I met Johnalynn Holland at the 2017 Rhode Island Writers Colony, where we were both writers-in-residence. An author and visual artist, Johnalynn is truly a “creative” in every sense of the word. I recently sat down with Johnalynn to discuss her life as a Black woman maker.
1. Johnalynn! Please tell readers about your journey to become a Black woman maker and your favorite forms of artistic expression.
I cast a wide net. I am a multidisciplinary artist so creatively, I’m all over the place. I love writing and I also love painting and illustration. My journey is a long and ridiculous one so I’ll try to abbreviate. In my earlier years, I was a photographer and director of photography. I shot a lot of musicians and artists. I did a couple of short films, music video and a BET movie. For the last few years I’ve made a living freelancing as television and documentary film editor.
2. Care to share a bit about your creative educational background and journey?
I went to the now-defunct Atlanta College of Art for an undergraduate degree in Electronic Arts and Photography. Then Howard University for graduate film school with a concentration in cinematography. By the time I entered graduate school I was a single mother, and being young and insecure and not confident in my abilities, I decided to change course. I really wanted to be a cinematographer! But I decided to pursue a career that wouldn’t have me away from my daughter for weeks and/or months at a time. I thought, ‘maybe I’ll pursue a career as an editor since that doesn’t require travel.’ Back then, there were no consumer-targeted editing systems you could have on your phone or even your home computer. Editing was hardware and software-based, owned by professional companies who could afford and house huge expensive multi-thousand dollar systems. And most editors learned how to edit by apprenticing or interning at one of those companies.
I was fortunate to get an internship at the now-defunct Roland House production company in Washington, DC. My friend and fellow HU student, Loren Hankin, was working there as an editor and she showed me around the Avid editing system a few times. We had an Avid editing system at the Howard Film department but there was no editing professor so students couldn’t use it. But because of my editing internship at Roland House, I was able to take a “test” and show that I knew what I was doing. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I knew just enough to past the test and teach myself the rest. When I applied for an ABC/Disney New Talent Development Fellowship in Screenwriting and was selected, I thought about pursuing a career as a screenwriter. My mentor at Disney offered me an entry-level opportunity in television writing as a reader, but I had my daughter and no support system on the West Coast. I had to turn down that opportunity and it hurt. It really hurt.
So I decided that I would live in New York and make it as a screenwriter anyhow. I naively assumed since I’d won the Disney Screenwriting Fellowship it would be easy. Wrong! I’ve pursued screenwriting while working as an editor for the last fifteen years. Currently, in addition to my multidisciplinary artistry, I edit documentaries and programming for television.
3. That is quite the journey! So how did you transition into novel writing?
While in a screenwriter’s group in New York, I was telling my colleagues that I liked reading and writing screenplays probably more than I liked watching movies. Someone asked me if I’d ever thought about writing a book. I had kicked around the idea, even started on one but I’m not gonna lie–it’s easier to write a screenplay. There’s structure. You have 120 pages and three acts to tell your story. You get in, you get out. I thought there was no way my attention span would stay committed to the arc of a novel. Now five years later I’m almost finished with my first novel. And it’s terrifying.
4. While at RIWC I was fortunate to preview your current novel-in-progress, which is hilarious. You’re such a talented writer! What’s the most difficult transition from writing screenplays to novels?
Awww shucks. Thank you. It’s definitely a challenging transition. There’s no clear way out of a novel. A screenplay has structured acts, beats and plot points. Writing a screenplay is like using a measuring cup to fill a bucket with water. Writing a novel is like using your hands to fill that same bucket. And the water goes from ice cold to boiling hot for no obvious reason.
5. Ha! That is probably one of the best descriptions of novel writing I’ve ever heard. I have found the creative mind often needs less clutter to thrive. Have you found that to be true for you?
I think a lot of creatives are cluttered. Especially visual artists. I have visual references everywhere. Around my workspace. On my computer. on my phone. On my tablet. I have piles of books, journals and magazine all around my apartment. I have painting supplies on my writing desk and books in my studio space. My black Moleskin dedicated to my novel has turquoise paint on it.
5. Aside from your novel-in-progress, what are you currently working on, writing or otherwise?
I am illustrating work to sell on my website, blkasfuk.com, and working on a series of portraits. I am also in the process of producing a podcast. I have two plays I’m seeking to workshop and I plan to start writing a new play in May. And May is also my deadline for the first draft of my novel.
Busy lady! And I know all about the pressures of finishing a novel so with that, happy creating! Thank you, Johnalynn! You can learn more about Johnalynn and her work at johnalynnholland.com.