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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

Month

July 2016

So, Octavia Butler, an influential science fiction writer, once said……

……..about writing, “Here I was, into astronomy, and here into anthropology and there I go into geography. It was much more fun to be able to research and write about whatever I wanted to.”

This falls in line with my own thinking about writing and theater. It’s role-play of the best kind, where you get to try on as many different professions as possible without spending years in a classroom or in the field. There is a kind of freedom in trying on different hats, seeing how they fit and how to utilize them.

This doesn’t mean you don’t need to do the research – what some might see as a downside and an inhibitor of creativity is the hard work that goes into making your characters (both on the page and on the stage) layered, believable and, more importantly, real. This will keep your audience engaged until the end, trying to outguess where the character’s ultimate destination will wind up.

What’s also fun is that you discover new things about all kinds of subjects, especially ones you think you know. Whether it’s history, physics, law or how to make an Irish stew, the research you invest in your writing (or any other creative endeavor) will not only enrich the project you’re working on, but will add to your knowledge. Maybe you’ll even add a new skill or discover an interest in something you’d never thought about before. Where it leads is up to you, but the possibilities are endless.

Editor’s Note – This blog post is also published concurrently on Citizens Journal VC.

Recommended Links/Reading:

Link to Octavia Butler

Kindred by Octavia Butler

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So, I’m working on my Current Novel in Progress…..

……and overall, it’s a fun story to write. There’s ghosts, a woman who can talk to them and she works in cemeteries and there’s a mystery to solve and, of course, vampires. Not the sexy, tortured hero kind of vampire – I don’t find the Undead particularly sexy or heroic. As far as I’m concerned, they’re animated corpses, just one step above being a zombie while retaining most of their former personalities. The vampires in my story are not nice, not heroic and certainly not sexy. They’re cold, predatory and, in some cases, insane. Major life to Undead changes can do that to a person.

The Narrator/Main Character of the story is fully aware of that danger – she wears a silver crucifix that was instrumental in her first encounter with a vampire. Her favorite type of stake is one made from ash. She sees their predatory nature and has little faith in the truthfulness of their words until her own research or outside evidence corroborates them. Vampires are of the past, living beyond their historical time period. Interestingly, they are also leading her to uncover the secrets of her own personal history.

So, while I’m not a fan of vampires as the sexy, tortured hero, they do have a place in the telling of a story. They are, like ghosts, a metaphor – unseen, unheard voices (ghosts) and the walking, talking voices of the past (vampires) – and that’s just one interpretation on those two types of supernatural characters. There are as many different points of view on this as there are writers, and that’s pretty exciting. I’m well aware that there are readers and writers who love vampires as the hero and that’s all good – I’m just not one of them*.

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*(There are, however, some vampire characters that I do like, because of their complexity and interesting development – Angel, Spike, Dracula, Drusilla. Please note that Joss Whedon created three of them.)

 

So, Maya Angelou once said……

……“Everything in the universe has a rhythm, everything dances.” If you go hiking in the woods, or sit at the beach (or wherever your favorite outdoor spot is), and you sit and be still, you can hear nature’s music. By music, I’m referring to the calls of animals and birds, the wind as it whispers through trees and the gurgling of rivers. That is the music of nature and it is that rhythm that grounds us once we stop thinking so much and just allow ourselves to be present in that moment.

I’m thinking about music as I write this. While driving along the freeway home from my favorite getaway spot, I had a CD of the Eagles’ greatest hits on. The last track on that CD is Hotel California, which was the inspiration for my writing a two-act comedy sending up the gods and goddesses of ancient mythologies. I hit Replay on that song several times, because in my imagination, I could ‘see’ the opening scene play out. Due to bits of dialogue and action later on in the script, I knew that these new details established immediately at the beginning would foreshadow what was to come.

Music has been a major source of inspiration for me – I would create soundtracks for my novels and screenplays. This helped me focus on what kind of story I was telling. Is it romantic? Scary? Funny? Dramatic? From groups like The Temptations and the Stray Cats to individual singers like Natalie Cole and Cyndi Lauper, I found my story’s voice. I would jump from rock and roll to jazz to blues to Big Band, searching for that right piece of music that fit the rhythm of my current writing project.

My most productive times as a writer is when I have music playing in the background. This is true for any creative endeavor, whether it’s cooking or sculpture or painting. Even musicians, I suspect, listen to music, to experiment on what they are hearing and give it their own interpretation.

Music is the muse that inspires. How do I know? The word Mus-e builds the word Mus-ic.

Find your muse-ical inspiration and go forth with art in your heart.

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Editor’s Note – this blog post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal VC

 

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So, sometimes when I write……

……I get songs stuck in my head. I’m not kidding – I have created soundtracks to several screenplays, mostly for my own amusement. There has been at least one occasion where the song inspired the story and I wrote the bulk of it in one sitting.

I love crooners, like Tony Bennett, and groups like the Temptations or the Flamingos. I love singers like Natalie Cole and Cyndi Lauper. Their energy, their voices, their artistry, often connect with my imagination in such a way that scenes will write themselves. Sometimes the style of music will surprise me, but the mood it conveys will always suit the scene I’m in the middle of.

Right now, I’m revising my two-act comedy, cutting out unnecessary words (boy, I can tell I’m a novelist – I’m wordy!). Lines still make sense, even when cut in half, which is good. Since I’ve not written a stage play before, this is a good exercise for me.

I haven’t been listened to music for a long time, outside of my car. I’m discovering that I need to start listening again. Especially when you’re writing a play about the ancient gods and goddesses of mythology. There is a Chorus, after all, who sing about what they witness or summarize what came before. And music is the voice of civilization – just as the written word allows us to connect with the minds of Herodotus or Shakespeare or Jane Austen or Mary Shelley, so does music give voice to that past.

When a particular style or genre of music starts nudging at you, trying to get your attention, or you have a song stuck in your head, listen to that. That’s your creative instinct telling you to pay attention, that there’s something there for you to hear, that it may add more color into your work, whether it’s writing a play or painting a portrait.

So, on that note, I need to go listen to variations of Your Cheatin’ Heart. Apparently, country music has become part of my Ancient Greek Comedy’s soundtrack.

I did not see that one coming.

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So, I’ve written a play for the stage……

…….and am currently in the process of revising it. I’ve discovered, in this revision process, that I am a bit wordy, that I could say the same thing in half the words used and still have it make sense and be funny. The fact that I am wordy is not surprising to me – I’m primarily a novelist, and words tend to breed like bunnies in novels. Still, it’s a good idea to cut unnecessary ones as much as possible.

The play in question is a comedy, my vision of a hotel that caters to the gods, goddesses, and other people of ancient mythologies and what it might look like on any particular day. Given that there are a number of deities walking about, one can expect the unexpected. Like a Rat Pack-wannabe god of wine. Or a seer on Prozac. Or a Gorgan whose frozen victims become her celebrated works of art. Of course, one can expect a lot of egos to be thrown around, too.

And today, I had the most brilliant brain-wave of how to complicate things a bit, thanks to the recalcitrant and egotistical god, Zeus, and his Roman counterpart, Jupiter. Things are going to get interesting at this mythic hotel.

I can’t wait to check in and see how it turns out.

Title and cast list of my play.
Title and cast list of my play.

So, apparently it’s Shakespeare Sunday…..

…….where quotes from the Bard and his many plays are shared liberally and with love all over the internet. There are so many plays to choose from, so many lines and thoughts to suit any occasion, that it quite boggles the mind. No, that’s not a Shakespeare reference, although, since he did invent more than a thousand words, one could be forgiven for thinking so.

William Shakespeare’s works are a huge influence on me as both a writer and an actor – I began reading his plays at the age of twelve and performed in The Merchant of Venice at the age of twenty-one. His use of language is exciting, creating visual images through words and drawing us back in time to experience the lives of those who came before us. From Ancient Egypt to his own historical kings in Scotland and England to fantastical islands where magic is as natural a resource as water, Shakespeare has given us works that transcend time and place.

Unfamiliar with the Bard? Check out some of the films based on his plays – from Laurence Olivier to Kenneth Branagh, there are excellent and engaging adaptations that make the words and worlds of William Shakespeare accessible.

“But this rough magic, I here abjure, and when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do, To work mine end upon their senses
That this airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth
And deeper than did ever plummet sound,
I’ll drown my book.”
Prospero, The Tempest

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