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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.

 

Writing Retreat

It’s hard to believe that my first novel, The Initiation of Ms Holly, has been out seven years. I remember well that first
decent royalty check and the decision I made to celebrate with my own private writer’s retreat. I did the research, decided I didn’t want to travel too far or spend too much, and I didn’t want to go to a place like the Lake District, where I would rather walk than write. I chose the lovely Portland Cottage in Lyme Regis down on the Jurassic Coast. For those of you who don’t know, the place has a rich literary history, being the setting for John Fowles’ book, and the film, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures, and others.

 

The flat at Portland Cottage had gorgeous views and room for me to spread out, write, read, sprawl, pace and oh yes, the best part, a lovely tub for inspirational bubble baths. And the town itself was a total delight. I could walk on the beach, explore the village and let my Muse guide me until late afternoon, then it was back to Portland Cottage to write until I got too sleepy to continue. I’d sleep in a room with a sea view and listen to the tawny owls call, then wake up to the sun rising over Golden Cap, and start all over again.

 

I managed 35,000 words that first year, and even more important, I learned that a writer’s retreat – a private one — not one where it’s more about workshopping and socializing, but one with just me and space to write and think, was an invaluable tool worth every single pound I spent.

For the next six years, I made that yearly pilgrimage in late September or early October to Lyme Regis and Portland Cottage, and every year I managed massive word counts, fantastic walks, glorious inspiration, and came back home feeling refreshed. The lion share of seven of my novels has been written at my writer’s retreats, and they have become a non-negotiable part of my writing year.

 

I’m writing this before I leave for my 2017 writer’s retreat, because I will have my head down writing hard by the time you read this. Sadly I won’t be doing it at Portland Cottage this year. The flat has been sold on as a private residence. Happily, I’m doing it from a lovely flat in Zagreb Croatia just off Maksimir Park. You’ll hear all about that when I get back home.

 

For me going to Zagreb for my sacrosanct writing week is not only a new beginning, but a reclaiming of a place I lived in long ago, a place I loved. The story of why it has taken me so long to reclaim this wonderful place is one for another time, but let’s just say even though I write this before I’m actually there, I fully expect to accomplish a lot and to be totally inspired. I have a sneaking suspicion I might meet old friend there and maybe make some new ones too.

 

For me, it’s a time of new beginnings, and as difficult as it is to let go of the old familiar, as frightening as it can be to
move forward, it’s essential for growth. Certainly it’s crucial for creativity. As I write this post, I’m anticipating what this next week will bring. As you read this post, I will be embracing another new beginning and moving forward in my own creative journey. I can’t wait to tell you all about it when I get back home.

 

P.S. Be sure to check Facebook. I might just pop a few piccies on from time to time.

 

Exercising my Demons

I wrote this post originally for the Brit Babe’s blog, but it felt like I should share it again as I get ready for the launch of
Blindsided, coming up on the 29th. It’s available for pre-order now, BTW. One of the key players in Blindsided, as most of you have guessed if you’ve read In The Flesh, happens to be a demon. And since I’m off on holiday walking in Snowdonia at the moment, this seemed like the perfect post to share with you while I walk and exercise my demons. Enjoy!

 

I don’t know if any other writers notice recurring themes in their novels and stories and wonder about the psychology of those themes, but I do. I’m pretty sure that the enormous navel-gazing tomes of journals I used to write now work themselves out in my stories, and so much the better, I think. Certainly it’s more creative and more fun. Speaking of recurring themes, it hit me just recently that I seem to write a lot about demons. Almost all of my paranormal erotica has to do with demons in one way or another and, as I finished up my online serial, In The Flesh, in which a demon plays a prominent role as said demon will do also in the sequel, Blind-Sided, I found myself wondering just what my writing so much about demons says about me. Some of my stories are about exorcising the demon, getting rid of it completely, but most are about embracing the demon, or at least finding a way to live with it. Personally, I’m inclined to think that the latter is by far the most practical method of dealing with demons in real life. In real-life, unlike in fiction, they’re not that easy to exorcise.

 

We all have them, and demons come in as many varieties as there are people. We writers have more than most, I think, though I’m sure in my case a lot of my demons are linked very tightly to the fact that I’m just flat out, majorly, neurotic. Oh I’ve definitely tried exorcising them, but I’ve actually found that exercising them works better. No … seriously, I sort of take the old adage ‘working out my demons,’ literally. I take mine out for a nice long walk or invite them to be my guests at the gym to sweat it out with the kettle bells, and it seems to suit them down to the ground. I guess maybe it wear them out enough that they forget to torture me. Or maybe after the endorphins have kicked in and we’re all well sweated and relaxing with a good protein shake, I just don’t notice their torment so much. But the truth is, they can often be quite useful — my demons.

 

Having said that, I guess it shouldn’t come as any real surprise that I write about demons so much. If there’s anything my demons like more than to be exercised, it’s to be the center of attention in a novel or a story. Frankly, I don’t think it matters if I’m writing about demons in the literal sense or if I’m writing about the less paranormal, more concrete demons my characters battle. By writing the story, but exploring the things that frighten me, the things that make me uncomfortable, I think I’m finding a healthy way to live with those inner demons. As neurotic as writers tend to be, the truth is that the best place to write the most powerful stories is right smack dab in the middle of the neuroses – the
scarier, the more irrational, the more chaotic the better.

 

Telling a story is another way of exercising my demons. I make them work for me instead of against me. In truth, I don’t suppose I “make” them do anything. I think maybe they wanted to be put to the challenge all along. Don’t get me wrong, they seldom make it easy, and they’re often uncooperative. They often make it as difficult and as uncomfortable as possible for my characters and they often make the telling of my characters’ tale as squirmy and uneasy for me as they can. What the hell else is a demon supposed to do?

 

Writing with demons … there just might be a book in there somewhere. Oh, wait a minute, I just wrote one! Anyway, my point is that sometimes the things that cause us the most stress and make us the most fearful are the things that not only make for the best fiction, but the fact that we do write from the place of our discomfort makes the writing all the more powerful and the personal demon all the more bearable.

 

The other thing about demons is that they seem so much less terrifying when I’m writing my brains out with a story that won’t let me rest until it’s finished. It’s almost like there’s no room for demon intimidation when I’m in the grip of a tale needing to be told. For that bright and shining span of time it almost feels like instead of the demons possessing me, I possess them. Perhaps that’s the true story I was trying to tell with In The Flesh. Perhaps our demons don’t possess us so much as they drive us, and if we can just figure out how to buckle up and go along for the wild ride, then living with demons, writing with demons – paranormal or otherwise — can actually be useful.

 

 

 

Ironing is a Musing

What is it about ironing that’s so damned inspiring to me? I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit. And yet, I always seem to get my best ideas while doing the very thing I dislike.

 

Me: I don’t wanna!

 

Muse: (Poking me in the ribs with her big stick) Stop winging and do it already. I don’t have all day.

 

Me: (Glaring at her over my shoulder as I set up the ironing board) I’m busy. I got stuff to do.

 

Muse: (A harder poke. This time in the stomach) Stop wasting my time. And get on with it. I’ve got places to go, people to inspire.

 

Me: (grabbing a very wrinkled shirt and slamming it down on the ironing board – after I catch my breath)

 

Muse: Now, about this story you’re trying to write. Just how does Michael become a fallen angel?

 

Me: (pouting) You tell me. You’re the muse.

 

Muse: (nodding at the sleeve of the shirt) You missed a spot.

 

Me: Right. ( ironing and thinking) Michael. He loses a bet. At Buried Pleasures. That’s how he does it.

 

Muse: Big deal. Lots of people lose bets. Most people lose bets. That’s gambling, that’s not a story. That’s boring. How does he lose? Who is he playing? What does he want?

 

Me: (carefully ironing the seam along a pair of trousers) He’s playing poker with Magda Gardener. He bets his wings.

 

Muse: (rolling eyes and giving me another poke) Cliché much? Pa-lease! Don’t waist my time. An angel losing his wings is the oldest ploy in the book. Tell me the story. Go over it again from the beginning. Out loud.

 

Me: (Starting another shirt) Well, what if he keeps winning, even though he wants to lose.

 

Muse: That’s better. That’s better. Tell me more.

 

Me: (Repeating more slowly the plot so far)

 

Muse: … Aaaaaand …

 

Me: (cramming a shirt on a hanger and grabbing for another – a little more violently than necessary) … And, I don’t know. I don’t know already! That’s my problem, isn’t it?

 

Muse: (Poking me hard in the ribs) Think! It’s what you have that brain for, isn’t it. You might try using it.

 

Me: (Grinding my teeth and rubbing my poor bruised ribs while offering up a few whispered curses to whatever writing god decided to send me the sadistic Muse from hell) Can’t I go for a walk to get inspired?

 

Muse: It’s raining, and you’ll just get distracted. Besides you have to do the ironing anyway. Focus. Focus! What’s more important to an angel than wings?

 

I iron another shirt. My head hurts from thinking. I drink some more tea. I iron another shirt and another, careful to get all the wrinkles out. All the while Muse simply watches me. At last she grabs a glass from the cupboard, pulls out the bottle of Glenmorangie and pours herself a generous amount. She sips and watches and taps the end of her stick on the floor.

 

I iron and iron and iron while I go over the plot so far out loud. I go over it again and again and again.

 

And suddenly it happens — that Eureka moment that, for some dumb-assed reason, comes only when I’m ironing.

 

Me: I have it! I know! (nearly burning my finger with the iron before setting it upright and pushing it away to pace the kitchen a couple of times) I have it! I know what’s more important to an angel than wings. I know exactly what Michael has to lose, and I know that once he loses it, he can never, ever get it back.

 

Muse: (Lifts her glass and salutes me, then downs the rest of the whisky) Good girl. (She never has to ask. She always
knows when I really do have it. She sets down her empty glass, pats my arm and smiles) Now finish up here and get busy. The story won’t write itself.

 

And just like that, she’s gone – off to poke someone else in the ribs and drink their whisky. My Muse may be sadistic, but she’s effective. And suddenly I don’t mind. I got exactly what I needed for the story and the ironing is done to boot.

 

Latent Creativity

 

I’m just in from the garden doing a little weeding and a lot of shucking sweet corn. This may sound strange, but that got me thinking about latent creativity. I’ve been contemplating the subject for a while now. Sometimes my most creative insights come when I’m not doing anything that has to do with writing. The best story and novel ideas seldom come from me sitting around trying to think of great plots. They come to me when I’m doing something totally different. They come to me when I least expect it.

 

 

 

That’s why I call it latent creativity. Some of the best plot solutions, story twists, character actions, some of the most exciting story elements come to me when I’m doing something totally different. That’s when the creative force finds an unexpected opening and ploughs its way full blown into my imagination. I’m convinced that there are some activities in which there is a whole lot more latent creativity than others, and it’s different for every writer. But I do believe that those activities are most often either creative or meditative in their own right.

 

 

As you can probably guess if you’ve been keeping track of what’s going on in my life, and if you’ve read much of my writing, veg gardening is a great way to stimulate my latent creativity. I love the whole process – even the weeding. But I’m especially fond of picking green beans. There’s just something meditative and wonderful about rummaging through the foliage for hidden treasure. Plus green beans are one of my favorite veggies. I have been known, from time to time, to be inspired enough to write a little veggie porn.

 

 

You don’t have to know me very long before you know I love walking. In fact I love it so much I walked all across England a few years ago. I can’t even count the number of times long walks have inspired that latent creativity that leads to a story or a novel. Walking is probably the most direct form of latent creativity for me. Because I’ve often walked to solve plot problems or work out blocks in a story, I consider walking more writing-on-the-hoof.

 

 

Along similar lines, but perhaps a little more latent source of creativity is any kind of working out. I love kettle bells, Pilates, I am enjoying the hell out of learning pole dance, and I love creating my own workouts at home. Unlike walking, there’s no time to really engage the brain on any level but the physical act in which I’m involved. Sometimes, however, that means afterwards my mind is clear enough of the detritus that I’m ready for a good hard shot of inspiration.

 

 

Okay, ironing is not one of my favourite activities, but strangely enough, it really is a source of latent creativity. For some strange reason I find myself quite often able to solve plot problems or coming up with new story ideas while I’m sweating over a hot iron. Who’da thunk it? Makes me wish there was a bit more latent creativity in housework, but sadly, for me there isn’t, so less of that happens than probably should. A writer’s gotta do what a writer’s gotta do, after all.

 

 

Finally reading a good book is a great source of latent creativity for me. A lot of people ask if I find that if I read, I inadvertently pull ideas from the book I’m reading at the time. No, I don’t. I consider a good book to be one that takes my mind completely off whatever it is that I’m writing at the time. I read for the shear pleasure of it. In a lot of ways reading a good book works the same magic on my creative process as working out does. If the author whose novel I’m reading has done her job, then I won’t have any room in my head to engage in anything else but the romp said author has created for me. The result being that I go back to my own work refreshed and inspired.

 

 

There are lots of other places where I find latent creativity from time to time, and that’s always a wonderful surprise. But the above are consistent and treasured (well okay the ironing maybe not so treasured) sources of inspiration for me. I’m sure for every writer the list is different. I’m also sure that every person has his or her own sources of latent creativity. Writers haven’t cornered the market. Everyone is creative in one way or another. That being the case, I would suggest we would all be happier and more satisfied in our lives if we took time to cultivate that latent creativity and see where the experience leads us.

 

 
© 2017 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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