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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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character

So, I’m working aspects of my Asperger’s into my novel……

…….because it is a huge part of who I am and how I perceive the world.  And since Novel Now Finished is about a woman who ‘sees’ the world differently and is told from her Point of View, it seemed like the ideal place to incorporate this part of my personality.

Some see a graveyard, where the dead sleep.
I see the past, waiting to be heard.

Is the Narrator herself on the spectrum?  No, I didn’t write her to be Asperger’s, or even autistic, both of which were the furthest thing from my mind when I originally conceived the character and her story.  However, like me, she sees things that others don’t – I can see patterns and energy within events and people and make connections.  The Narrator works in a cemetery and sees and interacts with ghosts (which I think is far more fascinating than patterns and energy, but that’s just me).

It was only lately, in the last year or so, that I decided to make Asperger’s an unofficial part of the Narrator’s personality.  To do this, I try to find similarities between my abilities and the Narrator’s and what aspect of my Asperger’s might fit within that scope.  So far it’s been an interesting experiment and one that I hope to utilize more effectively in revision.

Which brings us to the question – how do I see the world?

Differently than the norm, would be one way to put it.

As described in other blog posts, I have had difficulty in reading body language and social cues or I have a tendency to be a little too open.  The best analogy I’ve been able to come up with that others can understand is that it’s like having a paint pallet, but only half or even a quarter of the colors available.  Sometimes it’s like walking around in an unfamiliar room in the pitch dark, with no idea of how to navigate around items that may or may not be there.

Like the Narrator, I’m also empathic – I’ll know by people’s energy if I want to be around them (if it’s a bad vibe, it’s like getting a stomach ache).  I can ‘feel’ if someone’s lying to me, which is like getting sucker-punched; I can ‘feel’ other emotions that people try to mask with behaviors that contradict what I’m sensing, which is extremely confusing.  When that happens, I have to sit back and observe for context.  Often, however, I get overwhelmed by other people’s energy and I’ll end up spending days at home, just to recuperate and recharge.

Because of this, I tend to sit back and observe people and my surroundings.  The details I pick up without even trying would astound you.  I don’t think twice about it.

The most interesting challenge about incorporating my Asperger’s into the Narrator isn’t so much giving her those traits.  The challenge is being able to observe my Asperger’s in such a way that I can identify what will work and what won’t.  In other words, I have to be far more analytical than I already am.

On myself.

As the Great Dane Scooby Doo would say, “Ruh, roh!”

Recommended Reading:
The Autistic Brain – Temple Grandin
Thinking In Pictures – Temple Grandin

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So, in the fall of 2016…….

……while working on my first round of notes from my editor, I had the conscious thought that Novel Now Finished would be a life changer.  At the time, I thought it would center around picking up a book contract from a publisher (and it may well do).

Working on edits.

However, as I’m working on incorporating changes based on my editor’s note, I’ve been slowly coming around to the idea that there is a deeper meaning to my original thought.

One of my editor’s most constant notes to me is about giving my Narrator more agency in her own story.  To have her make smarter choices and decisions, to have a more active role in the events that surround her.  To not rely on someone else to get her out of a situation or give up her identity in the process.  In essence, I was being asked to give her the opportunity to own her life and see what happens.

Whether it’s moving home (Secrets & Howls), dealing with trauma (The Pike Horse) or even being open to true love (Much Ado Over Murder), I’ve noticed that I’m often working on stories that reflect what has happened or is currently occurring in my own life.  I often won’t recognize these elements until much later, but I’m not surprised that Novel Now Finished is following this trend.

I’ve described Novel Now Finished as being about a woman who comes out of the shadows and not only reclaims her power, but embraces it.

Guess what’s going on in my own life, right this minute?

So, I binged the first six episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)…..

…….and let me first just say one thing.

Holy Douglas fir trees, Agent Cooper!

There are so many details to marvel at, that I’m not even going to attempt to put them into words.  I will, however, wax rhapsodic over how the story evolved over these six episodes, going from disconnected, strange pieces to what appears to finally settle into some kind of pattern that I’m not entirely too sure of, yet.

There won’t be any spoilers in this post, mainly because instead of focusing on the show itself, I’d have been writing down what happened as it happened.  That’s not conducive to enjoying the show.  I expect that, when I have this season on Blu-Ray or DVD, I’ll be going over it again and again and again, to catch every little detail.  Because that’s what the Pause and Search buttons on the remote are for.

“I’ll see you again in 25 years.”

So said Laura Palmer Dale Cooper towards the end of Episode 29 of the original series (22, if you’re going by season).  It was worth the wait and I’m glad I was able to watch multiple episodes of Season Three.  It would have been nerve-wracking waiting for it each week, trying to keep up with the details and the symbolism and what it all means.

Laura Palmer still seems to be the main thread that runs through the entire story of Twin Peaks and Dale Cooper is still trying to unravel it – or reweave it into a new pattern.

In any case, I have to wait on seeing the next few episodes.  As nerve-wracking as that may be, I’m glad – being able to binge-watch several episodes actually helps keep the continuity flowing and I went from seeing multiple, seemingly unrelated episodes scatter different pieces around to watching as they started to coalesce into something concrete.

What that is, I’m not entirely certain.  But I’m looking forward to finding out.

What I call Gordon Cole’s The Blue Rose Missing Pieces Edition.
Because I can.

So, my Novel in Progress is coming along……

…….and I’m starting to feel energized by writing again.

One of the notes I was given was to not summarize parts of my story – that if it was going to be mentioned, it deserved a scene of its own, in the present, as an action. So, I broke a chapter in half and created not just two, but three, chapters out of one. This includes the active version of what was a summarized scene.

The new scene, the one that breaks the former single chapter in half, takes place in 1924. An incident occurs in that year that is continually referred to throughout the story. It’s a pivotal moment in the story, as it affects several lives over the course of several decades leading up to the present. It may also be key to how the Narrator resolves the story and put an end to the danger that began even before 1924.

So it made sense to bring this moment out into the open.

And now I’m getting ideas on how to add some necessary details of the Narrator’s past into the main frame of the story.

And I’m beginning to feel excited by my work again.

0603151702-2

So, I’ve been working on my Novel in Progress…..

…….going over notes from my editor covering the first eight chapters. After six hours of taking out, adding to, and much re-arranging of words, I’m now five pages away from finishing the original notes. Then, I’ll go on to the edits covering Chapters 9 through 16. There’s also a pass-through of the first eight chapters, mostly a tweak here, a question there, and I’ll get to those at some point.

As soon as I’m done working on Chapters 9 through 16, however, I’m going back into the thick of it and write on. There are some elements that I want to add in for some of the secondary characters and a new skill for the Narrator. Bits that need to be established early on in the story also have to be done (continuity is the thing, here), as well as adding detail to the world I’ve created.

Maybe now I can figure out how it ends.

IMG_20160227_115204-2-2-2

So, I’ve been revising my Ancient Greek Comedy….

…..and I got stuck because of Zeus. Why, you ask, would the primary god in Greek mythology be such a problem that you got stuck when writing about him?

Good question.

By rights, he should be a fun character to give life to on the page. He’s larger than life (because he’s a god, naturally), bombastic, can shape-shift into any creature or element he wishes, has the power to control the world and his fellow gods and goddesses.

Zeus should have been a piece of cake to write about.

But he wasn’t.

He started out as a Burl Ives caricature, then I took him out and made him a light/sound effect so that I could reduce the number of characters I had on-stage. Then I added him back on-stage, as a physical character, but with light and sound as his voice. A director read the work and came back with several notes, including one that gave Zeus his voice back.

‘Great,’ I thought, ‘This should be easy.’

It wasn’t.

I had gone through the first twenty pages, revising dialogue and cutting out unnecessary words (and this is how I know I’m a novelist at heart – I’m very wordy). I re-structured character motive and added new directions. All was going well, it was clicking along at a nice pace and I was enjoying the characters and their interactions.

Then I came to Zeus, his first entrance and everything came to a screeching halt.

I typed in his name, hit the Enter key to start his first line and………nothing.

Zip. Nada. Silence.

I put it aside, as I always do when I encounter difficulty. I still kept notes, writing down ideas that could be incorporated into the script. I even began to design a soundtrack, to help with the creative flow. Also, there’s a Greek Chorus and the Greeks were all about music, so it made sense to let that side develop.

But I was still stuck and Zeus, uncharacteristically, was stubbornly silent.

An article I’d read recently about character development had been ruminating in my thoughts – I don’t recall the title of the article or where I’d found it, but I will edit this post to add it should I be lucky enough to find it.

In any case, the article asked a lot of good questions and what I remember is this – what is your character’s over-riding arc? What is their question that needs answering? What is their need?

I began to ask this of my play’s characters and some interesting things began to come up, things that had been below the surface.

And then recent events and Zeus’s own well-documented behavior in his own myths began to shed some light on the subject. Now I know his questions, his arc and his need.

The darkness always comes before the light.

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

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.

So, I’m feeling a bit kerfluffled…….

….about my Current Work In Progress. Although approximately two-thirds written, I’m at a point where the story is starting to balk and refuse to move forward. The characters are trapped on the staircase in a forgotten and abandoned house, someone is at the front door, and the only way out is back the way they came – upstairs.

I know what’s going to happen after this bit, who it involves and the eventual wrap-up that is the final page, but I’m not sure of how I’m going to get there. Or what connects the current bulk of the manuscript to the final pages.

I also don’t want to write it.

Which is probably why the story has balked at this particular point and why I’m feeling kerfluffled. I don’t know why I don’t want to write this next section of the story, but I can feel it every time I sit down to work.

I’m avoiding it, I want to avoid it. Badly. But, like the characters in the story, I’m trapped. The only way out is not through an upstairs window, but moving forward and trusting the words that come out of my pen to show me the way.

Besides, it’s not like anything terrible is going to happen beyond betrayal, self-discovery and falling in love.

So, by observing my surroundings…….

……my intent is to process the mood, emotions and other chaotic elements of what I see into the story, the characters and their surroundings. This is helpful in two ways – one, I have details that I can attribute to one or more characters and enrich the story and two, I can see an inevitable end to the course that’s been set by chance (or a few choice words on paper).

Of course, as the writer, you might think I have ultimate control over how things pan out with the characters, but I don’t. They’re just as taciturn and ornery as the people I meet in a bookstore or a bar or, well, anywhere. That I arrive at the ending I planned on is always a bonus, but getting there has always been a road trip on the back roads of America (or Europe or Africa, for that matter) without the use of a map. Adventurous? Yes. Recommended? That depends – some writers/authors use outlines, others don’t. Personal preference.

But I digress.

I write about the things I’ve experienced or observed to better process and understand them.  I’ve seen some head-scratching incidents and behaviors that had me in a state of perplexity. I’m only half-successful in that I can recreate those situations to a certain degree and have the outcome turn out in a way that makes sense to me, but wouldn’t necessarily occur in real life. At least, that’s been my experience.

And I suppose that’s the way of Life and the way of Fiction or Art of any kind – one that Is and the other is How I Perceive It.

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