Question and Answer with J.J. Azar (#2)

Hello, lovely ladies and classy gents!

This is J.J. Azar serving you a hearty bowl of Q and A! Thanks once again for your questions and support. Here is the chowder which came of your efforts! Enjoy! (HD viewing is highly recommended).

As always, stay classy!

~J.J. Azar

Novel Excerpt #2: Campfires at Midnight

Hello, lovely ladies and classy gents!

Earlier this week, I presented two options as to which excerpt from my novel-in-the-works you would be interested in taking a gander at. The competition was close, as it was last time, but the majority of you fine individuals selected Choice #1, pulled from a chapter titled, “Campfires at Midnight.” Thanks to all who voted! The excerpt’s summary is as follows:

Clarence and Kairi settle down by firelight to unwind after a long day’s travel. But the night is prolonged when Kairi pulls out a bottle of uju…

I sincerely hope you enjoy it. Any thoughts on the passage would be greatly appreciated.

Without further ado, here it is!

(Word count: 1190)

____

The flame ignited with a spectral moan.

Kairi’s pretty face appeared in the darkness and she lifted her eyes to look at Clarence. Her features glowed in the yellow firelight, blue eyes sultry as ever despite the faint circles that underlined them. The chill in the air was already melting away. The sight, the warmth, even the sound of the quiet crackling fire was a comfort to Clarence. And yet, he couldn’t help but pay mind to the tightness blooming in his chest like a thorny rose. He could be around fire with a sane mind; of that he was sure. He had spent countless nights beside campfires and countless days beside inn hearths since the accident without incident. Even still, the episode he suffered two nights ago instilled upon him new fear. A vision stroke, Bechamel had called it. Clarence hadn’t a reason to suspect that sitting beside a calm fire would trigger an inadvertent attack, but a caution lingered.

Kairi must have noticed, because she gasped a feminine gasp. Women had a habit of reading faces. “I forgot! Let me put it out.”

“I’m alright, I promise,” Clarence insisted with a raised hand. The heat felt nice pulsing against his skin.

Kairi tightened her brows at him. “Are you certain?” she asked, voice steady. “I do have the means of keeping you warm if we put it out.”

Clarence couldn’t help a wolfish grin from sprouting across his face. He raised a considering finger to his lips. “Do you?”

Kairi nodded, her rich blonde hair reflecting glints of gold radiating from the fire. Her grin was just as mischievous as his. Maybe moreso. The girl broke her crouch and settled her knees on the cavern floor so she could reach her bag which lay a couple of paces away. She grasped the sack and pulled it towards her, a feat that would have proven significantly more difficult had the bag been filled to its capacity as it was when the trio had departed two nights ago. Food went quicker than the wind, it seemed, but Kairi assured Clarence that there was plenty left. He had yet to lay eyes on the contents of the sack himself, of course. He didn’t believe that touching a woman’s bag was proper, really. That was just one of those rules about being a man.

The Gish stuck her hand into the leather bag and removed it after a short bout of clattering. Emerging in Kairi’s grasp was a green bottle large enough to sate a table’s thirst at dinner. Even through the green glass and the glare splayed upon the bottle by the steady fire, Clarence could determine with certainty that the liquid inside wasn’t soka. Soka sparkled like fireworks, and a proper Gish wouldn’t lift a bottle of soka for casual consumption. Not even a fiery spirit like Kairi. “What is it?” Clarence asked.

Kairi traced her finger around the bottle’s corked tip and, through a simmering smile, said, “Uju. Alcohol always makes me feel warm when I drink it.”

Clarence tsked. He pulled a knee to his chest, allowing his other leg to rest extended across the rocky ground. He smiled into Kairi’s face.

“Alcohol doesn’t do anything for me,” Clarence confessed.

“You mean you do not like it?” Kairi asked. The flesh around her eyes contracted ever so slightly. She still wore that melting smile, though. Was she challenging him?

“No,” Clarence replied. “I like it. I like Scotch, sometimes. I just…don’t believe in it.”

Kairi cocked her head sideways. Clarence cocked his head in turn. When had she moved so close to him? The warmth emanating from her skin was hotter than the heat fanning from the crackling fire. “You do not believe it is moral to drink alcohol?” she asked, digging into his eyes with her own.

Clarence hesitated. How could he explain this? Best to come right out and say it. It was midnight, after all. The moon softened hearts. Perhaps Kairi would be open to what he had to say. Fighting to keep his voice stoic, Clarence pronounced, “I don’t believe a man can get drunk the way everyone thinks.” Kairi only stared, her blue eyes locked onto his. Her smile filled her face to her forehead. “You are teasing me,” she determined.

“No!” Clarence resolved. “Think about it. How does a man seem when he drinks?”

“Stupid,” Kairi responded without pausing to find the thought.

“Exactly, he seems stupid. If you give a man an excuse to act stupid, he’ll seize the opportunity. That’s all alcohol is: an excuse. Does it touch the mind in a physical way? I don’t think so.”

Kairi studied him, searching his face for a tell. “You do not believe that.”

Clarence shook his head, expression stony. “I believe it.”

“Then you have never kissed a bottle.”

“I have,” Clarence assured her. “To no effect.”

“Are you drunk?” Kairi asked, black brows drawn down in a tight furrow. “This is how men talk when they are drunk. They speak boldly of things they know nothing about.”

He would show her bold. The green-eyed man released the knee he held to his chest and shifted himself so he was on his hands and knees, a wolf prowling. He leapt atop of Kairi, turning her from her side to her back. She laughed as he slipped his hands into hers. He held her pinned as she had held him, once. Looking down on the girl was a sight. The Gish’s golden hair lay splayed on the cave floor like a wave around her head. Her chest stirred up and down with her breath. Her blue eyes were fixed on his greens. Her smile touched her ears. Clarence leaned in so his nose was a touch away from hers and said, “Men speaking boldly of things they know nothing about? Kairi, you just described a sober man. You see? Alcohol doesn’t change a thing in your head.”

Kairi shrugged her mouth, good spirits pouring through the expression. “I have seen women drink themselves to where their minds tell them to climb atop men they have seldom spoken to. Is that not the work of alcohol?”

The girl’s breath smelled sweet. Like honey. Clarence cocked his head and scanned Kairi’s eyes without any apprehension about his exploration. Her smile told that she was open to being explored, and she seemed to be taking a good look at his eyes as well. Perhaps in a manner more brazen than bold, Clarence dared to say, “If I’m not mistaken, I think I remember a particular girl climbing on top of me with a perfectly sober mind.”

Kairi dropped her jaw. “I was subduing you, Clarence Cash! And it was you who played words with me. I did not make advances.”

Clarence allowed his green eyes to fill with gloating. He had the girl on the defensive, now.

Copyright 2017 J.J. Azar

Thank you for reading!

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

Holy Cannoli! I Received the Liebster Award!

Ladies and gents, today is a jolly good day! During my absence from WordPress, I was nominated for an award by the kind Aussie behind Mistakes and Adventures! It’s about time that I accept it! I’ve been reading James’ blog for quite some time, and he’s been following mine for a while too. In addition to posting about his exciting travels, James also writes short stories and poetry, which is how I found him!

LiebsterAwardAccording to James, the purpose of the Liebster Award is to promote small blogs. After I answer the questions James asked me, I have to come up with my own 11 for the fine bloggers I nominate! Without further ado, let’s do this! Let us Lieb!

  1. If you had to recommend one country you’ve visited to a brand new traveler where would that be? Bonus points for also recommending somewhere within that country to visit.

It seems I must begin with a confession…I have never traveled to another country.

*gasp* “But J.J., how could you possibly be so uncultured?!”

I have no excuse for you this time, disembodied voice. I have never left the United States. I do plan on travelling in the future, though! I want to visit Bruges (literally only because the movie) and Paris to start.

Would I recommend the U.S. to those who haven’t been here? Visit New York City is all I can say. Otherwise, join me on my travels outside the US!

2. What is the main purpose of your blog?

First and foremost, the purpose of my blog is to document my journey on the road to attaining published authorship. Secondly, I aim to entertain.tenor (1).gif

3. What is the most exotic/culturally different thing that you’ve ever done to date?

Does eating this sweet bale of hay count?aBNj0jI.jpg

4. What are your plans for the future? (Travel, written word, general survival etc)

The future? I can hardly tell you what I’m having for dinner. Even still, I do have some goals! I’ll hit on those you asked about.

Travel: As I mentioned before, I want to travel to Paris. Bruges too, I guess, partly as a joke. But definitely Paris! If I don’t find myself in a well or kidnapped by the end of either trip, I’ll probably travel some more!

Written word: I want to finish writing this first novel of mine. After that…well, let me finish the darned thing first!

General survival: I want to consume meat. And water. That’s all I need.

5. Where would you like to go if you had infinite cash for two months?

Chic-fil-A.

6. Why did you start blogging?

I started blogging to supplement my novel-writing! Writing is a solitary thing. I’d like to have some good company around when I pursue this published authorship goal.

7. Have you ever experienced culture shock and if so where was it?

California. 2012. My father asked the man at the deli for a Taylor ham, egg, and cheese sandwich. The deli man’s face was seized by blank confusion. Little did I know that such a sandwich was foreign outside of Jersey. I did not enjoy my breakfast that morning.

8. What was the most naive thing you ever did on the road?

I presumed that the deli man knew what a Taylor ham, egg, and cheese sandwich was. That was naive.

9. What writing advice would you have for aspiring bloggers who might read this?

Before writing your blog, have a Taylor ham, egg, and cheese sandwich.

10. Classic deserted island question: Can only take 3 things with you, what are they?

Taylor ham, egg, and cheese.

11. Do you have a favourite book and if so what is it? (Feel free to list a top 3 if that’s too narrow)

Taylor h—kidding (kind of).

My favorite (I corrected James’ odd Australian spelling) book is Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan, the sixth book of the Wheel of Time series.

At this point in the post, I’ve switched to using my phone. Why? Because I’m currently in a whirlpool jacuzzi with good friends. The thing is, I feel compelled to finish this post and send it out! J.J. isn’t going disappear again! As it stands, I still have to leave 11 questions for those who I am nominating for the Liebster Award! Those would be A.S. AkkalonM.L.S. Weech, and Eva Blaskovic. Given that I’m soaking in a hot tub right now with fine people, I thought it would be appropriate to involve them in the question-creation process. Thus, I present to you the questions the four of us came up with. Nominees, here are your questions!

  1. During which moment of your life do you wish your enemies could see you?
  2. If you could have dinner with one person who has died, from history or otherwise, who would it be?
  3. Tell us about a time you ratted on somebody/something.
  4. Can you speak another language?
  5. Do you have any superstitions?
  6. Renaissance or Baroque? (we wanted to be snobs)
  7. Clear mornings or thunderstorms?
  8. Hamburger or hotdog?
  9. War. What is it good for?
  10. What common food grosses you out/does not appeal to you?
  11. What’s something you learned from your grandparents?

Good luck with those. Thanks again to James for this nomination! These questions warmed me up for my upcoming Q and A.

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

You Choose: Which Story Excerpt Should I Share? (#2)

Hello, lovely ladies and classy gents!

Long ago, I posted a poll presenting you fine people with a choice as to which passage of my story-in-the-works you would like to read a sample of. The competition was heated, but the result prompted me to share this excerpt. To my surprise, it was overwhelming well received. You guys humbled me, and I still appreciate that you dedicated a few minutes to read the brief extract. Given that the last time I shared a chunk of my story was in December, I figure it’s time to give it a go once again. After all, this is the place where I share every aspect of my writing journey. This time around, both excerpts are about 1400 words long. So, if you would be so kind, please take a gander at the options below and vote as to which you would be most interested in reading. Or don’t! Low voter turnout never hurt anybody!

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Choice #1, pulled from a chapter titled, “Campfires at Midnight”

Clarence and Kairi settle down by firelight to unwind after a long day’s travel. But the night is prolonged when Kairi pulls out a bottle of uju...

Choice #2, pulled from a chapter titled, “For Cash, For Coin”

After months of labor, Kal is finally prepared to unveil the weapons he painstakingly crafted for Clarence. But what Clarence gets is not what he expected…

Here is the poll!

If you’d like some assistance in making a choice, I can help you out in the comments!

Thanks for voting!

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

Writing the Five Senses: Sight

Hello, lovely ladies and classy gents!

I’m excited to share the first part of what is sure to be my richest series of posts to date. I’ll be taking a look at how writers can use the five senses to engage the reader. Today, we begin with sight. I’ve selected excerpts from the works of fellow bloggers (with their permission) to show examples of each sense used effectively, as well as excerpts from my novel-in-the-works (with my permission) to show examples of my attempts to use each sense effectively. Buckle up for some sensory stimulation, grab a cold bottle of Coca-Cola, and enjoy!

Sight:

Storytelling is a visual art. If I tell you, “Upon hearing Kylie’s absurd Starbucks order, the angsty barista rolled his eyes and began preparing the meticulous drink,” you’re not likely to smell the coffee smell characteristic of Starbucks. You’re not likely to hear the indie-acoustic music characteristic of Starbucks. You’re not likely the taste the poorly prepared coffee characteristic of Starbucks. Instead, you’re likely imagining the situation as it is presented to you: visually. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Sight is the foremost human sense, after all. Telling what we see is the default means of storytelling. If we were bats, we would put more weight in auditory description, but we aren’t (well, not all of us. I, for one, am the Batman). Because we tell stories this way (visually), it’s crucial that writers spice up their visual description. One can go about merely describing what a setting looks like, and at times, a functional description is all that is needed, but “functional” isn’t what I’m looking to ponder today. Stimulating is! I want to investigate how a writer can flood a reader’s mind with vivid images that vibrate pleasantly.

Stimulating sight through nuance:

To start, let’s take a look at an excerpt that Gordon Ramsay might call, “RAW!” Raw in a good way, that is. In the following passage from fellow blogger A.Z. Anthony’s short story, Kiss of the White Mistress Part 1, Anthony evokes a handful of powerful images by writing with nuance.giphy (2).gif

The stew settled into a calm heat, steam rising in thick curtains as Jao took a steadying breath and stared down into it. A shadowy silhouette stared back up at him. His face, he realized, but different. A ghastly mockery of what it once had been. This was not the face of the man his father had raised. Not the face of the man his little brother had grown up knowing. But it was his face now, like it or not. His confinement here had changed him, bent and hammered him into a fouler and crueler man. Soon, his captors would learn just how foul, and just how cruel. It was almost a blessing, Jao thought, that his companions were not here to see it. A.Z. AnthonyKiss of the White Mistress Part 1

Stunning, right? Stunning, but not flashy! This passage resonated with me the first time I read it because Anthony’s words conveyed the situation at hand so clearly. My mind produced a full image of what was occurring (Of course, the image was bolstered by the preceding and following paragraphs not included here). A deeper look reveals why this passage painted such a clear picture. Did you catch how Anthony relaxes his prose prior to Jao’s reflection? He uses the phrases, “stew settled,” “calm heat,” and “steadying breath” to lower the passage’s heart rate, so to speak. Then, he darkens the passage’s tone and introduces the reader to backstory regarding Jao’s haunting past. Jao witnesses his “shadowy silhouette” and begins to reflect. We see the words, “confinement,” “bent,” “hammered,” “fouler,” and “crueler,” all of which stand in stark contrast to the initial, relaxed details.

Anthony only described a man looming over a pot of stew, yet the muscles he added to the scene made the scenario engaging. It made it appealing to “look at.”

Stimulating sight through scale:

Likewise, a reader’s sense of sight can also be stimulated by vivid, sweeping images. Take this passage from my novel-in-the-works as an example.

From bow to stern, port to starboard, the Ping Dong was surrounded by boundless blue water. She was a moving island of red sails and black softwood cutting into the sea with an arrow’s intent. Her spread sails were shaped like dragon’s wings, or perhaps carp’s fins. In any case, her sails bore an unmistakable Chinese aesthetic. Even the Ping Dong’s hull was cut much like a sleek fish, curving like a bowl and paneled with red squares which seemed scales when laid atop the black planks that comprised the ship’s hulking hull. Creaking and groaning as she bobbed up and down swelling waves, the Ping Dong flew eastward in a forward manner, never slowing in the face of wind or tide.

Hopefully, this passage communicates a living image which you can visualize in great detail. This sort of method is fitting when one intends to introduce the reader to a new setting or a transition to a new time. One wouldn’t be wise to apply description this heavy to every page, but precise application can provide for grand results!

Stimulating sight through acute attention to one particular detail:

Have you ever read a story where the narrator attributes a name to a character who is unknown to him/her based upon a glaring physical attribute (ex: Katniss Everdeen naming an opposing tribute, “Foxface”)? This technique serves a writer well in that it helps him/her to identify a character shorthand, yet it also expedites the reader’s ability to form an image in his/her mind of said character. Think about it. If my character is about to fight five men, I could certainly take it upon myself to describe each opponent, but the description is likely to dissolve soon as the action starts. Furthermore, asking the reader to remember what is in all likelihood frivolous information simply isn’t cool. Labeling a character by a distinct feature clarifies what he/she is like. To me, “Foxface” characterizes far more than the tribute’s face. I perceive the character as being nimble and red-headed. The name sums up her demeanor as much as it does her face.

Final Point: One can stimulate the reader’s sense of sight by weaving subtle description, by painting broad illustrations, and by applying acute attention to small details. A healthy mix of these techniques can yield exciting results. Note, there are a plethora of other ways to play with sight. This post highlights only a few fine techniques.

What do you think? Did any of these methods/examples strike you as effective? Fellow writers, how do you go about stimulating a reader’s sense of sight? I love hearing from you!

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

January Writing Update and My New Deadline

Hello, lovely ladies and classy gents!

At the end of December, I laid out a game plan after I failed to meet my self-imposed first-draft deadline. Since then, I’ve done my best to make the changes pinpointed in the post. Let’s see how I fared.

A Writing Environment. Done. Despite not raising enough money to build a writing barn, I’ve located two ideal writing spots in my home. Both are comfortable. Both have outlets within range. All is well. (Thank you to the anonymous donor who contributed 18 cents to my writing barn. Maybe next year).

A Set Writing Time. Done. I’ve determined that it would serve me best to write at night, after the day’s obligations have been fulfilled. Thus, I no longer open my writing document when I know I won’t be able to write anything. It sounds like common sense, but I was previously in a rut of clicking the doc, scrolling, and abandoning it because I didn’t have a window of time during which I could work on it. This makes the time when I do open the document more precious.

Exercise. Done. I’ve been going to the gym Monday through Thursday and working out at home over the weekends. I’m committed. It’s good stuff.

Focus on Demand. NOT done. Won’t be done. Impossible. Sounds too close to drugs. I don’t do drugs.

YouTube. Kind of done. I’ve chilled out with the YouTube. With everybody losing their minds over the state of politics here in the US, I’ve withdrawn for my own sanity, cutting down on YouTube significantly. So that’s good.

BioShock. Done. I haven’t touched the thing. I can’t wait to return to it though!

Snapchat. Highly controlled. It isn’t consuming as much of my time as it once was. Trust me, I’m good 🙂

Blogging (while writing)Highly controlled. Something’s clicked in my head and I’ve applied more focus into the novel-in-the-works when it comes time to write.

Not bad, eh? Now, about the writing…

The month of January thrust an array of new things into my lap virtually all at once: a challenging semester, a triumphant return to work, a classy lady, etc. With that, I’ve adopted a disciplined mindset to adjust to all of these things. It’s the writing I’m still trying to figure out. As it stands, I’m at a crucial moment in my novel. I’m about to introduce Carmengrove, a town which serves as a major setting in this story and will serve as a major setting in stories to come. I want to ensure that I understand the town’s workings and populace before I put a word to paper. I need Carmengrove to live and breathe. And so, every time I open up the document, I find myself taking notes and building up the setting. This preparation may be stalling the writing progress as it’s measured by page count, but it’s a necessary part of the process, so I’m entirely fine with it. That’s the deal with my writing. I’m sliding back into it, and I’m more excited than ever!

Finally, I’ve locked down the new deadline for the first draft of my novel-in-the-works. The date is…

36b1d2ff2cd00f70958ecda72d0f7c56
Drum roll please!

JUNE 15, 2017.

It’s nowhere near as dynamic as the previous deadline of January 1st, 2017, but it’s my deadline! Why June 15th? Frankly, June 15th is one month after I finish my Spring semester of college. I don’t want to cram the deadline into the school year (because it worked so well last time 😉 ). I figure this date gives me plenty of time to finish up this first draft! I am being patient with myself, and I hope you’ll be patient with me.

That’s the January Writing Update for ya, folks! I hope the first month of the year treated you well.

Thank you for reading.

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

Officially Lovely: I Received the One Lovely Blog Award

I shed a tear upon seeing that I have been nominated for my very first WordPress award by the wickedly popular WordPress newcomer, Jamie at The Comic Vault. It was a manly, salty tear which fell like a rock, but it was a tear nonetheless. If you like comics, you have to check out Jamie’s blog. Despite being on WordPress for only a short time, he has made his position in the community clear: his blog is the place for comic musings and analyses. He hasn’t made that claim so boldly, but I’ll say it for him! Thank you, Jamie!

This whole thing is wild because if you take a gander at my posts you’ll see that I often begin by saying hello to you “lovely ladies and classy gents.” This is the One Lovely Blog Award! Coincidence? I think not! So, what does this award entail? Allow me to don my monocle and investigate the fine print. My instructions are as follows.

  • Thank the person who nominated you and link their blog
  • Add the One Lovely Blog Award to your post
  • Share 7 things about yourself
  • Pass this on to as many people as you like (max 15)
  • Include this set of rules
  • Inform your nominees

lovelyblog

It seems I’ve been tasked with sharing 7 things about myself. If that’s what it takes for this blog to be certified lovely, I won’t spare a moment!

Numbah One!

I firmly believe that there is one steak to rule them all: Ribeye is king. Yes, yes, Filet Mignon is perfect and well and fine, and I will certainly crown it king in my older age when I can no longer indulge in fat, but for now, Ribeye is my go-to. The steak’s thickness and trim of fat gives it potential which surpasses other cuts.

Numbah Two!

I am a college student with a double major. I am currently studying Political Science and Philosophy, gearing up for Law School. I can’t say I won’t change anything (I probably will), but this is the plan for now.

Numbah Three!

I’ve made three major moves. I was born and raised in New Jersey. I moved to California at the age of 12. I moved back to Jersey at the age of 16. The four year stint provided me with a world entirely different from Jersey. Three things you should know about California:

  1. Californians take it slow. It’s like they all take some kind of organic vegan environmentally friendly Jack Johnson pill every morning. They stand in stark contrast to New Jersians, who run exclusively on coffee and road rage.
  2. The traffic is brutal. You want to go somewhere? California laughs at your foolishness. Plan on sitting in your car for far longer than is reasonable by any standard.
  3. There is so much to do. I lived there for four years and did a ton of cool things, but the state is so vast I haven’t seen a fraction of it. If you can stand the unholy traffic, you can see a whole lot!

Numbah Four!

I rank the four seasons as follows:

4. Autumn. Autumn is the season that kind of just has to be there. Given that I’ve been a student all of my life, it has always signified a return to school, a place which pales in comparison to the beach and the pool. Leaves fall and pile up on the sides of the roads which further complicates my life. No thank you, autumn. Get outta here.

3. Spring. Here in Jersey, it gets humid during the spring. By humid, I mean you step outside and you immediately feel as if you’ve just emerged from the shower. But spring offers warm weather after the chilling cold that is winter, so I welcome it like Idina Menzel welcomes mispronunciations of her name.

giphy (1).gif

2. Winter. It’s all about Christmas time. Christmas time is my jam. The music, the food, the family, the time off, the vibes, the celebration of Christ’s birth and the New Year all come together to make one heck of an exciting time-of-year. I like Christmas so much, in fact, that I intend to write a book set in my western world that takes places during Christmas.

1. Summer. Summer provides me the opportunity to do my favorite things: swim, hang outside, go to the beach, hit amusement parks, run amok…Who doesn’t like summer? Please, identify yourself in the comments so we can fix you.

Numbah Five!

I am a member of a squad of five strapping lads. We are formally known as the Five Strapping Lads. Meet my cousins:

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From left to right we have Robby, yours truly, Justin, Jordan, and George.

How’s that for a team?

Numbah Six!

LOCCover.jpg

 

My favorite book is Book Six of the Wheel of Time series, Lord of Chaos. It is a refreshing book of astronomical scale that is written expertly. Furthermore, it is full of moments which prompted me to leap out of my seat and run laps around my house.

Numbah Seven!

I am a fan of the Magnificent Seven, both the original and the remake. I have yet to see the original original, Seven Samurai, but I intend to. This tidbit is relevant because my writing takes place in the western genre, however different my take on the American West may be.

So that’s a bit about me! If there’s anything that stood out to you, feel free to drop your thoughts in the comments.

___

I would like to pass the Lovely Blog Award along to the following blogs which are highly deserving of it. If this happens to be a repeat nomination for any of those named, my apologies. I nominate:

A.Z. Anthony

Eva Blaskovic

PencilNeckGeek

Aimee Davis

Thank you all for reading.

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

J.J. Azar is Back with a Vengeance

LOVELY ladies, CLASSY gents, HELLO!

As some have noticed, I’ve been gone for a while.

“Why did you leave us, J.J?”

Fear not, disembodied voice! I will tell you. There have been some new developments in the unusual and often moist thing that is my life. For starters, I’ve begun a new semester of college. My new class schedule paired with my newfound workout plan have launched me into an exploratory phase where I’ve been figuring out how I can best fall back into the writing process (I’ve been going to the gym, as I said I would in my Missed Deadline post. So sore, so worth it).

To lighten my workload, I spent the weekend getting ahead in a couple of classes with the sole purpose of freeing up writing time. I return to the novel-in-the-works tonight! Additionally, I’m back in the working world! I’m enjoying the time I’m spending helping out the family business and earning some $$. I’m also seeing a lovely lady who is classy enough to satisfy even the highest of standards we hold over here. All-in-all, all is well! I’ve just taken a week to prepare myself for writing, is all. I’ve made a fair effort to keep up with my WordPress Reader, but if you think I’ve missed a post of yours that you think I’d enjoy, please do share a link in the comments!

With that, I will be making a change to the blog. In the interest of focusing on my novel-in-the-works, I will be posting a minimum of once a week as opposed to twice. I may accumulate views and followers more slowly by posting once a week, but a) I’m here to interact with y’all, not track statistics! b) the novel takes priority until I complete its first draft, as I’m sure you understand. As promised, I will provide you with my new first-draft deadline by the end of the month.

What’s nice about this is I can put more effort into each post and spend more time reading your posts. Some posts to look out for in the coming weeks include:

  • On Trusting the Reader
  • Writers, What’s Your Style?
  • Writing the Five Senses
  • You Want to Write? Write!
  • One Lovely Blog Award Reception

Thank you for your continued support. I don’t intend to take another leave of absence this long (12 days!) without informing you first.

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

Why I Value Character Over Plot

I saw a movie a while back about a bunch of hit-men trapped in a warehouse after a botched robbery. The hit-men are trying to figure out who ratted them out. The whole movie takes place in a warehouse! The whole thing! We don’t even see the robbery, we only see a guy running from the robbery. There is one random scene at the beginning which took place at a restaurant, and another in a car, I think, but for the most part, the movie has one setting. By the end of it, we know who the rat is, but over all…nothing happens!

That movie is called Reservoir Dogs. It’s one of my favorites of all time. *cue Kanye*

“JJ, what is this sorcery? You just switched like a light switch.”

Allow me to explain, disembodied voice.

Reservoir Dogs is a story of such small scale, of such little consequence, yet it’s stellar. How? How can a story that largely takes place in one ugly-looking room be stellar? Lovely ladies and classy gents, the answer is character.

Character, for me, is the most important aspect of every story.

I understand why others disagree. I understand why others value plot over characters. Some want to read for what happens while others want to read for who it happens to. I fall into the latter category. Note, I understand that many may tilt their heads and ask, “Why would I have to decide? I like both.” I like both too, but there has been a long debate between the two, and so I’m weighing in on it.

Imagine this: a Mexican musician living in Detroit releases a couple of records in the early 1970s. His sales are pitiful. Then, in 1997, he wakes up to find that he’s actually sold more records than Elvis Presley…in South Africa. Little does he know that his politically charged, poetic lyrics have become rallying cries against apartheid. He doesn’t know about his explosion of fame because he isn’t receiving royalties. Word of mouth doesn’t reach him because people assume he had killed himself on stage while performing. Well, this man is known as Sixto Rodriguez, and he’s a real dude. A real, living dude. With a style often compared to that of Bob Dylan and a particularly remarkable first album (Cold Fact), he’s a man worth knowing. Rodriguez’ story is shared in the documentary Searching for Sugar Man.

Check out the first lyrics to his song, “Rich Folks Hoax.”

The moon is hanging in the purple sky
The baby’s sleeping while its mother sighs
Talking ’bout the rich folks
Rich folks have the same jokes
And they park in basic places.

The priest is preaching from a shallow grave
He counts his money, then he paints you saved
Talking to the young folks
Young folks share the same jokes
But they meet in older places.

So don’t tell me about your success
Nor your recipes for my happiness
Smoke in bed
I never could digest
Those illusions you claim to have going.

~Sixto Rodriguez, “Rich Folks Hoax”

Rodriguez’ story is undoubtedly a fascinating one. I mean, does anyone find his story to be underwhelming? I wouldn’t think so. This man’s life’s plot has merits of its own, but I wouldn’t be sharing it with you if Rodriguez wasn’t who he was. Even after touring South Africa and Australia and the US and a host of other places where he eventually gained fame and fortune, he still, to this day, lives in his little apartment in Detroit. He’s soft spoken. He’s humble. He hardly seems fazed by his own staggering, unlikely story. It’s because of Rodriguez, the man, the character, that I chose to share his story. If the guy was an egotistical dufus, I wouldn’t give him the time of day.

If the most remarkable story ever told is written about the least remarkable of people, I simply won’t care. Think about it this way: if somebody you do not care for shares a crazy story about how he scaled Mount Everest in seven minutes or had a conversation with a gorilla, you might be mildly intrigued. Mildly. On the other hand, if your closest friend shares a remarkable story, you will be far more invested and interested in what your friend experienced. Why? Because your care about your friend! I would much rather a story be character-driven than plot-driven.

Reservoir Dogs is founded upon the strength of its characters and the dialogue between them, not its plot. Sure, the movie has a sound plot, but the movie’s heart lies with Mr. Orange, Mr. Yellow, Mr. Pink, and all the rest of ’em.

I figure I’ve made my point. I want to hear from you. Which do you prefer? Character-driven stories or plot-driven stories? Let’s talk in the comments below.

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

A Missed Deadline, A Hard Look

I drafted this post one week ago. One week ago, I conceded that I would not be able to complete the first draft of my novel-in-the-works by January 1st. Originally, the tone of this post was somber and slow. I wrote it late at night and it read like a bummer. So I scrapped it entirely and rewrote it in light of reflection. Here’s what I’ve got.

____

I kicked ass this month. From December 1st to December 21st, I was getting 4-5 hours of sleep because I was writing into the early hours of the night. Through these 21 days, I was ill and amidst Finals season. Nonetheless, in face of the phlegm, the sleep deprivation, and the Latin (blast you, Latin!), I was happy, driven, and willing to work into the early hours. I made bounds. Picture an artist splattering paint onto a canvas with a stupid grin on his face. That kind of progress. “Oui oui. Zees is amour!” (Do I have any followers from France? I know I have Canadians and Aussies and Brits and Turks, but where are the Frenchmen at?!)

On December 22nd, I boarded a plane for California. (I don’t believe I’ve yet mentioned that I lived in the Golden State for four years. To quote Dave Matthews, “I got people here.”) This may sound familiar to you because I wrote a post the following day about how I wrote five hours on the plane.

Upon arriving, I gave my situation some thought. I hadn’t reached the home stretch of the story. I hadn’t set myself up for a knockout on January 1st. Thus, I decided that it would make the most sense to put the writing aside so I could fully enjoy my time with friends and family. I’ve made some writing progress in spare moments, but I’ve largely put the novel-in-the-works to the side for the duration of the trip. My efforts have been focused on one chapter, which begins, “It was a horse-faced lady wearing a housewife’s apron who pointed the boys to Carmengrove.” 

So I’m here in Cali for a couple more days before I fly back to Jersey (where we say cawfee and wahta). Once I return, I’ll be back into writing mode. But things need to change. I made a strong effort to write consistently for the better part of December, but I hadn’t exercised that level of resolve prior. I wrote, no doubt about it, but I didn’t make it a point to write every day with such ferocity. I’ve taken this week to reflect and evaluate what I can do moving forward to blaze the trails of ink. It’s taken a hearty dose of honesty to reach some of these determinations, but I’m a believer that honesty is better than any alternative. Here goes.

For the sake of organization, I’ve pinpointed changes that need to be made in terms of both addition and omission.

Addition

Let’s start with addition. I asked myself, what am I lacking that I need?

  • A Writing Environment

My buddy Aurelius has been a huge supporter of my writing journey. He’s given me a book on publishing, talked shop with me, and asked for updates as to my progress. When I recently told him I didn’t expect to meet my deadline, he presented me with the “environment over effort argument,” something articulated by James Clear. Aurelius summed it up as follows:

It’s this idea that personal willpower is an imperfect basis for important habits. It’s better to construct an environment that facilitates the habit and to immerse yourself in it. Stephen King writes in a barn that just has a desk and a window in it.

Aurelius has a point. I am driven. (Sure, I talk, but I talk because I’m sharing my journey with you. There’s work to show for the talk. You can see my progress updated weekly on my Projects page and I dedicate a post a month to my progress alone.)

Still, my drive is not infallible (My Latin grade is evidence of that. Blast you, Latin!). I need an environment which facilitates the drive. In other words, I need to make my life easier. When I return to Jersey, I’m going to scout my house and find the best area where I can write with minimal external distraction and maximum convenience. I’ll need an outlet nearby for my laptop charger and a nice chair. Of course, I can scrap all that if I build a writing barn. If anybody would like to loan me money for a writing barn, you can email me at jjazarauthor@gmail.com.

So that’s the first thing: I’ll need a writing spot. If floating around helped me to write, I would float around, but it doesn’t. Thanks, Aurelius.

  • A Set Writing Time

My status as a student prevents me from designating an hour-based time block to my writing. I can’t declare 8 PM a writing time because sudden assignments and due dates prevent me from operating that way. It just won’t happen. Still, I recognize that I need structure. I need a routine to facilitate and focus my drive.

I’ve determined that I write best at night, when there are no longer any non-writing obligations for me to fulfill. Therefore, I will make it a point to work in the nighttime in my to-be-determined writing environment. Sometimes I’m beat by the time I take care of everything I have to do, but if I wrote 21 days straight in the early hours while sick and after preparing for finals, I think I can manage to implement this dynamic of a set time and place.

  • Exercise

For years, I’ve been on and off with working out. Recently, I’ve been off. I’m healthy, thank God, but I’m not where I want to be. Working out boosts the mood and keeps me sharp. If I want to write this first draft and beyond, I’m going to need to be in top shape.

The addition in this case is straightforward: my university has a decked-out gym. I’ve resolved to use it as soon as I return from break. This semester, I have classes four days a week. I will make it a point to go to the gym every day before I leave campus.

A healthy writer is a happy writer.

  • Focus on Demand

Writers know the joyous feeling of flow. Sometimes, we are able to reach a happy place and write without stopping, without hesitation. It’s a beautiful thing. When the ocean of bliss subsides, we notice the clock and sit dumbfounded. “I was writing for that long?” I want to reach that sweet spot as often as possible.

Tam al’Thor of the Wheel of Time series taught his son Rand al’Thor how to enter “the Void,” a state of extreme focus. I long for the Void, yet I don’t know how to grasp it. As of now, the Void falls into my lap whenever it pleases. I want the Void to fall into my lap whenever please. Well, the Void or a leggy lady. One of the two.

If anybody has any insight into focus and concentration methods, particularly as they pertain to writing, I would be delighted if you would share them.

Omission

I asked myself, what do I have which I do not need?

  • YouTube

80% of my YouTube consumption is related to politics (didn’t you hear that the U.S. is having quite an interesting time with politics and things?). I’ve always been one to keep informed, but YouTube is a time-drain.

Solution: My dad will keep me in the loop. He has a knack for picking out the truth through all of the smoke and mirrors. I’ll still be reading news for my Politics classes, but aside from that, I haven’t the time to bother with fiction peddled by the nightly news. I have fiction of my own to peddle.

  • BioShock

I know, I’m essentially broadcasting my age. I get it, I’m a young lad. But one cannot deny that BioShock Infinite is a freakin’ fantastic Xbox One game. To my credit, I haven’t touched the console this entire month, and I hardly play as it is. Still, it has to be declared: I cannot play BioShock Infinite until a more opportune time. The game is remarkable, but now is not the time.

  • Music Indecision

Before I settle into writing, I like to get music going. The problem is, it often takes me ages to search for the first song to play even though I have an extensive, nearly exclusively instrumental playlist. It needs to stop. This may sound like a small thing, but it’s a tiresome focus leech. I used to write to a loop of a couple of songs. Now I’m back to the basics!

  • Snapchat

My sisters give me crap for this on a daily basis. I just recently returned to Snapchat after a short, frankly pitiful stint years ago during which I actively bored myself using the app. The thing is, this time around, I’m having fun. Yeah, I raise the phone in front of my face to take stupid pictures that will be seen for 10 seconds or less. It’s stupid. I get it. It interrupts my writing. I get it. But keep in mind, I’m not conversing with the Snapchat ghost, I’m conversing with people. A couple of people, to be more specific. As I see it, that’s not a waste of time.

So, maybe I should excommunicate Snapshat from my life, but I’m not quite ready to do that. Depending on how the tides ebb and flow, I may or may not keep on with it. Time will tell.

  • Blogging

“*gasp* JJ, you’re leaving WordPress?!?!”

No, disembodied voice. I will do nothing of the sort. I’m here to stay.

“Darn.”

I appreciate that, disembodied voice. You always have my back.

I’m still going to post twice a week. I’m still going to read your blogs and respond to your comments. I’m still going to compulsively check my stats. The difference is, I won’t do any of this when it’s time to write. It’s always tempting to change tabs and check into the blog when writing gets tough, but I’m just going to have to fight it like how teenage indie-punk artists fight their parents: that is, with passionate angst.

___

In my first blog post, I acknowledged that there would be stumbles. I wrote, “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.”

Yeah, I fell on my ass, but much to my surprise, I haven’t disappointed myself. Rather, I’m optimistic. I have a sober plan and method ready to be implemented. I hope I haven’t disappointed any of you. Your encouragement, advice, and immensely kind words fueled me through this entire month. I cannot express my thanks adequately enough. Thank you. I hope you decide to stick with me as I continue this grand, exciting journey.

I promise to share a new, reasonable deadline by the end of this month.

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar