Search

J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

Tag

Fiction

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

Advertisements

Isolate

She couldn’t draw in enough breath.

Panic was at the edge of her consciousness – what if she couldn’t get air into her lungs?  It felt as though they had been cut in half, that she had already maximized their capacity.  Then why was she so short of breath?

Voices became a blur of sound.  His voice, however, was distinct, sexualizing her body, targeting her breasts.  She wanted to cry.  Why couldn’t he stop?  Every protest she lodged at him was met with even crueler comments.  So she had given up.  He either did not hear her distress or, if he did, simply didn’t care.

The weight she had lost had crept back.  She lost interest in looking feminine.  Her baggy, over-sized t-shirts were now preferable to the blouses she had once found joy in.  Being invisible seemed safer, somehow.

But she wasn’t.  Because he still saw her as his target.

And the man next to him wasn’t stopping him.  The man next to him was looking at her with desire, not for herself, for her essential humanity, but as an outlet for his own needs.

Can no one see the terror in her?  Are they so used to the first man’s abusive nature that they see nothing wrong with it?

She didn’t know.  Worse, she didn’t know if she could trust them.

Previous installment: Target

Next installment: TBA

Target

She thought, Am I real?

The hard wood of the chair dug into her ass – it felt as if her bones could reach right through her muscle and skin. The bowl of curry – once steaming hot – had begun to cool, untouched, before her. So she supposed she had to be real, at least for this moment.

He was still talking, the words a dull drone of sound, familiar and repugnant.  Was this really her friend?  She had asked him to stop so many times.  But he didn’t.  Instead, each request had only seemed to spur him on.  She wanted to not be sitting across from him.  Wanted to be home, wanted to be safe.  Feeling trapped.  Unsafe, not seen, not heard.

Targeted.

She pulled herself back into the present, willing her gaze to fall anywhere but on the men at her table.

“…..oops, she heard me,” he was saying to the man next to him.

She could feel her face redden, the muscles tightening into a grimace she knew no one would see.  Could see.  Her lungs felt caught in a vise, the pressure a hard weight on her sternum.  She couldn’t breathe.

Can this just please be over? Should I stay? Should I leave? If I leave, they’ll mock me. If I don’t, this will not. Stop.

She had always felt safe here, before.  It was not her preferred choice of hang-out, but even home could be too much of a good thing.  One needed to get out, to experience life, to interact with new people.  To be in an environment that was not familiar.

She was beginning to regret that decision.  Being solitary only hurt when you wanted love.

Were these people her friends?  Couldn’t they see that something was wrong?  Or was she to blame for his words?

How could she be surrounded by people she knew and still feel so alone?  Would they take his word that he was joking?  Because of course he wasn’t.  She knew.  This knot in her stomach, the rock on her chest, her constant checking for escape routes told her otherwise.  She was his target, he had chosen her, and she didn’t understand why.

But this other feeling.  That one she did understand.

Isolated.

Next installment: Isolate

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

So, I grew up on the mystery genre……

…….and while it’s not the only genre I have a definite passion for, it’s one I tend to return to more than fantasy or science fiction or even horror.

As a reader, I cut my teeth on Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner and many more. Like many others before me, I got caught up in solving the puzzles put before me alongside the likes of Lord Peter Wimsey, Harriet Vane, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Perry Mason.

The requisite exclamations of “How did I not see that?” and variations thereof would often follow the reveal at the end of each case. So, of course I had to go back and re-read these books, to see what I had missed. This taught me, as I did this, to pay closer attention at how the set-up was constructed to get to that ‘surprise’ reveal.

My first fictional detective wasn’t introduced to me through his novels. The meet-cute was through a black and white movie on Channel Five, occasionally broken up by static. Basil Rathbone, in his deerstalker cap and Meerschaum pipe, brought to life Sherlock Holmes in a manner that few have matched since. Yes, Jeremy Brett, Robert Downey, Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch (to name a few) have brought their distinctive talents into recreating and interpreting this iconic detective from the 19th century and I enjoy their works immensely.

But it was Mr. Rathbone’s portrayal that led me to the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle before the age of ten. I didn’t just read them, I devoured them. The Hound of the Baskervilles was my first tale and I’ve re-read that book at least once a year. I met Irene Adler and Professor Moriarty, Mycroft, Mrs. Hudson and more through Doctor Watson’s descriptions of Holmes’ exploits.

Now, after years of reading about other fictional detectives (some with licenses, some who had left the police force, some who would always retain the status of amateur), I find that I have come full circle back to my first fictional detective. I’ve read maybe a handful of interpretations of Holmes by other authors and, while they handled the character with obvious care and love, it wasn’t the Holmes I knew. I craved Doctor Watson’s words about his intelligent, arrogant, exasperating friend as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

This isn’t to say that I haven’t written my own adventures involving Sherlock Holmes. I have done so, many years ago, but they aren’t meant for anyone’s eyes other than my own. As I re-read his exploits or re-watch the many film adaptations of Holmes and Watson, I find myself feeling challenged (as a writer, as a reader, as an intelligent, reasoning being) to be more observant, to work things out through deduction and logic.

And then I go and do my best to practice it.

sherlock

So, I’m thinking about pirates…….

…….of the argh! and avast, me mateys! type that roamed the high seas on tall ships. I’m not exactly sure why, because historically speaking, they were not people to trifle with and often left a great swathe of blood behind. Perhaps it’s that sense of adventure that seems to accompany them, the call of the open sea, the wind ruffling through one’s hair as the sun beats down. Human survival against Nature’s unforgiving trials.

Whatever the case, I’m thinking about pirates. Both men and women chose to pursue that life going back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Rather than focus on Hollywood’s sensationalized ideal of pirates, I’m thinking of several factors never fully explored. What drove them to piracy, to eschew convention and respectable society to embark on voyages that did not guarantee safety or security?

Whether it was Anne Bonny or Blackbeard or Ching Shih, they were not born pirates. Was it circumstance and personality that led them to their profession? Money, or lack thereof, that tore them away from their families? Was it survival or a choice freely made? Resentment of not being able to find their true calling due to rigid caste and/or societal rules?

I don’t suppose there’s any one solid answer for the pirates of the past, or those of contemporary times. I suspect that it may be a combination of many things that drive them to it.

Still, I’m thinking about pirates, the ones of yore, the type modeled from and idealized by the Hollywood Dream Factory. Their tall ships fascinate me. I wonder what they thought or dreamed about in the quiet moments on the ocean. Whether they had any regrets about or spared not a thought at all for those whose lives they altered forever.

I’m thinking about pirates. I’m thinking about two very different stories that have not seen the light of day in many years. I’m thinking about how pirates are actually incredibly symbolic metaphors for change, natural, man-made and maybe even supernatural.

I’m thinking about pirates.

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.

So, I’m re-writing my Ancient Greek comedy……

……and I kept coming back to a quote regarding writing and editing. It was made by Arthur Quiller-Couch in his 1914 Cambridge lecture “On Style” and it has been widely popularized by the likes of William Faulkner, Alan Ginsberg and Stephen King, to name a few – “Murder your darlings”.

In other words, be as verbose as you want in your writing, but cut the unnecessary fluff when going back to editing, revision, and re-writes.

As I began working on revising and re-writing my play, I noticed that some of the dialogue as it stood was far better suited to the narrative form, rather than script-form. ‘Wordy’ would be a better description, actually, and I was able to cut down on the number of words while keeping the integrity of the line intact.

In some cases, this was fairly easy. In others, not so much.

I’m eleven pages into this re-write of the original script, which topped out at fifty-plus pages. I’m also re-formatting it, to script guidelines, so the structure is also different. There are the requisite stop-starts as I come to scenes that require a bit more creative thinking before weaving the new changes into what’s already there.

An example of this is giving one character his voice back. As written originally, his dialogue was sound and light cues, so I’ve paused there to really look at another character’s reactions to him. I have to ask myself what was said to make the second character react in outrage or frustration and the more specific I am, the funnier the scene will be. Changes will occur, as it always does, but it’s an interesting process to see what chaos might ensue.

(Then again, considering that this play is about the gods and goddesses of ancient mythologies, chaos might be an understatement.)

So, when writing your tales of wonder, be as wordy, as verbose, as flowery as you like. Just remember that, when editing and revising, wordy is not always better, so trim the fat, weed out the excess.

Murder your darlings.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑