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By Carolyn Howard Johnson    Follow Us on FaceBook

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Archive 2002-2017

Disasters: What They Mean for Your Reading or Writing

When the sun set on December 10, the sky was awash with the most intense color I have ever seen--perhaps the color of flamingoes on fire or of burning embers when the whole world is dark. I think the sky and the way it painted the brush around me like blood in milk was so intense because of the widespread wildfires we’ve had in Southern California and, for a moment, I felt pleasure in it, then guilt for that pleasure when I realized the creation of so much beauty was bringing so many so much sorrow.

Then I thought about another time I had a similar feeling. We were cruising a fijord in Chile when we saw a glacier calve. The white and blue mountain that pulled itself away from the land was so immense it filled the narrow waterway. The sound was everywhere and the echoes stayed a long time. Waves from ice-cliff thundering into the sound rocked our ship. I felt so lucky to have experienced it, there! Right in front of me rather than on film. When I stopped to realize that its size was a direct result of melt from global warming and how similar marvels were affecting polar bears in the northern hemisphere. . .yes, it was that same guilt. And then the time I turned my TV to CNN just as the bombing in Iraq appear like celebratory fireworks and wondered how “shock and awe” could be related to such beauty.

Literature—the greatest literature if I dare make such a far-reaching statement—benefits from disaster, too. War and Peace comes to mind immediately, of course, but the greatest stories are almost always set against a backdrop of the horrors of war or disaster. Sometimes even the greatest children’s stories. Think Bambi.

We as readers love conflict and when conflict is at its greatest, we learn more, feel more. If we learn compassion from such events—real or recreated in literature—guilt is but one reaction. Me might also consider that these experiences remind us to be grateful. And, hopefully, to look at the colors longer and appreciate them more.


Tips and Tidbits

(Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a Tidbit that will help authors write or promote better. She will also include a Tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.)

Gift for Writers:

Everyone is a writer these days. Maybe my multi award-winning The Frugal Editor will remind them of the skills they already have, help polish them to give them more confidence, and give them some new ones that will help them enter an industry without fear. They will probably love knowing that lots of rules that stifle our creativity aren’t rules at all, that we get to make style choices. Emphasis on the word choices.

Gift for Readers:

My newest book is a full book of poetry. Jim Cox, Editor-in-Chief of Wisconsin Bookwatch says, “[Carolyn Howard-Johnson is] an exceptionally skilled wordsmith, her poetry will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. Very highly recommended for community and academic library Contemporary American Poetry collections . . .” Find Imperfect Echoes at Amazon & B&N. And, yes, I’ll admit that it may have poems in it that you don’t agree with it. And maybe it will have some you do!


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