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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

Month

February 2015

And now a word from Leonard Nimoy……

“I’m touched by the idea that when we do things that are useful and helpful – collecting these shards of spirituality – that we may be helping to bring about a healing.”

Leonard Nimoy
actor/director
March 26, 1931 – February 27, 2015

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So, I’m feeling a bit kerfluffled…….

….about my Current Work In Progress. Although approximately two-thirds written, I’m at a point where the story is starting to balk and refuse to move forward. The characters are trapped on the staircase in a forgotten and abandoned house, someone is at the front door, and the only way out is back the way they came – upstairs.

I know what’s going to happen after this bit, who it involves and the eventual wrap-up that is the final page, but I’m not sure of how I’m going to get there. Or what connects the current bulk of the manuscript to the final pages.

I also don’t want to write it.

Which is probably why the story has balked at this particular point and why I’m feeling kerfluffled. I don’t know why I don’t want to write this next section of the story, but I can feel it every time I sit down to work.

I’m avoiding it, I want to avoid it. Badly. But, like the characters in the story, I’m trapped. The only way out is not through an upstairs window, but moving forward and trusting the words that come out of my pen to show me the way.

Besides, it’s not like anything terrible is going to happen beyond betrayal, self-discovery and falling in love.

*Special Guest*: Author Harry Connolly

Writing Advice You Won’t Hear From Sensible Authors: Always Blame Yourself

I have one piece of writing advice that always seems to startle people. It’s simple: Whatever happens with my career, I always blame myself, when I deserve it or not.

Let me tell you a story that’s probably apocryphal: A first-time director is shooting a film, and the production has a terrible day. They don’t get the shots they need, they’re disorganized, the actors are unhappy, and a few more days like it will break the budget. The producer storms into the office, angry, and begins berating the cinematographer.

And the cinematographer smiles.

Why? Because the person who takes the blame is the person who has the power. By yelling at the cinematographer, the producer has put him above that noob director.

When I first heard it several years ago, this anecdote became a weird obsession for me. Suddenly, everywhere I looked, whenever I saw credit or blame being laid out, it was always about power. A boss who blamed an underling was admitting that they didn’t have control over the project. A boss who never shared credit was taking away any sense of authority their staff might have. And so on.

Writers did it all the time. Editors didn’t recognize their greatness. Marketing people didn’t understand the book. Readers only cared about the latest fads. Writers took credit for every sale and positive review, but when something bad happened, it was for reasons beyond their control.

Which meant they were giving away their power.

My response was that I began to horde blame. Every rejection was my fault. When something wouldn’t sell, I told myself it was the writing, not the market. When books didn’t sell, it’s because the writing wasn’t exciting enough. When readers left reviews that seemed to describe a story written by some other Harry Connolly in some alternate universe, I decided that they must have skimmed because I bored them.

What can I do to fix this for next time became my mantra.

I have certainly had opportunities for spreading blame. The Twenty Palaces novels were sold before the huge economic crash but were published after, when things were really tough for a lot of people. Sales were never going to match the profit/loss sheets written up when Del Rey was figuring out my advance. And Circle of Enemies didn’t appear in brick and mortar store for two weeks after publication date because Hurricane Irene damaged a pallet in the warehouse.

But you know what? It’s my job to write a book that overcomes problems like that. Other authors, like Seanan McGuire and Kevin Hearne, released urban fantasies during the recession, and they found a thriving readership. If they could do it, I should have been able to do it, too.

It’s my job to write a book that is undeniable.

And I know that, on some level, all this self-blame is ridiculous. Sometimes a story is rejected because an editor is having a bad day, or they just bought s very similar story, or something else that has nothing to do with the author. Sometimes books get terrible covers. Sometimes readers assume your book is going to be crap based on the cover or the genre, then skim it to convince themselves they’re right.

Sometimes it really isn’t the writers fault.

But who cares? Taking the blame anyway means focusing on the work to make it stronger and better. It means putting your time, energy, and attention into things I can control. Was a particular story rejected because that particular editor, for example, hates zombies? I don’t even entertain the question; the best thing to do is to assume that the story simply wasn’t good enough and try to make the next one better.

Because the alternative is to believe that I am already good enough, and that way lies stagnation.

The Way Into Chaos Cover

The final book in my new epic fantasy trilogy (about a sentient curse that causes the collapse of a mighty empire) is out right now. Have I mentioned that it got a starred review in Publishers Weekly? Quote: “This twisty, subversive novel will win Connolly a whole new set of fans.”

You can find out more about that first book here, or you can read the sample chapters I’ve posted on my blog.

And hey, if none of that sounds interesting and you don’t want to click, no worries. I know who’s to blame.

 

BIO: Harry Connolly’s debut novel, Child Of Fire, was named to Publishers Weekly’s Best 100 Novels of 2009. For his epic fantasy series The Great Way, he turned to Kickstarter; at the time this was written, it’s the ninth-most-funded Fiction campaign ever. Book one of The Great Way, The Way Into Chaos was published in December, 2014. Book two, The Way Into Magic, was published in January, 2015. The third and final book, The Way Into Darkness, was released on February 3rd, 2015. Harry lives in Seattle with his beloved wife, beloved son, and beloved library system.

And now a word from Judy Blume……..

“Let children read whatever they want and then talk about it with them. If parents and kids can talk together, we won’t have as much censorship, because we won’t have as much fear.”

Judy Blume
February 12, 1938

And now a word from Charles Darwin…..

“A man’s friendships are one of the best measures of his worth.”

Charles Darwin
February 12, 1809 – April 19, 1882

And now a word from Pres. Abraham Lincoln…..

“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Abraham Lincoln
February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865

So, I’m re-writing my Ancient Greek comedy……

……and I kept coming back to a quote regarding writing and editing. It was made by Arthur Quiller-Couch in his 1914 Cambridge lecture “On Style” and it has been widely popularized by the likes of William Faulkner, Alan Ginsberg and Stephen King, to name a few – “Murder your darlings”.

In other words, be as verbose as you want in your writing, but cut the unnecessary fluff when going back to editing, revision, and re-writes.

As I began working on revising and re-writing my play, I noticed that some of the dialogue as it stood was far better suited to the narrative form, rather than script-form. ‘Wordy’ would be a better description, actually, and I was able to cut down on the number of words while keeping the integrity of the line intact.

In some cases, this was fairly easy. In others, not so much.

I’m eleven pages into this re-write of the original script, which topped out at fifty-plus pages. I’m also re-formatting it, to script guidelines, so the structure is also different. There are the requisite stop-starts as I come to scenes that require a bit more creative thinking before weaving the new changes into what’s already there.

An example of this is giving one character his voice back. As written originally, his dialogue was sound and light cues, so I’ve paused there to really look at another character’s reactions to him. I have to ask myself what was said to make the second character react in outrage or frustration and the more specific I am, the funnier the scene will be. Changes will occur, as it always does, but it’s an interesting process to see what chaos might ensue.

(Then again, considering that this play is about the gods and goddesses of ancient mythologies, chaos might be an understatement.)

So, when writing your tales of wonder, be as wordy, as verbose, as flowery as you like. Just remember that, when editing and revising, wordy is not always better, so trim the fat, weed out the excess.

Murder your darlings.

So, I have this book habit……

……where I walk into a bookstore, intent on buying one (one, I say!) particular title from one particular author.

What happens is, I will walk out with five books, by at least three different authors.

It never fails.

I don’t suppose for a minute I’m the only one who does this, and not just as a writerly type, either. I am a known bookworm, among my circle.

(No one has ever seen me without a book in my backpack. Or two. Sometimes three. Currently, I have five books in the back seat of my car. Yes, two of them are The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. They are not my only copies. Don’t ask.)

I will spend a lot of time considering the title, feel the weight of the book in one hand, the texture of the pages or the binding, then look at the content. If I’m not interested, I will put it back, but some days, I weaken, the book is bought and ends up on my shelf, along with many other titles, waiting patiently for their turn at bat.

I may never read it. I have more books piled on my bookcase and nightstand to be read than I have read. It will take more than two lifetimes to simply catch up. I am aware, as I stand in the aisle of any given bookstore, that I need to simply put the book down and walk away.

I also know that I need to weed out the books I already have. I’ve done that, on numerous occasions. I have forty boxes of books in my garage. Some were read, some are still waiting with baited breath to have my attention.

And still, I will buy books.

I regret nothing.

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