Search

J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

Tag

Books

So, I was reading my favorite Shirley Jackson novel…..

…….the terrifying, subversive ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House, while waiting for a friend at my local wine bar. I was finishing up my dinner and was completely engrossed with Jackson’s prose.

“Hello!” came a voice at my elbow and I jumped with a yell, that immediately turned to giggles from both of us. I love scary stories, but don’t often get spooked by them.

This startled reaction was a first for me, as any and all who know me know that I am a lover of horror and supernatural fiction and non-fiction. It also reminded me of how Robert Wise had a similar action while reading the book.

In the audio commentary of the The Haunting (1963), Wise recounts how he was reading the book in his office. He had just gotten to a particularly tense scene when writer Nelson Gidding (who was working in the office next door) burst into the room. Robert Wise “jumped about three feet off the chair” (1) and realized that if the book could inspire such a reaction, then it should make a fine picture.

True horror doesn’t come from gross out imagery that is shoved into our faces – granted, it makes for a squeamish, shocking effect, but it’s also desensitizing. Horror comes from fear of the unknown, that which hides in the shadows and cannot be fully seen. What we can’t see is far more frightening than what is seen.

Shirley Jackson knew this – in reading The Haunting of Hill House, one is never entirely sure if the house is actually haunted or if it is Eleanor who is the haunting. This ambiguity is what lingers in our minds, why we can’t let go of it and why it haunts us. It’s also why some stories, like Jackson’s novel, take on a life of their own and become part of our language.

IMG_20160227_115204-2-2-2

(1) quote from the audio commentary by Robert Wise

Recommended Reading:

The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
A Head Full of Ghosts – Peter Tremblay
‘Salem’s Lot – Stephen King
Hell House – Richard Matheson
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay

And now, a word from Raymond Chandler…….

“An age which is incapable of poetry is incapable of any kind of literature except the cleverness of a decadence.”

Raymond Chandler, author
July 23, 1888 – March 26, 1959

Excerpt: Untitled Fantasy Novel

My brother Angus was the better swordsman, but my arrow always held true and found its mark, even in the strongest wind. Father had always maintained that my eye, my sure hand with a bow, could easily bring down a charging bull. Angus would roll his eyes at such praise leveled at his younger sister, but it was just as precious to me as the charm Mum made us wear under our tunics….

And there it was, the reference of a charm worn by Amidelanne, the first woman archer to have ever made captain in the King’s Army of Talisierre.
I marked the page with a broken quill, shut the heavy tome with care and sat back in my chair with a sigh. It had taken me more than two months of painstaking research through the collected histories of Talisierre. The histories were a set of twenty volumes, each book more than two thousand pages of recorded events, written in a cramped hand.
I had finally found what I was looking for, that brief mention, in volume nineteen.
Leaning forward, I ignored the sudden aching protests of my muscles and snatched up my quill. Dipping it in ink, I reached for a fresh page of parchment. I made quick notes about what I’d found, the quill making soft, scratching noises as I wrote. The sound was soothing and I was soon lost in it.
A half hour passed before I finish, my hand aching. Folding the page into thirds, I tucked the slip into my knapsack. Scowling at volume nineteen of The Histories of Talisierre, I stood and, hefting the massive tome with both hands, walked back to the stacks. I replaced it with care back among its siblings, my fingers caressing the worn bindings of each volume, my thoughts drifting.
It wasn’t much, that reference, I thought. It seemed to be more of a throwaway comment. The charm had no other importance attached to it, in the eyes of the historians. Other than it was a gift from her mother, there was not even a description of it in Amidelanne’s own words.
And yet, legends had risen about this charm, this bit of magic worn around a young girl’s neck. A girl who became an archer in the King’s Army, then rose to the rank of captain. So it did have some meaning, both to the wearer and to the person who began the stories that surrounded it.
I reclaimed my seat and leaned back, my eyes drifting closed as my thoughts swirled, trying to make sense of the knot I had before me. How had these legends of a charm not described come about? Did it still exist? What sort of magic did it claim? And who wanted it badly enough to commit murder?

That was what bothered me most in my research – that someone willfully committed violence over what some would dismiss as mere stories.

 

***
Edited: This was previously published January 2015 on Hubpages.com in two parts, here and here. JJB

So, I really love to read…….

…….which is kind of obvious to anyone who knows me. It’s also one of the most important tools for a writer to have. Fiction of any genre, non-fiction of any topic, it really doesn’t matter. If you are serious about writing, the authors you encounter on your sojourn as a teller of tales will teach you how to write well, how to shape a scene, create believable characters and three dimensional worlds.

You’ll also discover, by sheer happenstance, whether or not you can handle a series that develops over multiple books. As a reader, it requires a certain level of commitment to follow the author on a tale of adventure or mystery. It takes that first novel for a reader to be won over and want to read the next one and the one after that.

As a writer, it takes more than commitment. It takes discipline and focus to map out, if not every last detail, then a rough idea of where the overall story is going. If the tale is to be told over the course of more than one novel, it requires careful planning, timelines, and which character is to be the primary focus of which novel.

There are authors  out there whom I marvel over in terms of the breadth scope of their vision. The cast of thousands that rival any Cecil B. DeMille epic would surely give some modern filmmakers pause. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is one example; Andre Norton’s Witchworld series; Anne McCaffery’s Pern; Frank Herbert’s Dune, to name just a few.

I don’t fault any of these or other authors for following their dreams and characters into stories yet untold. For me as a reader, however, my capacity for reading a series has shrunk to five full novels. This is particularly true in a mystery series, I’ve recently discovered. I’m not exactly sure why my interest wanes after book 5, but it is not due to the quality of the story (which are always top-notch) or the characters themselves.

I suspect it’s either my attention span or I’ve gained knowledge on structure, character and world-building that I needed without realizing it. It happens like that with the people in your life, why not with books and the authors who write them?

So, the upshot here is that each of my series (including the titles that have been published) will be no longer than five novels. This is what I’ve decided works for me. At the moment, I’m developing Book Two in each of the current series you see in the cover photo. There are complications and rewards to the process. I’m also working on a novel that, while also a first in a series, is also indirectly related to Secrets & Howls. This has proven to be helpful in giving me insight into what happened after S&H.

As you practice your craft (and it is a practice, it’s a life-long one), you’ll find your own methods in writing. The books you read and the authors you follow will challenge you to do better.

I’ve said it somewhere on this blog and on my author page, but it’s always worth repeating – read. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Pulp, romance, mystery, history, science, fantasy – read it. If it’s poorly written, it showed you how not to construct a novel. If it’s well-written, it will challenge you to meet it at its level.

Writing is reading.

*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

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.

So, I updated my book covers…..

…..and they look pretty nice, if I do say so myself. Creating my own book covers is one of my favorites things to do and I have a lot of fun scouting locations for new images.

If I find myself gravitating to a particular spot, I’ll take several shots from different angles and positions. This gives me plenty of choices when making the final decision. I opt for black and white, rather than color, photographs because I want the images to pull the potential reader in.

As a voracious reader and book-lover, I sometimes find color to be too distracting to the eye – I don’t know where to look and then I lose interest. 🙂

trio

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑