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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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creativity

So, the final curtain looms…..

……as my show enters its last weekend. The last few weeks have gone by in a blur and it seems inconceivable that there are only three performances left. Each performance led to something new in my character, a discovery of her humanity and motives. Although it’s not written in the script, I felt an underlying sense of guilt and fear that drove her to her final destination. There were specific lines that alluded to her distress, but the nature of her personality drove others away from her, a self-defensive measure on her part.

This show, The Mousetrap as written by Dame Agatha Christie (adapted from her short story Three Blind Mice, which in itself is adapted from the radio play written in honor of Queen Mary’s 80th birthday), premiered in London in 1952. It has continued to play in front of audiences, celebrating its 64th anniversary this year in the same theater.

It has been a privilege and a joy to work with my fellow cast mates, who have provided a lot of support and laughter in the last few weeks. I am grateful to my director, for casting me in this part, for reasons I mention in a previous post. I had the best stage manager and costumer and producer to help shape, guide and fashion us into a wonderful presentation.

For their privacy, I will not identify them or post their pictures – I feel I need to ask their permission.

But I will leave you with a photograph of our set, where we played out our parts and made our discoveries and connections, both within the context of the play as our characters and outside the play, as actors, as friends, as comrades in arms.

The set of Monkswell Manor, from The Mousetrap, by Dame Agatha Christie.
The set of Monkswell Manor, from The Mousetrap, by Dame Agatha Christie.

So, Julia Child once said…….

……..in reference to making an omelet, “When you flip anything, you really….you just have to have the courage of your convictions.”
While she was talking in terms of cooking, her words can apply to any part of your life, professionally, personally, and artistically. Opening yourself up to being creative is just as hard and terrifying as it is to open up to another person, which is why you need that courage of your convictions to take that leap of faith.
So, what now? How do you start? Well, what makes you smile? What makes your heart feel light and your feet want to dance? Is it poetry or sketching? Is it music or pottery? Trust your instinct enough to follow it. This is your time, your gift to yourself. Take a pen and a pad of paper, write down the first creative thing you enjoy that comes to mind. Then the next and the next. Make a list of creative, artistic things. Then go forth and create, whether it’s baking a cake or writing four lines of poetry.
Be prepared to do badly at first, but if you find your smile in the act, then keep pursuing it, whether it’s singing in the shower or strumming two chords on a guitar. If one doesn’t work for you, give yourself permission to try something else on your list.
Julia Child went to college with the intention of becoming a writer, but although she enjoyed the process, none of her writings were ever published. She developed a passion for French cuisine after moving to France and it was this that began her journey into French cooking, which resulted in the cookbook masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, co-written with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.
This was not an overnight success story – first, she discovered a passion, then, with trial and error and persistence, she pursued the process and then she found success.
That’s a fairly simplistic analysis, but it has its own truth. Julia Child pursued French cooking because it made her happy. That’s the important take-away. To find the spark that makes you happy means listening to that inner voice, the one that whispers with excitement, “I want to do that”.
There is no right or wrong way to the process – everyone has their own method for their artistic self. Remember that this is your gift for you alone. What you choose to do with it is up to you. And, to continue this cooking theme, remember that in order to make an omelet, you need to break a few eggs.

 

Editor’s note – this post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal – Ventura County. JJB

So, awhile back, I was talking to a friend about life……

……..the universe and everything. She mentioned the need to vent, but not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings in the process. I suggested a journal, but she felt it was too personal and could be easily read by unwanted eyes. Privacy was important. This led to a discussion of writing things down to purge them from the mind and heart, then tossing them into a fire place or barbecue pit and lighting a match, to maintain privacy.

The other idea I had was to take all those feelings and thoughts and create art with it, so that the only one who knows what it truly means is the creator. To anyone else, it would be art and what they got out of it would be what they brought to it (personal feelings, experiences, etc.).

My friend demurred, saying she was not creative like that. I encouraged her to think about it, because it would be only for her, not for anyone else, and that not even the great artists of all times started out brilliant.

But it got me thinking, about being creative, about needing to express feelings that are hurtful or loving, about being vulnerable to the process.

Because that’s what it takes, to be creative. It is a leap of faith, in opening yourself up to the blank page or the empty mixing bowl. And what if you’re not sure you are creative, but find a variety of things (like painting or ceramics or singing or knitting or writing or cooking) interesting? What if you find all of them interesting? What if you just don’t know where to start?

My suggestion? Try them all. Maybe not at the same time, of course, but try one type of creative art for one month. If it’s a chore or it just doesn’t sustain your interest early on, give yourself permission to stop and try something else. The point is to have fun expressing yourself in an artistic form.

Whether it’s mindless doodling, a few words in structured form or tiered cake, the point is, you’re creating. It’s for you alone. You don’t have to share it with anyone unless you want to. The point is that you create with your heart and translate it to canvas, clay or paper.

 

Edited: This article is published concurrently on Citizens Journal Ventura County. JJB

So, meeting the characters in my stories…….

………is a lot like meeting people in life. I get the first impressions of who they are by how they present themselves in their manner of dress, hair and grooming. As I get to know them better, I learn how they think, what their views are, their likes and dislikes, their sense of voice and style and personality.

Sometimes characters, like people, are hard to pin down until they actually show up. Some are mercurial. Some are as they seem to be and others are duplicitous. The last type usually ends up being the villain because, you know, villains require duplicity to achieve whatever goal they may have.

Case in point: My second book, ‘The Pike Horse’ (2012).
Because I don’t want to spoil the reveal for anyone who hasn’t yet read it, I won’t be identifying the character by name. In my book, one of the characters gains the trust of the narrator, Josie March, and proceeds to manipulate her reality before betraying her in an ugly and violent manner.
This particular character did not start out to be such a nasty piece of work. But the more I worked on the story, the more I became aware that he was not who he at first appeared to be. It was more an intuitive feeling that grew into a conscious realization.

In my Current Work In Progress, another character has gone through at least seven name changes. In addition to that, his nationality went from American to British, which altered his speech patterns. This, in turn, influenced his mannerisms and even his coloring went from blond to dark. All this occurred before he even showed up in the story. It came out of my notes as the story developed and I got to know the character’s motivations and his ethics from the point of view of other characters.

Having detailed biographies of your characters, right down to the time of birth, can be helpful. I often give my characters birth dates, which can have some influence on their perceptions of the world, but I don’t often put a lot of thought into it, unless absolutely necessary.

Case in point: My Current Work In Progress.
I specifically designed an historical timeline and a family tree for this story, to keep track of a particular family and which generation some members came from. A supernatural-themed story, I’ve worked out a system of magic that can be seen in my first novel, ‘Secrets & Howls’ (pub. 2011; re-issued 2013).
I chose to have certain characters born in a month under a particular Zodiac sign that belongs to a specific element, which reflected their dominant skill. I’m only starting to see where this thread is leading and I’m agog with curiosity to see how it all plays out.

I actually prefer this not-knowing of my characters. I enjoy the discovery of how to get them into or out of situations that arise in the course of the story. It’s a completely organic process, where a thought will chase a thought and lead me to discover the answer that I’d been unaware I was looking for. To keep the discovery going, I keep a journal and jot down any questions that arise. There are always questions.
As I write and re-write, the questions will either change focus or be answered. I’ve always used the five W’s and one H of journalism to formulate these questions (Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?), and they have served me very well.

Don’t be afraid to try any method in getting to know your characters, their wants and their goals. Borrow methods used by other authors and see if they work. Sometimes using another artistic method helps jog the writer’s block loose or opens a train of thought you hadn’t tried before. Don’t worry if one method doesn’t work for you. Find another and try that. Repeat as needed. Writing is a process and there is no one correct way to do it.

The only incorrect way to write is to not write.

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