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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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jjbrownwordslinger

So, My Current Work in Progress…..

….. takes place in a theater (haunted, obviously – no self-respecting theater would be without a ghost), a mystery (because, of course, theaters are all about the mystery of creating magic in front of a live audience), and has a series of mini-dramas playing out among the characters (pun may or may not be intended).

I hope to have the first draft done by the end of the month and begin the refining part in December, maybe get a beta reader or two to take it on for a couple of pass-throughs before handing it off to an editor.

I’ve been writing this book in long-hand, which I haven’t done in a really long time.

I’m enjoying the process and the satisfaction of transcribing it onto Word (and crossing out the sections done with a highlighter pen is the chef’s kiss).

The fun part is that the chapter breaks seem to happen organically, which is great – the hardest part for me has always been finding those breaks without interrupting the flow of the story.

Some projects are like that. Enjoy them as they come.

So, How to Bury the Undead….

……..won Third Place in the category of Fantasy: Paranormal/Urban in The Book Fest competition.

I am so thrilled for my book – it went through a lot of changes, both in terms of supernatural focus and character backstory, but ultimately became a story that, from all accounts, no one can put down.

Third Place – How to Bury the Undead

As I type this post, I am currently working on its sequel and exploring more of the world that was created within the pages of How to Bury the Undead. There’s a mystery within the mystery, told in reverse, and where it goes from there, only the characters know.

Thank you to everyone who has bought, read, and reviewed my book in such glowing terms!

So, I’m Adapting My Screenplay….

…..into a novel, an exercise I’d been considering for awhile now.

This particular screenplay is something I wrote many years ago, more as a response to the Women as Victim trope that was prevalent in film (and TV) than with any real hope of getting it produced. It’s a very dark piece, probably the darkest bit of writing I’d ever done before or since, but it was a very satisfying story to write, not the least of which was turning the tables on the afore mentioned trope.

The fact that this particular trope has yet to be retired suggests that this screenplay (soon to be turned into a novel) is still relevant.

For the most part, not a lot will change within the narrative as I shift the story from one medium to another. At least two of the characters are going to go through major revisions, but this is due to the fact that they were not clearly defined in the screenplay. One character didn’t have a direct connection to the story arc in the script, but in the novel, I can correct that.

Because this is a thriller with elements of police procedural, there will be some major research to undertake. I’ll also be delving into Greek mythology, Shakespeare, and music to underscore some of the themes I’m planning to incorporate into the story. True crime writers will also be a source of information and inspiration.

I’m looking forward to seeing where this project goes.

So, while working on my novel…..

…..(henceforth referred to as Novel Now Finished), I had a fairly diverse cast of characters. I knew their histories, what the relationships were, what they did for a living, and their favorite flavor of ice cream. The names I researched and chose for them reflected aspects of their personalities – a lot of the time, it was right on the nose. Sometimes it wasn’t and I’d have to come up with a new one, with the help of friends.

In Novel Now Finished, one character had a tendency to change his name almost every time I revised a draft of the story. He was quite annoying about it, too – lucky for him, he’s also a very charming and forthright fellow, a practitioner of law and magic, and quite handsome to boot. So, right up until the eighth revision, I kept him in the story, enjoying his easy repartee with the narrator. However, because I was having difficulty finding a way to introduce and establish his character early on, my editor suggested that he be removed and his scenes saved for the sequel.

This was not an easy decision to make – I didn’t want to lose him and I fought hard to find a way to keep him in Novel Now Finished. I tried to at least plant seeds of his presence early on through dialogue by way of other characters, but could not actually place him physically (so to speak) in an early scene where he and the narrator could meet and interact.

Did I mention that he was also the romantic interest?

Anyway, I ultimately excised him out of Novel Now Finished and saved his scenes to a separate Word document.

What happened next was unexpected – the story died.

I mean, it was still a good story, I still enjoyed the characters, but…….it had lost any sort of energy to draw me in. And because I no longer cared or had any enthusiasm, Novel Now Finished became a chore to re-write scenes, even to open up the document. Even my editor felt that it had gone as far as it could go, that maybe I should focus on another project. My gut said otherwise – I could not let this story go, I knew it would be life-changing, I knew it was important to me, somehow, and not just because it was something I wrote and had worked hard on for three years.

So I sat on the manuscript for six months, with no desire to write another word ever again. Then, when month seven was half-done, I reached out to another editor, to ask her to take a look at it and see what her thoughts were. She agreed and was able to not only give it a thorough read, but to provide notes, as well. One of her first notes was to find a way to make a more solid connection between the prologue and the rest of the story.

I chewed on that for a bit, then added a business card in the opening scene for the narrator to find, which would then confirm and encourage her next move. The business card, I decided, had to belong to someone related to the narrator’s quest. Someone who might be connected to her larger problem, but can also keep secrets, have particular knowledge that the narrator needed, and be part of a profession that has a somewhat dubious track record of being trustworthy, despite the need for trust. Someone who might not be what he seems to be, given where his business card ended up.

Naturally, the Charming Character, who practiced law and magic, was the most obvious choice to belong to that business card. It would allow me to introduce him early on, provide some ambiguity to him until proven otherwise, and it would give the narrator some conflict. And as soon as he opened the door to Chapter One, arguing with his law partner, and almost walking into the narrator, the novel came back to life. The synergy between Charming Character and the Narrator fell seamlessly back into place, but it was new and fresh and made their later interactions easier to accept and believe.

So. What’s the take-away here?

Trust your gut.

So, deleted scenes from Novel Now Finished…..

…….are being reassigned to the sequel of my first novel, Secrets & Howls.

In a way, it makes sense.

Both novels/series take place in the same geographical area (Northern California) and in the same fictional county in which I placed them. Both series are also supernaturally themed, with werewolves, vampires and witches being fully integrated with the non-magical world by hiding out in plain sight. [1] Given that some of my favorite TV shows, movies, and books deal with variations on that subject, it’s not surprising to me that I’ve chosen to do the same. And by exploring themes of self-empowerment, self-reflection, and facing down that which haunts us, the supernatural world seemed like an obvious back-drop to reflect back the internal struggles faced by the characters.

Although Novel Now Finished is set in the present day and Secrets & Howls and its sequels take place in the summer of 1978, the deleted scenes in question are set further back in time, by at least one hundred years. Not only that, they deal almost exclusively with the characters of Secrets & Howls. So, even though it was interesting and a lot of fun to come at that particular story/world from a different perspective, it didn’t serve Novel Now Finished. But it does serve Secrets & Howls and the sequels that follow.

What framed those deleted scenes were characters and settings from Secrets & Howls, and which I also excised from Novel Now Finished. This helped me to finally see who survived that fateful summer of 1978 and who didn’t, thus giving me a way back into that story.

So, while I develop the sequel to Novel Now Finished, I can finally map out what happens in the sequel to Secrets & Howls.

And believe me, I’ve had a lot of questions about that.

[1] There are also a plethora of ghosts to contend with.

So, 2021 will be the tenth anniversary….

……..of my novel, Secrets & Howls, being published. In anticipation of this, I’m revising it and remembering how I really loved working on it. The story opened pretty much as it does now, with a character moving into the sleepy village of Wolf’s Head Bay. As it happened, two very different plot lines featured characters moving into town (Elizabeth Phillips and her son and Marita Brye, the main character), but originally, it wasn’t the Marita we followed in the opening pages, but Elizabeth. I realized early on that the opening could stay, but only if it was Marita.

This meant merging the similar plots to reflect Marita as the primary focus; Elizabeth became a local resident and secretary in the local police department. I also had to integrate a series of letters from 1852 to end each calendar day in the book (which takes place over the course of a week). Then, to keep things interesting, I pretty much threw everything into the story. Except the kitchen sink – that would have been too much.

In the last few years, however, I’ve grown as a writer, thanks in large part to my editors. There are still four more books to write in this series and I’ve got the second one mapped out, with room for making detours along the way. Now, with my most recent novel complete and ready for submission, I’ve decided to go back to Wolf’s Head Bay and see what needs to be done.

It’s still a solid story, but I’m enjoying the revision

So, back in February, before the whole quarantine happened…….

……I went to the movies, hoping a little cinematic entertainment would be just the ticket to stop over-thinking (it usually does the trick).

While standing in line, I engaged in conversation with the two couples standing in line ahead of me. The four of them were going to see The Invisible Man, starring Elizabeth Moss of A Handmaid’s Tale (the film is a great twist on the HG Wells classic novel).  I was planning to indulge my inner nerd and see Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (it was a fun romp – Margot Robbie kicks ass, as do her fantabulous cast-mates).

As we talked, I noted on the marquee that Parasite (2019) was also playing, but at a much later time than was convenient for me.  An older couple behind me went into a tirade about how awful it was, that it should have just gotten best Foreign Film, that they didn’t get understand any of it and that – get this – it had SUBTITLES.

“It’s from South Korea,” I said, thinking I had just stepped into some kind of Twilight Zone alter-verse.  I mean, what were they expecting from a foreign film?  Badly dubbed English?  They waved aside the nationality of the film and continued to snark.

And all I could think was, “Wow, what a missed opportunity.  They had gone to see a film set in a culture and country that operates on a completely different system of beliefs, ideas and views than ours.  And all they got out of it was that they had to READ.  It offended them on some level that they were expected to engage their minds, instead of being fed mindless entertainment that is pre-designed to push specific emotional buttons.”

I turned away mid-snark, unwilling to even point out that foreign films are a way to experience that which is unfamiliar to us, much like fiction allows us to inhabit the lives of those who are different from us.

The arts are supposed to push our minds out of the comfort zone and see the bigger picture that lies before us, either by speculating about how technology (medicine, mechanical) may come to pass or by reflecting what is, as Parasite (2019) did – class conflict, social inequality and wealth disparity.

Mary Shelley (essentially the mother of modern science fiction), HG Welles and Jules Verne took what they saw before them and speculated on what might be.  Director Bong Joon-ho (who co-wrote the script with Han Jin-wan) took what he saw before him and reflected it back to his country specifically and to the world at large.

English is not the only spoken language in America (the oldest languages spoken here belong to the First Nations, if they survive at all, thanks to white colonialism), nor is it the only language spoken in the world.  In other countries, one is expected to not only be fluent in their native tongue, but to also have at least a solid grasp of more than one non-native language (English being one of them).

It would behoove the American people to get their collective heads out of the bubble they seem to believe we live in and realize we are not an isolated nation (though that seems to fast becoming a reality).   Learning another language is not only good for the brain, but it shows interest in something utterly foreign to us – the language is not separate from the country it originates from.  By learning another language, we open the door to a world we would not normally see – from music and literature, to art and cinema, adding a language that is new to you will only enrich your life as it is.

Unfortunately, few see it as what it really is  – a ticket to parts unknown and a gift.

So, I stumbled across an old screenplay……

……that I wrote twenty years ago, while searching for old magazines for an art project.  Only the first few pages had been typed, the rest were in long-hand.  So I put everything aside and read the old script, curious at what my younger self had produced.  It’s a romantic comedy involving a video store, a matchmaker with a mysterious background, a search for the film To Have and Have Not and the ghost of Humphrey Bogart.  It was with some surprise that I realized the story held up really well. 

A page from the old script.

It’s not a perfect screenplay, by any stretch of the imagination, but it had genuine feeling and heart and that’s where art begins to fly.  And so I put it on my desk, with thoughts of going back into it and revise it into something…..new and exciting.

At the same time, I’ve been contemplating revising my Saucy Speakeasy story and setting it in modern times.  As much as I loved the appeal of the Roaring Twenties, the music and the threat of danger lurking when dealing with illegal hooch, Saucy Speakeasy just was not working out the way I’d hoped.  I had written some brilliant moments and one incredibly intimate and sexy scene that I still blush thinking about. [1]

An old concept photo for the Saucy Speakeasy Story.

Then it dawned on me – I could merge both stories into one, creating an external conflict that was missing in both stories; fill in the blanks within the screenplay; bring a level of humor that was lacking in the speakeasy story; and flesh out the characters of both.  Instead of a video store, there’s an antique bookshop located in the building above the speakeasy.  There’s a meet-cute, a clueless bookshop clerk and, yes, a somewhat supernatural element. 

Taking two stories and merging them into one is not a new idea to me – I had taken elements of a short story to add to Novel Now Finished.  It ultimately created an unrealized subplot and opened up a lot of possibility to the Main Character’s backstory.  

What I hope to achieve with the screenplay and the speakeasy story is similar – other than the time period, both are about two people who are each other’s equals and find a true partner in love and in life.  And because it is fiction (as well as a romance), there will be the mandatory conflicts, mayhem and misunderstandings.  

The matchmaker may or may not become a part of the story – so far, she has kept that decision close to her vest. 

 

[1] I still can’t believe that I wrote it.

Image by Bitmoji

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So, I got hooked* on Once Upon A Time……

……..a fantasy TV show that aired on ABC and involving characters in both their fairy-tale context (with a twist) and in our modern world.  The most common reaction I get when I mention the show has been, “Yes, I loved it, but it got really weird”, with no clarification on how it got weird or why.  But this is a show involving fairy tales and magic, so weird kind of left the station with the very first episode.

One of the things that utterly charmed me from the start about the show was how the writers took one event and approached it from multiple view-points.  An example of this would be the ‘hold-up’ of Prince Charming’s carriage by the bandit, Snow White.  As a reader/viewer and even in real life, it’s easy to forget that everyone involved in an incident (from chance meeting to purse snatching) will have a completely different experience and interpretation of events.

As a writer, I loved the attention to detail in these moments and how they were woven together.  It takes well-thought out planning in advance – no flying by the seat of one’s pants, here – so I suspect that the creators of Once Upon A Time had their vision mapped out over at least three seasons before pitching it to ABC (and the parent company, Disney, who owns the rights to many of the characters that appear in the show).

I missed the original run when it aired on ABC, and my memories of it were articles about story lines and plot points.  There was some minor controversy over season 7 (something to do with Cinderella, if I remember it right), but coming to the show as I did, none of it seemed all that important.

Just a tempest in a pot of tea, from my point of view.

The show is fun, it’s campy, romantic, full of adventure, thoughtful contemplation on good, evil and the possibility of redemption and twists on established characters.  The conceit of fairy tale characters living in our world is delightful and it’s perfect viewing when things feel dark and heavy in our world.

Definitely on my list of shows to re-watch.

Maybe I can savor the show an episode at a time.

‘Maybe’ being the key word, here.

*Pun fully intended.

 

Like what you’ve read?

Want to leave a donation?

Trot on over to Venmo.

Search for @JJB-Wordslinger1.

Post an amount ($1 or more).

Every bit helps to keep this writer going!

Thank you.

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