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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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Story

So, I’m working on some posts for my Patreon page….

…..setting some of them up to go live at a later date.  I like setting up multiple posts this way, so that I’m sure my subscribers are getting fun things to look at.

“What? The waste basket was trash-talking me.”

One of my tiers features the thoughts and adventures of Henry the Gray (my cat) and Best Bud Mare (my horse).

Henry the Gray is very laid back in his approach to life, which I find admirable.  He’s also somewhat sarcastic and does not approve of changes in his schedule.

His favorite things include: having morning meetings at the kitchen table; early morning inspections of the back yard; late night inspections of the garage; treats.

His dislikes include: vacuums; the garbage truck; the gardeners; having his stomach touched.

 

“Don’t look now, but there’s an apple on the ground behind you. Look out!!!”

Best Bud Mare has come a long way since I met her three years ago, when she was a little bit spooky and not sure of her surroundings or what was expected of her.  Now she comes right up to the gate, to see what I’m doing and always wants to be a part of things.

Her favorite things include: getting her itches scratched with the blue curry comb; taking selfies; learning how to do new things, like having her feet handled by the farrier; eating carrots; having her mane brushed out so that there are no more tangles; hanging out with her human.

Her dislikes include: loud noises; backing into a sneaky fence; being left out of projects; not hanging out with her favorite human; not getting brushed with the blue curry comb; apples.

 

So, their stories and thoughts and observations will be found over at the Patreon page I’ve established.

I’ve left some posts unlocked, so that those who are not familiar with my writing style can have a sample of what I’m offering before they subscribe.  You can find the unlocked posts here, where you’ll also be able to learn about the different tiers and what they have to offer.

Feel free to take a look.

Best wishes.

So, I’ve seen Beauty & the Beast (2017) twice now…..

……..and I loved it both times.  I also cried at the sheer beauty (pun not intended) of feelings it evoked in me, regarding the characters and the story.  This is not a review, only my response to a number of reviews about the film and its flaws.

The most common theme in all of the reviews I’ve read is how it’s Belle who bends and changes first, that it’s her responsibility to change the man, rather than the man doing it of his own volition.

I heartily disagree with that assessment.

I’m not excusing the Beast’s behavior (he’s a jerk and needs to learn about boundaries), but it’s his poor behavior that’s the catalyst.  It’s the reason Belle flees the castle in the first place – he’s rude, he’s being an asshole and he scares her over something that she does not realize has significant importance, not just to the Beast, but to his servants, as well. [1]

After scaring her out of his castle, the Beast realizes his error and almost becomes paralyzed with despair.  He knows he blew it, he knows he’s probably ruined the only hope to undo the curse that he and the castle are under and he wallows.  In many ways, his behavior is of someone who has given up all hope, who does not even dare to acknowledge that there is hope.

I understand that feeling.  I’ve been in that black pit of despair.  I did not treat my nearest and dearest well during that time.  Would anyone?

But what does the Beast do then?

For reasons never explained in the animated film or (presumably) the Broadway production or even in the 2017 version, the Beast goes after Belle.

Why?

What would be the point?  If he’s such a misogynistic, self-centered asshole, why would he do that?   Was he obligated to go after her?  No, he was not.  Was he obligated to save her life?  No.  The Beast CHOSE to go after Belle (to apologize, presumably, but, as observed earlier, it’s not made clear), and he ends up SAVING her life.  Was he obligated to that, too?  No, he was not.  He chose to do it because it was the right thing to do.

The Beast changed first.

It was his selfless act of saving her from the wolves that allows her to change her mind.

And yet, no one sees that. No one sees that he recognized his error (self-awareness) and went after her, to apologize (again, there’s no reason stated for why he went after her) and ends up risking his life for her.

All they see is that she changes her mind about him.

Belle didn’t reassess her opinion of the Beast out of nowhere. There was a motivating factor.

He saved her life, at great risk to himself, of his own free will.

She could have let him die and you see her move to leave him again, while he’s wounded and too weak to follow.  But she doesn’t – she recognized that he saved her life.  He chose to bend first, not Belle.

My argument here is that it was not Belle who initiated the change in their dynamic first.  She didn’t in the animated version nor in this version (and not in the Broadway production, either, I’m assuming).  I’ve read many reviews of this movie, and no one, NO ONE, remembers that Beast risked his life to save Belle BEFORE Belle decides to reassess her opinion of Beast.

Nothing happens in a vacuum.

Belle bends, but the Beast did it first.

*****

[1]  As for his relationship with the servants and why they couldn’t help Beast change his abusive and rude behavior?  Their relationship dynamics are in an already established hierarchy (master and servants).  As anyone in a family knows, effecting change in someone’s behavior is difficult enough as it is.  To effect it in someone you know is even more so.  Sometimes, it takes a stranger, someone from outside, to hold a mirror up to you before you can see it.

So, I’ve got a lot happening on my Patreon page…..

…….and I’m moving all of my creative work over there.

Right now, I’ve got two serial novels set up – the first is based on a series of true-life adventures that really actually never happened (but should have).  These are stories that I based on myself and two of my best friends from high school. We always had a lot of fun hanging out together and the nice thing is, we still do, when schedules allow.  This is the one thing about being an adult that sucks.

The other is a fantasy/mystery and the fun thing about this one is that there are four choices on what happens next.  There’s even a poll so that readers can vote – whichever choice gets the most votes is what happens next.  No votes, no moving forward, although it falls on me to have an overall arc, characters and ending.  This serialized novel and its poll are currently open to the public, but they will both close on March 15, 2017.

I’m excited about this next step in my creative development.  I hope you are, too.

You can find all of this here, at my Patreon page.

So, my Patreon site is live……

……and I’ve posted some things there, so that it’s not a blank canvas to newcomers.  It took some time to work things out to my satisfaction, but I’m excited by how I’ve got it set up.  As time goes on, I hope to add to what I’ve already established.

There are a few posts that I’ve made open to the public, which I’ve done as introduction to who I am as a writer and budding artist.

Then, in their own words, my cat, Henry the Gray, and my horse, Best Bud Mare, will narrate their daily lives for those subscribing to the $3 tier.  I’m approaching it as an on-going series of children’s stories or bits of levity in a world that feels a little dark.

In subscribing to the $10 tier, I’ve designed posts that focus on my love for traveling and how I use location as inspiration.  Subscribers to this tier will also have access to the $3 tier.

For the $20 tier, I’ve challenged myself to write two serial novels. One is a fantasy/mystery and will involve reader participation – there will be four options and whichever option receives the most votes will carry the story forward.  The second serialized novel is based on myself and my friends as kids and the true-life adventures we shared in that really actually, never happened (but should have).  There will be a few other things there, as well as access to what is posted in the other two tiers.

There are also some posts open to all patrons who subscribe.

Right now, the second serialized novel’s first entry is open to the public, which I will close on March 10, 2017.

This is my site on Patreon. I encourage you to stop by and take a look at it.

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So, I’ve been working on my Patreon page……

……….setting up posts so that when I’m finally ready to officially launch it, there will be things already in place for subscribers to enjoy.

It’s not quite ready for the public yet, but I’m excited about what I hope to accomplish. There will be a serialized story or two, one of which will have multiple choices to drive the plot forward. It will also have general posts open to all patrons, an occasional one for the public and some art work to go along with the writing.

It should be interesting.

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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, a random idea among friends has sprouted wings…..

…….which is what most ideas do, come to think of it. I’d casually mentioned reading an article about a castle in Croatia being up for sale. The idea of owning a castle in a foreign country charmed all of us and we each began throwing more ideas into the pot about what we’d like the castle to have. A moat with alligators and crocodiles was the most popular addition, complete with drawbridge.

Will it happen? Will we, intrepid thespians and hopeful romantics, embark on an adventure of that magnitude, regardless of how it turns out?

Probably not, but it’s fun to think about. And as we daydream out loud to each other, the idea continues to grow, both with genuine interest and a lot of humor.

And now I have a new story idea.

Ross Castle, Killarney, Ireland
Ross Castle, Killarney, Ireland

So, a few years ago, I picked up a blank journal……

……..and jotted down the kernel of an idea for a story (woman inherits farm in foreign country, travels over with intention to sell, finds horse in back yard, hilarity ensues) and then promptly forgot all about it.

This happens with me a lot. I have stacks of journals with story kernels that have yet to blossom into full-blown stories. I don’t really worry about it, because I know when the right combination of inspiration and willingness to hear the story happens, words get written.

So, while traveling on tour in Ireland, as I observed the countryside from my seat on the bus, I saw a lot of homes – modern and historic – dot the fields. One such older home that had clearly been vacant for some time and in the back yard, I saw horse wearing a green blanket. It was staring towards the road, its attitude one of complete surprise.
I recalled the kernel of an idea and immediately, the story came to me, full-blown. I had fully developed scenes, bits of dialogue, characters, plot, background – I had it all within seconds of seeing that horse in the green blanket.

I didn’t write anything down right away – I needed it to percolate for awhile before putting it down on paper. Part of this was because I had issues with finding the right names for at least one character (in the novel I’m currently working on, one character not only changed his name eight times, but his nationality as well). For me, finding the right name is important – it is the identifier of the person, it holds the key to understanding and it has power.

So, even though I had found the journal I’d jotted the kernel of an idea in, I held off writing anything down, even basic notes. The story kept building itself in my mind, but it wasn’t until I found the right names for the characters that I felt free to add the scenes and notes to the original idea for the story.

It’s funny how an idea I’d had years ago seemed to come to life upon seeing that horse in the green blanket. I wish I’d had time to snap a picture of it and I wonder, even now, what had held his attention, what it was that had surprised him.

I suppose I will never know about the real horse, but I can have a lot of fun imagining what comes next.

 

***
Editor’s note – this blog post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal VC

*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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