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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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So, I’ve put off my 1940s character cosplay experiment…..

…….for a very simple reason – I sprained my ankle.  The bad news on that is I’m limping on a weak ankle, using a cane when necessary for extra support and balance.  The good news is, my ankle is healing and while it’s doing that, I’m gifted with more time to play around with the hair style that I’ve chosen.

This also puts me in a curious position – until my ankle heals completely, I’m not sure I want to wear the sensible shoes with the thick heel. [1]  So now, I’m looking at my black ballet flats, which will do in a pinch.  Not exactly period, but the height requirement on a flat-heeled shoe hasn’t changed all that much in eighty years.  Also, the entire process is about learning who this character is – is she someone who wears sensible heels or sexy ones?  Or is it dependent on the context of the situation?  Does she prefer flats over heels?

And so on.

Now, given my gimpy ankle (short-term though it is), I’m wondering if this character has a minor disability as well, one that requires her to use a cane.  It’s still all very ephemeral, so I guess I’ll find out as I go along.

Which is the beauty of research – it’s like being on a treasure hunt and each little nugget of information you gain leads you to more possibilities.

 

[1] There is always the fear of turning my ankle again – it’s painful and, if it doesn’t heal properly, I’m setting myself up for serious damage later on.  Also, even paved, the sidewalks in my town aren’t exactly level.

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So, with Novel Now Finished back at the editor…..

……I’m spending my time waiting for its return by bumbling around with the sequel.  So many changes have occurred within Novel Now Finished that a lot of the background I’d written has gone by the wayside and no longer seems pertinent.  Still, there are some things I’m able to recycle into the sequel, with a minor tweak here and there, and I’m curious to see where these bits will fit in.

“A writer writes, always.”
Billy Crystal,
Throw Momma From the Train (1987)

Some, as I’ve mentioned, are a part of the Narrator’s background and history.  A character that I’d had to excise from Novel Now Finished will be introduced here, a prospect I’m looking forward to, as he was rather charming and amusing. [1]  Then there’s the added question about why the Narrator displays such a lack of interest in some areas of her past, which could be developed into a significant sub-plot.

So far, I’ve got a basic story-line written out and an idea of what happens, but it’s the details that will get me every time.  Many of the questions raised in Novel Now Finished will either be answered (fully or in part) or re-directed; some of the answers may produce more questions for the Narrator to ponder.  I do know that a lot of it will center around the circumstances that led the Narrator to where she is at the start of Novel Now Finished.

And while that doesn’t seem like much, it’s actually a lot.

 

[1] It helps that he and the Narrator have great chemistry.

So, I’ve got some of my ’40s character pieces together…..

……the dresses, the shoes and such.  I’ve got options on the shoes – flats, sensible heels, and a slightly sexier pair of Mary Janes.  The latter will probably not be worn, as this is more about getting to know the Character and her day to day experiences.  Since I already know she’s not interested in keeping up with the latest fashions (unlike her older sisters), I’m not going to worry about a glamorous look for her.

At least, not yet.

Right now, I’m more interested in getting to know her from the inside out, much like an actor works to get to know their role in a play or film.  [1] This means I’ve got to ask questions and make note of my discoveries in my journal.  Questions may range from Does she have a speech impediment, or a upper crust dialect?Does she have nervous habits and how do they manifest; Is her posture more formal when with her family and relaxed around friends? and everywhere in between.

Which brings me to my desire in dressing the part.

My reasons in dressing as this Character is to figure out her physicality and how she moves in the clothing and shoes of the period circa 1942.  Women wore a significant amount of layers, more then than we do now, and those layers affected how they moved and felt.  This includes their footwear.  It’s one thing to walk around in sneakers and jeans (as I generally do, since I’m a walker), but to be able to walk a significant distance even in flats (let alone the thick, sensible heeled shoes I’m pondering on wearing) has me aghast at the idea of putting my feet through a tortuous ordeal. [2]

But…..I want to know these things, so as to better inform the Character’s personality and the choices she makes.  It will give me the little details I might have missed had I not chosen to dress the part.  And until I start, I won’t know what those details will be.  That’s the beauty of this path in discovering who the Character is.

Sometimes, to know the character, you’ve got to dress the part.

 

 

[1] As an actor, I found that the more I asked why my character was in the story, the more reasons I uncovered that added layers to what might at first glance be a flat character.

[2] Already, my feet are putting in notices of protest.

So, I’ve got a new character and an idea……

…….of sorts for her story.  I’ve been thinking of it as a short piece, maybe 30k to 40k words, but as any writer will tell you, the length is usually determined by the characters and plot.

This particular story and character came into being while I was at work at the hardware store – a rather unpleasant customer had me wishing I could lay a curse on him or turn him into an unpleasant critter.  Which, karmically speaking, would be a bad move on my part.  I mean, who wants the energetic kick-back on that kind of act?

But I did get a story out of it, so that’s where my energy is going.  And that’s a positive way to deal with negative situations, people or feelings – turn them into art, whether it’s a poem or a painting or something in between.

This story has a light sense of humor attached to it, which is very good.  Some of the stuff I write feels like it comes out of a dark place, whether I intend it to or not.  From character to story, that darkness has helped build a lot of fictional worlds for me, and I’m grateful for those tales I created.  I don’t expect to stop writing them.

In any case, I’m wildly curious about this new story and the lightness and humor that feels attached to it.  I can’t wait to find out more about this character, the world she inhabits and the the town she lives in.  It feels like a completely different type of story than what I’ve written before, much like my Saucy Speakeasy.

And with the cursing of a customer, I’m about to find out what happens next.

So, one of my stories takes place in the 1940s….

…..and I’m pondering the idea of dressing as the main character in order to experience the world as she did.

Obviously, I won’t be subjected to ration books (because things like silk, food and other items were reserved primarily for those serving in World War II), nor will I be paying 1940s prices or rattling about in a 1935 roadster with rumble seat. [1]  On the bright side, however, I can still listen to music, view films and read novels of that era quite easily.  Also, there’s historical documents, non-fiction and documentaries to round all of that background out in a well-balanced way.

Still,  my goal in dressing in a similar manner as the main character is to get a sense of how she walks and how her clothes and shoes affect her.  This would greatly impact her thoughts, anyone she comes into contact with, how she feels about the day in general and her mood overall.  Since I prefer comfortable sneakers, jeans and a T-shirt whenever possible, this will greatly enhance my understanding of the character.

I hadn’t tried this before, since most of my characters are set in our current time frame, but I’m actually tickled to try this one out.  I have a dress that actually has that vintage look of the late 40s/early 50s and vintage shoes that have a thick and rather sensible heel (one that Miss Marple would approve of). [2]  When I go into town, I tend to park a few blocks from the downtown area and walk in.  This is the perfect amount of distance without overdoing things and defeating the whole purpose of this experiment.

There are a few things I’m going to have to go without, however.  Gloves were quite the fashion accessory back in the day, which is something I don’t own.  Neither do I have a proper hat to pin to my head (some with netting, some without).  I’ve also no idea how to do up my hair to fit the time period (and I imagine it would be time-consuming).  [3]

Still, I look forward to doing this – it’ll be fun, if not challenging.  In theater, this is one way to find the character from the inside out, developing their history and their Moments Before, prior to their entrance into the story.

I will keep you posted with updates and pictures, as I catch them.

 

[1] Not gonna lie, I’m kind of bummed about that last one.

[2] It’s been commented upon that it’s a good look for me.  I can work with that. 🙂

[3] There will be trips to thrift stores for the gloves and hat – hopefully, the luck of the Irish will be with me.

So, another favorite high school memory would be 3rd period art class…..

…..and it’s not just because I got to draw or paint for forty minutes, three days a week and for almost two hours one day a week.  [1]  And while I could just expound on that fact alone, there were far too many moments of sheer and utter delight that occurred in that class for me to consciously limit myself to just one.

There’s a reason for that.

It’s because I got to spend that time with three of the best friends a person could ask for.

We laughed and cracked jokes while we painted.  It was in this third period art class that I began writing a short story about a true life adventure, that really, actually, never happened (but should have).  That short story led to more wacky adventures and even a theme song (The Lion Sleeps Tonight), and with lyrics that were specific to us.  [2]   And during this class, there was an incident involving an oil painting left to dry that wound its way into one of those stories. [3]

Before I had even graduated high school, I had a general outline of what happened and how and who the supporting players were (because obviously, my friends and I were the leads).  Music from the Fifties played a huge part in determining mood and there was a sense of hilarity and whimsy throughout.  The stories covered our years from the seventh grade until senior year in high school, with side trips into summer school.

And that’s pretty much where I thought those stories ended.

So imagine my surprise when, fifteen years after graduation, I went through those stories and realized that they had more to tell as grown ups.  Having two different series involving the same characters at different points in their lives is an interesting experience.  Especially since I had laid the groundwork without realizing it in the earlier stories.  [4]

As I write this post, my thoughts are turning to those stories.  I wrote them because we had so much fun coming up with things to do that we never actually did (like stealing a mannequin from the local department store and chasing it all over town because we had put roller skates on it).  I continued writing them and working out the timelines, characters and incidents for the better part of my life, more so than any other writing project.

These stories are important to me in a way that my Novel Now Finished and my Ancient Greek Comedy are not.

When I write these stories, things have a strange way of coming true, if not in the actual how, then in the actual what.  On more than one occasion, I noticed that many similarities happened in the lives of the fictional us and the real us as we grew up.  An example would be that, five or six years after graduation, one of us ended up working in that very department store we’d plotted to steal the mannequin from.

Part of her job description?  Carry a mannequin from one store to the other for display purposes. [5]

These stories carry a certain weight and responsibility for me and they need to be written just right.  They were a gift from my friends and I want to do right by them – both the stories and my friends.  Thus was born The Hey! No Problem! Gang.

And it all happened in third period art class.

 

[1] Well, okay, that was pretty much in the top five of excellent reasons.

[2] With much apologies to the Tokens.

[3] It’s easier to tell in person, complete with re-enactments and dramatic music.

[4] I’m still trying to shape into a cohesive narrative.

[5] True story.

So, while revising my Ancient Greek Comedy……

…….I made creative decisions about some of the characters in terms of gender, personality and role in their mythology.  Since they’re basically archetypal, it was easy to do.

An example would be the character of Catamitus.

In Greek myth, Catamitus is male, one of Zeus’ many lovers and a cup-bearer to the gods.

Title and cast list of Hotel Mt. Olympus.

In my play, I ultimately chose to change Catamitus’ gender to female and remove the lover aspect, but the character is still a cup-bearer to the gods.  Sort of – she’s the manager of the hotel that caters to the gods and goddesses of all mythologies.

Which now leads to the name.

Catamitus is Latin, from the word catamite. [1]  Although I had changed the character from male to female, I did not alter the name.  The “-us” is for the masculine, while the “-a” is for the feminine.  In a flash, I had fixed the problem of a running joke in my play.

Many of the characters never get Catamitus’ name right, often referring to her as ‘Cal’.  It never really quite worked, even though I kept it in.

But.

If I change it to Catamita?  Oh, the possibilities!! The puns!! The gnashing of teeth!!

“Catamita done that” sounds close to “Cat might have done that”.

I can’t wait to dive back into my play and see how that works itself out.

Catamita, on the other hand, might just tender her resignation.

 

[1] The definition of catamite can be found here.

So, I’m working aspects of my Asperger’s into my novel……

…….because it is a huge part of who I am and how I perceive the world.  And since Novel Now Finished is about a woman who ‘sees’ the world differently and is told from her Point of View, it seemed like the ideal place to incorporate this part of my personality.

Some see a graveyard, where the dead sleep.
I see the past, waiting to be heard.

Is the Narrator herself on the spectrum?  No, I didn’t write her to be Asperger’s, or even autistic, both of which were the furthest thing from my mind when I originally conceived the character and her story.  However, like me, she sees things that others don’t – I can see patterns and energy within events and people and make connections.  The Narrator works in a cemetery and sees and interacts with ghosts (which I think is far more fascinating than patterns and energy, but that’s just me).

It was only lately, in the last year or so, that I decided to make Asperger’s an unofficial part of the Narrator’s personality.  To do this, I try to find similarities between my abilities and the Narrator’s and what aspect of my Asperger’s might fit within that scope.  So far it’s been an interesting experiment and one that I hope to utilize more effectively in revision.

Which brings us to the question – how do I see the world?

Differently than the norm, would be one way to put it.

As described in other blog posts, I have had difficulty in reading body language and social cues or I have a tendency to be a little too open.  The best analogy I’ve been able to come up with that others can understand is that it’s like having a paint pallet, but only half or even a quarter of the colors available.  Sometimes it’s like walking around in an unfamiliar room in the pitch dark, with no idea of how to navigate around items that may or may not be there.

Like the Narrator, I’m also empathic – I’ll know by people’s energy if I want to be around them (if it’s a bad vibe, it’s like getting a stomach ache).  I can ‘feel’ if someone’s lying to me, which is like getting sucker-punched; I can ‘feel’ other emotions that people try to mask with behaviors that contradict what I’m sensing, which is extremely confusing.  When that happens, I have to sit back and observe for context.  Often, however, I get overwhelmed by other people’s energy and I’ll end up spending days at home, just to recuperate and recharge.

Because of this, I tend to sit back and observe people and my surroundings.  The details I pick up without even trying would astound you.  I don’t think twice about it.

The most interesting challenge about incorporating my Asperger’s into the Narrator isn’t so much giving her those traits.  The challenge is being able to observe my Asperger’s in such a way that I can identify what will work and what won’t.  In other words, I have to be far more analytical than I already am.

On myself.

As the Great Dane Scooby Doo would say, “Ruh, roh!”

Recommended Reading:
The Autistic Brain – Temple Grandin
Thinking In Pictures – Temple Grandin

So, the amount of research I have to do…..

…….while in the throes of going over edits is why the process of writing a book takes so fricking long.

Working on edits.

In answer to so many questions that I’ve been getting when I mention that Novel Now Finished is in Round 7 of edits:

1. Each manuscript is different and requires a different amount of time and effort to get it to where it should be.

2. Each author/writer has a different method to their writing madness.

3. Each editor has their own questions and methods of communicating notes.

4. This is literally the second editor I’ve ever worked with – the first charged over a thousand ($1000-plus) for two hours (TWO!!!) worth of work. Had I known my current editor eight years ago, things would be different.

5. This is the first editor I’ve worked with on a consistent basis. She’s amazing and helpful and supportive and everything you’d want in an editor. In my own editing business, I hope to be just as amazing as she is.

6. If you think writing is so easy-peasy to get done and published, then please, by all means, get some paper and a pen and start writing.

7. Writing a book is a full-time commitment. It’s not for the faint of heart or for those who lack discipline.

8. The amount of research I have to do before, during and after writing the first draft would qualify me for at least three MAs/MFAs and/or a PhD.

9. There are days when I just want to quit and torch the lot of it. This is normal.

10. ^^^Then I give myself a shake and get over it. I’d rather be writing and working in my fictional worlds than anything else, so the frustrations are a small cross to bear.

11. Writing is not a hobby for me – a hobby is something you take joy in to escape the realities of life. While I love and enjoy writing, it’s often frustrating and annoying and I don’t escape the realities of life – it finds its way into my stories.

12. Art is political, it is angry, it is savage and ugly and hard to look at – but it also inspires, gives us joy and shows us the beauty in the human spirit.

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