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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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Prohibition

So, I’ve been working on my Novel in Progress…..

…….and I noticed an interesting connection it had with my saucy speakeasy story.  No, neither story features characters that show up in both tales, nor does the action take place in the same time frame or location.

However, that being said, this is what I’ve noticed.  It’s not the first time I’ve noticed at least one connection, but the others surprised me.

The Novel in Progress is a contemporary tale, with flashbacks to the 1920s via letters and experiences related by other characters.  The Narrator 1, due to circumstances dictated by the story, is a virgin.  I didn’t even realize that until I’d been writing the novel for a about a year and a half – it just never crossed my mind.  She is estranged from her parents and has no other family to speak of, as far as she knows.

And then, I wrote a few of scenes where she interacts with two very different men at different points in the story.  One expresses obvious interest in her, flirts with her, gives her his contact information (which she promptly gives away to another woman, despite her own cautious interest).

The second man is made a prisoner by the same people looking for the Narrator 1, which unites them in their own survival and freedom. There is a moment where both of them become aware of the other, but she blurts out “I’m not ready” and they both back away from it.

Interestingly, “I’m not ready” is the same thing said by the female Narrator 2 in my speakeasy story.  Only, the dynamics are little different, as this work in progress is following the erotica beats.  Where Novel in Progress is set in the Present, with only occasional flashbacks to the past, including the 1920s, the Saucy Speakeasy Story is fixed very firmly in that decade, from flappers to jazz music to bootleg whiskey.

Narrator 2 is about the same age (nearing 30) as the Narrator 1, but her life circumstances are in direct contrast.  She has three younger siblings, of whom she assumed care of when their parents died.  She had a fiancee who died in World War I and has had some sexual experiences that Narrator 1 did not.  She is not afraid of her own feelings or her desires and the man she meets in this saucy tale revels in her own autonomy.

I’ve been working on both stories for the last couple of years.  I ought to have noticed these similarities sooner, but I guess it’s one of those things that you only notice when you’re ready to see it.  The fact that the two Narrators are also so different and so tied to their time and place, I guess it’s not that hard to miss.

I’m amused that I’m writing about two very different women who are separated by almost one hundred years, five hundred miles and life experiences.

What are their similarities?  They are moving from one established role to another, one by chance, the other by choice.  They refuse to compromise themselves to achieve whatever goal they accept.  They’re smart and articulate and the men in their lives respect them.

Interesting.

So, I was going over my saucy speakeasy tale…..

……and discovered that it was quite decent. Even the sexy scenes, which I had never written about before, leapt off the page in vibrant, delicious feelings.

To be perfectly frank, I couldn’t believe that I’d actually written a scene – several scenes – that were so sensuous and sexual. I felt removed from the text, as if someone else had written the words, even though I remembered putting them to paper.

And I liked this story. I liked the characters and their own personal conflicts and how the two leads banter with each other. I liked how the leading characters were getting to know each other, to establish boundaries that are respected. I liked how they teased each other and how they find joy in each other’s presence.

There are so many things about this story that I liked, that I can’t name them all. I had put it on the side burner a couple of months ago, because something felt off and the story ground to an unexpected halt. Where it went wrong, I can’t put my finger on, but I’ll work it out by re-writing the previous few pages before moving forward.

That’s my habit – to re-write the previous few pages on a work in progress. It’s my way of getting back into the story and the minds of the characters, to re-familiarize myself with that world of magic and feeling.

I’m not quite ready to get back to my saucy speakeasy, but it will be waiting for when I am.

prohibition

 

So, I went out to dinner with some friends…..

…….and my saucy speakeasy story came up, with varying degrees of interest. I love talking about the writing process, so I happily answered any questions and offered up insights into the writer’s mind.

I also revealed how I felt intimidated by writing this story, because I was dealing with language I’d never written before, let alone actually used in my everyday conversation. Which is part of the challenge I had set for myself when I chose to write it two years ago. This is a story that is well outside my comfort zone and has forced me to confront my own discomfort and fears on the subject of sex and the dynamics between men and women in that scenario. I suspect that the dynamics and fears transcend gender, age and orientation.

But I received a lot of encouragement from my friends, as well as some good-natured ribbing, and I am determined to see this through to the end, wherever it may end up.

The best part?

They want to read the final product.

prohibition

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 went back to my speakeasy tale…..

………and I’m really glad about that. I had put it aside over a year and a half ago because I just wasn’t feeling connected to it anymore. Four days ago, I picked it up again and began writing, adding nearly thirty pages to it. I missed these characters and the 1920s time period they live in and the slang they sometimes speak.

I missed the boldness of the heroine, even as she was uncertain about her feelings for the man who taught her to work in the speakeasy hidden in the basement of a rundown hotel. I missed watching these two characters discover something vulnerable with each other. I missed scaring myself as I wrote this, with words, with thoughts, with feelings.

That’s what writing is supposed to do – it’s supposed to push you beyond your comfort zone, with the things that scare you. Whatever the topic, if it scares you, writing or painting or music or any other kind of art is the best way to explore it.

In the meantime, I’m going to relish taking on my fears and discomforts with my speakeasy tale. It’s long past time. And I’m having a damn good time doing it.

prohibition

Excerpt: Mum’s the Word

Long Beach, CA.
Fall. 1926.

I stood just inside the main door, my heart thudding heavily against my ribs as I surveyed the lobby. Outside, the faint sounds of the crowds enjoying the carnival-like amusements of the Pike wafted in just below my range of hearing, cutting out when the main door going to the street shut behind me with a firm thud. I jumped, gasping, nervous, then resumed examining my surroundings more closely.

The lobby was shabby and the building itself had been without heat for months. I stared at the row of phone booths on the far side, searching for and finding the last one. There, I would pick up the receiver and speak into it. I wouldn’t need to drop in a coin or dial for the Operator. The person on the other end would know who I was, why I was here.

My name is Mildred Falls, Millie for short, and I had quite literally stumbled onto this place and my new job. Nervous, I swallowed, took a deep breath, then crossed the lobby’s distance and found myself ensconced in the tiny booth. I picked up the receiver, staring at the rotary dial, shivering. My nipples prickled against the satin dress I wore, its fringed hem falling just below my knees under my long coat.

I wore no brassiere, no corset and the barest of underthings. According to my new ‘employer’, such items were not part of the dress code; indeed, it was intimated quite the opposite. Despite the necessity, despite my skills as a typist, I resented that the only work I could pick up was here, in a speakeasy, as a kind of…..of…..hostess. I thought briefly of my younger siblings, at home with a full meal for a change, and shrugged. It was what it was and I either accepted it or sought other employment.

I resisted the urge to adjust my clothing – it would only increase the sensation and I was already highly aware of how the fabric felt against my skin. I was not used to being so acutely sensitive to what I wore. The garters I had on were too small and dug into my hips and thighs, but they did what they were supposed to do – hold up my very poor stockings. I was grateful that the few holes they did have were hidden by my shoes.

It’s scandalous, I thought, grumbling under my breath, the way girls dress these days.

I sighed. At twenty-nine, I wasn’t much older than those girls, who probably would have seized any chance to take the job I needed and now held. Given the loss of my job in a steno-pool the month before, I didn’t see as how I had much choice in the matter.  I had three younger siblings needed to be supported in some way and, given the uncertain state of the economy, a job was a job.

I could not afford to be choosy.

prohibition

So, I’m having a lot of fun………

…….with this little project I’d started recently. I’d been contemplating writing in a genre that was outside of my comfort zone for a long while and now it’s finally begun.

I have settled on a time period (the Roaring Twenties) and specific settings (speakeasies, bootlegging), as well as location (Long Beach, CA) and music (Ragtime and Jazz). I’m reading some history about the period, listening to music of the era and poring over photographs, thanks to Google Images and old news articles. I’ve found a couple of characters, the hook to get it started and names that reflect both character and theme.

Sounds like a historical novel of some import, right? Well, no, not really – the genre I’m trying on for size is erotica. I know, I know…… why am I putting so much time and energy in researching and creating background and structure in a story that is typically about one thing – sex? And lots of it?

Because that’s how I roll.

Well, that and because I also believe that erotica is more than just the hot sex – for me, it’s all about the foreplay and the sensuality of the environment, clothing, body language both bold and subtle. It’s about connections between the two lovers – emotional, intellectual, spiritual. In order to know all of that, I have to get to know the characters.

And to know the characters, I have to know the world they inhabit. Thus, reading books on the time period, listening to that era’s music, reading its literature and seeing what it looked like as it was lived.

And guess what? I’ve just written a scene that is fun and flirty and hinges entirely on the characters themselves and how they view each other. It is tantalizing and sexy and utterly delicious.

Much like word play. And creme brulee.

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