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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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power

So, I’m a wordslinger…..

…..and words are my business.  I’m highly attuned to how word choice can paint a picture entirely different than the one you might intend.  If you use the word ‘argue’ rather than ‘talk’ to describe how you’ll make a decision between Choice A and Choice B, it suggests that conflict is the driving force behind most of your conversations.  I’ve been told more than once that I often read too much into things that are said, and perhaps the speaker might not have been intending to say what they do, but it is revealing of their mindset or perspective of the world.

Words have power.  Make no mistake about it.  They can be used to uplift and unify or incite and split.  The words you choose can either have a positive impact on those around you, or they can have a negative impact.  I often bemoan the fact that I don’t have better words than ‘should’ or ‘let’ or ‘give’, because it implies that (A.) I have control; (B.) it’s my right; and (C.) I am entitled to the other person’s life or a specific outcome.

Nothing could be further than the truth and I feel very conflicted using those words to express my thoughts or feelings.  There are a few others, but those suffice to make my example work and get the point across.  This is why it’s always a good idea to reflect and take care in the words you use.  Often, however, we use words that seem to have a positive aspect to it, without stopping to really look and examine what it actually means.

This leads me to a word that is commonly associated with romance, whether it’s novels, films or even real life – desire.  On the surface, it seems like a positive word to describe the hero or the heroine or even the situation.  The sexual tension, the passion, the heightened senses – this could easily be under the label of ‘desire’.  But what does ‘desire’ really mean?  Take a look at the image above – that is the dictionary’s definition of desire (I included desirable, because it has a similar meaning).

“To wish or long for; crave; want.”

That sounds like the definition of need – needing something or someone outside of oneself to fill in the insatiable emptiness and hunger gnawing at one’s soul.  It does not sound in the least bit romantic or even a remotely healthy emotion to have in a relationship.  I do not wish to be ‘owned’ or even regard as a ‘possession’ in any relationship, let alone a romantic love relationship.

So, for me, the word ‘desire’ has a dark and negative connotation – it implies ownership of the desired object (or person).  In the context of love, it expresses the exact opposite of what the user may intend (who believes they’re being romantic) or it is what they subconsciously and genuinely feel about the person they’re in a relationship with.

Under the context of ‘desire’, there is no potential for growth, both as an individual and within the context of the relationship.  ‘Desire’ is stagnant and stale – it wants what is to remain as is for as long as possible, to put the object on a shelf and take it down as needed.  I can already feel myself edge towards panic as I recall a similar relationship – where I was desired, but only when it was convenient.

“So, exactly what is a description of positive, healthy love?” is a question I’m hearing pop up right….about….now.

In my experience, the best examples of what love – genuine, healthy, authentic love – is, are found in the absolute truths in the cliches.  Love will lift you up; it will inspire you; it will not make you compromise your inner truths or force you into a box; it will not ask you to be less than you are, it will encourage you to be the best version of yourself.  If it’s genuine and authentic love, then with the right person, you will feel free to be just as genuine and authentic.  You will be present in the moment, in yourself and within the context of the relationship.  This is conducive to growth – both for the individual self and for the relationship itself.

Definition of Love, Part One

In the interest of fair play, I’m adding in the definition of love from my trusty (if old) dictionary that has served me so well in the last few years.

 

Definition of Love, Part 2

Please take a moment to view both pictures for ‘love’ (which started at the bottom of the page and continued on the next column) and the one for ‘desire’.  Please take a moment and really read both definitions in this post.  Please note the differences in both emotions.

Notice, if you will, the words used to define both ‘Desire’ and ‘Love’.  In my mind, the words used to define ‘desire’ are hard, sharp, unyielding.  The words used to define ‘love’ are soft, warm and soothing.

Each one describes the intense, passionate and romantic emotions of Person A for Person B, but only one objectifies Person B.  Only one views Person B through the prism of ownership and possession.  Only one can actually be hurtful, either intentionally or with purpose.

Desire is not love.  Desire is dark, it possesses, it claims ownership, it does not allow for breath or growth or freedom.

Love is its exact opposite.  Love is freedom within and without to be your truest, most beautiful and strong self.  It encourages you to fly, to be wild, to explore and grow and then, when your wings are tired, Love provides a safe harbor for you to rest.

Desire is ego.  Love is selfless.

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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?

Evening Thoughts (1)

1. It is the ultimate form of abuse to tell someone who has finally found their voice and courage to speak up and say “No more!” to being disrespected, abused and bullied that they need therapy.

2. If you can’t speak up for yourself, you will never be able to speak up for others.

General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher).
Credit: Pacify Mind

3. Carrie Fisher is my rebel patron saint of No Fucks to Give.

4. I am feeling a tremendous amount of pure energy in my heart and soul. Yesterday, I could hardly sit still – I wanted to move hills and reshape valleys and redirect rivers. For lack of a better word, I will call it the Force.

5. I am one with the Force, the Force is one with me.

6. I know the difference between someone making a naughty joke and someone who is deadly fucking serious.

7. I am enough.

8. The actions, feelings and words of others are not my problem – do not attempt to make it so.

9. A woman who knows her own power and claims it is not to be trifled with.

10. I am surrounded by books. I may have to send up the white flag and surrender.

So, one of my favorite things is etymology….

…… which is the study and history of the origin of words. Have you ever wondered how some words came to mean what they do? I did – as a kid, I always wondered how the word ‘cup’ came to describe something that held your drink.

Well, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins, the word ‘cup’ is an Old English one, from the Latin, cupa (meaning tub or cask). Such a funny word, when you stop and think about it long enough.

I remember holding a cup, a blue one with ridged sides, contemplating its meaning and why this particular word was chosen to identify this object. I think I was twelve and it was a hot summer day. I had just made up some iced tea and sweetened it with sugar, before drinking it down from that blue cup. Mid-way through the drink, I found myself wondering about the word and the object and their strange, symbiotic connection.

It’s one of the things I wonder about, a lot. Something I try to incorporate in my writing – words are chosen for their meaning, whether it’s a place name or a character’s.

Words have meaning and meaning has power. My fascination with etymology continues to grow.

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So, I’m watching ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ (2010)…..

…..for the umpteenth time. I’ve read the book a number of times, too, over the years. I got a lot out of both. I’m aware that there are those who feel that Elizabeth Gilbert is a privileged woman, so who is she to feel angst or insecure, hurt or depressed? Well, she’s a human being, so she has every right to feel whatever she feels, just like everyone else does.

There are also those who feel that her travels can’t be theirs, whether for financial reasons or other obligations. This is true – her journey isn’t for them to take. They have to take their journey, wherever and however it leads them. No one can walk your path for you, nor can you walk someone else’s path for them. Walk alongside? Sure. We can all use that support, especially on the difficult and most bleakest parts of the path.

But there’s a line or two in the film (which I refer to as the Cliff Notes version of the book, hitting the highlights and keeping the same truth), that resonate with me. Both lines, spoken by men, have to do with love.

This is interesting, because a man broke her heart and it is men who are giving her the message that love is what will heal her.

In India, Richard from Texas speaks first, saying, “Believe in love again.”

How does she do that? How does one believe in love, when one’s heart is hurting, broken, shattered by another? Or grappling with guilt for hurting someone else’s heart? Does she feel that she deserves love, or not?

But in order to know the answer to those questions, before she can believe in love again, she must first love herself, forgive herself, let go and let love. She has to take down those walls she’d built, make peace with her past, and trust that the path she is on will take her where she needs to go as she does her work.

And while in Bali, she truly does find love. What does she do? She runs from it. Why? Because she was being asked to relinquish the control she’d established for herself, to be vulnerable to this man who was risking his vulnerability for her. His openness frightened her, because she wasn’t ready to be that open with him. In her fear, she strikes out at him and wounds him. And she runs away, with his insight echoing in her ears – she is afraid.

Thus, the second man speaking to her about love.

“Sometimes, to lose balance for love is part of living balanced life,” says Ketut Layer, the little wise medicine man in Bali. And she recognizes this truth to her core, and she races to correct her mistake in turning away love.

Love means handing someone your heart, which gives them power over you, and trusting them to not to break you. By trusting someone with your vulnerability, you risk being unbalanced, but if they honor that trust, there is balance.

What if they hurt you? What if they betray that trust?

What if they don’t?

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F.L.Y. = First Love Yourself.*

 

*Something that’s been said to me a number of times over the last few weeks.

So, when it comes to naming my characters…..

……I tend to put a lot of thought into it. Actually, I put an obnoxious amount of thought into it. I have the usual suspects, er, books on names and their meanings. I mix, I match, I sound things out. Sometimes I even take two or three different names whose meanings I like and try to weave them into something new. Those names I reserve for epic fantasy tales, in the same vein of The Lord of the Rings or Crown of Stars series or the Shannara books. Titles are a little different, but I put the same effort into finding the right one for each story.

Why the effort?

Because names have power. Names mean something, not just to the person who carries it, but to the people who use it, whether with love or hate or indifference. Sometimes, names are secret, the true name of the self, known only to the one who holds it.

In my current Work in Progress, I had one character (a pretty major one, at that) be so dissatisfied with his name that it changed seven times. It was frustrating, to say the least. He was still so completely dissatisfied, that not only did his name change for an eighth time, he switched nationalities.

I would like to say that, as the writer, I have some control over wayward characters and plot. However, I know I’m not alone when I say, no, actually, I don’t. As soon as I start writing, it all takes on a life of its own and I have to hang on for the ride.

So whatever it is you’re naming – whether it’s your characters, your pet, your child, your project – put thought into it, make it count. Even if no one else understands it, you do.

And, really, that’s what counts. It’s your secret. Cherish it.

 

Recommended Reading:

The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Source Book – Sherrilyn Kenyon

 

And now, a word from Louisa May Alcott……

“We all have our own life to pursue, our own kind of dream to be weaving, and we all have the power to make wishes come true, as long as we keep believing.”

Louisa May Alcott, author
November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888

*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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