A Farewell to Art

There are three possible takes on the title of this post. 

First, you may think I’m about to wax cynical about the triumph of commercialism over “art” in fiction.  While that’s a viable arena (and an oxymoron), that’s not what this is about.  I wish it was.

Then, you may be familiar with my colleague, Art Holcomb, whose posts frequently grace this site with eloquence and wisdom.  Happily, that’s not it either… Art Holcomb remains a welcome and appreciated part of Storyfix.

Today’s post is a farewell to a writer friend who passed away yesterday.  His name was/is Art Johnson — that’s him in the photo and I wish to honor him by introducing him to you posthumously.

Art Johnson was an inspiration.

I’m not sure how old Art was, but I’m guessing it was somewhere near 80 or so. 

He wasn’t a close friend in a personal sense — he had plenty of those — but I’ve known him as a writer for two decades, someone who has attended many of my workshops, and who trusted me with two of his novels for coaching and analysis.  In fact, his last email to me was in response to a Storyfix post called “Suffering is Optional:10 Ways to Totally Screw Up Your Novel,” and his message was: “Writing a great story is hard, but reading your stuff is harder. Can you please increase the size of the print?”

Loved that guy.

He was at a writing conference this weekend when his heart, which was huge, decided it was time to end the story.  He passed a few days later (yesterday, as I write this) in the loving embrace of family and friends.  And no doubt, with a story he wanted to finish before leaving.

For me, Art embodied what is the Great Gift of writing. 

He was always hatching a new story while polishing another.  He’d recently self-published one of the novels — “Dead Man’s Bay,” available HERE for 99 cents– which I’d helped him with years ago.  It’s a story that never left my head (my personal litmus test for dramatic viability) for its vivid landscape and high-stakes tension. 

Writing kept Art young at heart. 

Kept him noticing the world around him, engaging with it, asking it questions, offering up answers.  He never stopped thirsting for knowledge and the company of others, and with his close friend (and mine) Martha at his side, he traversed the country in search of the next level.  He was as alive with curiousity and energy as any teenager, and his dream never lost its hope.

Writing is always a journey. 

If you’re on it, then you’re in possession of that gift.  May not feel that way, but if Art were with you now (who knows, this post might connect you…), he’d assure you it’s true.

The destination never arrives, because there is always another story to discover, another tale to spin.  Through that lens, Art was as successful a writer as anyone I’ve known.  He would tell you that he was blessed by the storytelling bug, but I say he was a blessing to it, because he embodied the writer’s life.  Full and passionate and without a finish line.

As I write this, and as you read it, he is out there somewhere, discovering the next story, the biggest of all .  I send him my thanks and affection, and wish him God’s speed and His warm embrace as he begins his next draft.  He will be missed.

His legacy, his example… and his book… remain with us.  May we all leave something of value behind, as he did.


If you knew Art, or wish you did, I invite you to comment here.

Thanks to Marjorie Reynolds for the picture.


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24 Responses to A Farewell to Art

  1. Martha

    I write this looking through tears in my eyes.
    Larry, you certainly did catch the spirit that was Art Johnson. Thank you for this commemoration of him. I like to think he is reading it too, and smiling.

  2. Exactly.
    And he laughed a lot, was a loyal friend, and as you said, never stopped learning. And had a Boston accent that had some fog horn to it. Thanks or writing this and your fabulous web site. I send writers here all the time.

  3. I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend, Larry.

  4. Thank you for allowing me to share in your grief. Thank you for allowing me, through this memorial, to know the touch of one with whom I share the same passion.

    grace and peace

  5. Art sounds as if he was a great character. Doubtless he will be missed by many. Would have liked to have met him, but in a way I did through your words.

  6. Aw, to connect with someone who opens your eyes to another world or a larger world is in itself a gift. The world will be less without him, but through you he spreads the fire of this passion around, like a torch lighting other torches, even now.
    His story lends a validation of the worthiness of my own journey along this path.
    Thanks for sharing his story, Martha and Larry.

  7. Christy

    He will be missed – his joie de vivre was so readily apparent through his writing

    my thoughts and prayers go out to his family at this difficult time.

  8. Norm Huard

    The writer.
    The journey.
    The gift.
    The challenge.
    The never ending learning
    To create something from nothing.

  9. I never knew Mr. Johnson or even of him. But I was deeply moved by your choice to honor him this way. A beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing this great writer and your interactions with him. I’m off to Amazon to buy his book. I’m sure I’ll get more than just this one.

    Thank you for showing, once again, why you, Mr. Brooks are also a writer to follow, emulate and learn from…and not just about writing.

    RIP Art Johnson

  10. zlsasnett

    Oh, Larry, I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend. I always looked forward to Art’s guest posts. He was an amazing writer.

    This was a beautiful way to remember him.

  11. Olga Oliver

    Larry – some of your best words put together for farewell to Art J. So charmed, I must repeat them here:

    Writing is a journey
    The destination never arrives – always another story, and another tale to spin
    Full and passionate and without a finish line

    I wish to know him and must read his work. Another thanks to you.

  12. @zlsasnett — thanks for commenting. Please re-read the intro… Art HOLCOMB is very much alive and kicking, and he’ll be back on Storyfix soon, an often. This post was honoring Art JOHNSON… a writer’s writer, still.

    @all… thanks for your thoughts and prayers on this one.

  13. Kerry Boytzun

    Art Johnson will be back, as somebody else in a new story, a new life using all he’s learned from this lifetime and the previous.

    My condolences.

  14. Perhaps my original thought about the title of this post was correct after all. Although I never knew him, your post left me feeling as though I had. Isn’t it strange how some people are named for what they end up doing in life? Art sounds like a true gem and someone I wish I had had the pleasure to meet.

  15. Rick Johnson

    To all of dad’s friends,

    I am not a writer or even a very good speller but it is very important to me to thank all of my dad’s friends for the kind words and being with him in his later years as he presued his passion for writing. Writing sure kept him busy, sometimes too busy, but I was sure glad he was doing something. He was always telling us kids about his new adventures and all the fun he was having.
    What a guy, what a man, what a DAD. We will meet again.

    Your son, Rick

  16. Sounds like an excellent man, Rick and Larry. I hope I am remembered as fondly and as warmly by my kids.
    Salut to you both-

  17. Valerie Wilcox

    I was very sorry to hear of Art’s passing. I knew him when we were in a writing group together and we often talked when we’d meet up at conferences and workshops. I admired his dedication and determination to get the story right. He was always willing to listen and learn and share. Art will be missed.

  18. I admired Art for his hard work, his generosity and his humor. He wrote beautifully of the Alaskan landscape and he made a helluva good meatloaf. Happy trails, dear man!!!

  19. I will really miss Art. He was a dear man, good writer, supportive man and a lot of fun at conferences. Thank you for posting this.

  20. Sandy Chichenoff

    There are no words that can explain what a great and kind man Art Johnson was. I have the pleasure to say I have known him for many years, my sister married his son Rick about 30 years ago. He has always treated my family and me like we were his own. He will be missed immensely.

  21. Pingback: Former OWC Board Member Art Johnson Passes | Oregon Writers Colony

  22. zlsasnett

    *buries head*

    thanks for correction, Larry.

    Now that I’ve done my research and READ, still sorry for Art JOHNSON’S loss.

  23. Larry, you’ve been a friend and guide to me for many years without even knowing me, and I’ve introduced many people to your blog. I’m sorry to hear of the loss of your friend. You’ve been on my mind lately, as I’ve recently started an MFA in fiction (and I’m blogging about it), and I really feel like I received my first MFA from storyfix.com. Although you lost one friend, please know that you have thousands of others whom you’ve never met, and that I’m sure all of our hearts go out to you at this time.

  24. Marianne Strahle

    Larry and all – thank you so much for the kind words about my dad. I’m the youngest of his 5 kids. He was telling stories for as long as I can remember. Some, I found out later were not true and maybe shouldn’t have been repeated – stories, fiction. All in good humor. He was a great dad, a great caretaker to our mom in her last years and a grandfather to 11. We will all miss him everyday but are so happy he found such passion in his final years and something he always had a gift for.

    Like Rick says – we will meet again – it may even be a “dark and stormy night”…………..

    Miss you dad!