Thank you J. K. Rowling. Last night I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. My favorite parts were when the audience cheered a couple of heroes: Mrs. Weasley and Neville Longbottom. Harry, Hermione, and Ron didn’t get as much of an ovation. All of the (surviving) characters, and the author too, demonstrated the power of perseverance. They aren’t the only ones.
Last Saturday I taught my seminar/workshop on Modern Self-Publishing, a digital revolution that is redefining the publishing industry the way digital music and video redefined record labels and Hollywood. Big budget, traditional publishers and movies continue to operate. The Harry Potter franchise proves that. The Harry Potter franchise also sustains them too. What will bookstores sell next year? They’ll still be selling an entire shelf of Harry Potter tomes. DVD sales will survive quite a while too. But while the industry behemoths grind along, hundreds of thousands of writers find themselves looking up to Ms. Rowling, hoping for even a fraction of her success, and then return to stringing words together in new and artful ways.
J. K. Rowling’s story is typified as rags to riches, though I recall an interview where she didn’t see it that way. She had money problems, but she was very aware of people who were in much tougher situations. She wasn’t the only one spending time delving into story, agonizing over detail, and doing more than thinking about it. There are more writers than books. There are more stories than writers. It’s the lucky story that gets pulled from the common subconscious, crafted by a writer, and turned into a book; and it is the fortunate book that is presented to the world where it can enter the public conscience. That process turns a writer into an author, and possibly a very fortunate one. Nice consequence from such a simple beginning as an idea.
Yesterday morning, hours before the movie, I had a pre-interview meeting. Next week I’ll be interviewed on KWPA (live in Coupeville, streaming around the world, July 25th, 10AM Coupeville time) for a show that investigates Why Writers Write. It wasn’t until about my third book that I realized why I was out of synch with what some people expected from an author. They expected an author who was passionate about writing. They’d try to engage my enthusiasm for critique while attempting to coddle my ego because they perceived writers and artists as extraordinarily emotionally attached to their work. As a writer I want to know if readers enjoyed reading the book or got even a snippet of the message. My passion is for people (hello readers, I think you all are people but hello to the aliens too if you’re listening in), and my passion is for ideas.
Before I started blogging I was actively part of a writers group. Some groups are all flowers, rainbows and praise as they try to encourage every writer. Some are merciless as they strive for perfection of the art and the artist. I liked the group I was in because they straddled those two attitudes. For one of my works in progress I was told that the writing was so good that they missed the point. A compliment and a critique in the same line and nicely delivered.
Yesterday afternoon, part of a busy day if you can’t tell, I sat down with Joe Menth at Fine Balance Imaging to look over the preliminary edits of my next photo essay, Twelve Months at Penn Cove.
For the most part I treat digital photography as if it was film. I don’t crop, colorize, add or subtract. I also don’t clean my lenses often enough, don’t use a tripod, and make mistakes. Joe and Nancy (the shop’s co-owner and Joe’s mom) are good at spotting features I miss and covering up some of my most egregious mistakes. For most shots the differences are subtle. For some the end result is dramatically improved. (You can see the difference by looking at my gallery of untouched images on smugmug and the final product on Fine Balance’s gallery page.) I continue to wince when I look at one image that I know took Joe over an hour to clean. Hey, I’m taking nature photos, of course there are going to be dust spots and dew on the lens.
Joe and Nancy have worked with me and my images for years now. They know I look at things differently from most of their clients. They are a fine art print shop. Images are held to the highest standards and each image can be heavily invested with an artist’s vision, passion, and desire. My art is more than one image. Each of my photographs is part of a twelve month series of photos. Each photo is a phrase in a paragraph. Every month of images is a paragraph in a twelve-month-long chapter. Twelve Months at Penn Cove is chapter four of a five chapter story of Whidbey Island. My passion is for the island and its people. My goal is to give people the opportunity to see the entire range of the island across the range of seasons because most folks are too busy to do that themselves. If a print is more likely to end up in someone’s house or office because I tempered the artistic possibilities to keep it accessible, then my art succeeded because my art is the message, not the image.
Maintaining a clear internal goal and voice can be difficult, especially if it is uncommon. The scope of the Harry Potter series is much grander than most writers attempt. J. K.’s genius was partly in crafting good vignettes within the stories while being courageous enough to think into far arcs with complex characters (definitely more complex than most children’s books).
I don’t know where my art sits within such realms. I like to take on large projects, or at least I am aware that I’m better suited for it than most. J. K. Rowling didn’t know where her idea would go when she was in the midst of writing the first book. I don’t know where my art will go or where it will take me. The people that have shown up for my self-publishing clinics and seminars all have passionate ideas that could carry them on unexpected and possibly very fortunate journeys. It may sound trite to say that I am always inspired when I teach the class, but it is definitely true. Putting the seminar so close to seeing the final chapter of Harry Potter colored Saturday’s passions with powerful potential. Any of us could find ourselves on a similar path.
Art begins with ideas. Writers use words. Photographers use images. Ideas are cheap. The frugal part of me likes that: costs a little, worth a lot. Ideas are also ephemeral and powerful, two words which put together sound like a description of magic.
Yesterday was a busy day. Between the morning interview prep as a writer and the photo editing of the afternoon I had lunch. Actually, I “did” lunch, with a guy that brought his acting portraits (head shots sounds violent) and his resume. You see, we have this idea about making movies on Whidbey. It’s only an idea, but if we keep working on it and find some other passionate people, who knows where it will lead? Magical. Powerful. And it all begins with something that costs nothing: words.
(Coincidences happen. As I finished typing this a link came up for a movie being put together by some of my friends. Midway – Heart of the Pacific, a film by Chris Jordan, is powerful and beautiful imagery documenting the impact of plastic thrown into the Pacific. I’ve seen the images. They carry the message well. Go to the site for their eloquent take on the story of the albatross.)