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Posts Tagged ‘psychology of writing’

Working Out My Demons

Over the years I’ve noticed certain recurring themes in my novels and stories. I’ve also noticed them in the novels of my
favorite authors – the ones whose entire body of work I devour hungrily. How can I not wonder about the psychology of those themes and what it is me and my favorite authors – quite possible all writers of story – are trying to work out in our own psyches. Back before I published my first novel, those recurring themes ended up in the enormous navel-gazing tomes of journals I wrote. These days they 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 and urban fantasy novels have to do with demons in one way or another and, as I just released Blindsided, book two of the Medusa’s Consortium series, 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. Certainly that has turned out to be a major theme in the first two Medusa novels. Personally, I’m inclined to think that the latter is by far the most practical method of dealing with demons in real life. In reallife, unlike in fiction, our demons are not that easy to exorcise.

 

We all have them – demons. And they 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. And didn’t you see that coming from a fitness junkie and wannabe pole dancer?

 

The truth is I 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. And yes, they are loving the pole dance training. I think they’re especially fond of the bruises. I guess maybe all that hard work and exercise wears 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 or a handful of nuts, 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. It’s a helluva ride, but if I can stick with it, the resulting story is worth the bruises and the shear terror.

 

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 demons 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 and now with Blindsided. 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.

 

From Blindsided, here’s a little peek at just how helpful a demon can be. Michael has been mortally wounded; Alonso is chained and just when it looks like no help is in sight … enter the demon.

 

 

Enter the Demon – Blindsided Excerpt:

 

“You’re unable to fight, angel,” Cyrus said as Michael struggled to his feet. “If you surrender to me now, I won’t promise you a painless death, but perhaps it will be a little quicker, since I am expecting a guest at any moment.”

The impact was like being hit by a bus. And then it was as though the fucking bus shoved its way right on into his chest and parked there. “I don’t remember you being so rough,” he managed, his eyes watering from the experience, his heart hammering with the adrenaline rush.

“I don’t remember you being in such desperate need,” came the Guardian’s voice inside his head.

Michael knew that wasn’t true. He was always in desperate need when he was the Guardian’s lover, but then again, it was never like this, never with those he loved depending on him. Back then, it hadn’t mattered if he lived or died, but it mattered now. More than anything it mattered now.

Immediately he was full, in a way he’d never been full before. Even when the demon had taken possession of his body, it hadn’t felt like this. He felt no pain, in fact he felt so much more than himself that he wondered if he could survive it.

“You will survive it. The need of our cocks was never as great as this need, my darling Michael. I have given you more of me than I ever did before, more of me to use as needed, for I have promised Susan that I will bring you and our Alonso back safely. I have promised that we will defeat this deformed bastard of the sea god, and I will see that promise fulfilled.”

“That totally works for me,” Michael responded.

“Angel? With whom are you speaking?” Cyrus’s voice broke into the conversation. “Are you calling upon your scribe? Surely you know she can’t help you with her puny words. And Magda Gardener, well, she doesn’t care enough about you to be in any hurry to save your unholy skin, even if she could, and she can’t. Perhaps you’re delirious? Perhaps I’ve hurt you too much for you to fully experience what I have planned for you? Is that it?” But even as he spoke, he stepped back, sheathed the knife and lifted the axe at the ready.

“Trust me, Michael. Trust me as you have never trusted me before, and we shall defeat this creature together.”

Michael gave up the last vestiges of control and felt the Guardian fill every muscle fiber, every cell, felt the exquisite timing that even a retired angel could have never managed, and just as the axe fell, when it was but a hair’s breadth from severing his arm at the already-wounded shoulder, he shifted. The blade came so close that it literally shaved the hair from the skin.

As though the world around him had moved into slow motion, he grabbed the handle just above the axe head, and in one smooth movement he gave it a hard yank. Both blade and wielder went flying, hitting the metal cage where he and Alonso had been imprisoned with such force that it bent and almost collapsed.

As Cyrus struggled free, Michael scrambled to the cross so quickly that he barely knew he’d moved. He took the chains that bound Alonso in a hand that he recognized as his own, but with power he could scarcely imagine. A single tug, and the chain broke and coiled free with a clatter around Alonso’s feet.

“Watch out!” He heard Alonso’s voice in his head just in time to shove him out of the way and swing the chain, sending the end whipping out to coil around Cyrus’ neck and pulled him off balance.

“You wanted a battle. You got one,” Michael roared, feeling the Guardian even in his voice. “You will not hurt me or mine ever again, and you will take the message to your child-raping father that he’s not welcome here ever!”

Cyrus fumbled free of the chain, hefted his axe and charged, his rage sizzling through the chamber. But Michael had some rage of his own. Add that to the Guardian’s and Alonso’s and they were damn lucky the place didn’t blow itself apart. Michael tore an aging metal pipe from the wall and met Cyrus blow for blow, while Alonso took on the now advancing Myrmidons, snapping the neck of the first one and arming himself with his sword as he shoved the corpse aside and attacked.

“You’ll pay for your blasphemy with punishment clearly your god was too weak to exact,” Cyrus roared. His rage was an old rage that stank of fear and helplessness and needs unmet, things that Michael would have never recognized without the Guardian in residence. He ducked and rolled, and the axe came down in a flare of sparks against the concrete where
Michael’s head had been. He’d barely made it to his feet when the chamber went icy cold, and the skin on his bare arms goosefleshed as the presence of something familiar, someone familiar, filled the space.

“What is it, Cyrus, the truth not to your liking?”

All heads turned as Magda Gardener strode into the chamber, the walls coating with hoarfrost at her approach, even with her dark glasses still in place. Michael had never seen her so angry. Around her face the golden hair flew like a banner, and the serpents peeking from beneath her locks and coiling around her arms hissed, mirroring her rage.

 

 

Urgency V Bluebells

There are deadlines. There are rewrite, there are new stories waiting to be written. There is housework – ironing, vacuuming, dusting. There’s gardening – sweet corn to get into the bed before the weather changes, weeding to be done, bulbs to get in. There’s the pile of stuff I never got done that comes back to kick my “good girl” conscious in the butt in the middle of the night. Every damn thing is urgent! And the older I get the more urgent it all seems.

 

 

Urgent is easy to confuse with doing it all and doing it well. Urgent, in my head, is my failure to do just that. Urgent all too quickly can lead to feeling completely overwhelmed.

 

 

Urgent, however, is at its best when it’s lived out in the moment, lived out in the present, lived out in only this glorious second. And there’s no better place to be reminded of that than smack dab in the middle of a bluebell wood.

 

 

Mr. Grace and I did our first long walk of the spring on Friday and went up to the Chantry Wood to check out the bluebells, which are gloriously early this year. Yes, there was gardening to do. Yes, it meant I left the ironing undone and the read-through I was working on unfinished. Yes, we did it anyway. We took a picnic in our rucksacks and a flask of tea and off we went – for the entire day.

 

 

 

We were more than well-rewarded with bluebells and bird song and a soft breeze through the trees. We feasted our eyes on downland views that we’ve seen a million times, and yet every time we see them, they’re different. For a whole day, nothing was urgent. Everything was present in a single moment in a bluebell wood.

 

 

BDSM in the Gym: Power Under Control

While some of this post is excerpted from the archives, it seemed really appropriate right now for a lot of reasons. Most of you know that I’ve always found physical activity an ideal way to access my creativity. One of my personal tag line has always been that I walk my stories. But walking is the foundation of so much more.

 

And NO! This is not a testimonial. It’s just observations of my own experiences. A bit of a naval gaze, yes, but I hope you’ll indulge me.

 

A year ago this past November, I made the decision to take off the extra weight I’d been carrying around for longer than I care to think about. I decided that if I wanted to achieve my fitness goals, I needed to jettison the extra baggage, as it were. And yes, that is a metaphor for a lot of things going on in my life then and now. By the beginning of April last year, I’d lost thirty-five pounds, reduced body fat and gained lean muscle mass. But that was just the beginning. I knew that the challenge would be to maintain my new weight and the habits that got me there as a way of life.

 

So, this post is a celebration of my first anniversary. I’ve maintained my weight for a year, and during that year I’ve continued to grow stronger and more fit. So I guess you could say that this post is a celebration of my body and the journey it’s taken me on so far, as well as those connections to my creativity. Please remember that these are my thoughts and my experience of the journey. Everyone is different.

 

I was asked once to write a guest post explaining what I thought the appeal of BDSM is in erotica. It’s a subject I still think about often, and every time I do I find myself thinking about my workouts at the gym and drawing parallels.

 

I work out with a personal trainer once a week. In addition she also trains me in kettle bells and Pilates. While the woman looks sweet and gentle, to those who submit to her training, she is anything but. She pushes me hard, much harder than I would be able to push myself, and I have a reputation for pushing myself hard. But the truth is that I don’t trust myself completely. There are boundaries I’m afraid to push on my own. I’ve had too many injuries from pushing in the wrong way and overtraining. Though I love working out with my husband, and we have a great time together whether we’re practicing martial arts or whether we’re swinging kettle bells, or even on a long walk, he can’t really push me like my trainer does because he’s not a trainer and because I’m his wife and he’s careful with me. Also he doesn’t want to be around the bitch I can be if he tries to push me too hard. I love training on my own. I love the creative process of it, but that doesn’t eliminate my need to be pushed by someone who sees me better that I see myself.

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Some days I hurt. Some days I even have a few bruises — mostly from mishandling kettle bells. I’m pretty proud of
those, actually, because they mean I’m learning new techniques, they mean she trusts that I can handle more difficult challenges and heavier weights. It doesn’t matter how badly my body hurts or how exhausted I am — I keep pushing, and I know that I can push because my trainer’s looking out for me; she’s in control.

 

What makes a situation that would appear to any outsider like torture something that I revel in is what happens inside my head. What I experience when I’m pushed to the edge of my endurance is somewhat similar, I imagine, to what practitioners of BDSM call subspace, which is the headspace in which submissives may find themselves when they’ve been pushed to their limits by their Doms.

 

I’ve been thinking about that training headspace a lot lately, about the place where I go during a hard workout, when I’ve moved beyond tired and beyond pain. Pushing myself to the limit changes much more than my body. It feels like I go through stages. First there’s determination, and when the pain sets in (I’ve learned the difference between good pain and bad pain) and my body starts to rebel, the emotions start to well up – sometimes anger at the intangible, at some nemesis I neither have a name for nor can define. Sometimes that anger morphs into a child-like state that brings me close to tears, a state in which I want to turn on my trainer and ask her why the hell she’s being so mean to me – even as I push myself harder, even as I respect her more for believing I’m worthy of this challenge. When I get past that ‘why are you hurting me’ stage, what happens next is the most amazing part of all.  Somehow my body pushes the pain back. Endorphins, adrenaline, and all the chemical soup flooding into my brain and body take me to a place that feels far removed from what’s going on physically, and yet also feels right there at the very centre of my body, right there where the part that makes me ME resides.

 

The thing about the change that takes place when my trainer has pushed my boundaries and tested my skill level is that, even when the workout is over, the change remains. I’ve gone where I’ve not been before. The reservoir inside me that makes me who I am becomes deeper. I feel more real. I write this because I’m always seeking ways to understand what’s going on in the stories we writers tell. And when BDSM takes up such a large space under the erotica banner, why wouldn’t I seek parallels, why wouldn’t I search for ways to understand, ways to help my readers understand and identify. I do the same with all of the many components of erotica. Having said that, I hardly think it’s a surprise that gyms and physical fitness figure so prominently in erotic stories. Nor do I think it’s a surprise that for so many writers,
physical activity is closely  linked to creativity.

 

If I could put the experience I share with my personal trainer into a phrase, that phrase would be ‘power under control’ — my power, her control. And that power is power I didn’t know I had, power I would have been afraid to access without her control. I think we can’t overestimate the body as a teaching tool for knowing ourselves. Nor can we overestimate it as a tool to guide us deeper into our creative selves. We’re all our own biggest mystery — power unaccessed, depths unexplored –and most of us tend toward the path of least resistance. Moving off that path into the Undiscovered Country, accessing our power, is often easier when someone else, someone we trust completely, is in control.

 

Spiralling Down

The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing: isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination, and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.

— Robert De Niro

 

the-screamTruer words were never spoken. I call it the Spiral, and it mostly happens at night, mostly. I’ve written before about the neuroses of being a writer, and more specifically about my own neuroses. I can write about it and snigger in the daylight because it all seems so silly and insignificant, but in the middle of night, in the wee hours, the monsters really do come out. I mean those personal monsters all of us who write as our vocation face. Some of them might be different, though I would guess De Niro probably hit on the generic list that most of us could give a nod of agreement to.

 

For me, the Spiral usually begins after a good day with fairly high word count, a day that has been creative and a day in which I’ve been focused and centered. I go to bed tired with that good kind of tired you get from a job well-done. For several hours, I sleep like the dead – deep, dreamless, blissful. And then it happens!

 

For whatever reason, I wake up, usually groggy and still feeling the peacefulness of restful sleep. But then it begins. Just as I’m trying to drop back to sleep the parade of monsters begin, and it’s a long one. Suddenly everything I failed to do that past day and sometimes going back for years, will begin to cycle through my head – all the things that I’ve left undone because I wrote instead. I’ll wonder why I still write when it’s such hard, often unappreciated, work. I’ll wonder if I’ve made poor decisions in my writing career. I’ll wonder what life might have been like if I’d chosen a different path, a more sane path, one that didn’t involve the all-consuming passion of the story needing to be written. And then all the things I’ve put off because I’ve focused on my writing will parade across the screen in my head – the work on the house, the clearing the garden, the clearing away of too many years of clutter, the joining of more groups, the participating in more activities that would force me to be more social. I’m not very – but I think most of you already know I’d rather be in my writing cave. Anyway, it all devolves from there, spiraling down to my future as an old and lonely woman living in a cardboard box somewhere, with everything I care about and everyone I love gone.

 

I know! I know! It’s almost laughable when dawn comes, when I’m sitting at the breakfast table telling Raymond I had another Spiral. He’s always sympathetic. He always asks why I didn’t wake him. He always reminds me that he’s there for me. I know that, and I tell him how much that means to me. We get on with our day and I forget all about the dark and lonely night I just had with the one I love most lying right there beside me, and me unable to wake him up and tell him how frightened I feel, because in my heart of heats, I know in the morning it’ll all seem so stupid. For a few weeks, sometimes a few months, I forget all about the Spiral. Most of the time I live in the present. I’m happy, my life is full and good and filled with wonderful challenges and good people. And then, for no reason I can put my finger on, it happens again. The thing that’s most horrible about the Spiral is that I know it’s happening, I feel myself being pulled in, but no matter how hard I try to think myself out of it, to remind myself it’ll be all right, I can’t seem to break free, not until the whole parade has run its course and I fall back into an exhausted raw sleep.

 

Why am I sharing this not so happy slappy part of my life? Maybe because I know I’m in good company. I know that sometimes the difference between being honest with ourselves about ourselves and spiraling down into helpless despair is very hard for us to distinguish. Last night, when there was no getting out, I made a game of it, I tried to Sleeping woman reading181340322466666994_IswNAb85_bexaggerate even what my fertile imagination could come up with to worry and angst about and to view as what would be my bitter end. I don’t know that it helped, but it did remind me that this too shall pass, and that the monsters in the darkest hours seldom hang around in the daylight. In the daylight I feel empowered and able to fight back, to take control. In the daylight, I can see the differences between honest failures and short comings and a life that has no meaning. And even more importantly, the rawness I wake up with is a reminder that now is what I have and it’s good and it’s sweet, but it’s not always easy, and it’s not always a gentle way forward. Still it is a way forward. And even from that dark place, when daylight comes, I can take those dark places in myself, those places of despair and fear and translate them into story, into places of power. Though I seldom remember that when I’m in the dark. What I do remember, what helps me move beyond it is the knowing with certainty that no matter how lonely it feels when I’m in it, I’m not alone.

 
© 2017 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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