The Haunting of William Gray and Ghostly Islands

We often meet people we are instantly drawn to, captivated by. This is how it was when Karen Hunt and I first met. I didn’t put it together with books I’d read as an impressionable teenager, or with love of travel, or even the surroundings of the island we were sharing for two weeks of a writers’ residency. But she did! And I’m thrilled to share it with you! Thank you, Karen, for the kind words, but mostly, for the friendship!

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I have always loved nothing better than to find a cozy spot by the fire during stormy weather and read a good book. Preferably a book about mystery and romance, set on a wild moor, a creepy castle, a wind-swept island…you get the idea. My imagination was shaped by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Frenchman’s Creek, My Cousin Rachel…I read all of her books. And I confess that to this day, I still have my dog-eared copy of Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit in a place of honor, easily accessible. I even gave my son the nickname of “Harry,” thanks to the dashing rogue who steals the heart of Anne, the heroine.  And, of course, I pined away for bad-boy Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights and cried my eyes out reading Jane Eyre.

So imagine my delight when I met Renee Johnson two years ago at Noepe Center, a writer’s retreat on Martha’s Vineyard. Noepe is set in…

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Regrets and Resolutions

 

It’s a new year. The calendar has fresh edges, its center staples are tightly fisted in on themselves, the middle hole for hanging is pristine.

Blog posts are popping up within my inner tribe touting worthwhile resolutions and year end wrap-ups for 2015.

What about me? What do I want? What do I need to do? Where should I focus my attention?

The previous year will be hard to beat in some ways, and difficult to bear in others. There were losses, gains, mistakes, breathtaking moments, visiting places so awesome I carry the scent of them in my inner olfactory system and long for them in ways I can only describe as homesickness, reunions, career growth, regrets…

Regrets.

I don’t like that word. I don’t like how it sounds when I hear it spoken, or how it tastes when I am the one uttering its name. It’s a bit like the queasy feeling right before vomiting.

Charlotte Bronte called regret, ‘poison of life.’ She understood.

I’ve always been of the camp preferring to regret what I’d done than what I hadn’t. But why regret at all?

Perhaps it serves as an inner compass, a reminder of that which doesn’t feel good. Even if it seems wonderful for a brief second—the sinful thickly frosted triple chocolate cake tantalizing the taste buds—it will eventually lose its flavor, leaving behind an upset stomach.

Regret.

Words said, or not. Sentiments shared, or not. Harshness. Personality traits surfacing which were previously unknown or unexperienced.

Moments of: Whoa! Where did that come from?

Rewind. Backtrack. Erase, erase, erase.

Regret.

Can’t turn back the hands of time. Can’t use an ‘undo’ feature.

Suddenly I am reminded of the huge train station map in Paris at Gare Saint-Lazare, with its webbing of rail lines and destinations. That map could be all the good things of 2015, each locale an indicator of some joyful event. And in its center is the flag marked; ici.

Here. I am here. And it commands attention, draws the eye to it with unexpected tunnel vision.

It is the regret.

The empty socket a tooth once occupied. Thoughts keep congregating there, like the tongue in the gap of raw gum.

It can’t be changed. It can’t be plucked out.

But I do want to carry it forward? Can I leave it in 2015?

This is where I cede to Lucy Maud Montgomery:  “We should regret our mistakes and learn from them, but never carry them forward into the future with us.”

I do not want to drag last years’ regrets through this new year and onto the next, year after year, stacking it up like cord wood on the back porch of an old cabin. Nor do I want regret to stain this past year, 2015, in all its colorful glory. A second doesn’t make an hour, nor an hour a week.

Is this my rant? My purge? Pardon the lead-in. It seemed necessary in some self-flagellating way.

So back to my original question.  What do I want?

Centeredness.

That’s my word, my wish for 2016. I want to stand in the middle of my map, ici, and understand myself, move forward through the coming months with grace and just enough mischief to be interesting—and say, “Oh yeah, I really regret that!” as I point to the ici flag and laugh.

Renee Johnson is the author of Acquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray.  She is currently working on a Young Adult novel, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food.  She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and one very spoiled German shepherd named Gretel.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Q&A with “Anne de Champagne,” a French painter

A wonderful interview with the French artist, Anne de Champagne.

Writing from the Heart, Reading for the Road

(Note: This Q&A was conducted partly via email, and partly in person, in French. The translation into English is mine: the French version follows the English one. JH)

self-portrait“Anne de Champagne,” née Anne Fierobe, was born in Paris in 1960. She studied German literature at the University of Reims. Then, for 20 years she held a variety of jobs, including teaching, and working in a bank. During this time she never stopped creating and showing her work in a variety of venues, including at times in her home, which changed location about 15 times during this period. In 2007 she opened the Atelier du 11 in Essoyes. Initially working out of a small rented storefront space, she has since been engaged in creating large paintings and installations in a vast space in a converted ancient barn in the main street of the village. It is always interesting to return to Essoyes and see how her…

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Reading from The Haunting of William Gray

Thu. Dec. 3, 5:30 pm Local Author Renee Canter Johnson is back to introduce, discuss, sign, and answer any questions about her new book, The Haunting of William Gray.

Please join me if you are able to be in the area on Thursday, December 3rd, as I return to the lovely Wilkes County Library for a reading and discussion of my latest novel, The Haunting of William Gray.

Renee Johnson is the author of Acquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray.  She is currently working on a Young Adult novel, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food.  She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and one very spoiled German shepherd named Gretel.   

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Spotlight on Renee Canter Johnson, Novelist

My mentor, Janet Hulstrand–writer, editor, teacher, traveler–posted an interview with me on her site today. What a privilege and honor this is for me. And, she asked questions I’ve never been asked before. I’m thrilled to be able to share it here on reneejohnsonwrites!

Writing from the Heart, Reading for the Road

Janet and me 2015 Renee Canter Johnson and Janet Hulstrand in Essoyes, 2015

I’m pleased to introduce a new section on my blog, where occasionally I will feature interviews with some of my Writing from the Heart “alums.”  Today’s post features novelist Renee Canter Johnson.

Renee participated in her first writing workshop with me in Essoyes in the fall of 2010, an experience she wrote about here. From her first somewhat hesitant–though gutsy–steps toward making her writing public, she has taken off!  She has won awards for her writing, been a visiting writer in residence at Noepe Center for Literary Arts on Martha’s Vineyard twice, and has attended additional writing retreats in Italy and France. Bonjour ParisStoryhouse, and Study Abroad have published her articles and essays, and she maintains two popular and very active blogs:  http://writingfeemail.com for sharing her travel experiences, and random insights, and Renee Johnson Writes 

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Traveling with William

The characters we create must feel real to us or they won’t speak with clear voices to our readers.  Whenever I’m talking about William Gray, the hero of The Haunting of William Gray, he is, at least, looking over my shoulder.

That includes interviews, readings, or as is the case today, guest blogging.  Jill Weatherholt generously invited me to guest host for her while she is in edits with her new novel.

And I’m extending the invitation to you.  Come visit with us!

The Haunting of William Gray

The Haunting of William Gray

Renee Johnson is the author of Acquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray.  She is currently working on a Young Adult novel, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food.  She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and one very spoiled German shepherd named Gretel.   

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It’s here! It’s here!

Today is the big day!

The Haunting of William Gray

The Haunting of William Gray

It’s the official release day for my second novel with The Wild Rose Press, The Haunting of William Gray.

If you’d like a copy, it’s available at the Wild Rose Press, or at Amazon, or other places selling books.  You can click the links or copy and paste from below.

Full Wild Rose Press link:

http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/maincatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=195&products_id=6486

Full Amazon link:

http://www.amazon.com/Haunting-William-Renee-Canter-Johnson-ebook/dp/B0166TH0O2/ref=la_B014O1AT88_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1447249477&sr=1-2

If you are a reviewer and would like a review copy, put that in comments or send me an email and I’ll be happy to hook you up with one.

Wow, thank you all for sharing in this wonderful celebration with me! 

Renee Johnson is the author of Acquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray.  She is currently working on a Young Adult novel, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food.  She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and one very spoiled German shepherd named Gretel.   

 

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What is it like to live with a writer–or ten?

Writers have been portrayed as being difficult to live with within most communities.  Eccentric, demanding, prone to the lifestyle of a hermit, we still reach out for a collective group of likeminded people.

Blogging helps with this.  We pour our struggles and frustrations onto a ‘virtual page’ and it circumnavigates the globe in an instant.  Normally, support comes back to us, but not always.

Participating in writers’ residencies, workshops, retreats, critique circles and other groups intended to knit us together with understanding fellow writers, can be positive or negative depending on the sensitivities of those involved, and how they mesh with ours.

On October 1, 2015, I set out on a journey which included nine other writers.  For two weeks we co-existed in a beautiful former inn on the corner of Main Street and Pease’s Point Way in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.IMG_0777

Noepe.

The word is Wampanoag for ‘land between the currents.’  How appropriate!  It was the land, and our group the currents for those two weeks.  Rising with tides of our creativity, we bounced between the buoys and found new inspirations, even if they weren’t necessarily what we had originally planned to write about.

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This was extended to include a reunion/workshop with some former attendees and a couple of new participants at The Essoyes School in Essoyes, France, and then narrowed even further as one of the writers and I set out for some additional inspiration in the South of France. IMG_2122 IMG_2258

Seeking words to define life, emotion, and experiences, our attempts to make sense of life as we know it often led to anguish, tears, excitement, joy, pain.  Slashes of drama taking shape, heartrending paragraphs, humor, fun, groupings of those looking for the same things–or not–through expressive lines of poetry or hard-hitting definitions, filled hours and days.

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Art, music, bus-catching, train-hopping, taking ferries and taxi cabs, language barriers, beautiful and sometimes strange new foods, old friends, new friends, familiar and never-before-seen-by-us sights, adventure, missing loved ones, lighting candles in chapels for lost loved ones, taking pictures of landscapes which never quite captured their awesomeness, feeling history in our bones.

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Wow!

Henry James advised, “Try to be one of those on whom nothing is lost.”

Over the next weeks, I’ll share a few of these adventures here and on my travel/random blog Writingfeemail in an attempt to follow James’ advice.  They won’t necessarily appear in chronological order, just as they resurface in my mind.  I’ve also reconnected with an artist whose work I’d like to share with you, and although she isn’t fluent in English, nor I in French, we have agreed to attempt an interview.  Should be fun and interesting.

If there is something you would like to hear about first, add it to comments and I’ll use it as a prompt to conjure the experience.  And as always, thank you for sharing this journey through words.

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Clearly, I was a bit blown away!!

Renee Johnson is the author of Acquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray.  She is currently working on a Young Adult novel, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food.  She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and one very spoiled German shepherd named Gretel.   

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ISLANDS & LAKES & THE SKY IN-BETWEEN Part I

Read here for the wonderful insights and pictures published by Karen Hunt, fellow Noepe participant during our stay in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard!

Source: ISLANDS & LAKES & THE SKY IN-BETWEEN Part I

Renee Johnson is the author of Acquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray.  She is currently working on a Young Adult novel, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food.  She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and one very spoiled German shepherd named Gretel.   

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How do Writers Measure Productivity?

If writers made widgets, there would be a mound of physical products sitting on the counter at the end of the work day.  Judging from the previous day’s tally, we could accurately determine if this happened to be a good day or bad one by the increase or decrease in sheer number.

But how do writers make this determination?

Some people might say it is from the number of words on the page.  But perhaps we have spent most of the day editing a passage, or researching the history of toilet paper rationing during World War II.  Important details like that need to be authentic.

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Or, more importantly, we have stared for hours into the abyss of the rain-pummeled alley behind the house, watching its sideways downpour blur the unsightly graffiti on the building next door which now seems oddly beautiful as it becomes dizzying dark slashes through colorful rainbows.  Only then, in the impressionist world in which we can see so clearly through the deluge of water, have we gained the visual backdrop for Paris in the twenties.

There might have been dialogue issues in the last scene actually committed to the work in progress requiring us to close our eyes and tune our ears like broadband radios trying to dial in a signal where cooperative stations still send waves into the air around us.  Yes, that means we may simply be in a state of near-slumber–not quite transcendent but far enough away from whatever is going on in the immediate background to block the static and pick up the sounds of our characters as they explain why their arms are firmly crossed and lips smashed tightly together in protest.

What’s that, they ask.  Another trite retort?  We refuse.  You can’t make us say it.  There may be foot stomping and other temper tantrums as they elicit respect from their creator–the tortured writer.

Possibly we have realized there is no atmospheric condition in the text and the rain scene will now give texture to the page.  But we had our main character shoving her sunglasses atop her head crowned with silky blown-straight hair as she shields her eyes with the cut of one hand across her brow.  The reader would know this lacked authenticity, not because the sunshine betrays the rain shower.  (Haven’t we all seen it raining while the sun was shining–at least a dozen times anyway?)  But because every woman knows humidity ruins sleek hairstyles.

Similarly, there may be some characters who want their own production.  You know how it is.  You give them one clever line and soon they need an agent and their own adventure in the South of France with a gorgeous opera singer named Joseppi who is actually from Belize but could pass as a gentleman of Marseille.  Ooh, la, la.

And then someone has to die and the light romantic comedy we were expecting to write when we started the manuscript becomes a murder mystery with dark undercurrents and a shadowy hero who prefers to remain anonymous keeps running across the page stealing the best lines from the main character who now is giving us the stink eye and calling a lawyer for script advice.

We can’t please everybody.

Nor can we stay focused all the time.

Ideas peck at our brains like the blackbird whose attempts to snatch the single remaining corn kernel from the tightly packed seed block in the wire cage hanging from the chestnut tree is an opera in itself, the whole thing swinging with the raven’s weight while he hangs on to the edge with tightly gripped talons.  The seed won’t budge, the bird won’t give up, the back-and-forth is an endless unproductive theater performance.

Which brings up another question–is it theater or theatre?  Does the ‘e’ precede the ‘r’ or vice versa?  Does it matter if the theme is European or American?  Yikes!  More research on this single word while the length of the piece isn’t lengthened or increased in any measurable way.

You are starting to get the picture, aren’t you?

We make ourselves nuts.  Writers can devote hours to details the reader may never notice, and that makes us even more insane.

It was raining when the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre?  Really?  I thought it was a sunny day in Paris and the heroine was wearing sunglasses atop her head.”  Oops!  Apparently forgot to change that scene.

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Our manuscripts take so many detours through the editing phase we sometimes feel they need their own Metro passes and escorting chauffeur to taxi them back and forth.  We tighten and tidy until we feel like cleaning staff in a hotel chain and cut unnecessary words and phrases until every sentence is as lean as an Italian soccer player and equally as strong.  Sometimes we end the writing day with less words than when we started, yet all was in the name of progress.

Often we are solving what seems like unsolvable dilemmas–the main character just rolled his fuel-leaking car over an embankment.  The seat belt harness was damaged in the first metal-screeching contact of car and guardrail, grinding its teeth securely onto the thick strap refusing to be unfastened.  And the Mona Lisa is in the back seat and it’s starting to rain.  Not just a little soft Parisian rain that makes the chestnut blooms ignite with floral fragrance, but the sideways impressionistic deluge.  Help!

The sun is sinking and the bell tower is reverberating with the urgency of passing hours as we remain glued to our seats while the pen–caught between thumb and palm–is being jostled back and forth in a whipping motion.  Blinking at us, the computer’s cursor is still waiting to take forward motion.

With an energetic exhale, the answer arrives.  The solution to every circumstance has presented itself, stripped away its invisible overcoat and now with unerring certainty, we know how to get Joseppi and the Mona Lisa out of harm’s way and back into the art museum before it can be damaged by the crash and the weather.

But we can’t write it all down tonight because our butts are numb from sitting all day and we have to change small details in the previous chapter before we can move forward.  Better save all that for tomorrow.

So, to answer the question which I almost forgot posing until I looked up and saw it hovering in the title block, writers measure productivity in their heads, by their thoughts more than actions.  For writers, sitting in a café drinking lattes provides more inspiration and mineable dialogue from other patrons than widget makers get from well-oiled widget-making-machines.

We can’t measure by quantity or strike-outs, or two words: The End.

How did I do today?  I wrote this piece and figured out a rough patch in a sequel.  I think I’ve done alright.  It’s been a productive day.  The End.  *Sigh*

How do you measure productivity?

On balcony at Noepe Center for Literary Arts.

On balcony at Noepe Center for Literary Arts.

**Renee Johnson is currently in residence at Noepe Center for Literary Arts on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.  All comments will be read, appreciated, and replied to as quickly as possible. The internet here is experiencing difficulty. Thank you for your patience.

**Renee Johnson is the author of Acquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray.  She is currently working on a Young Adult novel, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food.  She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and one very spoiled German shepherd named Gretel.   

 

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