N. Renee Brown

Part-time Author, Full-time Book Junkie

Umami: A Halloween Trick!

Revenge, Served Cold

She often wished she could feel emotions again. That something besides ennui would break through the hardened skin of her heart and set her blood to pumping. Anything. Even, the smell of late season apples or the green smell of mums as they decay in the face of November would have sufficed. But no, she was trapped inside this sterile place with nothing but antiseptic.

Once she’d held anger in her heart, complete with that luscious twist to her stomach, blood rushing to her face, body rigid. But no more. Raging at her family, at her caretakers, at God, at the world had never seemed enough, until she no longer had even that. When her temper fled all she had left was pain.

It was the pain she inflicted on herself that hurt the worst. The little cuts that added up to larger sores, until the largest of them frightened her and she forced herself to stop. To conserve the last of her flesh.

She would need it if she were ever to get out of here. To revisit the sins back on her loving family and friends that had left her here without a care.

She looked at the roof of the coffin. It was beginning to rot.

 

Happy Halloween!

Look at ME!

Many of us would never admit that we do it for the admiration, but we do. We get down in those trenches and fight and scratch until a piece of our soul appears on the page in a good enough format to merit sharing with other people…and then we do. We share it, we post it, we talk about it, we explore it, we focus on it, and we want others to do the same thing.

Very few of us are here for the “art form”, it is just not in the nature of the beast that is humanity not to want recognition. Even those that hide their work, I’m thinking in specific of the tinfoil altar here in D.C.’s American Art Museum (http://www.flickr.com/photos/shallom/361816204/), want something out of it. The man that created the tinfoil altar was creating it to honor God, he wanted the Big Man’s approval and courted it with his very best work.

At the same time we are such an insecure species! We are afraid someone won’t like it, it won’t be good enough, etc. Oh yeah, I know you are out there, hiding behind your bravado…but if I told you I didn’t like your story it would hurt. These are our “babies”, we want you to think they are angelic too. It’s such a conflict.

Day and I are working on a project together…which might be good since we come from 2 different writing styles….and we are having such a hard time. Not only is putting that first draft of a project out there to be seen, hard, but you are doing it with someone that wants to edit it and take out all the pretty pictures you’ve just created. Trust me, it makes for some very CHARGED exchanges. But the point is, we do it. And I think we are closer because of that.

So, why put our writerly selves through all this? Well, we like others to see our shiny stuff, stuff we have made and presented, and we want them to admire it. There is nothing wrong with that. As a matter of fact, we could take a page from a few hard working new media authors out there and hawk the heck out of our stuff every chance we get. Every short story/novel/screenplay, show it to everyone, because who else is going to let the world know how great you are unless it is you?

So take a minute today and ask someone around you to take a good look at how cool you are, you might find they agree with you.

Under the pile of a million bones, struggling to find a peace,
Renee

Photo Nibbles #1

Here are a couple photo nibbles from New Orleans. Think of photo nibbles like friendship bread…they are starters, you just need to add the idea and writing time and soon (like in a week) you might have a story to share! Feel free to post them in the comments. I’ll even help you get started with some pointed questions.

Nibble #1: Saints and Skulls

The beautiful saint and her empty eyed skull friend.

Why is she holding the skull? Where did the skull come from? Is she sad or sexy or contemplative? Is she beckoning with her finger? This saint is in Saint Mary’s Chapel (attached to the Ursaline Convent), it’s convent is no longer used and while we were there no one else came into the chapel, I wonder what she does to while away the slow winter seasons? Does she long for the Mississippi that is only a block away but forever out of reach? What happened to her during Katrina?

Nibble #2: The Great Mardi Gras Leviathan!

The Mighty Dragon Float of Mardi Gras, a riot of color and lights!

What happens at night, when they turn the lights off? Is this float the site of a murder? I hear that the members of this float’s krewe spend all year maintaining it and getting it ready for one parade during Mardi Gras, what inspires this sort of dedication? Perhaps there is a treasure hidden among the thousands of lights? Or perhaps a child’s last wish was to ride this beast’s back though the night sky, how would he make that happen?

Anyway, have at it friends.

Find your peace, even while you’re digging through old photos, and live it!

-Renee

Location, location, location!

Much like real estate, location in a novel can be as important as character or plot. Location not only gives us a framework in which to ground ourselves, it allows us to think outside the words written and fills in the gaps the author does not have pagespace to dedicate to.

Telling you my latest novel is set in the bayous of southern Louisiana is going to give you a very concrete vision of where we are. You can almost see the Cypress trees, with their knees poking up through the muddy water…the Herons looking impassively on as you pole by in a flat bottomed boat…the thick skinned Gators splashing past with a powerful thrust of their tail…and the rich southern Creole accent. Ok, perhaps not in that detail but we all know what the swamp is supposed to look like, we know it has water and greenery and animals. We know that getting in the water might not be the best idea and we know that it’s going to be hot and muggy.

We’ve got a starting point to work from and a place we can build on. Having told you this I can now tell you some other things, this is set in the future after a devastating disease has killed off a large portion of the population. I can tell you this swamp is mostly deserted and those that are left have moved from the stilted houses in current use to tree houses connected via long swinging bridges. I can tell you that the swamp, while mostly unchanged the fear of it and the people that live in it has grown over the years, leaving it and everything in it mostly untouched.

Now what do you think we are going to find in there? Something terrible or wonderful? You don’t know, but you’d like to now wouldn’t you?

All of this and all I’ve done is describe the location and how it has changed (or stayed the same) in response to my plot.

Location can also be a dangerous place to tread. Before going to Louisiana I’d written a scene where my heroine visits the Gray City, which just happens to be the ruins of New Orleans. I’d never been to that city before, but thought it would be much like any other city but with the addition of the French Quarter.

NOT SO!

There is a unique flavor to that city…history runs through its heart like the great muddy Mississippi, pride hangs as thick as the moss from the bayou trees and the love of fun is as mixed and overwhelming as the taste of gumbo. Without seeing it, without experiencing it I would never have captured the regal ruin that it could become. Without my experiences I would have been left watching the city from the outside, doomed to recreate the one-dimensional façade captured on every Hurricane Katrina and Mardi Gras documentary.

My favorite story about location comes not from a book, but from the popular TV show “Bones”. In the very first episode Bones gets off an international flight at Dulles Airport (it even says it is Dulles at the bottom of the screen). They show her talking with someone in front of a huge window and famed in that window is the Washington Monument.

Now if you’ve ever flown into Dulles (on purpose or accident) you know that if you saw the Washington Monument from there you’re either a) looking at an advertisement, b) hallucinating or, c) are Superman using crazy long distance see through anything eyes. Dulles is nowhere near the Mall or that monument; as a matter of fact it’s 40 minutes away (without traffic). I know that many people here in the area groaned at this, it would not have been hard to use one line of dialogue to explain that she was catching a connecting flight from somewhere to D.C. to put her in at Reagan (right downtown), but they didn’t. Instead they screwed with the landscape of an area that many people know…it wasn’t a great idea although I’m sure many people didn’t catch it, but for those who did it stretched the suspension of disbelief. Suddenly we are snapped back into a world where we know that there is no “Jeffersonian” or super cute Forensic Anthropologist that is allowed to carry a gun and accompany an FBI agent on interrogations (although I know a few super cute Forensic Anthropologists -bones are cool- none of them have their own personal FBI agent!).

Moral of this story, take us there and drown us in the details but let us paint the background for you, we’ll be a lot happier that way. Also don’t move the major landmarks too much or you might lose us. Ok, now that we’re cool…

Find your peace and live it, even if it’s in a land far, far away…once upon a time…or just next door.

-Renee

Wagon Where Have You Gone?

I have fallen off the wagon.

Not the writing wagon, as you all would rightfully expect…no the blogging wagon.  It happens to the best of us, and it happens to me more often than that.  Still, I’m not upset.  No, I’m happily here to report that I have turned into a writing fiend!!!!

I’m nearly done with the zombie short story that had given me such trouble (what with turning into a novel and all).  I have started outlining the novel it spawned as my NANOWRIMO project.  I’ve finished and submitted Chapter 2 of “In Harm’s Way” to my writing group.  I’ve got Chapter 3 cooking like apples in the fall and am mentally organizing chapter 4.  I’ve also figured out that I want about 20 chapters at approximately 5,000 words each to complete “In Harm’s Way” (although it’s likely to be longer when I get done with it).  Let’s hope I can crank out chapters 5-20 by the time October 1st rolls around.

Why October 1st?  Well, Day and I have a bet.  If I get the novel edited by October 1st she buys me tickets to go see a local film festival…if I don’t make it by October 1st I don’t get to go.  Now keep in mind I’m going away from the 17-24th to Hawaii (woot!) with family and I doubt little if any editing is going to get done there.  So this means 3 weeks of editing like it is November. 🙂  I think I can do it!

As for Photo Sunday, it has become victim of illness and brain freeze.  I uploaded the pictures, but haven’t edited them and put my watermark on them…thus they sit trapped in the half state that is my compter’s hard drive.  I do have them and I’m hoping to slap them up tomorrow.  Tonight, though, is devoted to my recovery…

Did I mention I was sick?  Yeah, on my birthday no less!  (It was this past Sunday…HB to me!)  I thought my face was going to explode from the pressure and the only time I could breathe was when I was asleep…oh wait, no, now I remember, I just didn’t sleep.  Anyway, with me sick and the dog having issues with stairs I not only had to take care of myself but over the weekend I found myself lugging my 73lb dog up and down flights of stairs.  Oye, so now…tonight…my plan is to lay on the couch, apologize to Day for giving her the illness, and eat soup with her.  If we get really adventurous I may do some laundry or possibly pick up some of the mess that was left over from my 5 days of zombie-like catatonia.

Stay tuned, it’s a laugh a minute here!!!!

Give back the short story and no one gets hurt.

I laughed at Day the other night when, in response to a friend talking about ‘novelists who are incapable of thinking small enough to write a short story’, she looked at me and nodded.
I laughed because until about 3 years ago I was incapable of thinking large enough to squeeze a novel out of any of my ideas. I could write some long short stories, but none of them were anywhere near the length it would take to get me into the world of novels. Seriously. When people talked about writing books instead of stories, I just gaped and wondered how on earth they could find enough to write about. It wasn’t until I wrote my “truth” short story…and began to wonder about her past and her future and her world that I decided to really give Nanowrimo the chance it deserved and actually banged out 50,000 words on it (and continued on to give it an 80,000 word final -well almost final- count). Then the next year I did it again, this time ramping up my wordcount to 100,000 words when all was said and done 4months later. Then I began working on a novel with Day, and began my planning for this year’s NANO.
Yeah, I laughed…because I knew that deep down I was a short story artist trying to pull off the novel act.
And then I started working on a new short project…
I am trying to write a zombie story, one that involves the evolution of the voodoo church into a Christianity sized epic religion after the rise of zombies. I’m just trying to write one little story, a short for a contest, about the struggle between two very different girls that both want to become the priestess for a mega-voodoo church and what happens when one decides winning is more important than the faith she professes to have and the other is struggling to hold onto what little faith she has left.
Now I’ve got a lesbian deacon and resident bad ass.
I’ve got a dead priestess that is haunting the church.
I’ve got a council of elders that are aligning behind one girl or the other for their own nefarious purposes.
I’ve got the entire city watching this power struggle.
And out in the swamp…hiding…is an infection that is beginning to spread and conventional treatments are not standing in its way.
Could this be the second coming of the zombies?
Could this finally be the end for humanity as we know it?
COULD THIS BE ANOTHER DANG NOVEL!?!?!?!?!?

Shoot me, just shoot me.

Photo Sunday #23

How is it that I get offered an opportunity to take pictures and I either a) don’t think about it or b) don’t want to be bothered with it?

UGH! I know I love looking at these pix later in the week when I am trying to choose things to post…I know I love having gotten that shot that I didn’t think I got or capturing that special something I didn’t know was going on around me…but still I get lazy and just snap when I have the camera at hand.

You know, honestly, I’ve got a certain level of embarrassment about taking pictures. I’m afraid people are going to be looking at me thinking, “What is she DOING?” And while, yeah being a 6foot 2inch female with a lot of extra weigh on my frame gains a lot of attention, I guess I’ve never gotten comfy with it…so adding a camera onto the front of the giant is just something that makes me prickly with self-consciousness.

Why do I care? None of these people know me and it should not matter how they judge my outsides, I know what my insides are like (red and squlechy)…STILL I find myself waging the internal battle between pulling out the camera and just walking past that incredible shot along with everyone else.

Day used to yell at me for not taking my camera with me. I told her I didn’t want to have to carry the heavy thing around, but I think it was more that I didn’t want to be labeled the fat American tourist (although, isn’t that what we all are in our heart of hearts? Fat off this land and looking around with wide, wondering eyes?).

It’s sad that I am letting these shots teeter by just because I do not want to offend the sensibilities of people I don’t know nor care about! I think that is why I am a writer, hiding behind my words I can offend for completely different reasons, but at least these are reasons I’ve chosen to take as my own and am happy with them unlike so many other things.

Anyway, here is a rather reflective Photo Sunday.

Clouds!

#1 Clouds over my house on Saturday. During the Re-Launch Party for Unleaded, Fuel for Writers (coming to a computer near you on July 1st!) we had a storm blow up…it was like being at home only not as threatening. I’ve missed the spring/summer clouds like this, the big, vanilla ice cream towers that practically proclaim rain is on the way.

Church steeple detail.

#2 Church of my failures. I’ve been trying to capture this church for a while now…I’ve taken some pictures in the morning and at night when I’ve driven past but it always turns out with this flat grey sort of coloring. There is no life in this church when I put it into pictures, but there is a strange sort of appeal to it when I pass it in real life. I’ve tried to put into practice what little I’ve learned about photography and looked into the details for this particular shot. It is still downtrodden though. Oh well, back to the drawing board.

Playing Catch Up.

I’ve fallen off the face of the earth, but don’t think I’ve stopped writing.

Actually, I’ve fallen off the face of the earth because I have been writing! I’ve got a deadline, I’ve got to finish 100,000 words on my novel, “In Harm’s Way” by Memorial Day (which is currently 7 days away)…thus all my energy and all my spare time have been poured into my novel.

Good, yes?

I do have pictures for all intervening Photo Sundays…so I haven’t really fallen off that bike, and I’ve written quite a bit on Hawaii. Thus my journaling has not really gone away, it has just been unsuitable for this forum.

So, here is the first of my new posts and if I can keep up my pace on the novel, perhaps you will see a few more before Balticon (currently 5 days away) and absolutely a few after. With Balticon having such a diverse and lively writers track I am sure to have quite a few things to say and people to report on. Well, without further ado:

The World’s Nicest Authors!

Sometimes it’s not the quality or the quantity that you write but who you are that will influence people to not only publish your work, but buy it as well. I know quite a few self-proclaimed “mid-list” writers that I am sure got their foot in the door by virtue of being who they are.

These people are charming, amusing, sweet, and seem to take an honest interest in the people around them. They look at fans, fellow writers, editors, agents, etc and while they may instantly think “what can they do for me” you will NEVER see it in their eyes and if they decide you are not going to be able to help them you will never suffer the brunt of that.

People like Carol Berg, Maria V. Synder, James Daniel Ross and Tee Morris will always earn my money the hard way and I will always gladly give it. Not because everything they turn out is a bestseller, they have misses just like everyone else. Not because I know everything they write will turn into the next Harry Potter, yeah right I could only wish that for them. Not because every book they churn out is a gem that will change my life and I will treasure it forever, come on people I’m being honest here very few books will ‘CHANGE’ my life no matter how much I wish they would.

BUT BECAUSE they are people worth supporting, they are the meat and potatoes that keep me sustained between this instant classic and that horrible dredge. They are people I can speak to, and compliment without believing that the words I speak go in one ear and out another without even creasing the overindulged mind in between…trust me I’ve met a few like that. They are just good people that not only deserve to make a living doing something they love, but they aren’t half bad at it as well.

So, next time you are walking around a conference or meeting an author (mid-list or not) just remember that what people see out of you may well influence how they feel about you when it is your turn in the spotlight. Don’t write people off because you haven’t heard of them…give them a chance and when they blow that chance just walk away. It’s not worth the hassle of fighting and it’ll make you look like the bigger person to everyone involved.

Back from the peace,

Renee

Photo Sunday #5

 

It’s a little late, but here are the photos of the week.

Now before you get all up in arms about my posting so late, I have a good excuse. I went to Missouri this weekend to give a presentation and see my parents (who I just realized I haven’t seen since the 4th of July!) and have been running like something that runs sorta crazily all over without any real direction since I got back.

Before I left a little bit of an ice storm moved through…it was beautiful and I got up a little early to capture some of the beauty before it melted away in the warm afternoon. I’m glad I did, because sure enough, I got home and none of the ice was left. Just water pooling on my front walk.

 

Ice on the bush in our front yard.

I love going back to Missouri, it is such a wonderful way to unwind…it’s a place the represents safety and nostalgia. I feel it represents MY history in a way D.C. never could. Yes, I am a part of this country and yes I feel like I have a stake in all the amazing buildings and landmarks here in the nation’s capital, but my own personal history is in the Heartland where I grew up. Thus, in talking with Dad, we realized there was a unique photo opportunity right up the road. Pickering Farm was once a huge 2000 acre farm owned by a local lumber baron until it was sold to the Good family. The Good’s raised donkeys for the military and cattle for everyone else…their daughter married a man named Owen and it became the “Owen-Good Ranch” and switched over to horses. Now, in the age of internet and highways, the ranch has been split into a number of parts but a few buildings remain…

A barn on the Pickering Estates side of the Owen-Good Farm.

Writing Weasles and Plot Moles…

Personal pet peeve: Writing on two machines. Well not so much writing on two machines, but not having the most recent version of every file you tinker with on both machines.

UGH! I’ve been foiled lately in my attempts to write the “GRAND ESCAPE” in the final chapters of “In Harm’s Way”! How, you ask? It is much akin to the Keystone Cops where Renee opens a random file and begins to flesh it out and in doing so comes up with a great idea to be put into the chapter. She writes it, or at least begins to write it, and then must go home/go to work/go writing/go to the gym. Now the problem here is that I am not thinking with all the brain cells God has given me and I will not send this grand new addition to my email…thus blocking myself from working on it later from my work(during lunch and breaks)/home/Day’s machine.

SO, at home/work (during lunch and breaks)/writing/gym I open ANOTHER file, and begin to flesh this one out and figure out what is missing that needs to be added or come up with a great plan for getting my characters out of the lightless hole they are stuck in…with great joy I write furiously until my time is up. Feeling accomplished, or at least not so slackery (yes, I said slackery) as I have been lately I go back home/work/writing/gym only to sit down and discover that the accomplishment…the writing that was nagging at me to keep on…that wordcount that was teasing me to churn out more…is in a place I cannot retrieve it from.

*headdesk* (as a friend of mine would say)

Now, I know some of you technically savvy people out there are wondering why I don’t just get a flash drive. Well, I’ve got one and it was my constant companion (I’d even go so far as to say my fashion statement) during NANOWRIMO, but soon after that I loaned it to Day because she had misplaced hers. Now, loaning something to someone because they have misplaced theirs isn’t the smartest thing in the world to do…especially if you are loaning it to Day. She lost my flash drive. It is in the house or perhaps her office, but it is in a place I am unable to ferret it out from. Thus, tonight…if the roads are not as icy as they are already threatening to be…I am going to replace my flash drive and end this vicious cycle of writing block (not to be confused with writer’s block).

Peace to all of you.

-Renee