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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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Research

So, I’m thinking about pirates…….

…….of the argh! and avast, me mateys! type that roamed the high seas on tall ships. I’m not exactly sure why, because historically speaking, they were not people to trifle with and often left a great swathe of blood behind. Perhaps it’s that sense of adventure that seems to accompany them, the call of the open sea, the wind ruffling through one’s hair as the sun beats down. Human survival against Nature’s unforgiving trials.

Whatever the case, I’m thinking about pirates. Both men and women chose to pursue that life going back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Rather than focus on Hollywood’s sensationalized ideal of pirates, I’m thinking of several factors never fully explored. What drove them to piracy, to eschew convention and respectable society to embark on voyages that did not guarantee safety or security?

Whether it was Anne Bonny or Blackbeard or Ching Shih, they were not born pirates. Was it circumstance and personality that led them to their profession? Money, or lack thereof, that tore them away from their families? Was it survival or a choice freely made? Resentment of not being able to find their true calling due to rigid caste and/or societal rules?

I don’t suppose there’s any one solid answer for the pirates of the past, or those of contemporary times. I suspect that it may be a combination of many things that drive them to it.

Still, I’m thinking about pirates, the ones of yore, the type modeled from and idealized by the Hollywood Dream Factory. Their tall ships fascinate me. I wonder what they thought or dreamed about in the quiet moments on the ocean. Whether they had any regrets about or spared not a thought at all for those whose lives they altered forever.

I’m thinking about pirates. I’m thinking about two very different stories that have not seen the light of day in many years. I’m thinking about how pirates are actually incredibly symbolic metaphors for change, natural, man-made and maybe even supernatural.

I’m thinking about pirates.

So, I really love to read…….

…….which is kind of obvious to anyone who knows me. It’s also one of the most important tools for a writer to have. Fiction of any genre, non-fiction of any topic, it really doesn’t matter. If you are serious about writing, the authors you encounter on your sojourn as a teller of tales will teach you how to write well, how to shape a scene, create believable characters and three dimensional worlds.

You’ll also discover, by sheer happenstance, whether or not you can handle a series that develops over multiple books. As a reader, it requires a certain level of commitment to follow the author on a tale of adventure or mystery. It takes that first novel for a reader to be won over and want to read the next one and the one after that.

As a writer, it takes more than commitment. It takes discipline and focus to map out, if not every last detail, then a rough idea of where the overall story is going. If the tale is to be told over the course of more than one novel, it requires careful planning, timelines, and which character is to be the primary focus of which novel.

There are authors  out there whom I marvel over in terms of the breadth scope of their vision. The cast of thousands that rival any Cecil B. DeMille epic would surely give some modern filmmakers pause. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is one example; Andre Norton’s Witchworld series; Anne McCaffery’s Pern; Frank Herbert’s Dune, to name just a few.

I don’t fault any of these or other authors for following their dreams and characters into stories yet untold. For me as a reader, however, my capacity for reading a series has shrunk to five full novels. This is particularly true in a mystery series, I’ve recently discovered. I’m not exactly sure why my interest wanes after book 5, but it is not due to the quality of the story (which are always top-notch) or the characters themselves.

I suspect it’s either my attention span or I’ve gained knowledge on structure, character and world-building that I needed without realizing it. It happens like that with the people in your life, why not with books and the authors who write them?

So, the upshot here is that each of my series (including the titles that have been published) will be no longer than five novels. This is what I’ve decided works for me. At the moment, I’m developing Book Two in each of the current series you see in the cover photo. There are complications and rewards to the process. I’m also working on a novel that, while also a first in a series, is also indirectly related to Secrets & Howls. This has proven to be helpful in giving me insight into what happened after S&H.

As you practice your craft (and it is a practice, it’s a life-long one), you’ll find your own methods in writing. The books you read and the authors you follow will challenge you to do better.

I’ve said it somewhere on this blog and on my author page, but it’s always worth repeating – read. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Pulp, romance, mystery, history, science, fantasy – read it. If it’s poorly written, it showed you how not to construct a novel. If it’s well-written, it will challenge you to meet it at its level.

Writing is reading.

So, you’d think writing erotica would be easy……..

………and, for some, I suppose it is. The set up is simple, the situation clear and the end result is fairly obvious. Also, you could just throw a couple of hot babes and some dinosaurs together and, wow, red-hot Flintstones sex in Bedrock.

The reality, for me, anyway, is a little different. While having far too much fun with the, um, you know, research, I did find myself struggling a little with the actual writing of my erotic tale. Since this is a new genre for me as a writer, I expected it to be a challenge in many ways. Not necessarily with background or snippets of dialogue or even character, mind, but working to describe the sensuality of the setting and what transpires between the two primary characters as they engage in a verbal dance that will eventually lead to the, ah, physical culmination.

I’ve been aware from the beginning that I was very much inside my head, intellectualizing and falling back on logic and structure and continuity instead of leading with my heart, embracing the feeling of what I wanted to do. This was reflected in the Narrator’s voice – she sounded quite prim and proper and kinda boring, if you ask me. Bland, too.

I worried about this, because, as my first venture into this genre, the worst kind of sex is boring sex, even if it’s in the written form (and I’ve read my share – if I have to put the book down during a sex scene in order to figure out the how, the why and the number of partners involved in a diagram, then it’s poor writing). I want to put my best effort out there in any kind of story, thus my research not just about time and place, but in how other writers handled the language of sensuality and intimacy.

Putting that kind of pressure on myself wasn’t helping, as you can imagine. Performance anxiety, I suppose one could call it. I’m not giving up on it – I gave myself a specific challenge and I plan to see it through. But when I went to put what I’d learned into practice, I came up against a wall. Like a stubborn horse, I balked at using certain words, wanted to shade things so that the outcome wasn’t obvious, like it was a mystery or thriller or something.

I have to laugh at myself for that last one – erotica isn’t like a mystery, where red herrings abound, only to reveal whodunnit in the end. Erotica is an intimate journey between two people where the outcome isn’t in question, only the when. (Porn is altogether different – in my opinion, erotica is about intimacy and connecting, porn is about the fuck).

So I push on and do what I normally do – get the bare bones of it out on paper and change what doesn’t work. I’m getting to know the characters as I go along and I’m finding that the Narrator is a bit feisty. I recently wrote a full-blown scene where she blithely issues a challenge to her male lead, which he proceeds to take her up on while in a public place. And this led to back-tracking and fleshing out bits earlier on, so that when I finally am able to place this particular scene into the main body of the story, it’s an ante that’s been upped.

And that’s when I realized what’s actually going on here – I’m circling into the project, not from the inside out, but from the outside in. I’m navigating this story in a way that allows for discovery and more than a little fun and many occasions to laugh at myself.

So maybe writing erotica isn’t so different than writing a mystery, after all. All writing is about discovery and human nature, either of the self or of the outer world, isn’t it?

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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