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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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Romance

So, I stumbled across an old screenplay……

……that I wrote twenty years ago, while searching for old magazines for an art project.  Only the first few pages had been typed, the rest were in long-hand.  So I put everything aside and read the old script, curious at what my younger self had produced.  It’s a romantic comedy involving a video store, a matchmaker with a mysterious background, a search for the film To Have and Have Not and the ghost of Humphrey Bogart.  It was with some surprise that I realized the story held up really well. 

A page from the old script.

It’s not a perfect screenplay, by any stretch of the imagination, but it had genuine feeling and heart and that’s where art begins to fly.  And so I put it on my desk, with thoughts of going back into it and revise it into something…..new and exciting.

At the same time, I’ve been contemplating revising my Saucy Speakeasy story and setting it in modern times.  As much as I loved the appeal of the Roaring Twenties, the music and the threat of danger lurking when dealing with illegal hooch, Saucy Speakeasy just was not working out the way I’d hoped.  I had written some brilliant moments and one incredibly intimate and sexy scene that I still blush thinking about. [1]

An old concept photo for the Saucy Speakeasy Story.

Then it dawned on me – I could merge both stories into one, creating an external conflict that was missing in both stories; fill in the blanks within the screenplay; bring a level of humor that was lacking in the speakeasy story; and flesh out the characters of both.  Instead of a video store, there’s an antique bookshop located in the building above the speakeasy.  There’s a meet-cute, a clueless bookshop clerk and, yes, a somewhat supernatural element. 

Taking two stories and merging them into one is not a new idea to me – I had taken elements of a short story to add to Novel Now Finished.  It ultimately created an unrealized subplot and opened up a lot of possibility to the Main Character’s backstory.  

What I hope to achieve with the screenplay and the speakeasy story is similar – other than the time period, both are about two people who are each other’s equals and find a true partner in love and in life.  And because it is fiction (as well as a romance), there will be the mandatory conflicts, mayhem and misunderstandings.  

The matchmaker may or may not become a part of the story – so far, she has kept that decision close to her vest. 

 

[1] I still can’t believe that I wrote it.

Image by Bitmoji

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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 was thinking some random thoughts this morning……

……..about life, the universe and everything (the answer is 42). I found myself thinking about Ireland again (it never really goes away, memories of places that claim your heart) and of the two, very different, reactions I got when I mentioned the trip.

Reaction #1 – “You’re going to Ireland! How exciting!”

This was the general response and it would devolve into the minutiae of what I was going to see, when I was going, how long, etc. I loved these conversations because they reminded me of what was to come. I had no idea of what to expect, beyond just getting there. So I learned to not expect anything.

A lot of planning and packing, re-packing and organizing went on in the six or seven months before I left. I like to make sure I’ve prepared for every contingency. Also, I was really excited and couldn’t wait to get started.

Reaction #2 – “I bet you’ll meet someone.”

Or variations of that.

I was always a little nonplussed by that comment. I was going to Ireland, not Mars – of course I was going to meet people.

Invariably, they meant that I would meet a man, a romantic prospect that would add a little sparkle to an already sparkling adventure, with the shelf-life of the trip’s duration.

This wasn’t wrong for them to hope and I appreciated their love for me, in wanting that for me, a little romance to garnish what I already had.

I didn’t plan my trip for any reason other than to visit the land of my great-great grandparents. I wanted to touch the ground they had walked on, maybe get closer to knowing where they may have been born and grew up. I don’t think I’m any closer than I was before the trip, but at least I’m not any further away.

As for love, well, it’ll happen when it happens. I’m too busy with my life to worry about it.

Irish countryside.
Irish countryside.

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

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

Excerpt: Secrets & Howls: A Wolf’s Head Bay Mystery

 

From the Prologue:

Her skin prickled and she stopped, alert.

Whoever was watching her was back. Or he’d never left. She suspected the latter – the sensations were so strong that she instinctively knew he was still around. Gripping her keys, she turned in a slow circle, her eyes touching on every shape, muscles tense, aware of the scents carried on the ocean breeze. From the center of town, she could hear the post office tower’s bell chime out the hour.

He was close – she could feel it. The question was, where would he come from?

The attack, when it came, was sudden – her body’s instinctive reflexes were faster than her mind and she ducked just in time to miss the swinging, clawed fist.

He roared, furious. She leapt back, dropping her purse, her breath coming in sharp rasps.

He was new to this – it was obvious from the way he carried himself. But new or not, if she wasn’t careful, he may just take her by sheer brute force.

She intended to take him down first.

They circled each other – Holly hoped that something or someone would distract him long enough so that she could gain a better advantage, but she didn’t rely on it happening. She had to rely on herself.

As she studied him, gauging his skill, her analytical mind suggesting strategies that she automatically considered or disregarded, it occurred to her reporter’s mind that there were peculiarities surrounding the death of Jackson Tanner. Peculiarities that had been similar to another death…..

Her attacker growled – her eyes widened in shock as she saw him literally expand in size and knew that she was in far more danger than she had at first realized.

She had no choice now. This was a fight that would end in one way.

She roared at him until her throat was raw, her hands like claws, and she ran at him.

His first blow sliced through her shirt and opened up her belly – four neat, parallel incisions, nearly gutting her.

 

The next blow killed her.

 

Secrets & Howls

So, one of the things I like to do…….

……when writing in a particular genre is to read as much of what’s been written before I decide to try my hand at it. It helps me to get a sense of style and word choice within a specific setting (one’s characters are not going to be speaking 21st Century slang in 31st Century society. Or 11th Century BCE society, either). It’s also helpful in seeing how other authors develop mood, setting and location, as well as character.

This goes for every genre, from the Western to the Mystery to Historical to Erotica, a genre that relies heavily on evoking a wide variety of sensations and emotions that lead to a specific….well, climax.

There is the argument floating around that reading works by others in the genre you want to write in is harmful in that it may ‘influence’ your own work. This is true, but not in the way you’d think. Reading the newspaper influences you. Reading poetry, or historical non-fiction, or biographies or archaeology or whatever you pick up to read is going to influence what you write. The more you read, the more  you learn about language, about style, about story and character and development.

Not reading the genre you want to write in only hurts your own work. Why? Well, in addition to not seeing what’s out there, you’d also fail to learn what works for you and what doesn’t. You’d never know how, with your own unique perspective, you could approach the Epic Quest Fantasy. Or the Space Opera. Or find a new twist on the Western or Mystery.

If you read enough (and I highly recommend reading everything you can get your hands on), you can see how similar the genres actually are. What makes them different is the emphasis – a mystery with a dash of romance could be the inverse of a romance with a dash of mystery. A historical novel set in real place could be, with just a few changes and a splash of magic, an epic fantasy. A Western is just an adventure on horseback, whereas Science Fiction is an adventure on a spaceship.

So read. Read the Ancient Greeks, Shakespeare, pulp fiction, genres you love and the ones you don’t like, authors you despise as well as the ones you admire. Read history and biographies and true crime, to learn how real people behaved and real events played out.

When you read, always seek to be entertained, but be conscious of how language, story and characters are handled.

What book and/or author was your greatest influence? Was it more than one? A specific genre?

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