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Coming up JULY 8, 2021
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As many have received vaccines, case counts decline, and we reach the end of Pandemic Lockdown, there’s talk of returning to normal.
But what is normal?
What constitutes normal for us is a series of routines or habits that shape our days. Breakfast, brushing our teeth, commuting, dinner with friends, concerts, ball games, drinking heavily, exercising, etc. They are things we become accustomed to doing, whether they are good or bad.
When we interrupt our old routines for long periods, for whatever reason, we have a chance to reevaluate our priorities. We have a chance to start anew and recommit to things that help us grow in new ways.
We can take advantage of the extra space to focus on what we desire most.
Before I left for our sailing voyage, I worked long hours in an office.
Once we departed for our journey, I spent seven years mostly outdoors, communing with nature. My days were filled with frolicking in waterfalls, swimming in the ocean, and harvesting fish from the sea and fruit from trees in the wild.
When I returned to land life after a lifestyle of so much freedom, I couldn’t fathom returning to working in an office environment.
I took that interruption to consider how I wanted to approach life upon our return. I used an aversion to cubicle-filled offices lit by fluorescent lights, and an outdated skillset to grow in new ways. I started working towards a new goal: Writing a book to capture the story of our unusual adventure.
I started with baby steps. I took classes on writing and practiced my skills.
I cultivated a new set of habits and created a new routine to support reaching my goal: I started writing every morning at the same time every day. Soon I had chapters to show for my efforts. I met with a writing group to give myself regular milestones to measure my progress and to obtain feedback and figure out how to refine what I’d written. I attended conferences to learn about the publishing industry and make contacts with publishing people; eventually I had something to show for my efforts: a book I could hold in my hands and share with the world. I am delighted to report that my first book Tightwads on the Loose has been well received.
After I finished writing my first book, Tightwads on the Loose, I was ready for another challenge. I wanted to figure out how to write someone else’s story. I studied, did extensive research, and refined my writing skills. I used habits and routines to make progress on my new story every day. The result was a second book, Sea Trials: Around the World with Duct Tape and Bailing Wire, which has won even more recognition for skillful storytelling, including a Kirkus starred review and being named a Kirkus best book and a Foreword Reviews best book of the year. Yikes!
Now I’m working on a third book—fiction this time. I’m trying to figure out how to devise a made up story from my imagination. The challenge has been fascinating. Once again, the secret has been to use habits and routine to support making progress towards reaching my goal of completing and publishing this fictional story.
When my first book came out, I realized I needed to develop new skills to help me market the book. I needed to refine my presentation skills because I was getting many invitations to speak. I joined Toastmasters and accepted every opportunity to practice speaking whenever I could. I wasn’t a very polished speaker when I first began, but over time, I have become adept at weathering whatever strange obstacles present themselves whenever I’ve been presenting before a crowd, including interruptions, a city-wide power outage, equipment failure and the like. After so much practicing, I find these curve-balls can’t derail me from providing an entertaining show.
What I’ve realized is that whatever I devote my time to doing (or the habits I incorporate into my daily schedule) produces related results. If I spend time sitting on the couch eating ice cream, I may end up adding a few pounds. Or, if I make a point of writing for a few hours every day, I may have a new novel to show for my time.
During pandemic quarantine, we may not have invented a new app or learned Spanish, or completed a new novel, but that doesn’t mean we can’t begin today. For anything we want out of life, any day is a day we can begin to pursue it in earnest.
Right now, though, we know that we are on the cusp of a period of great change. We have an ideal opportunity to reevaluate our priorities and rededicate ourselves anew to activities that feed our souls. And discard those that don’t.
If I am conscious about choosing what I resume doing after this hiatus, I can take this precious gift of time and preserve it for what is most important to me.
I am taking stock and reminding myself that:
I find that I feel most alive when I am actively in pursuit of something that requires me to learn and stretch myself in new ways.
You have probably changed as a result of this pandemic. Forced by conditions beyond your control, you’ve probably adapted in many ways.
As you begin to emerge from your pandemic cocoon, think about how you want to focus your limited energy. You have an opportunity to proactively consider which habits you want to keep and discard those which don’t help you thrive.
How do you want to grow? What skills do you want to develop?
Every day offers an opportunity to grow in new ways. But an opening like this makes it even more obvious.
Former professor of Creative Writing and National Book Award Winner, Dr. Charles Johnson has an impressive list of achievements. This spring Dr. Johnson’s work is featured with eight other black cartoonists in the anthology It’s Life as I See It: Black Cartoonists in Chicago 1940-1980, and will be in an exhibit accompanying this book at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art in May. He also will be guest editor for a special edition of Chicago Quarterly Review in June—Anthology of Black American Literature.
When the esteemed Dr. Johnson and I were both featured authors in the Libraries Unbound event, I had the chance to talk with him and this evolved into an interview with the Writers Connection. (Don’t miss a single issue. Join our mailing list by visiting www.writersconnection.org.)
Dr. Johnson, I first became aware of you and your work when the Rainier Club of Seattle awarded you with Lifetime Achievement recognition back in 2008, shortly after I returned from my sailing voyage. I wanted to interview you ever since, but felt intimidated by all your accomplishments which have only grown since then. At the Libraries Unbound event, I was lucky enough to be one of the featured authors alongside you. I was delighted when you agreed to share your wisdom with our readers. Given the breadth of your body of work, it was a challenge to limit my questions to these.
In The Way of the Writer, you convey the extent to which exposure to literature shaped you. No doubt as a professor of Creative Writing, you’ve reinforced how essential reading literature is to the development of a writer. Could you outline for us some of your earliest influences and what inspired your pursuit of writing as a form of expression? What did you find most helpful in your evolution as a writer?
I think a big factor in my creative life is that I was an only child who had to find ways to entertain myself as I was growing up. Drawing was my main passion as a kid. But my mother was an avid book reader, and at times she was in three book clubs as I was. For me, it was a science fiction book club in my teens— I had a first edition of Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle when it was first published, and I’ve always regretted letting it get away from me. Her library also contained an early edition of Richard Wright’s Black Boy and books on yoga and a wide range of subjects.
Something else that reinforced my love of reading was the high school I went to, Evanston Township, which was rated as the number one best public high school in America in the 1960s. It was like a small college, with close to one thousand students, and there I took classes in art and literature, and the only creative writing class I ever enrolled in. That was taught by a wonderful lady named Marie Claire Davis, who I believe was occasionally publishing her work in The Saturday Evening Post at the time. In the 1990s, I set up an award at the high school, the Marie Claire Davis award, for the best creative writing portfolio by a senior student, because Marie was faculty advisor for the literary section of our school newspaper, The Evanstonian. For that school newspaper I drew cartoons and a comic strip that in 1966 received two second-place awards in a national contest for high school cartoonists sponsored by Columbia University’s School of Journalism. During my time in Marie’s class, she took the three stories I wrote in her class and published them. Those stories are reprinted in First Words: Earliest Writing by Favorite Contemporary Authors, edited by Paul Mandelbaum. It’s also significant that I grew up in a college town in the shadow of Northwestern University, which later in the 1990s tried to hire me with an endowed chair in the humanities. At that time, I declined their offer, because the English department at the University of Washington offered me – as a counteroffer to Northwestern’s – the S. Wilson and Grace M. Pollock Endowed Professorship in English.
So reading was a way for me to entertain myself, and occasionally writing stories in my teens was fun. Literature reinforced and fed my imagination for the comic art I was doing. I think it was right after my freshman year in high school that I decided I needed to read one book a week outside of my homework assignments. Some weeks I’d finish early, then read a second book. And eventually a third book. I started with pop fiction, of course, but ended my senior year with Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians.
You’ve expressed yourself through so many different formats – illustration, personal and philosophical essays, stories, scripts, novels, children’s stories, etc. When you sit down to work, how do you decide what format is most suitable? When beginning to write, do you begin with an idea, a theme or a character? How do you tease a story from that? What comes next?
I always start with an idea. Some ideas are best expressed in the short story form, some in the novel genre, some in a gag single panel cartoon, some in a philosophical or literary essay. I’ve always done screenplays and teleplays as assignments brought to me as a writer-for-hire, so the form has already been decided for me. What one comes to realize after fifty-six years of steadily publishing drawings and stories is that all the creative forms of expression you mentioned are interrelated. People (characters) are at the center of all of them. So having an ongoing and empathetic relationship with people is the basis for every form I’ve worked in. I could do a still life watercolor, sure. But I’d rather draw or write something that lets me discover something about our lives, thoughts, or feelings as human beings, even if it’s a fantastic sci-fi story. By the way, you might enjoy a graphic novel I co-authored with my friend, the prolific Afrofuturist sci-fi writer Stephen Barnes. The title is The Eightfold Path. It consists of eight interlocking stories, all in the style of the old E.C. horror comics of the 1950s, and is sprinkled with some Buddhist themes. The artist for the stories is Bryan Moss, and the book will be published in January 2022, by Megascope, an imprint of Abrams Comic Arts, which is also doing a graphic novel adaptation of my novel Middle Passage, illustrated by the great comic book veteran artist Denys Cowan. That is scheduled for publication in spring, 2023.
You’ve stated “What I want when I read a story or a novel is to laugh, to cry, and to learn something.” What techniques would you suggest learning to help a reader experience themes and subjects viscerally, palpably, and emotionally?
Naturally, one has to feel from the inside every literary form one works with, and every scene one writes, the same way an actor does. To the best of our ability, we have to imaginatively inhabit the heart and mind of every major character we create in a novel or story, even the characters we don’t approve of, like Capt. Ebenezer Falcon in my novel Middle Passage, the slave-catching Soulcather in Oxherding Tale, or my depiction of Martin Luther King Jr., in Dreamer. Developing the skill to do that further humanizes and deepens our hearts as writers. And writing that way has a humanizing effect, too, on our readers. Never treat characters in a one-dimensional way, denying them their humanity and complexity. I used to ask my students to do something often difficult for them: namely to determine what their protagonist fears most in the world. Not snakes or spiders. But their deepest social fear, the one experience they never want to have. And then I asked them to maneuver their character into exactly that situation. That strategy allows us to see a character when he or she is living for high stakes, and how they survive or don’t survive confronting their deepest fears and desires.
Can you share a little about your revision process? How do you know when your work is ready to share with an outside audience?
My ratio of throwaway to keep pages can often be 20 to 1. I do many drafts. For a 250-page novel manuscript, into which I put as much research as I would into a dissertation, I generate around 3,000 pages. I revise sentences and word choices hundreds of times before I show a draft to anyone. Until I can’t change a word without disturbing the sound and sense, the music and meaning of a heavily revised sentence. I explain my process of revision in the chapter titled “On Craft and Revision” in The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling. I also have a shelf full of writer’s workbooks I’ve been filling up since 1972 with entries that cover every subject under the sun: thoughts, dialogue that comes to me, poetry I love, scraps of language that come to me unbidden, images, brief essays to myself, notes on things I read, dialogue that I overhear on the street or in a supermarket, whatever during each day captures my attention as something I’d like to record for future use. In my final stages of doing a story or novel (but never an essay), I carefully go through all of them and I always find something that I can use for an in-progress story. Going through all the workbooks can take me two or three weeks. You can see one of my revised pages—how thoroughly marked up it is—in the interview I did for The Paris Review. (https://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/7146/the-art-of-fiction-no-239-charles-johnson).
More about Dr. Charles Johnson:
Charles Johnson is a prolific and multi-talented artist. Over a lengthy career as a writer, editor, educator, and scholar, Charles Johnson muses on what it means to be human through a wide variety of formats, including cartoons and illustrations, short stories, fiction and non-fiction books, scripts, and essays. After writing six of what he calls “apprentice novels” between 1970 and 1972, he published the philosophical novel, Faith and the Good Thing in 1974 with Viking Press. In 1976, he was hired to teach at the University of Washington, Seattle. He received early tenure in three years at UW, then early full professorship after another three years, following the publication of his second novel, Oxherding Tale (1982). In total, he has authored twenty-five books: eight works of fiction, three of philosophy, and nine non-fiction works in addition to his illustrated comic art books. anthology It’s Life as I See It: Black Cartoonists in Chicago 1940-1980, and will be in an exhibit accompanying this book at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art in May. His work has garnered significant recognition. Johnson received a MacArthur Fellowship or “Genius Grant” in 1998. He is also the recipient of National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim Fellowships, and many other prizes such as a 2002 Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His novel, Middle Passage (Atheneum, 1990), won the National Book Award in 1990. In 1986, Johnson’s first story collection, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was short-listed for the PEN/Faulkner, and he was identified in a survey conducted at UCLA as one of the ten best short story writers in America. His short stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories (1982, 1995), O. Henry Prize Stories (1993), Playboy Stories: The Best of Forty Years of Short Fiction (1994), Best Buddhist Writing (2006, 2007, 2008), Best Spiritual Writing (2010), and, like his novels, have been translated into several languages. He has also authored award-winning scripts, written book reviews, and judged literary prizes, including the Pulitzer and National Book Awards, each three times. For 20 years, between 1978 and 1998, he was fiction editor of the Seattle Review. In his recent book, The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling (Simon & Schuster, 2016), he shares lessons gleaned in the course of a lifetime of literary achievement, which he has shared through lectures around the globe. Long a practicing Buddhist, his spirituality is integral to who he is and his philosophy of the interconnectedness of all beings runs throughout his work. Six books have been written about Dr. Johnson including: by Marc Conner and William Nash, Charles Johnson: The Novelist as Philosopher; by Gary Storhoff, Understanding Charles Johnson; and by Linda Ferguson Selzer, Charles Johnson in Context.
Wendy Hinman will share highlights cruising to Glacier Bay, Alaska and back. These remote cruising grounds feature natural phenomena like glaciers, waterfalls, and hot springs; as well as wildlife including whales, bears, otters and more; and a native culture like no other. Get a taste for the possibilities and how to make the most of the time you have to enjoy them. This talk will include valuable tips for trip planning, resources available, and potential pitfalls to help you prepare.
* recorded for the Seattle Boat Show 2021.
Listen to the recording.
Wendy Hinman is a sought-after speaker who has been presenting throughout the country for a number of years. She frequently presents her entertaining tales at libraries and private clubs around the US. She also regularly presents at yacht clubs and national boat shows. She has presented at writers conferences on the craft of writing as well as Marketing Your Book, The Pleasures and Pitfalls of Indie Publishing, and Getting your Book Into the Hands of Readers.
She has spoken at the Seattle University’s Search for Meaning Conference about Creating the Life You Want and to other groups on Turning Dreams into Reality.
With years of experience presenting, she has weathered all sorts of presentation venues and snafus, and has adapted her talks to suit the needs of various organizations. She is a former President of Toastmasters and used Toastmasters to help refine her skills.
Here she shares tips for Speaking with Confidence.
Listen to a lively discussion about books and writing with authors Wendy Hinman, Susan Wiggs, Kevin O’Brien, George Shannon, and Nancy Horan here: https://youtu.be/0g-qZa_tEd0
#books #writing #NewYorkTimes #bestselling #authors
Take a virtual vacation with adventurer, speaker, and award-winning author Wendy Hinman, benefiting the Ventura County Library Foundation.
Tightwads on the Loose is a popular travel adventure book about the 7-year, 34,000-mile voyage she took with her husband aboard a small violently rocking sailboat where she alternated between feats worthy of Wonder Woman and Suzy Homemaker. It’s full of humor and armchair thrills. Sea Trials: Around the World with Duct Tape and Bailing Wire tells the story of her husband’s nearly disastrous voyage around the world as a boy, during which he was shipwrecked at the age of fourteen. Together with his family, they salvaged and rebuilt their boat (once they were rescued) and completed their journey around the globe despite formidable obstacles including wild weather, threats from pirates, gun boats, mines and thieves, a broken rig, scurvy and starvation in a journey that tested them to their limits. Sea Trials has been named a Kirkus best book and has earned glowing reviews in the national press.
Wendy will share sea stories from these adventures and tidbits about how she crafted these sea stories into award-winning books. This Zoom event promises to be an afternoon of entertaining travel yarns. Funds raised will fund literacy, STEAM and internet accessibility.
Featuring George Shannon, a favorite children’s storyteller and librarian, will feature Wendy Hinman, who lived her swashbuckling tale Sea Trials: Around the World with Duct Tape and Bailing Wire; Nancy Horan, famed historical fiction author of Loving Frank and Under the Wide and Starry Sky; Kevin O’Brien, best-selling author whose gripping suspense novels like The Night She Disappeared will haunt you; and Susan Wiggs, beloved author whose latest book, The Lost and Found Bookshop answers the question, “If you had to start over, what would you do and who would you be?”
For more information, please visit: https://www.bainbridgepubliclibrary.org/book-lovers-night-out.aspx
In case you missed it, here’s a link to the recording: https://youtu.be/0g-qZa_tEd0
“The book is entitled “Tightwads on the Loose: A Seven Year Pacific Odyssey” by Wendy Hinman and was published in 2012. It recounts the adventures of Wendy and her husband as they sailed around the Pacific beginning in 2001. Starting in Seattle, Washington, they sailed along the coast of North America to Mexico, crossed to the Marquesas, Tuamotus, Bora Bora and Tahiti, Rarotonga, Fiji, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, the Solomons, Kiribati, Kwajalein, Pohnpei, Saipan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Taiwan, Okinawa and Japan, before returning to Seattle seven years later. Phew!
They did not have much money, and the 31-foot sailboat they lived on would not be characterized as luxurious by anyone. In fact, they often chose their next port of call based on where free accommodations could be had. When other sailing couples motored into the marina from their live-aboard boats, Wendy and her husband rowed a small dinghy from the cheap cove. More than once, they had to take jobs where they landed because they did not have enough money to pay for repairs.
Although it is primarily a recounting of their adventures, the author is at her best when she describes her marriage and how the joys and pains of the voyage help her grow as a person and how they affect her relationship with her husband. I love an author who looks outward to notice the waterfalls and dance festivals, but at the same time looks inward to describe the personal transformation taking place, taking note of the way they both impact and are impacted by the people and places they experience. Others agree. Note these reviews:
“Alternately hilarious, exciting and thought provoking, Tightwads on the Loose tells what happens when two people with very disparate personalities set out in a too small boat with a too small budget. It will take you on a glorious romp around the Pacific.” — Elsie Hulsizer, author Glaciers, Bears & Totems and Voyages to Windward
“Lively, thoughtful and entertaining. As the best cruising memoirs do, “Tightwads” rises above the pack by providing more than just the vicarious thrill of experiencing exotic anchorages and storms at sea. Hinman adeptly takes readers on a vividly detailed journey, but the book also delves deeper.” — Three Sheets Northwest
From the back cover of the book:
“Imagine spending 24 hours a day with your spouse in 31 not-so-square feet…for years; crossing the Pacific Ocean on two gallons of fuel; and tossing spaghetti marinara around your living room, then cleaning it up while bouncing like ice in a martini shaker. Tightwads on the Loose tells the story of Wendy and Garth, lured to sea by the promise of adventure. They buy a 31-foot boat that fits their budget better than it fits Garth’s large frame and set sail for an open-ended voyage, never imagining they’d be gone seven years, or cover 34,000 miles at the pace of a fast walk. They live without most ‘necessities’ and learn that teamwork and a sense of humor matter most as they face endless ‘character-building opportunities.’ They make a long-anticipated visit to the island where Garth had been shipwrecked as a teenager, only to find it had become a penal colony. An electronic catastrophe in the Solomon Islands leaves them without navigation equipment, which forces them to trade their free-wheeling lifestyle for one that seems straight out of a ’60s sitcom: jobs at a U.S. Army base in the Marshall Islands. In Asia, they dodge typhoons and ships that threaten to turn their home into kindling. Finally they endure a grueling 49-day nonstop ocean crossing. None of this prepares them for their arrival ‘home’ to a post-9/11 America which leaves them wondering what had changed more, them or the world.”
The book is a joy to read. I cannot wait to start her second book, “Sea Trials.” Enjoy “Tightwads on the Loose.” You will thank me.”
BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He travels the Pacific but currently resides on the mainland U.S.