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Instant Replay

When I lived in Croatia a hundred years ago, I spent three weeks every summer camping on the Adriatic near Pula. At the campsite where I stayed, there was a small store and a restaurant that had live music every night. There were several buildings with showers and toilets. That was the extent of the place.

 

One of the shower blocks not far, from where I set up my tent, was a narrow concrete pre-fab with a row of cubicles, each containing a shower, each with a door leading right out onto the main path through the camp. One year one of the six cubicles was missing a door. That meant more congestion for the remaining shower units, which were in high demand in August. There was almost always a queue.

 

Early one evening on my way back from the grocery store, I noticed two very fit German blokes I’d seen wind surfing earlier in the day queuing for the shower, but they got tired of waiting, so they stripped off their Speedos and waltzed right on in to the cubicle without the door.

 

I happened to be with a friend who was a bit more prudish than I, and she averted her eyes and dragged me away in a huff, me nearly breaking my neck for one last glance over my shoulder at naked, wet maleness. The whole incident couldn’t have lasted more than a minute. What I saw was fleeting. But what I imagined – over and over and over again – was most definitely not!

 

Sometimes it takes nothing more than an image to capture our imaginations, to inspire us. An image can inspire us because once we’ve seen it, processed it – especially if it’s a little scenario like mine with the shower and the naked wind surfers, our glorious, super-high-tech instant replay brains take over. Not only can we replay that image over and over again, but we can change it simply by imaging what might have happened IF … It’s were our fantasies come from, it’s where a writer’s story ideas come from, it’s built-in entertainment.

 

My voyeuristic encounter at the showers stands out to me as outrageously erotic, and yet nothing happened. Two blokes got tired of waiting in queue for the shower, probably anxious to get to dinner and a cold beer, so they chose to shower in full view of hundreds of people they didn’t know, hundreds of people who would never see them again. BUT, they were wrong, I’ve seen them countless times in my imagination – sometimes sun bleached and golden in the late afternoon light, sometimes dark, tattooed and dangerous just before dusk, beckoning me to come join them, speaking softly to me in German — words I don’t understand, though I completely get their meaning. I know exactly what those boys want, as they leer at me and I leer right back. Well, in my imagination at least.

 

In some of those instant replays, I meet them on the beach at midnight to share a bottle of wine and a naked swim in the warm moonlit waters. In some of those instant replays, I shoo my prudish friend back to her tent, then strip off shamelessly and join them, letting them soap me and rinse me and protect me with their naked, glistening bodies from gaping onlookers. In other versions, they come to the shower late at night when everyone else is asleep, and only I’m there to watch them lather and bathe each other, thorough in their efforts to get clean, more thorough in their efforts to relieve the tensions of the day.

 

Our delicious instant replay allows us to rewind, slo-mo, enhance, zoom in on any part of any experience or image that catches their fancy, and then enjoy it a second or even a 50th time around. We can take that experience and totally change it if we choose. We do it all the time; in our heads, we rewrite the ending of an interview that didn’t go so well or an argument with a lover so that we can take back what we wish we hadn’t said. Sometimes we imagine what would have happened next if things had been allowed to unfold to the end, if I had been allowed to linger a little longer in front of the showers. In fact, we can be really neurotic about it, playing the same scenes over and over and obsessing on them, for good or for ill.

 

Writers are especially adept at using this instant replay to inspire, to arouse, to tease out and focus on details we might otherwise have missed, details that might have totally intrigued us the first time around, even details that weren’t really there. Then we write those details into whole new scenarios, sometimes even whole novels.

I know, I know! It’s all a part of memory. Anyone can hit the ole instant replay button at any time and experience the

past all over again. We all do that. But there’s nothing ordinary about the ability to relive our experiences and imagine ourselves in a different life – perhaps even as different people who make a different decision; perhaps the decision to strip off and shower with the German wind-surfers. The creative process of a writer quite often depends on the exploitation of that instant replay button. I can’t think of anything I’ve written that isn’t grounded in some way, no matter how miniscule, in my recalling of an experience, my reimagining of a moment, or my reworking of an image that intrigues me. In a very real sense, we are what we write as we wind back the video in the editing room of our brain and hit replay, then hit slo-mo, then zoom in real nice and tight-like so that we can enhance and recreate every detail to tell a brand new story.

 

A Pole, a Photographer and … Me?

I just signed up for a photo shoot. That’s no biggie. Most novelists have PR photos taken from time to time. But this is different. This shoot scares me as much as it excites me. It challenges me as much as it intimidates me. This shoot is for pole dance.

 

 

I started a beginning pole dance class six months ago when Polerocks opened a studio just up the road from my gym – first lesson free. I wanted to give my workouts and my fitness routines another dimension. I’ve always thought pole dancing was incredibly beautiful and powerful. I knew that it would take my fitness to the next level. IF I could even do it at all. I am, after all, an old fart. Though I try to keep that fact a secret whenever possible, I think some people are beginning to suspect.

 

For the past six months I’ve come home from class bruised and battered and sore as hell. The pole is not a very forgiving dance partner. It has no consideration whatsoever for my delicate dainty body parts. And for the past six months, I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve never done anything that has made me feel more challenged, or more empowered. On the pole I’m awkward and weak at worst, while I’m getting a grip on a few Spins and holds at best. But, wow! I’m stronger, more flexible and leaner than I’ve ever been. I’m discovering muscles I didn’t know existed. They usually introduce themselves to me in some way that involves pain.

 

 

Another benefit that’s worth a lot to an introverted writer who’s quite often only slightly less than a hermit is the wonderful community of women I’ve discovered in pole class – women of all ages and all skill levels, and every one of them laughing and joking and encouraging one another.

 

Me on the pole — well it’s not a pretty sight. So it’s quite possible that I may have lost my mind signing up for a photo shoot, but I did it anyway. Besides the shoot is seven months away.

 

You see where I’m going with this? I love a good challenge. And a good challenge often involves a bit of blood, sweat and flat out fear. And yet, now that I’ve signed up for it, I have to admit, I’m more than a little bit excited about the wild ride ahead.

 

 

SO today I’m posting the earliest photos I have of me and my new best friend, the Pole. Gird your loins, my lovely readers, because you’re gonna be seeing a lot more of the two of us as I record my progress for the next seven months.

 

And you’ll be seeing a lot more “Fit to Write “ posts in the future because my fitness journey has gone hand in hand with my writing journey for the past five years. It’s not only helps inspire me, but I’m pretty sure it helps keep me sane.

 

The combination of writing stories and getting and staying fit has led me into uncharted territory and I have no doubt it will continue to do so. The place where the two come together is a place of creativity and a place of personal power that I didn’t expect to find in the midst of the sweat and the gasping for breath and the sore muscles. Perhaps the most important lesson that I’ve learned and continue to learn anew every day is that I am capable of way more that I imagined. And I have a good imagination. I’m pretty sure that great revelation in the midst of sweating and grunting and writing is true for everybody in one way or another. I find that fact outrageously exciting. It gives me courage. It gives me hope.

 

It’s been a wild ride, and it’s just beginning. I’m glad to be sharing it with you.

 

 

Procrastination for Fun and Order

I sat in a coffee shop for over an hour yesterday, and I wasn’t writing. I was reading a novel and eating raspberry lemon
drizzle cake. I had only two items to pick up at the supermarket, but I wandered up and down every isle. I took a long walk in the crisp November sunshine. We don’t get a lot of sunshine in the UK in November. I vacuumed the living room carpet … I mean really vacuumed the living room carpet — you know what I mean – even behind the furniture. I dusted too. I lingered in a decadent bubbly bath until I was I was waterlogged and wrinkled. I drank more coffee and read more novel. The one thing I didn’t do yesterday was anything writing related.

 

The whole drawn-out process of not doing what I’m supposed to be doing got me thinking that maybe, just maybe, there are times when not doing what I should is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. There are times when I feel overwhelmed by the weight of what needs to be done. I woke up in the middle of the night a few weeks ago feeling that sense of panic, tossing and turning with my heart racing. And then it hit me, a Eureka moment. While all those things may need to be done – writing related and otherwise – I’m not going to get any of them done at two o’clock in the morning lying in bed angsting over them.

 

There’s no magic formula to ordering our world, though there certainly are enough books, websites, Facebook and Pinterest pages that would lead us to believe otherwise. While it is possible I might be just saying that because my life is messy and not well ordered, the truth is that all I have, all any of us has is this moment. And I would be the last person to say planning isn’t important, Believe me, I’m majorly anal about a lot of things. But I am slowly and painfully coming to the conclusion that what happens in the moment, what that moment leads to, where it might take me is far more important than a well-ordered world. I know, I know … spoken like a person whose world isn’t in any kind of order, right?

 

In the roller coaster ride that’s been my writing career so far, I’ve noticed something very important, though it certainly took me awhile. The times I’ve been most controlling, most tunnel-visioned about my work, the times when deadlines have kept me tossing and turning at night, the times when the need to produce has kept me from seeing the November sunshine right outside my window, are far less productive than the grinding joyless amount of effort I put into them would suggest. I don’t get those moments back – ever. Creativity should never be mistaken for productivity, and productivity is so very often a misnomer. Can I really call work accomplished “being productive” if it’s cheerless, drudgery?

 

It seems to me that if I am to be both productive and creative, if I am to sleep soundly at night and avoid those two am panic attacks, then I’ve got to find balance. Sometimes that balance involves doing nothing in particular. Sometimes that balance involves just being. And guess what I’ve discovered? Stuff gets done, even when I’m procrastinating. Stuff gets done. My living room looks great! And time for reading, well that’s always a treasure. Today I write. Today my head is clear and my inside world feels very well ordered indeed. All because of a little procrastination.

 

Coffee and Ritual

As most of you know, I recently spent a week in Croatia, in Zagreb. I used to live there a hundred years ago. It was there that I learned to love coffee, strong, thick Turkish coffee with the grounds at the bottom of the cup. It’s still my favorite. I can’t go to Croatia and not think of coffee, and not take every opportunity to partake. Since that time, coffee has always been much more to me than just a caffeine fix. Coffee is a ritual, a symbol of hospitality, friendship, creativity, laughter and all that makes our connection with each other such an important part of our lives. For in introvert, that’s sometimes a difficult connection to make. Coffee definitely makes it easier.

 

 

When I was in Zagreb this time, I was reminded once again of just how much of a ritual sharing coffee still is. Croats can linger over coffee for ages. It’s an art form. It’s a national treasure. It’s a way of making time for what matters in a world that doesn’t do that nearly often enough. That ritual was one of the first things I learned when I came to Zagreb all those years ago, long before I learned my way around, long before I learned the language. A part of being welcomed into anyone’s home was always the serving of coffee poured from a jezma into demitasse cups. To this day it just feels wrong to drink coffee from a paper cup.

 

 

Sitting in the sun on the terrace of a coffee shop near St. Catherine Square taking in the city below, I found myself listening to people chatting over coffee. I felt a sense of continuity, something unbroken that connects me to the girl I was, the girl who came here so many years ago. When I met friends and made new friends it was over coffee, coffee that we lingered over, coffee made all the better for the laughter and the good company.

 

 

There are many things that connect me to those years in Zagreb. There are some memories that hurt bone deep even now. But there are so many more that make me smile, make me so glad for my time there. That coffee tradition is one that I took with me, a ritual that evolved and changed became my own wherever I’ve lived since.

 

I dated my husband over coffee in Croatia – long lingering cups of strong coffee with whipped cream. We still have quality time over coffee – cold brew now, or Italian mocha. My early mornings are always best with coffee in hand before I set down to write. I equate coffee with opening the creative gateways inside me. I equate coffee with preparation for amazing things.

 

 

On the long cross-country walks Raymond and I have done, no matter the weather, we always carried a flask of coffee. I equate coffee with sitting on the top of a high fell admiring the breathtaking view below with a biscuit and a shared cuppa.

 

I equate coffee with quality time spent with my sister, who has always loved coffee. Even when we Skype, I make sure to have coffee at the ready so we can share that experience, even if we are half a world apart. Come to think of it, I equate coffee with quality time spent with many of my good friends. The two seem to go hand in hand.

 

 

I equate coffee with quality reading time stolen in quiet coffee shops. In those times I make it a point to embrace the Croatian practice of lingering, making my Americano last as long as possible so I can steal just a few more minutes lost in a good book.

 

Friends, laughter, conversation, creativity, love, adventure – coffee has come to be associated with all of those things in my life. For me there are no coffees to go, no coffees gulped mindlessly. There are other drinks for that, but never coffee. It’s not a drink to be rushed. It’s an experience to be savored, an experience rooted in memory at the heart of me. A week in Zagreb brought it all home to me again – something that is so much a part of my life, something that is one of the best gift I took away from those years in Croatia – not the coffee itself, but the depth and the vibrancy of what it represents to an entire culture and what it has come to represent in my every day life.

 

 

De-Scribing

While I posted parts of this blog several years ago, with Blindsided just out, it seemed more appropriate than ever, and with me away on retreat allowing my characters to dictate what I write, I had to share these thoughts with you.

We writers of fiction often play god creating both characters and plot and setting that created world in motion to see what happens, to even control what happens. We actually get to look inside the heads of our characters and see what’s going on there, what motivates, what inspires, what frightens, what excites. In a lot of ways that’s the norm. That’s what the writing life is supposed to be like, that’s supposed to be our experience as we plot the story and shape our characters.

 

But in every good writing experience I’ve ever had, in almost every novel I’ve ever written, there comes a point when I stop being the creator, when I stop telling the characters what’s going to happen and how they’ll react to it. There comes a point, a certain threshold – usually when I’m most deeply into the world I’ve created, when the characters rise up and rebel. They stop being my puppets and they start telling me exactly how it’s going to be. They make it very clear to me that I have been demoted from god, creator of the fictional world and all who live in it to … well … to a glorified secretary and little more. They tell me what to write and I don’t argue. I just write, because at that point, they know what’s best.

 

OK, the position is actually a bit more glamorous than that of a secretary because my characters now drag me along, whether my bag is packed or not, to wherever the plot takes them and through whatever twists and turns unfold in the process. I become the war correspondent reporting the action on the front. I become the Scribe, responsible for recording the facts, responsible for writing the truth as my characters see it. I also become their advocate. It becomes my job to speak for the character to the readers, to make sure the readers ‘get them’ and their plight.

 

The Scribe! I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what that means, especially as I work on the Medusa’s Consortium series in which the roll of the scribe becomes a lot more important. I’ve been trying out that position, opening myself to the idea of being prepared for anything. The result has been several stories I’ve shared with you on this blog, as well as some highly imaginative incidents that may or may not have involved strong drink, too little sleep, and a sense of humor that is most active when the imagination is stimulated. The story of the storyteller is another story within itself. The storyteller, the novelist, the war correspondent, the reporter, are all quite often used as plot devices that frame the story. In fact the story within a story, the plot within a plot, the play within a play is as old as Shakespeare and probably older.

 

It’s old because it works. It works because it give more dimension and also allows the Scribe a little bit of distance, a little bit of space to say, while pointing the finger, ‘Hey, it wasn’t my idea! They told me to say it! It’s their fault, not mine!’ If ever there was license for a writer to misbehave with abandon, I’d say the Scribe is it. So, I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. My new release, Blindsided as well as In The Flesh are both Scribe stories, in which our scribe, Susan Innes takes center stage. Encounter in a Dry Canyon and the encounters with Alonso Darlington as well as the lady in the sunglasses, (and you all now know that this lady will be putting me through my paces for a long time to come) are all examples of the writer as Scribe, of the writer only there to observe and tell the characters’ stories.

 

Being a Scribe for the characters and events of an intriguing story means that I, the writer, gets the hell out of the way
and let the characters tell the story, let them guide me through the events as they unfold. If I’m not in the way, the story is one step closer to its purest form, colored by the characters views of events and experiences rather than my own, and that has to be the difference between Nescafe and a freshly made, triple espresso with whipped cream on top!

 

While I’m away in Zagreb on my writer’s retreat, I hope to spend a lot of time getting out of the way and letting the characters dictate the story to me while they drag me right on into the middle of the action. I think that’s the very best place for a writer to be, and when it happens, it’s a heady experience! It’s also an experience that affects the writer in ways too much control over a story never could. So, bring it on, I say! But I don’t say that without a certain amount of fear and trepidation as I settle my sweaty fingers onto the keyboard and take a deep breath.

 
© 2017 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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