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.