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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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friendship

So, another favorite high school memory would be 3rd period art class…..

…..and it’s not just because I got to draw or paint for forty minutes, three days a week and for almost two hours one day a week.  [1]  And while I could just expound on that fact alone, there were far too many moments of sheer and utter delight that occurred in that class for me to consciously limit myself to just one.

There’s a reason for that.

It’s because I got to spend that time with three of the best friends a person could ask for.

We laughed and cracked jokes while we painted.  It was in this third period art class that I began writing a short story about a true life adventure, that really, actually, never happened (but should have).  That short story led to more wacky adventures and even a theme song (The Lion Sleeps Tonight), and with lyrics that were specific to us.  [2]   And during this class, there was an incident involving an oil painting left to dry that wound its way into one of those stories. [3]

Before I had even graduated high school, I had a general outline of what happened and how and who the supporting players were (because obviously, my friends and I were the leads).  Music from the Fifties played a huge part in determining mood and there was a sense of hilarity and whimsy throughout.  The stories covered our years from the seventh grade until senior year in high school, with side trips into summer school.

And that’s pretty much where I thought those stories ended.

So imagine my surprise when, fifteen years after graduation, I went through those stories and realized that they had more to tell as grown ups.  Having two different series involving the same characters at different points in their lives is an interesting experience.  Especially since I had laid the groundwork without realizing it in the earlier stories.  [4]

As I write this post, my thoughts are turning to those stories.  I wrote them because we had so much fun coming up with things to do that we never actually did (like stealing a mannequin from the local department store and chasing it all over town because we had put roller skates on it).  I continued writing them and working out the timelines, characters and incidents for the better part of my life, more so than any other writing project.

These stories are important to me in a way that my Novel Now Finished and my Ancient Greek Comedy are not.

When I write these stories, things have a strange way of coming true, if not in the actual how, then in the actual what.  On more than one occasion, I noticed that many similarities happened in the lives of the fictional us and the real us as we grew up.  An example would be that, five or six years after graduation, one of us ended up working in that very department store we’d plotted to steal the mannequin from.

Part of her job description?  Carry a mannequin from one store to the other for display purposes. [5]

These stories carry a certain weight and responsibility for me and they need to be written just right.  They were a gift from my friends and I want to do right by them – both the stories and my friends.  Thus was born The Hey! No Problem! Gang.

And it all happened in third period art class.

 

[1] Well, okay, that was pretty much in the top five of excellent reasons.

[2] With much apologies to the Tokens.

[3] It’s easier to tell in person, complete with re-enactments and dramatic music.

[4] I’m still trying to shape into a cohesive narrative.

[5] True story.

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And now a word from Charles Darwin…..

“A man’s friendships are one of the best measures of his worth.”

Charles Darwin
February 12, 1809 – April 19, 1882

So, you may recall that I have this horse……

…….named Best Bud Mare, and we discuss a lot of things. A couple of weeks ago, because I happened to be wearing a Dodgers ball cap, we got to talking about baseball, which happens to be one of my favorite non-equine related sports. I have a few favorite teams (Dodgers, Angels, Cubs), but I’m more interested in the game itself than who wins.

I tried explaining this sport to Best Bud Mare, who immediately loved the concept of running the bases and between the infield and the outfield. But she had a hard time understanding the need for a bat and why you had to hit a ball to run.

Best Bud Mare: I don’t get it. Why do you need to hit a ball with a stick?

Me: So that you can run the bases. And then the other team has to run to catch the ball.

Best Bud Mare: That makes no sense. If you want to run, you should run.

Me: Hey, I don’t make the rules. Talk to the umpire about that.

Best Bud Mare: Umpire? Do you mean to tell me that the game is run by blood-sucking umpires?

Me: Um, no, you’re thinking vampires.

Best Bud Mare: (panicked, not hearing) No wonder you need wooden sticks to play this game! So that you can stake the umpires!

Me: (shaking head, gives up trying to explain the difference between umpires and vampires)

It took awhile to calm Best Bud Mare down. Once she realized that umpires are NOT vampires and that bats are not used to stake them, she became quite interested.

Best Bud Mare: Why is it called baseball?

Me: I think it’s because when you hit the ball, you run to a base.

Best Bud Mare: Oh. (thinks) Can we play?

Me: We need two teams. And a field.

Best Bud Mare: Oh. (thinks some more) What’s a team?

I can see that this is going to be a little more detailed than I’d originally thought. So, I tried to explain baseball teams to Best Bud Mare.

Best Bud Mare: You mean there are teams of two and they pull wagons, like horses?

Me: Um, no. Wrong kind of team.

Best Bud Mare: Ah.

Me: So, anyway, there are different baseball teams and they have names like the Cubs, or the Dodgers or the White Sox or the Phillies….

Best Bud Mare: Ah-ha!!! So there are horses in baseball!

Me: Um, no. Wrong kind of filly.

She wouldn’t talk to me for the rest of the day after that.

So, I’ve noticed an interesting trend in my novels……..

……..and they seem to be reflecting major events that occurred in my life. I’m sure I’m not unique to this revelation and I’m also pretty sure that I won’t be the last writer to experience this strange bit of self-realization. Sometimes, I write things in my stories that later come true, but that’s another blog altogether. There’s a saying about life imitating art. This is about how life influences one’s art.

This is a fairly long post, so bear with me.

In my first novel, ‘Secrets & Howls: A Wolf’s Head Bay Mystery’, Marita ‘Marty’ Brye moves home after many years away. Not such a big deal, I know – everyone moves, either away from or back to the town/city they started out in. But moving, whether in fiction or in real life, is a catalyst for change. Big or small, slow or fast, change is always happening. In ‘Secrets & Howls’, change wasn’t just about trading one place for another, but about inner and physical change. Marty’s catalyst for moving home was to finally lay her mother’s ghost to rest, but she ends up uncovering secrets about her family and her town that dated back over a hundred years. I wasn’t making such profound discoveries in my own life, at least, not consciously, but like Marty, I also traded one city for another and in the process, was put on the path to find my inner strength.

Which brings me to ‘The Pike Horse: A Literary Cousins Mystery’. This one was a far more personal and a much darker story than I had originally intended it to be. I had wanted a fun cozy mystery, I got deeply unsettling. Like Marty Brye, Josie March had also moved home or, as she more accurately perceives it, she ran away from a toxic situation that ends up following her. What she doesn’t foresee is that the one is a precursor of sorts to another, far more dangerous encounter that tests her mind and spirit. So this novel is about something traumatic that happened and succeeding stories about Josie will follow her recovering from it and finding herself again, just as I and thousands who endured such trauma has before her. It was also a novel that became a way to purge and release, a catharsis, if you will.I’m sure there’s a saying of some sort, one that warns that monsters lurk under safe and familiar faces, but I can’t recall what it is.

And in ‘Much Ado Over Murder: A Hey! No Problem! Mystery’, there are old friends re-connecting and old loves finally opening up. As I was writing this novel, I kept encountering heart themes. I lost a heart charm and, in the process of developing portions of the novel and expanding on several plot threads, I kept seeing open heart surgery imagery. There were many other such blatant images popping up and I ultimately realized that I was writing a love letter of sorts – both for the characters, Alexandra ‘Al’ Hitchcock and Jack Taylor, as well as for the kind of relationship I want for myself. The original version of this story had Jack and Al part ways in a not so friendly manner. I was never entirely satisfied with this, because, while it read and wrote well, it didn’t suit the characters. It wasn’t true to who I knew them to be (and I should know, since I’d been writing about them for more than a decade). In the published version, they still part company, but on loving terms, with love confessed and hope for the future. I know what’s happening with them, but they’re not ready for the telling.

So, that brings me to my current Work In Progress. This one is a paranormal story about Cadence Galloway, a woman who can talk to ghosts. She’s a bit of a loner and a hermit by choice and generally keeps others at a distance, not trusting them more than necessary. Upon landing in a small coastal town (about thirty miles north of Wolf’s Head Bay, not so coincidentally), she is suddenly finding herself making new friends among the living and finds she has actual ties to the community she landed in. While the potential for romance is clearly indicated, I’m two-thirds of the way through and nothing’s happened. Which, to me, seems odd, because I usually know before page 100 if there’s going to be some Cupid activity going on. I’m not too unhappy about this, because I’ve realized something else far more important – this is where I am, in my life. Not needing the romance or the relationship, but fully aware that the potential is there. I’ve also been something of a hermit and now, instead of keeping people at a distance, I’m coming out of my shell and making new connections and interacting with Life. And instead of talking to ghosts, I’m exorcising them. It’s a lot harder than you’d think and it does cause some anxiety, especially if it’s brand-spanking new to you.

So, what’s the point of this particular blog? Well, each poem, story, novel, whatever that is written reveals a great deal about the author. What the particulars are is known to the author herself (or himself) and you may never know them. When I write, I throw everything and anything I can think of into my stories (so far, no kitchen sink has been thrown in, but a broken coffee maker has). Even Stephen King put himself into his own story (The Dark Tower series), incorporating the accident that nearly killed him to continue the tale of Roland and his ka-tet.

However, I can only speak for myself when I say that just about everything I write has some basis in my life. My stories reflect where I’ve been, what I’ve experienced and how I view life and the people I meet. More importantly, I feel, they’re also starting to reflect my progress – as a writer and as a person.

Art, no matter what the medium, allows us to explore our inner selves and, hopefully, we can also find ourselves there, too.

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