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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

So, about those creative blocks…..

……you have one.

Or two. Or more.

The project you’re working on that previously seemed to flow with ease and inspiration is now suddenly, inexplicably, choking and sputtering to a halt. You curse the blank page, the blank canvas, the uncluttered sheet music, and attempt to plow through.

But nothing comes out. Or, if it does, it’s only in spurts, like a car lurching forward, eating every last drop of gas and oil.

This happens to me more than I’d care to admit. I still work the story, still write down questions and notes that spring to mind, but the actual writing of it feels like plowing through quick-dry cement – slow, painful, suffocating.

This is where I turn to another creative form, to replenish the artistic side and allow my subconscious to work out the knots in another way.

This is helpful for every creative art form that you pursue – whether you’re a musician, singer/song-writer, painter, potterer, you name it – if the flow is not there, it’s time to rest that muscle and seek some other artistic outlet and let your imagination play.

My favorite thing to do, when the muse refuses to speak, is to do water colors or sketch or just doodle on scraps of paper.

Like this guy:

Pen sketch; note the rather arrogant look in his eye.

That took me about ten minutes or so to sketch out.  Because I’m a writer, I always have a notebook handy, either to write down plot ideas or bits of dialogue.  Most of the time, however, I doodle.

A lot.

The horse to the left is an example of my doodling.  It’s relaxing, takes me out of my logic center and the best part is that I’ve given myself a chance to unhook from the current project I’m working on.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a recognizable figure – a lot of the time, my doodles resemble swirls of…….stuff.

Other times, I simply push aside all projects involving the written word and just do ART.

Lately, I’ve been inspired to create on canvas the worlds I write about.  Not necessarily the people, although I’m sketching out a couple of ideas, but most definitely the locations.  This helps me define the geographical features of the area, as well as give my stories life in a new form.  I always start out with a sketch, just to get the general idea of what I want it to look like out onto paper.  This is something I’ve learned to do – it saves time and energy when painting the images onto the canvas.

Like this:

Rough sketch of Wolf’s Head Bay by J.J. Brown, Wordslinger

What you’re seeing to the right is a rough sketch of my fictional town of Wolf’s Head Bay, as featured in my novel, Secrets & Howls.  I’ve always known that it would be a coastal town, that there would be a lighthouse and a harbor, where the fishing boats were docked.  I also knew that the mountains that loomed over the town had a distinct look to them – wolves howling at the moon above.

The featured image of this post is the final result – only, there is no lighthouse and no harbor.  The sketch is of a more recent view of the Bay, whilst the painting visualizes what the area looked like prior to settling.

Except…..is it unsettled?  Look closely, there might be a fire.

So, the upshot of this post is this – whatever your main medium of creative output, don’t close yourself off from other creative outlets, even if it’s completely the opposite of what you do.  It will give you another way of tapping into your subconscious and allow you to find your connection to your main creative expression.

For me, it’s painting and sketching, with writing as my main creative outlet.  For you, it might be pottery or singing or photography.  Every creative skill you can find will always benefit the one you have passion and drive for.

Go find it.

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Review: The Bill Hodges Trilogy by Stephen King

Mr. Mercedes (2015)*

In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.
In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the “perk” and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.
Brady Hartsfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again. Only Bill Hodges, with two new, unusual allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands.

Finders Keepers (2016)

“Wake up, genius.”
So announces deranged fan Morris Bellamy to iconic author John Rothstein, who once created the famous character Jimmy Gold and hasn’t released anything since. Morris is livid, not just because his favorite writer has stopped publishing, but because Jimmy Gold ended up as a sellout.
Morris kills his idol and empties his safe of cash, but the real haul is a collection of notebooks containing John Rothstein’s unpublished work…including at least one more Jimmy Gold novel. Morris hides everything away before being locked up for another horrific crime.
But upon Morris’s release thirty-five years later, he’s about to discover that teenager Pete Saubers has already found the stolen treasure—and no one but former police detective Bill Hodges, along with his trusted associates Holly Gibney and Jerome Robinson, stands in the way of his vengeance….

End of Watch (2017)

For nearly six years, in Room 217 of the Lakes Region Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic, Brady Hartsfield has been in a persistent vegetative state. A complete recovery seems unlikely for the insane perpetrator of the “Mercedes Massacre,” in which eight people were killed and many more maimed for life.
But behind the vacant stare, Brady is very much awake and aware, having been pumped full of experimental drugs…scheming, biding his time as he trains himself to take full advantage of the deadly new powers that allow him to wreak unimaginable havoc without ever leaving his hospital room.
Brady Hartsfield is about to embark on a new reign of terror against thousands of innocents, hell-bent on taking revenge against anyone who crossed his path—with retired police detective Bill Hodges at the very top of that long list….

The first Stephen King novel I read was Carrie. I was ten years old and it captured me in a way that not much else had, at least not until Shakespeare, but I wouldn’t get to him until I was twelve and on a visit to my grandparents’ house. I’ve been reading King ever since, the most recent novel being Revival.  There are my favorites (readers of my blog know of my love for IT, but others are The Dark Tower series, The Shining‘Salem’s Lot, and The Stand, to name a few) and there are those that are not my favorites (the early Bachman books, Gerald’s GameDuma Key, and a few more).  There will be a time when my least favorite of King novels will end up being on my favorites list (this happened when I read Christine), but that’s another post.

I’d heard a lot about the Bill Hodges trilogy, especially when the TV series aired.  But it wasn’t until I saw warnings about connections to King’s latest novel, The Outsider, that I decided I should read the trilogy.  It took a couple of weeks to work my way through Mr. Mercedes, but it’s the first act of a three-act play – that’s always the toughest part.  Characters are introduced, their stories are established and clues are dropped about how things will pan out later on in Act Three.

By the end, however, I was hooked.

I had had the foresight to pick up a copy of Finders Keepers shortly before finishing the first book.  This one was finished on the morning of Friday, July 13th.  Within hours, I had a copy of End of Watch in my hands.  At around eight o’clock on the morning of July 14th, less than 24 hours after I’d bought it, I had finished it.

So – here are my thoughts, such as they are.

Bill Hodges, a retired police detective, is joined by Holly Gibney and Jerome Robinson as he tries to track down first the Mercedes Killer; then tackles a case involving two unpublished novels; and wraps it up with a series of deaths that aren’t quite what they appear to be.  The twists, the turns and the uncertainty play out as I cringe with each act of violence, worry over a particular character’s choices that may not be the best ones or weeping at the final words of the story as a whole.

From start to finish, I was on a literary joyride.  I had no desire to go about my daily life – work, hang out with my horses, talk to friends, for example.  All I wanted was to curl up and live inside these tomes, taking part in what Stephen King himself describes as a portable magic.  When I pick up a Stephen King novel, I don’t merely read them – I breathe them, live them, inhabit them as I follow each character down their unique path.  I can almost taste the air they breathe, feel the dirt that digs itself into their clothes or under their nails.

There have been times when I would come out of reading a book, having tuned out the world around me so completely that I felt like I was surfacing from the deep blue sea.

This trilogy was no different.

 

Rating: Five out Five stars.

*All book descriptions are from the covers.

Morning Thoughts* (7)

1. I’ve been thinking a lot about the term ‘good old days’.

2. ^^^ As we all know, there’s no such thing – it’s just rose-colored glasses on a period of time that we have no experience or memory of.

3. I’ve also been watching old TV shows on channels like COZITV and Antenna – Emergency, Adam-12, I Dream of Jeannie, Little House on the Prairie, etc

4. ^^^ I’ve often caught myself remembering when I’d originally watched these shows – I was under the age of ten, I had no real responsibilities, no real worries to weigh upon me. I just lived and did my thing and was pretty happy.

5. Then it occurred to me – maybe the ‘good old days’ that everyone keeps talking about are the days of childhood, before responsibility and the need for a paycheck became an overwhelming concern.

6. ^^^ This makes sense to me – that, in varying degrees, we are trying to get back to the ‘good old days’ of when we were free from worry, responsibility and just focused on being who we were and enjoying our lives.

7. So the trick, then, is to try and bring that feeling into our present.

8. ^^^ I know how difficult this can be – I never said it was easy.

9. But maybe re-discover the things that made you happy as a kid – painting, or dance or something – and add that to your life.

10. It might not bring radical change, but it won’t hurt you, either.

11. It might just make you happier and better able to face the challenges of being an adult.

 

* not to be confused with Evening Thoughts. 😉

So, You Need a Little Inspiration…..

…….and you’re stuck in place, unsure of which direction to go in.  It’s a frustrating and often suffocating feeling, not knowing what to do next.  Your creative project sits on your desk, silent and accusing, waiting for you to come back to it.

This is a familiar situation for me, and one that every creative experiences.  You’re not alone in this – always remember that.

When I’m stuck on a project, I like to travel.  Well, okay, thinking about traveling.  There are places I want to visit and just sit and be, soaking in the scenery, the sounds, the colors and feelings it brings up.  While I can’t travel to some places (yet), there are locations that are closer and more feasible to get to and enjoy.

However, sometimes I don’t even need that to jump-start my inspiration and creativity.

Here’s a creative challenge for you:

Pick a city anywhere in the world. It can be in Romania and have as its neighbor the castle of one of the most ruthless leaders of all time (Vlad Tsepes, aka the Impaler).  Or it can be an ancient temple in Greece, overlooking a beautiful beach and deep blue oceans. Or…..

Well, you get the idea.

Pick a city that pulls you into it, that inspires you to use all five of your senses, quickens those creative juices that pulse through you, makes you smile.  Even if you’ve never been there, you can utilize your own experiences to fill in the blanks.

For example – Secrets & Howls is set in a coastal village three hours north of San Francisco.  For various reasons, the closest I’ve ever been able to get is Morro Bay.  No two coastal villages are the same, as each town has its own unique personality.  However, the important elements are the same – the sounds of seagulls, seals, the ocean and harbor.  From this, I was able to build my own fictional coastal village, complete with lighthouse and jutting cliffs.

Utilizing all five of your senses and the creative medium you’re most comfortable with, pick a city and interpret it as best you can.  What comes up may serve your current project or inspire a new one altogether or both.  You never can tell.

Have fun. Happy creating.

So, There Are Two Sides To A Haunted House Story…..

On August 10, 2001, two films made their debut in American theaters – The Others, starring Nicole Kidman, and Session 9, starring Peter Mullin, screamed into theaters with varying degrees of success. The Others was critically acclaimed, particularly for Kidman, who received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance. Although not nearly as successful, Session 9 has become something of a cult classic, with mixed to positive reviews.

I saw both films in their original releases and it struck me then that any theater running both films would do well to bill them as a double feature (I made a point of telling the theater manager this idea, to no avail). Upon repeated viewing, thanks to the DVDs, I still think they’d make a great cinematic duo. For those of you who have not yet seen either film (and where have you been???), the premise of both is the Haunted House.

The Others is a fairly traditional interpretation of the gothic haunted house/ghost story. Set in an isolated English manor in Jersey, the Channel Islands, shortly after World War II, it is a locked-room mystery. The household servants have seemingly vanished overnight, with no explanation, leaving Grace Stewart and her two young children, Anne and Nicholas, to fend for themselves. In addition, the children suffer from a condition (Xeroderma Pigmentosum) that prevents them from being able to withstand the light from the sun. Their lives are structured within the confines of the multi-roomed, heavily curtained house, which is in constant shadow.

The arrival of three new servants (Mrs. Mills, Mr. Tuttle and Lydia), who have their own ties to the house, only seems to exacerbate the unsettling noises and incidents that the children insist are real and that prove there are ghosts. Being a strict Catholic with no room for the unexplained, Grace retreats further into denial, which only fuels the tensions between her, her children and the servants until, at last, she is forced to confront the truth.

  1. Isolated buildings (house, asylum), further isolating the characters.
  2. Death is the inciting incident, although it is not revealed until the end.
  3. Weather is also an indicator – fog in The Others is limbo for Grace and her children, symbolic of their own uncertainty.
  4. Photographs play an important role and are used to signal the film’s secret.
  5. Grace has a strained relationship with her husband.
  6. Graves/cemetery on the property that links to the secret.
  7. Both films skew towards one gender as the driving force, with the other gender in a supporting or other role – The Others is primarily female-driven.
  8. Use of the location to demonstrate the character’s internal life – in The Others, the house is compartmentalized, much like Grace herself.
  9. Grace holds a terrible secret that is tied to the inciting incident (#2), hidden not just from themselves, but from those around them and which is revealed, in the end, by a ghost.
  10. Grace comes to understand and accept her role in her fate and that of her children, which is what resolves the film.
  11. Grace and the children reclaim the house as theirs.

Session 9 is set in the present day at Danvers State Hospital, an actual former insane asylum, a gothic structure of deep red brick built in the 19th century. It, too, is a locked-room mystery, a haunted house/ghost story, in which five asbestos workers, led by independent contractor Gordon Fleming (Peter Mullin), are hired to clear out a portion for city use.

From the moment he and Phil Cronenburg (David Caruso) drive onto the property to meet with a city official to pitch their bid, Gordon is mesmerized by the building, haunted by its shadows and items left behind by the patients and doctors, and even seems to hear a voice whisper his name (Hello…..Gordon.). After winning the bid, they are joined by Mike King (Steve Gevedon), Hank Romero (Josh Lucas) and Jeff Fleming (Brendan Sexton III).

Each man is himself haunted and the asylum serves to act as a mirror – Hank’s desire to strike it rich is signified by his constant purchase of scratcher tickets and then finding old coins dating back decades within the walls of the asylum; to cope with his own stress, his concern over Gordon and resentment of Hank, Phil indulges more and more in alcohol and weed; Jeff is paralyzed by nyctophobia (fear of the dark) and is limited in where he can work; Mike, a failed law student, finds a box containing the recordings of counseling sessions between a patient (long since deceased) and her doctor and becomes obsessed with listening to them.

As the tension cranks up, tempers flare and a co-worker goes missing, the nineth and last session reveals who belongs to the mysterious voice that first greeted Gordon.

 

  1. Isolated building, which further isolates the characters.
  2. Death is the inciting incident, although it is not revealed until the end.
  3. Weather is a mood indicator – although there is a rainy scene, most of the film features sunny days, Gordon’s attempt to put up the false front that everything is fine.
  4. Photographs are an important signifier – in Session 9, they were used as a form of therapy for the patients. This is replicated later in the film.
  5. Gordon has a strained relationship with his wife.
  6. Graves/cemetery on the property share links to the film’s secret.
  7. Both films skew towards one gender as the driving force, with the other gender in a supporting or other role – Session 9 is male driven.
  8. Use of location to demonstrate the main character’s internal life – Gordon end up weeping in Ward A, where the more violent patients were kept.
  9. Gordon holds a terrible secret that is tied to the inciting incident (#2), hidden not just from himself, but from those around them. This is revealed to him, in the end, by a ghost.
  10. Gordon, wracked with guilt and grief, cannot accept his fate and therefore becomes the asylum’s newest resident patient
  11. Gordon pleads with his wife that he misses her and that he just wants to come home.

This is not the first time similarly themed films arrived in movie theaters the same summer (Dante’s Peak and Volcano in 1997 and The Sixth Sense and Stir of Echoes in 1999) and, given that Hollywood relies on the tried and true, it won’t be the last. These two 2001 films stick out, however, because the filmmakers took the same premise and the same tropes and re-interpreted them to make two, uniquely different stories.

Note – in 2006, Danvers State Hospital was sold to a developer and was completely gutted, leaving only the brick façade, to make apartments. Session 9 is the last film of any kind to show the asylum as it was after it had closed and prior to demolition. Don’t get me started – clearly, no one took the time to watch Poltergeist (1982), which demonstrates the dangers of building on haunted ground.

Danvers, Massachusetts was formerly known as Salem. Yes, that Salem.

Evening thoughts (6)

1. I think I need glasses.

2. ^^^ I’m kind of bummed about that, because so far, I’m the only one in the family that hasn’t needed to wear them.

3. ^^^ Seriously, I’ll be the last one in the family to start wearing glasses. I’m the sole holdout

4. So far, reading glasses have helped, especially with working on the computer.

5. ^^^ Although I’m beginning to suspect that using them while writing in longhand is going to be useful, as well.

My reading glasses.
Note the rather large safety pin.
Sigh.

6. If I’m gonna wear glasses, then by golly, I’m gonna embrace the hell out of it.

7. I’ve been wearing the reading glasses that I’d bought when I got cast in The Mousetrap a couple of years ago.

8. It lost a screw the other day, so now it’s being held together by a rather large safety pin.

9. I am resourceful.

Morning Thoughts* (5)

1. Coffee is a food group unto itself. But I’m sure you already knew that.

2. I have the best gym in the world and I don’t even pay fees – in 30 to 45 minutes, I’ve worked out almost all the major muscle groups at once at least two or three times a week. How? I clean horse pens.

3. In ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’, there’s a character named Catherine, who advises Francis (Diane Lane) to live spherically. I’m interpreting that to mean “Don’t make yourself small to make other people feel comfortable. That’s not your problem.”

4. Who is Kesyer Soze? A mousy character in The Usual Suspects (1995), obviously. But this can also describe someone who blows the secret to the fucking movie in his acceptance speech.

5. People will experience you differently, but there’s always a constant thread. As Maya Angelou once said, ““I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

6. One of my many goals in life is to just give people something to smile about. There is nothing too small or insignificant to smile about.

7. Naps, the terror of childhood, are actually good things.

8. I’ve compartmentalized my life so well, it would shock you. I’m not kidding – it shocks me, sometimes.

9. Road trips are a must – take them as often as you can, even if it’s an hour or two away.

*as opposed to evening thoughts.

Peaceful day at the bay.

So, in the fall of 2016…….

……while working on my first round of notes from my editor, I had the conscious thought that Novel Now Finished would be a life changer.  At the time, I thought it would center around picking up a book contract from a publisher (and it may well do).

Working on edits.

However, as I’m working on incorporating changes based on my editor’s note, I’ve been slowly coming around to the idea that there is a deeper meaning to my original thought.

One of my editor’s most constant notes to me is about giving my Narrator more agency in her own story.  To have her make smarter choices and decisions, to have a more active role in the events that surround her.  To not rely on someone else to get her out of a situation or give up her identity in the process.  In essence, I was being asked to give her the opportunity to own her life and see what happens.

Whether it’s moving home (Secrets & Howls), dealing with trauma (The Pike Horse) or even being open to true love (Much Ado Over Murder), I’ve noticed that I’m often working on stories that reflect what has happened or is currently occurring in my own life.  I often won’t recognize these elements until much later, but I’m not surprised that Novel Now Finished is following this trend.

I’ve described Novel Now Finished as being about a woman who comes out of the shadows and not only reclaims her power, but embraces it.

Guess what’s going on in my own life, right this minute?

Evening Thoughts (4)

1. Raise your vibe. Everything else will start to fall away or into place.

2. Embrace your inner child. Wear pigtails and put banana stickers on your nose. Have fun. 🙂

3. Be delighted to see the people you care about and love, whether friends or family.

4. Chill out with a horse. Sometimes, the best wisdom comes from the silent presence of a 1200 pound animal.

5. Put a little sparkle into your outings.

6. I am one with the Force, the Force is one with me.

7. Be brave. Be true. Stand. All the rest is darkness. (from IT, by Stephen King)

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