October Writing Progress Update

Happy Friday, folks! As you know, I’m writing a novel. I intend to finish its first draft by January 1st, 2017. Here in Jersey, the leaves are falling and the temperature is dropping, reminding me that the month of October is coming to a close. The pressure is on! So how have I fared this month? Let’s talk about it.

College keeps me busy. More busy than I would like. But when the moon and the stars align, I have time to write. The best moments spring up when I seize the flow crucial to the creative process and channel it until I exhaust it. When I do that, I’m like…

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When I look at the blinking cursor and have no clue what direction I’m heading in, I’m more like…

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I am currently a little more than halfway through Act II, 220 pages into the story. I understand that word count is the standard unit in the writing world, but page number is a measure that helps me to gauge my own progress. It’s also something that those who aren’t privy to writing vernacular can grasp. So I’m sticking with it.

This month, I haven’t written a single brisk chapter. In fact, with the plot thickening, the chapters I’ve been writing have been among the longest and richest I’ve penned thus far.

But the best thing I’ve written this month, by far, is a chapter I’ve titled, ‘A Leg of Lamb.’

Pulled straight from a status I posted on my Facebook author’s page (which you should totally ‘Like’):

“Sneak peek: 3 youngsters walk into an inn so rowdy it may as well be a tavern. Liquor, gambling, and shouting is aplenty. The boys only want a decent meal after being on the ocean for weeks, but things don’t go as to plan. Because there is no plan.”

Sounds wild, right? It is.

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Okay, certainly not as wild as Gatsby, but the chapter does have the workings of what I can work up to be a chaotic vibe.

Like any author, I cherish my characters. But after reading this chapter again, I think I’ve found one who most readers will fall in love with immediately (I can’t say “fans” because I don’t have any fans yet. I have to earn those. Although I think my mom is a fan of mine. Probably).

I’ve also introduced a character in a fashion I found to be particularly nifty.

___

“Hold on just a moment.”

At the sound of that voice, a voice harsh as whiskey’s burn, a voice cold as winter’s frost, a voice powerful as hammer’s charge, every man and woman pulled their attention from the circle of six and put it to the man standing behind Joshua. Joshua moved with the crowd, turning with apprehension and curiosity to witness the man looming over him.

The speaker was tall. Excessively so. Joshua’s head climbed and climbed before it met a pair of copper eyes that rejected the purple light trying to penetrate them. Eyes stained red. The man’s nose was long and strong, his mouth set in a frown that managed to look more angry than sad. Beady stubble peppered his face. He was dressed in a fine black tweed coat and matching black pants befitting of Sunday morning church service. And he had a gun. A gun in his hand, pointed at Rocco. The gun was small, nothing so bulky as those toted by the toughs, but if the copper-eyed man had aim fierce as his voice, Joshua was certain the arm’s size was inconsequential.

Copyright 2016 J.J. Azar

___

Nothing at this stage is final, of course, but there’s something commanding there. And I like it.

I aim to finish Act II by the end of November. November should bear a lighter load in terms of schoolwork, if my professors are honest, so I am confident I can hit my aim. Wish me luck. Likewise, I wish luck to all of you fine people who are pursuing writing, particularly those who are hopping aboard the “NaNoWriMo” writing challenge I’ve been hearing a lot about here in the WordPress community.

Thanks for reading! And as always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

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J.J.’s Jesting Parables #1: Parable of the Rabbit

Hello, lovely ladies and classy gents! Here is the first piece in a series of jesting parables penned by yours truly.

These are intended to be the bouncing pectoral muscles of the Herculean body that is this blog. In other words, they’re all in good fun. I guarantee that the parables will yank out an eye-roll, a chuckle, or a grunt. At least one of those. So enjoy! And if you have a thought you’d like to share, drop a comment below! I promise to say hello right back.

Hops: Parable of the Rabbit

The rabbit hopped from the field to the street, where the men lived.

A man on the street noticed the rabbit hopping along and said, “You got hops, little man!”

The rabbit looked to the man and muttered, “Thanks.”

Then he hopped back to his field, ears drooping.

The next day, the rabbit returned to the man and asked, “You got hops, boss?”

The rabbit drank until he puked.

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credit: Tom Smith

J.J. Azar

5 Books and the Lessons They Taught Me About Writing

Hello, friends! I would like to extend a grand THANK YOU for helping me to reach a significant milestone: Though this blog has only been around for less than a month, it has already racked up 50 FOLLOWERS! (Shoutout to Gravy for being my 50th follower)! That is insane. A huge thank you is in order for those who read, like, comment, and follow the stuff I post. If you’re interested in following me on my Road to Authorship and joining the 50 of my incredibly classy posse, have no fear! The ‘subscribe’ option is located at the top of the sidebar. For mobile users, it may be located at the bottom of the page. My phone is a rock so I’m not entirely sure.

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I’m feeling as accomplished as I did that time I golfed with the knights. And won. Gallantly.

I’ve really enjoyed interacting with fellow bloggers as well. There are a host of fascinating people out there, many of whom who are also braving the Road of Authorship! For me, the blogging experience has been more about consuming than creating, and I am content with that dynamic, as I find great joy in reading what other bloggers write.

I look forward to reaching 100 followers and beyond. But until then, I have something else to share! I’d like to present 5 lessons about writing I have learned from 5 of my favorite books.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee…

pvcategoryimage280220140516421605.jpgtaught me how powerful a character can be.

Strong characters are often taken to be of the “gritty fighter” breed. Jack Bauer and James Bond are strong, resonant characters because they kick ass at the expense of their well-being. Daryl Dixon of the Walking Dead is beloved for the same reason: All three characters are wounded tough guys who fight for the greater good with their fists (or crossbows).

Atticus Finch, however, showed me that there was a whole different way for a character to be badass: by embracing virtue. Whether Atticus is offering Scout wisdom or delivering his legendary appeals in the courtroom, his morality is palpable through his calm, honest countenance. In my mind, Atticus Finch should be considered among Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln as being a moral figure who exudes strength. That’s how real he is. And now I know that evoking a visceral reaction through a character by way of the pen is possible.

4. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain…

Kitchen-Confidential 2.jpeg…taught me how integral it is to hold onto voice (I wrote a post on this exact topic last week. You can check it out here).

You know who Anthony Bourdain is. Chances are, you’ve seen him on Travel Channel or CNN running around countries, drinking alcohol, and making edgy jokes.

That’s the Anthony Bourdain I knew before I picked up Kitchen Confidential, the book that propelled him to fame. I am pleased to say that the Anthony on TV is no different from the Anthony on the page. I literally read the book in his voice. Not in the literary sense, in the literal sense.

The book features Anthony’s opinions, insights, and style without any filter. Every crass joke, every filthy story, every brutally honest observation is true to his style, his persona, and his worldview. If the book was filtered, it simply wouldn’t be Anthony’s book. And then I wouldn’t consider it to be one of my all-time favorites. I am committed to holding onto my voice as a writer, and that is largely thanks to Bourdain’s stellar book.

3. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini…

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…taught me that, even today, “new classics” can be ushered into the world.

“There is nothing new under the sun.” I agree with that bit of wisdom. Every story that surfaces owes dues to stories penned by Shakespeare and Homer and the unnamed authors of ancient Mesopotamia.

It is no secret that the Lion King was heavily influenced by the story of Hamlet, and the story of Hamlet was undoubtedly influenced by stories that came before it. Even Inception, a sci-fi thriller whose concept appears to be the most original seen on screen in decades, is a nostos tale comparable to the Odyssey. But those comparisons don’t negate the profound impact of the Lion King or Inception on the audiences who have experienced them.

In much the same way, the story of the Kite Runner, to me, reads like a “new classic.” The tale tells Amir’s personal story, yet its concepts and its scope could be applied to any time in history all the same. Hosseini showed me that writing a new classic was possible. And that thought is inspiring to me as a writer who is seeking to tell a story that resonates.

2. The Treasured Writings of Kahlil Gibran by Kahlil Gibran…

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My personal copy

…taught me that language is best used honestly.

Often times, writers feel compelled to sophisticate their writing by adding pounds of abstract detail and convoluted ideas into their work. The practice is tempting, after all. Elevating one’s work to a higher degree is certainly a goal worth striving for. But the way Kahlil Gibran achieves this “higher degree” is by approaching language in such a way that can best be described as honest.

Gibran pulls from nature and emotion to convey ideas clearly and without pretension, a style which suits his subject matter. His clarity has more impact on me than any flowery piece I’ve read. His messages and the imagery with which he delivers them are incredible.

The way Gibran uses language is how I would like to use language in my writing: Properly, clearly, and honestly.

Without a doubt, this 900 pound behemoth is worthy of your read.

1. Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan…

LOCCover.jpgtaught me that stories can transcend the page.

The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan is my favorite book series of all time. And that is putting it lightly. In the future, I will write up some WoT-centric posts, so if there are any Robert Jordan fans reading, say hello in the comments so we can bask in the glory of the Pattern together.

Lord of Chaos is the 6th book of the 14-book fantasy series. This installment is not only my favorite of the series thus far (I am currently reading book 9) but my favorite book of all time. (cue Kanye). Now, don’t get me wrong. The Wheel of Time universe became real to me from the very beginning. Books 1-5 had plenty of exciting, engaging moments. But Lord of Chaos cranked up the profound nature of the series from a 10/10 to a 25/10.

Above the host of story-changing moments throughout the narrative, various significant character moments, and a refreshing look at the antagonists’ perspective, there is another thing which sets Lord of Chaos above anything I have ever read. Two words: Dumai’s Wells.

The effects that this event at Dumai’s Wells had on me, on the characters, and on the story amalgamated into one big, “Oh my God.” In the same way that one is shocked by national tragedies and the deaths of beloved celebrities, Dumai’s Wells was, for me, very, very real. I was nearly ill at the details. For writing on a page to force me to articulate this one event so strongly is evidence enough that, if crafted with passion and read with excitement, fictional word can become a part of somebody’s life. And that is powerful.

~J.J. Azar

Writers, Don’t Reject Your Voice!

During my freshman year of high school, my friend Eruheran and I decided to try our hands at writing a piece for an essay contest. What the essay topic was escapes me, so let’s just say we were both tasked with writing about narwhals.

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narwhal: a horned sea creature notorious for skewering our dearest sea friends.

So once Eruheran and I had completed our narwhal essays, we passed them along to our English teacher at the time, requesting that she read them and provide some feedback to help us out. But our teacher changed the entire dynamic of the situation when she asked, “Whose essay would you like me to read first?”

And there it was. A spark of challenge. Eruheran and I looked at each other with grave expressions. Were we doomed to squabble over the privilege of receiving the first read like Roman gladiators? Were we destined to clash like Maximus Decimus Meridius and Emperor Commodus? Were we bound to fight like Mufasa and Scar? Were we fated to feud like M. Night Shyamalan and all respectable movie-going audiences? No. Eruheran and I decided to unite.

Instead of playing ball, we seized our trusted Sharpies, crossed out our names classified-CIA style, and handed them to the teacher. “It’s your call,” we determined.

And so, days later, our teacher returned our essays to us, and without fail, she put my paper on my desk and Eruheran’s paper on his desk. She knew who wrote which essay because of that little thing called voice. Even though we both wrote about narwhals, my teacher was able to confidently identify the fingerprint pressed upon each paper. My teacher knew her students’ writing well enough to differentiate my essay from my friend’s.

The moment my paper was returned to my desk, I understood the power of voice. Simply put, voice is a writer’s style. Some writers certainly bear similarities to others, but ultimately, one cannot feign a style. If I try to sing like Sinatra, I might sound like him when I hit a certain note (silence), but in the end, I’m just going to sound like me. It’ll still going to be my voice.

And so, fellow writers, I urge you this: Hold on to your voice.

Often times we expose ourselves to so many tips and opinions and insights as to how we should write this or write that. I’ve read people vehemently stress that a writer should use “said” to preface a line of dialogue sparingly. They assert that in most cases, a writer should replace “said” with a more animated verb like “bark” or “growl.”

Upon seeing the narwhal charging with its menacing horn , J.J. barked, “Run!”

I’ve also read people who reject that notion entirely, arguing that one cannot “bark” a line of dialogue, and thus “said” and its more conventional variants should be used in most cases.

Upon seeing the narwhal charging with its menacing horn, J.J. shouted, “Run!”

And then I’ve read opinions from others who insist that prefacing dialogue with anything at all is futile, as the tone of the dialogue should be made clear by the prior action or expression delineated immediately before it.

J.J. saw the charging narwhal and turned on his heel. “Run!”

I’ve learned that those rules of “never” and “always” are utterly useless. If I want to animate a character’s speech by having him bark it, I will. If I want to frame a back-and-the-forth argument using “said,” I will. If I don’t want to preface my dialogue with any word at all, I will.

Of course, a line of dialogue can be presented poorly, and so best judgement is implied in my suggestion of taking liberties, but my point stands. Writers budding and veteran, new and experienced, rusty and polished, do what you’ve been taught to do since kindergarten: Be yourself. Because if you go on trying to write like somebody else for the sake of “doing it right,” readers will be left with nothing new, nothing fresh, nothing original. In an era of Hollywood remakes and rehashes, cookie-cutter novels, and formulaic channel 1-through-ten television shows, that is the last thing the good people of the world need.

Additionally, dismissing your voice is a dishonor to yourself.

If Tarantino cut down his dialogue, we would have never seen Jules Winnfield spend an entire scene delivering gem after gem of dialogue revolving around a burger. Tarantino had that scene in him, and it is all the better that he put it out into the world. And the world loves that he did.

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If Robert Jordan didn’t describe the texture and color and material of every floor and wall he ever wrote…well, I suppose I would be done with the Wheel of Time series already. But his attention to detail is one of the key aspects as to what makes Robert Jordan’s writing Robert Jordan’s writing. In order to invest himself in his own world, he had to paint it so vividly.

I don’t want to read or watch anything conventional. Do you?

Now, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t seek out wisdom from your elders, because you should! Fill your head! Listen to what other authors have to say. Read about writing. Read about reading. Read. Write. Seek feedback. Always try to better yourself. But with thatyou must remain true to your essence.

Make the odd decision. Have faith in your reader’s intelligence. Have faith in your ability, in your story. Write boldly. Write as you want to.

If you like what you see here, drop a comment to let me know what you think, and if you really like what you see here, you are welcome to subscribe if you haven’t already!

Thank you for your continued support, and as always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

The Trouble with Genre

To kick off today’s post, I would like you to envision something for a moment. Let’s pretend you’re baking a cake in your kitchen. We’re going to assume that it’s a Tiramisu cake because I want to be cheeky and reference a previous post, and we’re also going to assume you’re decked out in your chef’s hat. As you’re busting your ass working over flour-stained countertops, your youngest sibling saunters into the kitchen like a pointy-eared imp who has no business spectating.

So you’re whisking together flour and milk and eggs in a bowl with the wrist of Ares, beating the damn ingredients together like they owe you gambling debt, and there’s your little sibling waiting for the perfect opportunity to break your concentration. And finally the little thing asks, “What kind of cake are you making?”

You look at your sibling with eyes of death. “Tiramisu,” you hastily answer. You don’t have time to answer these questions! The cake isn’t going to bake itself!

“Oh,” your sibling responds, ears drooping. “I don’t like that.” The imp scampers away and you are left discouraged and frustrated.

‘It’s not just tiramisu,’ you think. ‘It’s my tiramisu. My tiramisu has extra cinnamon. I whip it a certain way (quote me on that). I make it fluffier. I even throw cumin in there. My tiramisu isn’t like the rest!’ Or so we think.

All of us bakers (authors) feel we have something that is our own, something that couldn’t possibly be grouped under a single, blanket term. And there lies the problem with genre.

Unless somebody is dead set on writing something like a classic, true-to-form sci-fi or a traditional, homestyle romance, there aren’t a whole lot of authors who can comfortably place their work under a single genre.

I label my novel-in-the-works as being a “western adventure” because I have to label it with something. I have to. Readers and publishers alike expect a foothold, and I am obligated to provide one. But when it comes down to it, creative works simply aren’t that simple.

Let’s take Breaking Bad as an example. If you have yet to watch the show in its entirety, fear not, as there will be no spoilers from me. On the other hand, if you have yet to watch the show in its entirety, you really ought to get that taken care of.

So what genre would you place Breaking Bad in? Wikipedia says that it’s a crime drama. Well, so is Sherlock. So is Person of Interest. So is CSI (you can choose which of the 1500 versions). Breaking Bad, Sherlock, Person of Interest, and CSI are four very different shows on a conceptual level, yet they are grouped under the same umbrella. If you were to tell me that Breaking Bad was a crime drama about a meth-dealing chemistry teacher with lung cancer, I would assume that the show’s conflict centered around the cops and their investigation of the teacher. And boy would I be wrong.

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credit: Jared Nickerson

Sure, technically, Breaking Bad is a crime drama. Walter White enters the world of crime and there is a whole lot of drama revolving around marital conflict and such. But the label sucks the individuality right out of the show. The label is devaluing.

One could consider Breaking Bad a dark comedy. Since its first episode, with all of its absurdity involving tighty-whities, the narrative never fails to put forth more far-fetched situations and ridiculous characters.

One could pin Breaking Bad as a thriller. Who’s to say it’s not? It has every element attributable to a thriller. (“excitement, suspense, a high level of anticipation, ultra-heightened expectation, uncertainty, anxiety, and nerve-wracking tension” filmsite.org).

Breaking Bad even dabbles in the supernatural (something about a plane) and is filled with philosophy and artistic/symbolic imagery. So is it an intense crime show or a cerebral character study?

And it’s worth noting that Episode 1 differs from Episode 62 in tone and subject matter entirely! Does the show’s genre fluctuate by season? Is it even allowed to do that?

In the end, can’t we simply conclude that Breaking Bad is a crime drama thriller dark-comedy philosophical character study? Perhaps. But what’s the point of that? (Something about a football-playing king in space comes to mind).

That’s the trouble with genre. It’s just a label. And, as is the case with all labels, they hinge upon our preconceived notions. I’m personally tired of the ol’ formulaic crime show. If Breaking Bad wasn’t forced upon me by enthusiastic friends and family, I would have never watched it because of its label. And that would have been a tragedy.

To the authors, musicians, filmmakers, content-creators reading: What is your frustration regarding genre when it is applied to your work? Sound off in the comments below.

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

P.S. Thank you for bearing with me as I work to find a posting schedule that works best!

J.J. Azar: Who I Am and What I Write

 

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Hello, lovely ladies and classy gents! Welcome to my blog!

My name is J.J. Azar, and I’m writing a book. If you’d like to learn more about me and what I’m working on, look no further. You’re in the right place. Please take this mug of warm milk, sit back, and enjoy.

When I emerged into the world a fat child, my dear dad and loving mother named me “Johnathan Johnny Azar.” Why Johnathan? Probably because they wanted to overcompensate for my potential dim-wittedness by attaching a sophisticated name to my cheeky face. Why Johnny? Because that’s my father’s name, and that’s how we take our middle names in Middle Eastern culture (Shortly after my birth, my parents purchased a home with a three-car garage expressly so they could keep our camel sheltered from the cold). Why Azar? Because that’s my dad’s dad’s dad’s last name, and I presume that it was my dad’s dad’s dad’s dad’s last name too.

But nobody, not even my parents, know me as “JOHNATHAN…JOHNNY…AZAR.” Most just call me Johnathan. Some of my friends call me John even after I make it clear that “I prefer Johnathan” (Honestly, I might as well stop trying and throw myself into the Fires of Mordor!)

A handful of acquaintances prefer to call me “Azar!” The guy who fills my gas down the street from my house calls me “Boss” (and he cleans my windshield for free, too!)

Some call me “Juck,” a name whose origin has been heatedly debated amongst aunts and cousins who have strong feelings and apparently superhuman memories regarding who actually spawned the title during the antiquity of my youth. I used the moniker when I commandeered a review blog and slayed zombies on the Xbox, but it has since evolved into a sort of semi-rare delicacy, much like caviar and chivalry. Only an elite few call me that today, and God bless them!

How, then, did “J.J. Azar” come about? What fanciful, resonant origin story can I attribute to that slick-sounding name? Here’s what happened:

I was sitting at the dessert table shoveling cake into my mouth when my uncle Elvis, who was sitting beside me, paid me a glance. His eyes caught mine. At that moment, I knew I’d been caught devouring Tiramisu like a fiend. I had to act fast. I thanked God I wasn’t eating a banana, then said, “I’m writing a book.”

“Really?” he asked with a shrug of the mouth. “Are you going to have a penname?”

“Nope,” I resolutely responded. I hadn’t even entertained assuming a penname. Why would I?

“Like J.J. Azar,” he suggested, not quite as a question, not quite as a statement. He kind of just said it.

And there it was. Without even putting me to sleep Inception-style, my uncle Elvis planted a seed in my mind that grew into a tall, strong, handsome, slightly-pale tree. And here I am! So what am I doing here? Better yet, what are you doing here?

Well folks, just like that 5-year-old kid you babysit, just like your nostalgic grandma Fran, just like your uncle Rico and your parole officer Dave, I want to become a published author. I want to become a published author so I can share my writing with you lovely ladies and classy gents!

As I type this, I am halfway through completing the first draft of a western-adventure novel. I intend to type “The End” on the piece’s first draft by January 1st, 2017, kind of like a reverse New Years’ Resolution! And the clock is ticking!

“What do you write?” you ask.

Well, I write swashbuckling with words.

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I am a firm believer in the power of words. I have learned that words have the potential to cut sharper than swords when woven in particular ways. As I see it, that’s what writing is all about: evoking a reaction through the presentation of language. And so, when people ask me what I write, the best answer I could possibly provide is, “Swashbuckling with words.” Whether the swashbuckling within the novel manifests through high-stakes negotiation between enemies, sharp banter between friends, internal conflict, a hard day’s journey, or literal sword-fighting, the vessel through which each and every breath of a written story is conveyed is languageWords.

For a synopsis of my novel-in-progress and some more about me, be sure to check out the About Me page above!

As I brave the Road of Authorship, stumbling over every rock on the way, I invite you to walk alongside me so you can point and laugh and cheer as I fall on my ass and get back up again.

By subscribing via WordPress or email, you can keep up with my posts, which will include updates on my writing progress, original stories, excerpts from my work(s)-in-progress, musings about writing, and other things. (like me on Facebook, too!)

I hope you decide to stick around, as there is plenty more to come. Expect a post once a week on Friday or Saturday. And please feel free to leave a comment! Even a simply hello will suffice!

As always, keep it real. People-like people are often the best kind.

~J.J. Azar