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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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relationships

So, it’s occurred to me……

……that one of the reasons why I write is to understand the dynamics of life I see around me. The chaotic swirl of words, a look, body language and tone can sometimes be overwhelming and confusing to me, so I write about it. The results make for a good story, but often leaves me still groping for understanding in the real world.

It’s the “Why?”, always the “Why?” and it never seems to end.

I’m not complaining, far from it, but whenever I think I’ve got an “a-ha!” moment of clarity, it skitters off in a direction I didn’t expect and I’m left more puzzled than before.

What are the reasons that brought you to writing?

So, meeting the characters in my stories…….

………is a lot like meeting people in life. I get the first impressions of who they are by how they present themselves in their manner of dress, hair and grooming. As I get to know them better, I learn how they think, what their views are, their likes and dislikes, their sense of voice and style and personality.

Sometimes characters, like people, are hard to pin down until they actually show up. Some are mercurial. Some are as they seem to be and others are duplicitous. The last type usually ends up being the villain because, you know, villains require duplicity to achieve whatever goal they may have.

Case in point: My second book, ‘The Pike Horse’ (2012).
Because I don’t want to spoil the reveal for anyone who hasn’t yet read it, I won’t be identifying the character by name. In my book, one of the characters gains the trust of the narrator, Josie March, and proceeds to manipulate her reality before betraying her in an ugly and violent manner.
This particular character did not start out to be such a nasty piece of work. But the more I worked on the story, the more I became aware that he was not who he at first appeared to be. It was more an intuitive feeling that grew into a conscious realization.

In my Current Work In Progress, another character has gone through at least seven name changes. In addition to that, his nationality went from American to British, which altered his speech patterns. This, in turn, influenced his mannerisms and even his coloring went from blond to dark. All this occurred before he even showed up in the story. It came out of my notes as the story developed and I got to know the character’s motivations and his ethics from the point of view of other characters.

Having detailed biographies of your characters, right down to the time of birth, can be helpful. I often give my characters birth dates, which can have some influence on their perceptions of the world, but I don’t often put a lot of thought into it, unless absolutely necessary.

Case in point: My Current Work In Progress.
I specifically designed an historical timeline and a family tree for this story, to keep track of a particular family and which generation some members came from. A supernatural-themed story, I’ve worked out a system of magic that can be seen in my first novel, ‘Secrets & Howls’ (pub. 2011; re-issued 2013).
I chose to have certain characters born in a month under a particular Zodiac sign that belongs to a specific element, which reflected their dominant skill. I’m only starting to see where this thread is leading and I’m agog with curiosity to see how it all plays out.

I actually prefer this not-knowing of my characters. I enjoy the discovery of how to get them into or out of situations that arise in the course of the story. It’s a completely organic process, where a thought will chase a thought and lead me to discover the answer that I’d been unaware I was looking for. To keep the discovery going, I keep a journal and jot down any questions that arise. There are always questions.
As I write and re-write, the questions will either change focus or be answered. I’ve always used the five W’s and one H of journalism to formulate these questions (Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?), and they have served me very well.

Don’t be afraid to try any method in getting to know your characters, their wants and their goals. Borrow methods used by other authors and see if they work. Sometimes using another artistic method helps jog the writer’s block loose or opens a train of thought you hadn’t tried before. Don’t worry if one method doesn’t work for you. Find another and try that. Repeat as needed. Writing is a process and there is no one correct way to do it.

The only incorrect way to write is to not write.

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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