Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Meet Poet & Anthology author Kristin Johnson

I’d like to welcome children’s author and poet, Kristin Johnson, to my blog today. February is Abraham’s Lincoln’s birthday, and Kristin has had two entries in last year’s anthology, “Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln,” one of which is a children’s play. She has also written a cookbook entitled, “Christmas Cookies are for Giving.”


Kristin is a graduate of the University of Southern California Master of Professional Writing Program, a member of Women in Film and Television, and an award winning poet and short story writer.


Kristin, tell us more about “Lincoln, YouTube and History Reconsidered” that you have published in the “Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln” anthology.


Kristin: When I wrote the essay in the fall of 2008, America was right in the midst of the now-historic 2008 election. Like the entire country, I was caught up in watching “Saturday Night Live,” reading blogs, seeing Senator McCain and President Obama on YouTube, and hearing Obama as well as former Governor Sarah Palin reference Abraham Lincoln quite heavily. The political coverage made me wonder what Lincoln’s presidency might be like if he were in office today.


What if we’d had MSNBC, Fox News, YouTube, Politico, Huffington Post, Rush Limbaugh, Air America, Twitter, the Drudge Report, Politico, Michelle Malkin, and Media Matters in the 1860s? How would Lincoln have fared? That’s the premise of my essay.


Katie: You’ve written both short fiction and poetry. Which do you like writing better? Why?


Kristin: Great question. I like writing poetry in those moods when I just need to capture an image or tell a brief story. For example, when I returned last year from a month-long trip to Malaysia and Japan, I took a notebook I bought in Japan and wrote a poem per page, just to capture all the images I saw. There were so many pictures and small moments on that trip, so at the time short poems seemed the ideal form. I know artists who work with miniature paintings. It feels just like that. I think that’s also the idea behind flash fiction.


I prefer writing short stories to poetry when I have something that can’t be contained in a single image or group of images. I also prefer writing short stories when I need character and dialogue. I wrote one about two sisters who meet after death and observe their children. It would be impossible to put that even in a long poem, and I have yet to write an epic poem.


Katie: Tell us how you became aware of the “Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln” anthology and why did you decide to enter?


Kristin: I joined the National League of American Pen Women in 2000, and in 2008 the organization’s national magazine, THE PEN WOMAN, put out a call for entries for “Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln”. I originally wanted to write a feature-length screenplay, but my idea didn’t excite me. Anna Di Bella, our tireless editor, gave me a gentle e-mail prod, so I wrote my essay and composed a children’s play about how the women in Lincoln’s life—sister, mother, stepmother, wife—viewed him. To have both my pieces accepted for the anthology was a great feeling.


Katie: What kind of research did you have to do for “Lincoln, YouTube and History Reconsidered”? Is it considered a non-fiction story?


Kristin: I am a research hound, and writing this creative non-fiction speculative piece exposed me to a broader range of thought about Lincoln. I even learned that he mobilized people using the telegraph, as discussed in the books “Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails” by Tom Wheeler and “The Victorian Internet” by Tom Standage. I sorted through all kinds of Lincoln scholarship on the Web, and discovered analysis of writings by African-American community leaders who weren’t overly pleased with President Obama’s admiration of Lincoln, and that’s putting it mildly. LincolnBicentennial.gov, the official site of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration, yielded the most historical background information, including speeches and transcripts of Lincoln’s debates with candidate Stephen A. Douglas.


One of my favorite sources was “Wild Women in the White House” by Autumn Stephens, which revealed the horrendous things the 19th century press and prominent figures said about Mary Todd Lincoln and her clothes. I was also amused, but hardly surprised, that at the time I wrote the essay, although the keywords “Abraham Lincoln” generated more search results than the 2008 candidates, Lincoln still came in second to Angelina Jolie.


Katie: It seems that authors seem to like either short works, like articles, or writing longer works, like novels. Since you write both poetry and short articles/stories, has that been your experience?


Kristin: I write longer works these days – screenplays, nonfiction books, novels. I heard author Jace Epple speak on Crossroads Paranormal Radio (www.cprshow.com). He said that he prefers writing short stories because in our short-attention-span culture, people often don’t have the time to read long novels (or nonfiction books for that matter) and they can read short stories much more easily—he estimated you can read each story in about ten to fifteen minutes. I read a couple of his sample stories, and he accomplishes more in that brief time than some novels I’ve read.


I can definitely see Jace’s point. Because writing screenplays and long works is such a marathon, writing short stories and poems, although intensive, definitely has some appeal for me. I like completing short stories and poems. A short story is often just as challenging as a novel, because it forces you to pare your story down to the essence of plot, character, theme and conflict. Likewise, with an essay you have to make your point concisely. I did that with the Lincoln essay and it still had to be abridged because of space constraints.


Katie: What inspires you to write poetry?


Kristin: I’ve written poetry since childhood, and at one point ran a business writing personalized poems, PoemsForYou.com. The poem, “Waiting for Brahma,” that got published in “The Pen Woman” came out of one of those moments when you’re meditating and you feel the impatience of daily life just overtake you. Then out of that churning of mind, you feel the impulse towards inner peace.


I’ve been inspired by sea turtles and humpback whales that I see near my home in Hawaii. I’ve been prompted to write while playing with my niece and nephew, by Internet lingo (much as my friend Dessa Byrd Reed wrote a poem about cell phone addiction), by September 11th, and most recently by the death of a close friend.


Katie: Do you plan on submitting more works to anthologies? Why or why not?


Kristin: Yes, I’ll submit if I see an opportunity to submit to something that challenges me to write something new, or an anthology that might give a home to one of the pieces clamoring for attention on my hard drive. However, that’s not a huge focus right now since I’ve got several client projects in the works. It’s been my experience that shorter pieces actually take as much energy, and sometimes more, than screenplays or novels.


Katie: What three pieces of advice would you give an author who is interested in writing for anthologies?


Kristin: I’ve had works published in several anthologies, including “Aleatory’s Junction” and “The Carpathian Shadows Volume II”. As with “Happy Birthday Mr. Lincoln,” I was blessed with a great editor. First piece of advice: Get to know your anthology editor and be open to whatever changes they suggest. They usually have standards for tone, style, and so forth.


Second piece of advice: Don’t wear yourself out submitting to every anthology on the planet. Find anthologies in your genre, whether it’s American history, Cup of Comfort-style reflections, or Southern gothic horror.


Third piece of advice: Don’t be afraid to promote your anthology. You never know what opportunities might come if the right person reads the anthology. It helps if you network with people in the anthology—you can help each other. Sylvia Wright of www.TheWrightScoop.com is one of the talented authors featured in “Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln,” and she’s a marketing and PR dynamo. On both “Aleatory’s Junction” and “Carpathian Shadows,” all the authors worked together across the Internet, and the synergy was perfect.


Katie: Thanks, Kristen, for being on my blog today.

7 comments:

Rhobin said...

Interesting comments and good advice. Thanks.

Lea Schizas - Author/Editor said...

Nice to read about you Kristin. Like you I get my inspirations from all over the place, too.

Here's wishing you tons of success in your writing career.

Loved your pic. Very Audrey Hepburn. :)

madcapmaggie said...

Kristin, nice to meet you. Katie, thanks for the interesting interview - I have to admit that I wasn't really paying attention in social studies in school, and thus now don't know as much as I'd like to about American history. Any books or online resources you can recommend?

Thanks.

Margaret Fieland
http://www.margaretfieland.com/

jessi said...

Kristen,
Great advice. Whittling down so much research could not have been an easy task. I admire anyone who can do that and turn it into an enjoyable piece of literature.

Joylene Butler said...

Fascinating interview, ladies. It's inspiring to see someone so dedicated to doing what it takes to write a good book. Kudos to you, Kristen. Another valuable interview, Katie. Thanks.

Sylvia Wright said...

Thank you for your kind words related to my volunteer PR for the League's book. Best wishes for all your projects!

Moses said...

"Although the keywords “Abraham Lincoln” generated more search results than the 2008 candidates, Lincoln still came in second to Angelina Jolie." -Kristin

One word for this: classic! You rock Muse talk to you in a bit. and Katie Hines thank you for this wonderful blog. Keep doing the great things you do.

-Moses