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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

Month

October 2016

So, what happened on Saturday night….

was this – a wild and crazy time at the movies.

Based on the campy musical stage play, The Rocky Horror Show, the film adaptation, The Rocky Horror Picture Show featured some of the original cast in the lead roles, notable Richard O’Brien as Riff-Raff and Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter, as well as debut performances by Susan Sarandan (Janet) and Barry Bostwick (Brad).

Debuting in the summer of 1975, alongside JAWS, which signaled the era of the blockbuster, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was a flop. Although the United Artists theater in Los Angeles saw financial success with the film, this was due primarily to repeat business of the same people who had seen it before. It was then re-launched as a midnight feature and this is where the magic of live interaction, talk back and cult film history began. With an international following, Rocky Horror defies and transcends camp, bringing a festive atmosphere to each showing.

In the heart of Libby Park, lies the amphitheater.

This was apparent at Libby Bowl, in Ojai, California, where an early screening of the film took place under an overcast sky (which seems highly fitting for the film).

Many audience members dressed in character and brought props to use, either as a pun or in direct reference to what the action is in the film. An example of the pun – when Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry) proposes a toast (a drink), actual toast is thrown. Similarly, toilet paper is thrown at the line “Great Scott!” Other props mimic what’s used in the film – newspaper to protect oneself from rain (ably provided by water guns).

Locals in costume, joining in on the shadow performance.

Master of Ceremonies Jesse Phelps provided a welcoming environment in his hosting duties and encouraged the interactive fun. A costume contest had three sets of couples take home prizes that included a gift certificate to Bonnie Lu’s diner and passes to the rest of the Ojai Film Society’s season.

Although there was no shadow cast to mimic the film, local fans jumped into the act and brought their sense of fun and joy to the evening, with full audience partici…..(wait for it)…..pation. And when it came time to sing the Time Warp, the aisle ways were crowded with ‘party guests’, taking a jump to the left and a step to the right. This reporter will admit to singing along with most of the songs with gusto, as she remembered them.

More local fans. Their antici…….pation is admirable.

Master of Ceremonies Jesse Phelps made it clear that he intended to make The Rocky Horror Picture Show a yearly event for Halloween. It is his hope to also include a shadow cast to add to the fun and interactive nature of the film. With the television remake featuring Laverne Cox as Frank N. Furter and Tim Curry as the Criminologist/Narrator airing on Fox last week and Azu’s Rocky Horror themed Halloween party on October 31, it seems that the cult favorite will enjoy a long and productive life.

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So, I had the opportunity to see a performance of Frankenstein…..

…….featuring actors Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) and Johnny Lee Miller (Elementary), alternating the lead roles of the Creature and his creator, Victor Frankenstein. The novel by Mary Shelley has captured the imagination of people the world over and has been given countless adaptations for film, television and stage, either adhering to the source material or being a loose interpretation. The novel has also been an inspiration in popular culture, ranging from comic books to video games to toys and models.

This stage adaptation written by Nick Dear and directed by Danny Boyle premiered in 2011, at the National Theatre, where it was filmed live and screened in selected theaters across the world. It was given an encore screening by Fathom Events on October 25, 2016, with Cumberbatch as the Creature and Miller as Frankenstein.

It was tragic and beautiful, haunting and horrific. Unlike the Universal classic with Boris Karloff, this adaptation of the novel, Frankenstein gives the Creature his voice and soul as he struggles from his (re)-‘birth’ to find his place in the world. His loneliness and desire for companionship and belonging defines the Creature, even as he is constantly rejected for being physically different than those around him. He is called ‘vile’ and ‘disgusting’, a ‘monster’ and is brutally thrown out, even as he secretly offers his catch from hunting and kindling to keep an old man and his family well-fed and warm.

His desire for love comes in the form of another creation by Frankenstein (Miller). Because of a hellish nightmare of the two potentially having children, he destroys the female creature before she becomes fully animated.

The tale of Frankenstein and the Creature transcends its original time – it is a cautionary tale of blindly following science (Jurassic Park is another example of this); it is a story of a man running from his responsibilities to his creation, thus setting off a chain of events that leads to the deaths of those he holds dear; it is the story of trying to find one’s place in a strange world, of trying to make connections and find love; it is the story of brutal rejection and vilification instead of compassion and empathy.

I first read the novel in high school, as I’m sure many of you have. I don’t recall much of my initial impressions of it, but this theatrical production moved me to tears. I wept throughout a performance that had been filmed five years previously. As cruel and angry and hateful as the Creature became, I understood his hurt, his rage, his desires, his difference.

But where he had been abandoned and abused and vilified and had no one to turn to for any kind of support, I have been blessed with friends and support. By no means has it been perfect, but from the Creature’s point of view, it might be.

Frankenstein isn’t just the first science fiction novel to be written. It is a novel about humanity – those who throw it away (Frankenstein), those who find it (the Creature) and how people react to it in those who are not like themselves.

The first step to de-humanizing a person is to take away their identity, their humanity.

There is a reason that the Creature in the novel has no name.

We are the Creature. And we are Victor Frankenstein.

And I continue to weep.

frankenstein

Recommended:
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Last Man by Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley (Biography) by Miranda Seymour
Romantic Outlaws (Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley) by Charlotte Gordon

So, when I write in a genre I’m not familiar with……

…….I make a point of reading as much related material as I can get my hands on. As a way to understand the genre I’m tackling, there’s  no better way to get familiar with it than reading as many books and authors as possible. Whether it’s a thriller or erotica or a mystery, each and every genre has its own set of rules to go by. And the more you read and write and follow those rules, the better you get at understanding how to turn them on their head and create something else altogether.

When I was working on my thriller screenplay, I read a lot of true crime and criminology books, as well as thrillers that were similar in nature to what I wanted to write. Thrillers, by and large, are essentially mysteries, but with bigger settings and higher stakes. In some ways, I think I succeeded, and in others, I failed. Because of the vision I’d had originally, I over-complicated certain aspects of setting and character and ended up stretching the credibility of the reality I was trying to establish. With the passage of time, I’ve been able to work out how to correct some errors and strengthen what’s already there.

With my erotic speakeasy story, I’ve read a number of short stories and novels, paying close attention to and breaking down in analytical terms particular scenes. While the nature of these stories is to be playful and sexy and arousing, my interest in reading them was to analyze how these scenes inspired (or didn’t inspire) arousal. It’s word choice, certainly, and how those words are used matters. The right words not only conjure up setting and time, they also have the added duty of creating an emotional connection between you and the characters. If you don’t feel the desire that the characters are feeling, then words were either poorly chosen or poorly placed.

My rule of thumb in knowing if I’ve created the desired effect is how I feel when I’m writing any particular scene. If the scene requires arousal and flirtatious behavior, I’ll know if I’m on the right track by how I respond to it. If the scene requires uneasiness or fear, my heart rate will be affected in a far different manner. And the only way to truly know if I’ve been successful in creating the mood I wanted is how someone else reacts to it.

So far, so good.

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So, I went out to dinner with some friends…..

…….and my saucy speakeasy story came up, with varying degrees of interest. I love talking about the writing process, so I happily answered any questions and offered up insights into the writer’s mind.

I also revealed how I felt intimidated by writing this story, because I was dealing with language I’d never written before, let alone actually used in my everyday conversation. Which is part of the challenge I had set for myself when I chose to write it two years ago. This is a story that is well outside my comfort zone and has forced me to confront my own discomfort and fears on the subject of sex and the dynamics between men and women in that scenario. I suspect that the dynamics and fears transcend gender, age and orientation.

But I received a lot of encouragement from my friends, as well as some good-natured ribbing, and I am determined to see this through to the end, wherever it may end up.

The best part?

They want to read the final product.

prohibition

So, I wrote a thriller screenplay…..

……while working towards my Bachelor’s degree, lo these many years ago. It was in response to the many films that featured violence against women. It’s a tiresome trope, in my opinion, even when the woman fights back and comes out on top. I mean, really, is that actual agency for a female character in a story? Or for women in real life? Can’t women just be pivotal in a film or story without having it be in response to violence acted against them?

These questions were at the forefront of my mind as I wrote it over a three month period. I did a lot of research in terms of criminology and came up with some interesting ideas, which I then incorporated into the main story. Clues and plot points and red herrings were extremely important to keep track of, as I didn’t want to give away the reveal too early, while setting it up in a subtle and sensible way.

Several male characters were victimized in the same way women had been, both in film and in real life. The female characters had agency and their purpose was not tied to experiences personal to them. One character I knew early on to be the perpetrator of the crimes that take place in the script, but a reader had indicated that it was too obvious. So, I went back in and made a secondary character already in the story not only the perpetrator of the crimes, but also the accomplice of the first character. Now I suspect that there is yet a third character tied to the first two, and I’m curious to explore that.

The funny thing about being a writer is that you never stop working on a project, no matter how done with it you think you are. I’ve never been entirely satisfied with the screenplay, but I attribute that to my own lack of knowledge in forensics and police work (hint: more research to be done here. Yay!). Also, It needed some strategic re-working in several places, which I hadn’t done due to several moves and a return to school for an MFA.

Then it occurred to me, not too long ago, that it needs to be re-written in novel form, a challenge that is exciting for me. Why? Because, despite the incredibly dark themes explored within the context of the story, I had a lot of fun writing it.

Being creative through the arts is about exploring and analyzing and expressing all facets of our experiences, from the light and beautiful to the dark and sinister. It is a safe way to express feelings and thoughts that don’t ordinarily get a voice. Music, painting, writing, poetry, dance – whatever the art form, what feels silenced can be heard.

I haven’t begun working on adapting the thriller screenplay into novel form, yet, but it’s definitely on my work plate. The twist at the end had grown to a double twist and now I suspect that there’s a third twist yet to come.

That’s exciting to me. Do you have a project that’s been teasing you, mocking you, daring you to come back and re-work what you’ve started?

If you do, go forth and re-make that creative project into the art it demands to be.

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So, I bought a faux antique record player……

…….which can also play CDs and cassette tapes. There’s an FM tuner (I somehow found the oldies station) and I can connect it to the Blue tooth on my cellphone and play music from the app feature. All of which I’m learning and it’s fun.

I’ve been playing some of my old records, a collection that I’ve both inherited from friends and purchased on my own. I’m particularly enjoying Scott Joplin’s ragtime music. Hopefully, I can find some old vinyls of Robert Johnson and Louis Armstrong, because music like that needs to be heard analog-style, if not live.

It’s relaxing and soothing and I find that I feel more alert and productive. Music can soothe, arouse, inspire, and invigorate.

Music, if you’ll forgive me, rocks.

record

So, I first encountered Sherlock Holmes……

……..at the age of six, via an old black and white movie on Channel 5, starring Basil Rathbone as the famous detective and Nigel Bruce as his foil and confidant. I don’t recall the movie itself, just that it was black and white and the literary dynamic duo were off on a mystery to solve, but I was hooked. I mean, seriously hooked.

By the age of ten, I had read The Hound of the Baskervilles at least twice. I don’t know what happened to that copy – I probably read it to pieces. I had so many different copies of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books and short stories by various publishers that they were contained in one box. This includes the YA books that are similar to the Choose Your Own Adventure, but it’s basically Solve Your Own Mystery with Sherlock Holmes.

I’d seen Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Frank Langella, Nicholas Rowe and Jeremy Brett play the iconic detective. I loved each interpretation, unique to the actor bringing their vision of Holmes to life.

How big of a fan am I of Sherlock Holmes? Well, there’s this picture of myself and friends from high school on Halloween:

Vampire, monkey, Marilyn Monroe & Sherlock Holmes (me).
Vampire, monkey, Marilyn Monroe & Sherlock Holmes on the case.

I still own the deerstalker hat:

The infamous deerstalker hat.
The infamous deerstalker hat.

And I’m fulfilling a childhood dream of learning how to play the violin:

Still waiting patiently, the violin waits.
Patiently, the violin waits.

Watching Elementary (ABC) and Sherlock (BBC) with their modern interpretations of Holmes is both fun and interesting. Elementary, with Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, allow the stories to develop over a 22 episode season, while Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, have three ninety minute movies that are packed with detail and nuance. Both shows are worth watching over again, as there is always some detail one misses on the initial viewing, such as a bit of dialogue here or a visual there.

Robert Downey, Jr. brings Sherlock Holmes to life in the 19th century, haunting the foggy streets of London by hansom cab. Sir Ian McKellen, meantime, brings him into the 20th century as an older version of himself, fighting against memory loss and seeking to retain his own dignity.

I’m always intrigued by the various interpretations of this Victorian detective and how he has transcended that era to influence generations of readers, writers and more with his ability to deduce from the barest details the solution to any case presented to him.

I suspect there’s more to mull over on the subject of Sherlock Holmes, but deduce that it will take more than just one blog post to cover it.

 

Recommended:
Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Stories & Novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Mr. Holmes (2015) starring Ian McKellen
Teller of Tales: a biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 

So, I’ve been working on my speakeasy tale……

……and I’m enjoying the interplay between the hero and the heroine. I like how they’re getting to know each other, how she gives herself permission to be bold with him and how gives himself permission to be vulnerable with her. The banter they engage in as they build a relationship of trust and mutual respect is amusing and reveals a lot about who they are and what they both desire, for themselves and for each other.

It sounds like I’m describing real people, doesn’t it? Well, it helps, when writing, to treat your characters as if they are. As you get to know them, their thoughts and feelings, the more real they become within the context of you story. If they are real to you, the stakes get higher and the resolution far more satisfying and authentic. This makes them real to the reader creates a memorable and emotional impact, which is exactly what you want.

The rough draft is so far eighty pages long – I am not sure what the ultimate page count will be until I get there. I expect it to be less than two hundred pages, not a full novel, but not a short story, either. There is a seven page scene written that has yet to find its place within the narrative. I’m not worried – I know where it’s going to go, I just haven’t gotten there yet. As far as an ending goes……well, I’m not sure which way it’s going to go. Do they go their separate ways or do they pursue a life together?

The answers will show themselves as I write it, I suppose. In the meantime, I need to follow them as they tell me their story.

prohibition

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