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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

Month

June 2016

So, the final curtain looms…..

……as my show enters its last weekend. The last few weeks have gone by in a blur and it seems inconceivable that there are only three performances left. Each performance led to something new in my character, a discovery of her humanity and motives. Although it’s not written in the script, I felt an underlying sense of guilt and fear that drove her to her final destination. There were specific lines that alluded to her distress, but the nature of her personality drove others away from her, a self-defensive measure on her part.

This show, The Mousetrap as written by Dame Agatha Christie (adapted from her short story Three Blind Mice, which in itself is adapted from the radio play written in honor of Queen Mary’s 80th birthday), premiered in London in 1952. It has continued to play in front of audiences, celebrating its 64th anniversary this year in the same theater.

It has been a privilege and a joy to work with my fellow cast mates, who have provided a lot of support and laughter in the last few weeks. I am grateful to my director, for casting me in this part, for reasons I mention in a previous post. I had the best stage manager and costumer and producer to help shape, guide and fashion us into a wonderful presentation.

For their privacy, I will not identify them or post their pictures – I feel I need to ask their permission.

But I will leave you with a photograph of our set, where we played out our parts and made our discoveries and connections, both within the context of the play as our characters and outside the play, as actors, as friends, as comrades in arms.

The set of Monkswell Manor, from The Mousetrap, by Dame Agatha Christie.
The set of Monkswell Manor, from The Mousetrap, by Dame Agatha Christie.
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So, given that it in this life……

…….we have to have an income in order to live (rent, groceries, utilities, children), finding time to be creative may seem like a luxury. It isn’t – it’s vital to our well-being to make time to express ourselves through the creative arts. Stephen King wrote early in the morning and late at night – he did this while teaching English in Maine. So did Mary Higgins Clarke, Danielle Steele, J.K. Rowling, Edward Stratemeyer (creator of the Hardy Boys & Nancy Drew). I know that many other artists do and have done the same thing – they found a way and made time for it.

Even if it’s just for an hour a day, once you’ve got that hour, guard it fiercely. Even if all you do is stare at a blank page, a blank canvas or a blob of clay and make nothing for that entire hour, you are training yourself to be present for that hour. Write a thousand words in that hour, walk away and edit it the next day. Sketch out on a blank piece of paper what you want to paint in bold colors on canvas.

Making deadlines for yourself will help, as well. For example, for the writers out there, set a goal to write a specific word count each day. If you write a thousand words a day, make it a goal to increase the daily word count and give yourself a deadline as to when you want to have the first draft written. If you fall short of your word count one day, make it up the next day, if you can, but keep your eyes on your deadline. A great example of writing to a deadline is National Novel Writing Month, held every year in November.

Deadlines help keep you on track and can give you the bit of inspiration you need to knuckle down and go for the goal. And while Douglas Adams enjoyed hearing his deadlines whoosh past, when you meet yours or even accomplish your goal prior to it, you can take satisfaction that you whooshed past it.

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
Douglas Adams, author, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Recommended Link:

National Novel Writing Month

Editor’s Note: This blog post is concurrently published on Citizens Journal VC

An American Tourist in Ireland (1)

In books and movies (and the occasional TV show), when the main character goes on vacation, adventure inevitably happens. Agatha Christie wrote quite a few of my favorites, among them, The Man in the Brown Suit and They Came to Baghdad. In both novels, a young woman embarks on an adventure – Anne Beddingfeld (TMitBS) for mystery and Victoria Jones (TCtB) for love. Both get far more than they bargained for.

A classic adventure story by the Queen of Crime and one of my favorites.

When I embarked on my adventure to Ireland, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. I only knew this was a journey I needed to make. My great-great grandparents emigrated from the Emerald Isle and that’s pretty much all I know about them. They are the mystery I need to unravel and put the puzzle pieces in the right place, to better know my family, my great-grandfather and myself.

Did I get adventure? Not in the same manner as Anne or Victoria did. I did go to a country that was magical and exciting and both familiar and strange to me. I got a marriage proposal, after a fashion, but it was more in jest than seriousness. I felt Ireland’s history and present merge, depart and walk alongside each other. In a country whose civilization dates back more than ten thousand years, it’s not uncommon to feel that weight.

History is itself an adventure. So is life.

So, a random idea among friends has sprouted wings…..

…….which is what most ideas do, come to think of it. I’d casually mentioned reading an article about a castle in Croatia being up for sale. The idea of owning a castle in a foreign country charmed all of us and we each began throwing more ideas into the pot about what we’d like the castle to have. A moat with alligators and crocodiles was the most popular addition, complete with drawbridge.

Will it happen? Will we, intrepid thespians and hopeful romantics, embark on an adventure of that magnitude, regardless of how it turns out?

Probably not, but it’s fun to think about. And as we daydream out loud to each other, the idea continues to grow, both with genuine interest and a lot of humor.

And now I have a new story idea.

Ross Castle, Killarney, Ireland
Ross Castle, Killarney, Ireland

So, one of the best ways to improve your writing…..

……is to get involved with and work in theater.

As an actor, you learn to develop character – background, secrets, moments before – that lead to a richer performance and the constant discovery of new things. As a director, you learn how each scene works and flows together, with tweaking here and there to create a cohesive narrative. And, of course, there is the playwright, who puts the words in the mouths of the characters.

Building sets gives you a rough sense of how the play’s world looked. Adding props and furniture gives clues to the characters, their histories, their connections. Costumes and make-up show how characters might look in 17th century France, 11th century BCE Greece or Rome or Egypt.

Every aspect of theater can and will carry over into your writing. I’ve always found myself relying on my theater background not just for inspiration, but for ways to forward my story when the way seems blocked.

Also, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

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