Katie Rene Johnson

POV Writing Challenge: Week 1, Sample 3

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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.


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© 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.

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Experience: Metal Rock Opera, Part II

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Have you ever had an experience where even though a plan is in motion, it doesn’t seem real? Like, you are sitting on an airplane and it feels like you could just as easily be sitting back at your desk in the office and not flying to New York City for your first solo travel endeavor? That’s exactly how I felt two Thursdays ago. In fact, I didn’t even get that little feeling of excitement and anticipation in my stomach that I always get on the edge of something exciting until I looked out my window as we started the descent into JFK.

And seriously, who wouldn’t feel a little giddy if this was the view from the window?!

Once the plane landed, things transpired as a normal person would expect them to. Get off the plane, find the shuttle, and go to the hotel. I realized about ten minutes after I checked into my room (which got a free upgrade from a closet with a twin bed to a legit room with a window and a queen size bed!) that I really hadn’t eaten anything all day besides airplane pretzels and Taco Bell before my first flight out of Bozeman. Food was essential, and a minor sleep sacrifice seemed reasonable in exchange for a couple chicken nuggets, my first view of Times Square at night and a glimpse of the marquee for probably my most anticipated concert of all time.

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Here is the thing about Avantasia: obviously I think they are amazing, but they are not very well known in the US. Leading up to this trip, any time someone asked me what was doing in New York City, I responded simply with, “a concert.” That, apparently, is not a good enough answer and I would then preface my lame explanation with, “You haven’t heard of them.” I have yet to meet someone aside from the people standing under the marquee with me that actually recognized the name of band.

So, even though this concert was in New York City I knew that the people going to this show would be the die hard fans. I already had an idea that people were flying in from all over the country to see  Avantasia. Some people even came from other countries. I assumed that such devotion would lead to a pretty early queue to make it into the venue. I set myself up front, alone, at about 8:15am determined to be the first in line and on the rail for the concert.

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I remained alone for a while, save the people that used that particular entryway  to smoke cigarettes and make phone calls without getting run over by those passing through Times Square. A few people gave me strange looks, most completely ignored me. Part of me felt a little crazy and strange, to be honest. Even though I was sitting in Times Square in New York City, outside THE concert venue, the whole thing still didn’t seem quite real. Having resisted the urge to put in my headphones and jam out to Avantasia all day for the sake of preserving my phone battery and being camped out under the marquee, literally nothing acted as a persistent reminder as to why I was setting myself up in Times Square for 11 hours. If I paid close attention, I could occasionally see the reflection of the marquee in the windows across the street, but there wasn’t really much point in staring at that.

An hour and half alone gave me enough to make friends with the street cleaner that passed by five or six times sweeping up garbage and cigarette butts. And by friends, I mean a quick nod of acknowledgment that yes, he was still making rounds cleaning the street and yes, I was still sitting on the sidewalk just off Times Square.

My first concert going acquaintance came in a Venezuelan man who flew in from Florida. We greeted each other with a high-five and a “fuck yeah” for our determination to be first into the venue. Lucky for this guy, he had already seen Avantasia at Wacken Open Air, the biggest heavy metal festival in the world. I acknowledged that he had a leg up on me in fandom status and had 13006675_10156830666435287_7432879613658605274_ncome equipped with a special edition album prepped for autographs from the band which he was determined to acquire. He didn’t even have a hotel room for the night. He literally came from the airport to the venue and would head from the venue straight back to the airport. That is some crazy devotion.

A third devotee showed up not long after that, and we spent a good part of the morning and early afternoon bantering about the bands we had seen and music we liked. It was a good way to pass the time, but things still didn’t get real for me until half the band showed up. With little risk of losing my first-in-line status, I followed my comrades down the sidewalk.

Here’s the thing: I am not prone to fan-girling. I have never met anyone famous. I don’t even know how to handle a situation like that, because one has never been presented. As we approached the band it was immediately clear that the stars of the group were not present. I recognized one person in the group of 6 or 7 that had shown up. As my line companions posed for pictures and collected autographs, I hovered on the edge for a few minutes and then retreated back to the queue. I realized that I couldn’t justify bugging somebody for a picture or an autograph when I didn’t know their name.  It only seemed fair.

However, if I had been standing in the vicinity when Tobias Sammet walked up to the venue, it might be a different story. As I explained this realization to another line-mate who had also returned to the queue, we both agreed that Tobi (we had been waiting in line long enough at this point to consider ourselves on first name basis with the mastermind) was the one to meet. Without him, Avantasia wouldn’t exist. If he showed up soon, I just might get a little fan-girly.

The band’s arrival set the venue into action, and barriers appeared to separate the concert goers from the masses of people wandering Times Square. Honestly, this is when I really really decided things were real. With barriers in place, I was officially without question the first person in line for the concert of a lifetime. Also, being female, I was severely outnumbered by those lined up at that point for the concert.

I tend to get a little rambunctious when I am excited for something, and it became a subject of entertainment and even respect that I would be the first one in the door. Being my first experience of waiting in line for hours to get into a concert venue, I really enjoyed the camaraderie that grew between the small group of us that had been there all day. Strangely enough, time didn’t start to crawl until we were within a couple hours of the concert. I started to get antsy.

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As the line grew, we passed the final hours discussing music – favorite bands, past experiences, anything we could come up with to keep us distracted, including fending off those looking for the line for The Lion King. This was a minor source of irritation as The Lion King on Broadway is kind of hard to miss.

As the number of questions about our reason for lining up grew, I was consoled to know I wasn’t the only one who got frustrated trying to explain what band we had flown across the country to see. I had a good laugh when the street cleaner from earlier walked back and realized why I had been waiting outside on the sidewalk all morning. Even he didn’t connect the giant marquee over our heads to the reason we were lined up on the sidewalk. Though I suppose if you spend a lot of time in that area you problem get a little numb to the different events and venues.

The last hour waiting for the doors to open was brutal. Nearing the 11 hour mark of the day, the energy of the crowd was palpable. More of the band trickled in and when Michael Kiske (of Helloween) arrived, fans returned to the line in ecstasy having just acquired a photo or autograph. I still waited for Tobi, but with the line nearly at capacity and having been moved around the corner to create more room on the street, I wouldn’t be able to see when he appeared. Not to mention he would be swarmed. I resigned myself to not getting a photo or autograph, but I was completely okay with it. I knew I would be standing feet from him for the next 3 or more hours.

My earliest line companion returned to the queue not long before the doors opened having successfully acquired all but three of his desired signatures. I was impressed with is persistence, and his excitement for entering the venue equaled mine as he would be second in the door.

When the doors finally opened, my heart jumped into my throat and I floated through the door on a cloud of excitement and disbelief. First down the escalator (the venue is underground), I rounded the corner to a completely empty venue and had to resist with every ounce of will to not run at top sprint across the floor to the stage. My feet settled into a weird gate somewhere between speed walking and skipping as I knew the crowd was not far behind me, and when my hand touched the rail front row center, the entire 11 hours of standing outside became 150 percent worth it.

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Did I mention the band planned to play for 3 hours? Without any openers? I had set myself up perfectly for the concert experience of a lifetime and I could hardly contain my excitement. Those of us that had made the rail exchanged similar excited sentiments and chatted up the photographers that were filling up the photo pit right in front of us. If nothing else it made the time go faster than staring at the giant red clock I could see behind the curtain stage left. The damn thing was like a beacon crawling time.

As the lights finally dimmed and the intro began, deep guitar riffs and heavy drums vibrated in my chest, tension and anticipation building like a thunderhead. From behind me, a few voices yelled A-VAN-TAS-IA, clap clap, clap clap clap. More people joined on each syllable and the chant overpowered the throbbing intro. A-VAN-TAS-IA. A-VAN-TAS-IA.

Drummer, keyboards, base guitar, lead guitars, backup vocals, each took their places on the stage as they brought the opening riffs of Mystery of a Blood Red Rose to life. The screaming, chanting, jumping, fist pumping excitement quadrupled as Tobias Sammet appeared center the stage… “We’ve played our roles in our passion plays…” I could have died at that moment and been content. Every plane, van, midnight chicken nugget, hour of lost sleep and hours waiting in Time Square had culminated in that very moment and I was on top of the world.

This show marked the second time (the first being Anaheim, CA a few days earlier) that Avantasia had ever played on American soil, and I was there – front row center. It was the first and potentially last time I would ever see them live. It was most definitely one the the absolute best moments in my life.

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Avantasia Mastermind Tobias Sammet.

The energy of the band and the love with which they performed outdid any band I have ever seen live – and I have seen many. Tobi spent a lot of time chatting with the audience, cracking jokes and telling stories about the band and the songs. He treated us like old friends, teasing the seated concert-goers in the back of the venue about mistaking the show for a Broadway production and asking if those on the balconies to the sides would be handling the follow spots. He shamelessly promoted their newest album, even snatching up my line-mate’s signed special edition to show the crowd.

As the night progressed to the 2 hour mark, Tobi commented on how most bands would be on the way back to their hotels at that point. Not Avantasia. They committed to playing a three hour set, and they weren’t even beginning to look tired. Tobi’s awe with the crowd’s enthusiasm became more apparent as the night wore on, and the band admitted they hadn’t known what to expect from the crowd in New York City. Before the end they promised they would absolutely be back on the next tour. If that was the impression we left on their second ever show in the USA, I’ll take it, though I would travel the world to see them perform again.

I tried to ignore the giant red clock off stage left counting down the time until the show might end, trading it’s time slowing abilities for time travel. After an interlude of metal lead by the guest artists, Tobi returned to the stage with bad news. Apparently the venue had a very strict curfew and they were pushing their time limit, but they hadn’t finished their set yet and they were determined to give us what we came to see. Without delay, they launched into “The Story Ain’t Over”, which is not only one of my favorite songs, but so true. The story of this concert will never be over for me or the people in the crowd who came from all over to see them.

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Tobias Sammet and Oliver Hartmann

As soon as the band left the stage, the crowd erupted in chants of A-VAN-TAS-IA. I screamed for their return, voice cracked and throat sore, both fists in the air. The end had come too soon, but they still had an encore. The enthusiasm of the crowd guaranteed an encore, time constraints or no. When the band returned, the crowd lost it. Even as they took up their instruments, Tobi kept glancing backstage before finally turning to us to announce their finale. He explained that if they don’t meet curfew, the band would be fined. And he would pay the fines, because they were sure as hell going to finish their show. As the music picked up Tobi turned off stage, animatedly check the time on his watch and flashed a middle finger to the giant red clock and the man pointing furiously at it. That, friends, is devotion to your art and your fans.

The encore brought all 12 members of the band forward as encores do, showcasing their talents and bringing them all together for the final song of the night. As the lights came up in the venue and the band hustled off stage, Jorn Lande made his way from one end of the stage to the other, grasping hands of his and the band’s fans. I even succumbed to temptation and stretched my short little self up there too. Why not?

Stage empty, crew in full swing of tear down, I lingered in disbelief. I had just experienced the best concert of my life. The people around me were already reliving their favorite moments from the show and raving about its awesomeness. I raved to myself, because I’m just not that social of a person. My first line-mate and I did have a moment of joint revelry though. Even having seen them before, he was blown away by this show.

As I stepped onto the escalator and rose from the depths of the Playstation Theater in New York City, I knew that that show and experience would be with me for the rest of my life. Neck sore, ears ringing, voice nearly toast, arms bruised from hanging on the rail, I made my way slowly back to my hotel. I have never connected to a band as much as I connect to Avantasia, and to have seen them live – something I NEVER thought would happen in a thousand years – was beyond a dream come true.

PS. My line mate successfully acquired the remaining three autographs after the show!!

 

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Michael Kiske and Tobias Sammet

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Amanda Somerville

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Sacha Paeth

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Eric Martin

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Ronnie Atkins

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Herbie Langhans

 

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Jorn Lande

 

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Tobias Sammet

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I’m there! Front row center!!! Photo Credit: Avantasia via Facebook

 

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!

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.

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