Inspiration

POV Challenge: Week 3, Sample 1

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


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Cam Cross paced her finger along the rim of her glass. She should have passed on the wine, two glasses ago. The third rippled red waves in tune to her movement, and she chewed her lip, tasting the heavily applied lipstick. She had chosen the restaurant and the table for the vantage point, not the overpriced liquor, which she would be billing to her client. Necessary expenses.

Three people leaned against the two story windows below, looking out over the city. The view sucked, clouds and fog rolling in and out. Rain pelted the windows, but Cam couldn’t hear it over the spattering of tourists. Either that, or the windows were too thick. She couldn’t decide. She preferred the sunshine.

Ghosts preferred the mist. The thought bristled hairs on the back of her neck and Cam sipped at the wine. Ghosts were bad for business, or so said the tower manager. They were good for Cam’s business, when she could stomach it, but she took the hunter jobs as a last resort. Demons,witches, vampires, whichever – no big deal. Cam took a longer pull than was acceptable on her drink, avoiding the gaze of the waiter as he passed by. He didn’t know why she was here. To him, she was just a lonely, over-makeuped patron who had spent too much time at his table already. Not that there was a line waiting at the door to get in.

Cam signaled him for another glass of wine, chugging the last few sips. The waiter filled the glass without a word, and Cam felt the judgement rolling off of him in a wave that prickled her stomach. Maybe she should have ordered an appetizer. Except, she maintained a purely liquid diet on a ghost hunt. Less temptation for her stomach to turn itself out. She nodded her thanks and the waiter walked away. Cam tried to ignore the looks between him and the other man behind the station. They weren’t even trying to hide it at this point.

Grumbling to herself, Cam returned to the finger pacing along the rim of the freshly filled glass. The air around her shifted, sharpening as the sounds of the tourists below faded out. The rolling mists outside the windows were suddenly inside, undulating around Cam’s table in a damp, cold breath. Her skin prickled with goosebumps and the hairs on her arms stood straight up. She looked up from her wine glass straight into pale, transparent eyes that glowed with a tinge of red.

Cam’s elbow slipped on the table and her wine glass toppled over, spewing wine over the fine white linen. The bowl of the glass bounced once and then shattered, and somewhere outside the mist, a man cursed. Across the table, the ghost chuckled breathily and the mists cleared in a snap. The waiter had returned, and was sopping up the spilled wine. He brushed the bits of glass onto an empty plate, and Cam forced herself to look at him.

“I am so sorry. Such a klutz.” She couldn’t hide the shaking in her voice, and the waiter hesitated for a moment, then shook his head and walked away. He hadn’t noticed the entity sharing the table with her. Or the mists. Or the icy note to the air. Cam turned back to the ghost, fingers gripping the edge of the table.

The ghost tipped an invisible hat at her and smiled. “Caesar Frayne, at your service.”

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Inspiration: Opium Dollars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

POV Writing Challenge: Week 1, Sample 2

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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

Attempt #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let me make it up to you?”


Attempt #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!

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

 

Casting a Novel: Better to Pretend

Writing a story or novel doesn’t immediately suggest a visual process. The images we see in our minds are brought to life by the words on a page, hopefully enough so that a reader can create in their own imaginations who they see as they read the story.

When I write, the process is very visual. I see the story progressing in my mind almost as if it were a movie. Things move along quickly and I can imagine scenes like I am standing next to the characters in them. However, certain details often lack in definition: faces for example. In my work in progress, Better to Pretend, I have known since the beginning that Cory has shocking blue eyes, something the main character Jenna is very attracted to. He also has messy dark hair. but what about the rest of his face? What does he really look like? As the story has progressed, it also came out that he has a crooked smile. Bits and pieces have filled themselves in. Still, in my mind, that face lacks definition.

One of the first things I think about when I start working on a piece is what would this be like as a movie? Right away, some pieces are more suited to film than others (I’m not going to lie, one of my biggest dreams since I was a kid was to have one of my stories made into a movie). However, I still try to imagine them that way. One such piece is Solidity. I think it would be a great movie, but could it be pulled off in a way that doesn’t make the ghostly main character too gimicky? Not that I have to worry about that, as I haven’t written the story yet…. but back to the point.

Over the course of the last year, especially as I have started writing seriously again, I have also opened up to different forms of online media, particularly Pinterest. It takes the story boards that I would love to put up on my walls into a portable medium. If I see something I like or that draws me in, I can simply pin it and move on, able to return later for reference.

The idea of seeing more stories in movie form offers a fun strategy: If my novel was made into a movie tomorrow, who would star in it? I could just do simple searches for blue eyed boys with dark hair… but why not put someone in there who could literally bring that character to life? Better To Pretend is the first story I have ever done this with, and it provided the finer details to some of the faces. I you want to check out the Pinterest boards I have created for my current works in progress, go HERE.

So, if Better to Pretend were made into a movie tomorrow, these are the faces I could see cast as major characters. A girl can dream, right?

 

 

Cory Andersen (Nicholas Hoult)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jenna Raynes (Saoirse Ronan)

Mrs. Stokely (Susan Sarandon)

 

Sandra Raynes (Rachel McAdams)

Evelynn Everett (Amy Adams)