations that would fit into the setting of Kingdom Burning. They were never great pictures, not even something to hang on the wall, but they gave me tactile imagery to help build the fantasy world around my characters. Montana is a great place for mystical forests.

Nearing high school graduation, I decided to go to college for photography rather than English. The decision still baffles me a little bit, as at that point photography was a fairly new passion where I had been writing since I was a kid. I think the decision came from teenage close-mindedness and the absolute loathing at the time of literary and poetry analysis, which when going over course options was a large part of an English degree. And, I didn’t want to be a teacher, which was the most prominent thing to do with an English degree at the time. Point being, I went to college for photography – just a two year degree, but that was enough to help hone my skills. I have dabbled in portrait photography ever since, until last year when I started my own business. I also photograph coins for a living, a job I never would have looked into had it not been for my degree.

I shoot with a DSLR, which is a big clunky thing that is hard to carry around all the time for the chance of finding something interesting to photograph. But I ALWAYS have my phone on me. It has a decent camera and over the last few years I have collected over a thousand pictures, probably a third of which are of my cats. The rest, however, are of the things I see during the day as I walk around downtown, the things I find when I go on a road trip, the experiences that I am obsessed with documenting. When I photograph people, I am in control of the situation. I tell them where to stand, how to pose, where to look, whether or not to smile. It is a calculated process, aimed at giving a client the perfect image to remember that moment in their life. Children are a little less planned – I dare to to try and pose a two year old – but as I approach the subject there is still a goal in mind. I arrive at a location knowing what types of photographs I am going to be taking.

The images that I take on my phone are the complete opposite. I am in a constant mode of observation, even when I am walking the same three blocks back to my car after work. I look to the windows of the buildings around me, I watch the cracks on the sidewalk, I make a point of noticing things. There is always something seemingly insignificant that can catch my eye. I consider these moments found images. There is no posing involved, no placing of an object to get the right perspective. I move around the subject, chose my angle, frame the image to give it my perspective.

A while back I asked myself, what am I doing with all of these pictures? Even as I sorted through them and delete the pointless or repetitive ones, there are others that I just can’t get rid of. They speak to me, they are each a moment that has been frozen in time. I realized they are another outlet for the creative nature of my imagination. Without even realizing it, I began creating my own form of visual art. And I am in love with it. I can’t wait for the next moment that will catch my eye. I can’t wait to take that image and turn it into something more.

That moment when the sun sets and road seems endless and free:

© Katie Rene Johnson 2014

The moment when the light from the window highlights peace and affection:

© Katie Rene Johnson 2014

The moment of infinity on the ocean shore:

© Katie Rene Johnson 2014

 

Beauty surrounds us, and just as the characters  in my imagination walk beside me every day, these beats of time inspire me to keep creating and living in the moment. It keeps my heart content.

 

View more images here: Moments Urban Landscapes

The Process: 10 Years vs 9 Months

The creative process is a funny thing. Before college, the only piece I worked on was a medieval fantasy that I started as a sophomore in high school. Because it was medieval and a fantasy, there was little in the world around me that I could pull into the story. It came from the depths of my imagination influenced by movies and other stories that I have seen or read in the same genre. I loved that story – I still do – but I haven’t picked it up in a long time. I kept hitting wall after wall, not sure how to describe a scene or interaction, how to define the magic system, how to lose myself into the political turmoil that is the basis for the story. As much as I love the story, there was very little in it that I could relate to, aside from wanting to run around in castles and wilderness with a bow or sword wearing practical dresses with a cloak – definitely a cloak. If nothing else, at least a cloak. I am not even ashamed to say I have a cloak hanging in my closet. Right. Now.

But, that is besides the point. I have been working on this story, Kingdom Burning, for somewhere around 10 years. Right now it sits around 20,000 words, which equals somewhere around 60 pages – in 10 years. Granted, the amount actually written is much more than that if you count the innumerable rewrites that have taken place along the way. In comparison, Better To Pretend, which I started this last January sits at just under 40,000 words or 120 pages – in less than a year. It is probably more than half done.

So, what is the difference? Why has it only taken 9 months to double the amount of work accomplished compared to a piece in progress for 10 years?

Two things come to mind:

  1.  Better to Pretend began as a short story written in college. I KNOW the story. It has already once come full circle, even to the point of publication. I know where the relationships go, what parts of the plot are essential to the story, the climax, and particularly the ending. Everything was already laid out in short form. The original piece relied heavily on narrative, skipping gaps of time and dropping into current events only when essential. I had already laid the groundwork.
  2. Better to Pretend is all around me. It is in the music I listen to, the people I see walking down the street, the stores I visit. If Elbin were not a made up town, I could literally get in my car and drive there. It takes place today. The main characters read Harry Potter, drink espresso, listen to modern music. They go to high school: cliques, bullies, crappy classes and all. Most importantly, they are a part of me. Each character, the main three in particular, are influenced by experiences in my life.

Kingdom Burning is a world I dream of living in. Better to Pretend is the world I live in now.

As I started building the world around Better to Pretend, filling in the missing details that would give the characters and setting depth, I realized how easily these details appeared. The Merc, The Bookshelf, Jenna’s attic bedroom: all came from something I had seen or experienced in my life. And for the first time since I started writing seriously I was okay with it. At some point I transitioned from wanting to only write in a fantasy world that nobody could judge or compare to something real to writing what I know. Which is really no different, if you really think about. Someone can always look at a piece of writing regardless of the where it is set and find something wrong with it or compare it to another work of the same genre. But for some reason it was a hang up for me.

In regards to writing I have always heard the phrase, “Write what you know. If you don’t know it research it until you do.” Maybe it is the whole write what you know bit that held me up. I felt like I knew my fantasy world because I created it. I names the kingdom, the villages, the mountains, the forests. It was completely mine and people could not know that world until they stepped into my story. Of course it could be compared to any other medieval work out there, but you would most likely not find another far off town by the name of Glynn in the kingdom of Reseda ruled by the evil king Roen. In working on Kingdom Burning, I found that I had to research everything. How long does it take for a horse to travel 50 miles? What kind of food would you find in a wayward tavern? What type of clothes would a woman wear? Was it strange for a young woman who works in a tavern to trade her busty dress for a tunic and breeches? I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted things to look, but I also wanted to make it realistic. It seems far more likely that it might take two days for a rider to travel 50 miles at a decent speed that make it that far in a couple of hours. You have to account for that.

The strange thing is, writing in the modern world really isn’t that different. Elbin doesn’t exist. I made it up. The instructor of the class I wrote the original piece for actually looked it up because he wanted to know, both if it was real and also if that name held any significance. It doesn’t really, just something that popped into my head. I have heard of a town called Elgin, which is probably as close to Elbin you could get, but I have never even looked Elgin up to see what it is like. I don’t care because Elbin is it’s own special brand of town. If I want to to say that Elbin is 200 miles from Jenna’s hometown, Gainsburg, I can justify that by car, driving around 70 miles an hour, it would take almost three hours to drive the distance. We are all familiar with traveling by car, so it isn’t as hard to determine that bit of information. On the other hand, the attic room that Jenna stays in at her aunt’s house is almost a direct interpretation of a room I stayed in for a while at my own grandmother’s house when I was in middle school. Right down to the magazines and random junk piled along one side of the stairs. There were only two windows and the eves had been converted into storage. There was a couch and a bed and a shelf filled with old Reader’s digest novels. Each of those details was placed directly into Jenna’s story. It just seemed to work for her character, which the further I have progressed, the more I realized she is a lot like me.

Obviously I can’t write every character that ever comes to mind from my memories. My life really isn’t exciting enough to build entire novels about. But it is a good place to start. It has allowed me to get back into writing in a way I wasn’t sure would ever happen after I stepped away from Kingdom Burning for so long. Every time I would sit down to work on that piece and would start writing and become immediately discouraged because I felt out of practice. That is actually a thing, by the way, being out of practice at writing. It is amazing how you have to readjust your brain to sit down and write a story when you haven’t done it for a while. The more you do it the better you get at it and the easier it comes.

The point is, by allowing myself to get lost in this modern world, it has launched my imagination into overdrive. Everywhere I go I see things that draw images in my mind. I wonder if that person walking the other direction down the sidewalk might be someone my character would run into. Is that store somewhere they would spend a lot of there time? Even something as ridiculous as doodling a line in beat to a song can spark an idea for a character (which totally happened this week by the way). I have even started a notebook just for observations I make during the day.

This week:

~a girl walking into the grocery store in sweats and a ratty t-shirt with perfectly styled hair and flawless makeup, a strange combination for going to town (I was on my way into the store – just going about my day)

~a couple at the bar in a breakfast restaurant-heads together, ear to ear looking at something on a phone. oblivious to the world around them. subtle touches and body language of being in tune with one another. they forgot to look at their menus. (I was picking up lunch for the office)

~a girl waiting to cross the road on her bicycle – the classic cruiser style, blue with wire baskets on the handlebars and back fender. girl wearing yoga pants and a sweater with blue sneakers sucking on a blue sucker. (I was waiting at the stoplight on my way home)

~ bearded man with dark glasses sitting in his convertible parked on main street. recognize him as the one who sits on the benches downtown almost daily strumming his guitar through a battery powered amp in a plucky style, visiting with anyone who wants to chat while still playing his music. totally content to just hang out and play music for the passers-by. always has a cross attached to his guitar case, open just in case someone wants to drop a buck. (On my way to the hardware store.)

Inspiration is everywhere. I know that I will return to Kingdom Burning. I still think about the story pretty regularly. But right now, I want to write Jenna’s story. I want to write about these people that I see walking down the street, these characters that walk in my shadow every day, co-pilots to my life. For the first time I feel like the end to a piece I have started to write is actually in sight. Not that I don’t have challenges to face in finishing it – difficult scenes that I know have to happen but will also be very hard to write. Better to Pretend is the first piece that has ever had me so emotionally charged by a scene that my insides get all fuzzy and I feel anger or sadness at what is going on. It is the most amazing feeling in the world. It really doesn’t matter if it takes 10 years of 1 to finish a story. The process is half the fun.

~Katie

 

Inspiration: Hiding in Plain Sight

Inspiration is a wonderful gift, often inspired by the most unlikely adventures. I so happened on one of those adventures yesterday morning as I drove to work. A hot air balloon had taken residence on the horizon, not an uncommon occurrence during my morning drive. It was further to the south than it had been recently, and I seemed to drive right towards it. As I watched it meander over town, I also took in the super-moon, still glowing behind the morning haze and was struck with a photo idea (I am also a photographer, if you didn’t know). How cool would it be to be able to capture the moon behind the hot air balloon? The moon is hard to photograph because it often lacks perspective. Throw a hot air balloon into the mix and bam! Perspective.

As I was driving down Main Street in an area where I couldn’t really pull over, I turned off and began chasing the hot air balloon, hoping for an angle from a side street where I could capture both balloon and moon. The path I followed led me steadily closer to work, and as I tried to calculate where the balloon might be heading, I parked at a park off of a side street. I couldn’t see the moon, but one would serve nicely as a new banner on Facebook.

image image

Not entirely satisfied with the pictures, I kept driving, calculating, and driving. A few blocks away I knew of an entrance to a walking trail that weaves through the old residential part of town. I wouldn’t have to go far down the trail to come to a clearing where I might be able to see the balloon and moon without obstruction.

I had found the trail a year or so ago and have been fascinated with the location ever since.  It makes me think of some hidden grove I might find next to a castle in Europe: old, twisting trees that reach out to shelter the trail, a babbling creek, aspen grove, tall grass and even golden field (minus the utilities plant it butts up against, of course).

I have been down the trail a few times and while always in awe over its beauty, nothing ever popped into my head that was story related. For some reason, yesterday as I chased down a hot air balloon, it happened.

After I determined that the chase had been futile – the sun and moon had almost lined up and the moon was mostly lost behind the clouds and sun-fire – I took my time walking back to the car, taking in the trees around me.

Almost immediately I remembered a scene I wrote a couple months ago in Better to Pretend: Cory leads Jenna down a shaded path to a clearing – a hidden oasis in the horrible town that is Elbin.

I couldn’t tell how long we walked. It felt like forever, but it always does when you are going somewhere new and exciting. I just about asked him how much further when the trees broke, revealing a shimmering pond ringed by cattails and tall water grass. On the far side was a gigantic tree with sweeping limbs and dangling branches that dusted the ground with the slight breeze. It looked like something out of a fantasy novel, the whole place almost glowing in the moonlight.

“You should see it in the winter,” Cory said, and I could tell he was watching me.

“The big tree over there looks like the Womping Willow with all its leaves gone, like in the scene where Harry and Ron crash the car. I assume you’ve seen the movies, anyway.”

As I took in the trees around me, I realized I had stepped into my own little oasis, and while the trees don’t look exactly like the womping willow, they certainly serve the purpose of illustrating what I see in my head. I could picture where the rope swing would hang, where the bench might sit… I was almost like walking into a scene from my novel. Can’t get better than that.

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And who wouldn’t want to take a walk down this trail?

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All I had was my phone, so I don’t feel like the pictures really do the place justice. But, I will definitely be going back, next time with notebook in hand. Somehow writing about characters in a place where I could see them hanging out feels like an important thing to do.