Thursday, March 23, 2006

Why does Laurel Johnson write?

Readers, writers, and my tiny fan base have asked me why I write. What drove a retired Registered Nurse to write novels, short stories, and poetry? This is my answer.

One cold November day in 1981, life changed for me. My thought processes radically shifted when I saw the orange-sized mass growing on the underside of my mother's breast. Just as she had coexisted with violence and sorrow in her marriage – with hopeless resignation -- my Mother had silently and stoically allowed a vicious cancer to metastasize.

In my head and heart the horror of that moment halted and reversed the progression of time. I became a frightened child again, hiding out in the alley where my mother couldn't see me. The alley was where I cried, wished, and prayed for a new life for Mother and her kids, where I trembled and vomited when Dad had been particularly drunk or violent. I relived everything from age three until I had arrived back at that horrible morning in November. I knew my mother would die without knowing what life could be with a man who did not batter flesh and crush dreams. She was a hopeless romantic who would die without ever knowing tenderness or romance.

I'd always had a good vocabulary and a "way with words." Mother had encouraged my writing of poems and short stories in childhood, but adulthood had ended all thoughts of creative writing. Desperate for a means of venting rage and horror, I began to write around the time Mother was recuperating from her mastectomy. I wrote to create a new reality for her. I wrote so she could figuratively travel and experience a devoted lover's sweetness.

I say The Alley of Wishes is a fictional allegory, a blending of my mother's life and my thoughts. Yes, an alley figures prominently in the book, but love blossoms and thrives in my fictional alley. A vicious monster bullies and brutalizes but is not allowed to permanently rob a loving woman of her essence. Best of all, I created for my mother the lover she should have had in life. A man can be flawed without losing humanity or tender feelings. Large work-rough hands can ease sorrow, create beauty, or enhance sexual pleasure. It is possible for the explosive expression of physical passion to coexist with unconditional love. These were the gifts I gave Mother through my writing.

That was 1981. My mother died in 1984 without ever reading that book and here it is two decades later. What happened to The Alley of Wishes in that interim? For most of those years it lay dormant in a friend's closet, forgotten and abandoned. No, I didn't have writer's block, just forgot about writing and the book itself. In 2001 I wrote a memoir that included the awful time while my mother was ill and dying. The time was right to get that off my chest and move on. Strangely, that first book did not completely purge the residual pain I felt from her loss. More remained to be said, with imagined endings to create for my mother in her absence. So I tackled The Alley of Wishes again.

As a writer, I create much like the farmer / warrior / lover / artist Beck Sanow, the book's main character. Words explode to life on paper instead of on canvas with paint. I finessed and revised the original manuscript for a year or more. As an unknown writer, I knew there was small chance of gaining the attention of an agent or publisher and I did not have the heart or energy to face innumerable rejections. The most important goal for me was to have this fictional story I wrote for my mother in print, to hold in my hands. I self-published through 1stBooks, an expense I could not afford but felt necessary. Less than two months after the book was released through 1stBooks, Carol Adler of Dandelion Books asked to see the manuscript. She saw in it what I had hoped the world would see, a love story unlike anything most readers have experienced.

My purging is not complete. There are fictional allegories simmering still, waiting to become prose. If I can find the time and energy, more such books will follow. The stories, characters, and locations will be different but the message will continue to be for my mother. Unconditional love is possible if the right people connect. Sexual passion can be pure and free of wounds. Decency and devotion can exist between lovers. Life CAN have happy endings and does not have to be a nightmare of physical, mental, and emotional violence. I am the living proof of that last statement. I have gone from battered child to troubled adult to successful writer. No, I'm not a well-known author with best selling books, but four have been written and published to my satisfaction and that is success to me.

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I enjoy good writing by writers and poets who are not famous. My mother said I was born a hundred years too late. The older I get, the more I realize how right she was.

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