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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

Tag

growth

So, around this time nine years ago……

……I was preparing to move out of my tiny studio in Long Beach, CA back to my artsy and somewhat trying hometown. [1]  I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the prospect (I mean, really, who is when moving back to a town where everybody knows your name?), but I was willing to be open to it and to accept any opportunities that came my way.

Well, long story short, a lot of shit happened to derail that sense of optimism. [2]

For the last few months, I’ve felt out of place and out of sorts, that I no longer belonged in my hometown for whatever reason.  But while I have no real reason to stay here, I have no real reason to relocate to someplace else.  All other locations I’d considered over the last few years sound and look just as good as any other place.

None of them stand out as being The Place.

As I mentioned to a close friend just a month ago, since I’m already here, I may as well embrace it and do what I need to do, to make myself happy, like pursue my writing and develop new skills for both personal and professional reasons.  Eventually, the reason for me to go (or to stay) will reveal itself to me and I can move forward.

Until then, que sera sera.

It was only recently that I realized I had circled back to where I was, nine years ago.  It seems like a lifetime ago and so much has happened since then.  I am not the person I was nine years ago – I’m a little wiser, a little more cautious in who I let in, a little more reserved.  If a door is shut, I’m content to let it remain so.

I’m also more willing to be open to new experiences and new environments, something I would generally shun, being more of an introvert than a social butterfly.  However, I recognized that growth comes with discomfort, and so I found opportunities to stretch my boundaries, find what was acceptable and what was not.  In the meantime, I was able to find my voice and speak up when my boundaries were not respected.  This did not always go down well and I eventually found out what was true and what was not.

And this is a good thing.

🙂

[1] If you grew up in a small town and find yourself living there again, you’ll understand what I mean.

[2] It’s really boring, if you want to know.  At least, it is now.  Suffice to say, shit happened and I managed to wash it off successfully.

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So, it’s Henry the Gray’s tenth birthday today…..

……and in the eight years that I’ve known him, he’s mellowed into a mildly sociable and funny personality.

Henry the Gray is my cat. This is him, trying to convince me that I want to give him my dinner.

Henry the Gray using mind control.
Henry the Gray using mind control.

Henry the Gray was not the most congenial of cats when I met him. At two, he was angry, aggressive and spoiled by his owner, who felt guilty for not spending time with him. Because Henry’s previous owner was moving and could not take him to the new place, she turned to me. I took him in. I couldn’t not take him in. If I didn’t, he would go to the pound or a shelter and aggressive animals don’t last long there.

After we established that I was his boss, Henry the Gray relaxed and took on the role of my watcher. He enjoyed surfing the internet with me (although I suspect it was the cursor on the computer screen that had his interest more than anything else). I would leave the local jazz station on when I left my apartment for the day and found him relaxed or sleeping when I came home.

Henry the Gray sleeping.
Henry the Gray sleeping.

When I decided to move back to my home town, Henry the Gray came with me. He loves to explore the garage and the back yard and has an on-going negotiation with another cat that has decided to make its home with us.

Henry the Gray (left) and Otis the Orange (right).
Henry the Gray (left) and Otis the Orange (right).

As a cat, Henry the Gray takes his duties very seriously. Whenever the kitchen waste-basket trash talks him, Henry the Gray takes it upon himself to establish who is boss.

Henry the Gray displays fierce hunting skills and asserts dominance.
Henry the Gray displays fierce hunting skills and asserts dominance.

Because I am concerned for his safety, Henry the Gray is not allowed outside on Halloween or the Fourth of July.

He does not approve of these rules.

Henry the Gray sulking because he is not allowed outside due to his safety.
Henry the Gray sulking because he is not allowed outside due to his safety.

It is amazing to me that he has grown to be such a funny and curious cat in the time I’ve become his human. His personal growth touches me and reminds me that we are all capable of such change, given patience, love, guidance and consistency.

Many Happy Returns of the Day, Henry the Gray.

Henry the Gray relaxing after a full day.
Henry the Gray relaxing after a full day.

*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.

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