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Small Flashlight, Big Darkness

I’m sharing a little something from the Archives with you today, because I’ve been truly In The Zone the past few coming up from the depths
days and when I’m not writing like a mad woman, I’m thinking about characters, about plot, about why what’s happening needs to happen. That all brings me back to the intense, sometimes frightening, position we writers all face  on a regular basis — shining a small flashlight into our big 
darkness. (This post first appeared, with modifications, on the ERWA blog October 2012)

Today’s post is a hard one for me to settle into because it could so easily devolve into navel gazing, and one of the promises I made to myself and to my readers back when I wrote my very first ever blog post was that I would keep the navel gazing to a minimum. There must be a gazillion writer and write-hopefuls blogging, and each one is convinced that their journey to writing success is totally unique and must be shared. Well maybe not each one, maybe I’m only speaking for myself, in which case, I blush heartily and apologise.

My point is that all of the energy, angst, fear, adrenaline, exploration of dark places, exploration of forbidden places that used to go into the pages and pages of that gargantuan navel-gaze that was my journal now go through that strange internal filtering process that takes all my many neuroses and insecurities, all my deep-seated fears, all my misplaced teenage angst and magically transforms them into story.

That was sort of my little secret — that I alone, in all the world, suffered uniquely and exquisitely for my art. I took all the flawed and wounded parts of myself, parts I wasn’t comfortable facing, examined them reflected through the medium of story and found a place where I could view them and not run away screaming.

Where is all this borderline navel-gazing leading? There was a BBC article some time ago asking the question, is creativity ‘closely entwined with mental illness?’ I shared it on Facebook and Twitter to find that lots of other writers had shared it as well and the general response was simply that it sounded about right. There were some very moving conversations that came out of those sharings of that article along with the realization — something I’ve long suspected — that I am not all alone out there in my vibrant unique neurotic bubble. And really, it comes as no surprise that one has to be at least a little neurotic to be ballsy enough to try to bring, in one form or another, what lives in our imagination into the real world and to attempt to put it out there for everyone to see. Or secret exhibitionist is alive and well.

As the article was shared around and the responses mounted, I found myself thinking of C.G. Jung’s archetype of the Wounded Healer. The healer can only ever heal in others what she herself is suffering from. The archetype of the storyteller is alive and well. And I believe writers live out the archetype of the wounded healer on a daily basis. Empathy goes much deeper than sympathy. The human capacity for story is as old as we are. Before the written word, story was the community archive. It was our memory of who we are, our history, our continuity, our triumphs, trials, sufferings, joys, all memorised, filed away, and kept safely in the mind of the story teller. That had to do something to your head, knowing that you were the keeper of the story of your people! How could storytellers be anything other than neurotic?

It’s a lot more personal now that we have the written word. No one has to dedicate their lives to memorising the story of their people. It’s just as well because that story has become way too expansive for one person to ever manage in many lifetimes. Now we tell our own story, the story of the internal battles that wound us, the story of those wounds
transformed. We all tell our stories in our own personal code. What may well start out as a navel gaze into the deep dark wilderness of Self can be transformed into powerful, vibrant story, and we’re healed! At least temporarily, or at Writing imageleast we’re comforted. And hopefully so are those with whom we share our stories. When I journalled my navel-gazes, I wasn’t interested in anyone else seeing what was on those pages. It was a one-sided attempt at a neurotic house-cleaning. Sharing the story is a part of the healing; sharing the story is a part of the journey. The Storyteller had no purpose if she didn’t share the story with her people.

Most of the time I write my stories because I can’t NOT do it, and it’s a lot of fun. That’s the truth of it. I seldom consciously dig deep to find those wounded, neurotic places. Really, who would want to do that deliberately? But the wounded places find me, and they end up finding their way into the story. And what surfaces is never quite what I expected, always more somehow, even if started out to be nothing more than a little ménage in a veg patch.

 

Inspiration, Take Me! I’m Yours!

(Parts of this post come from a guest post I wrote for Tina Donahue in 2011)

 

Writing imageIt’s elusive, it’s mysterious, it’s exhilarating, and we erotic writers crave it more than the sex we write about. We chase it shamelessly, we long for it passionately, we would gladly make ourselves slaves to its every whim, and no matter how fickle it is, we always welcome it back with open arms. When it’s with us, it’s at least as good as the best sex. And when it’s not, we mourn its loss like a lover. I’m talking about inspiration, of course. It’s the breath of life for every story ever written and the coveted ethereal presence that every writer yearns for.

The mythological link to inspiration is especially interesting to me in the light of a life-long fascination with mythology. Half of my novels and at least that many of my short stories and novellas find their inspiration in mythology or fairy tales of some sort. I’m writing an online serial, In The Flesh and my present WIP, Buried Pleasures, both have their roots in mythology.

Greek mythology – mythology of any kind, really — is fabulous inspiration for writers. The gods are always dipping their wicks where they don’t belong and finding ever more creative ways to do so. Nine months later, viola! A magical child is born, a child with gifts that will be needed to save the world, or at least a little part of it. But there’s one story that always comes to my mind where the lovely virgin resists, and no wick-dipping occurs. That’s the story of Apollo and Daphne.

The Muses serve Apollo, so of course this myth interests me. Apollo is the god of light and the sun; truth and prophecy; medicine, healing, and plague. He is the god of music, poetry, and the arts; and all intellectual pursuit. If ever there was a wick we writers would like to be dipped by, it surely has to be Apollo. Daphne is a mountain nymph and not interested in giving up her virginity to some randy god. While Apollo is pursuing her, she prays to her father, who is a river god, and he turns her into a laurel tree. Ovid claims it’s not Daphne’s fault that she’s not hot for Apollo right back. He claims that Cupid, who is angry at Apollo shoots Daphne with a leaden arrow, which prevents her from returning Apollo’s feelings. But what matters is that she misses out on Apollo’s inspiration.

My theory is that the whole mythology of gods coming down from Olympus, or wherever else gods come down from, to seduce humans is really nothing more than a metaphor for inspiration.

Consider all the different forms in which Zeus visits his paramours. He takes the form of a swan with Leta, he visits leda Cornelis_Bos_-_Leda_and_the_Swan_-_WGA2486Danae in a shower of gold coins, he approaches Europa as a white bull. Writers understand that inspiration can take absolutely any shape, and often the very shape we least expect.

The gods aren’t always gentle in their seductions. Hades drags Persephone off to the underworld screaming and kicking all the way. Zeus turns Io into a white cow, who is tortured and tormented by Hera. In the form of an eagle, he abducts Ganymede and drags him away to Mount Olympus. Writers know well that inspiration doesn’t always come in a gentle form. In fact one of my creative writing teachers used to advise her students to go to the place inside themselves that most frightened them, most disgusted them, most disturbed them, and that’s the place where they would find inspiration, that’s the place from which their writing would be the most powerful.

I’m quite disturbed by the journey In The Flesh is taking me on. It’s the story of a demonic spirit who is irresistable, and insatiable, and gives everything he promises his lovers and more. But the price of passion beyond imagining is high. Of course he’s just a scary stalker bastard with divine powers, but at the same time, I go right a long with the dangerous, even deadly, seduction of Susan. Would you??? I would. Or at least I think I would. Obsession is a harsh master, and not always the giver of rewards promised. Though at the end of the day, most of us would gladly pay the price for inspiration.

Whether inspiration comes in gentle, beautiful forms or whether it drags us kicking and screaming and tears us from limb to limb, the result will be something greater than what it sprang from. From the seductions of the gods, the children born were always larger than life. They were heroes and monsters and fantastical creatures, but they were all born of that joining of divinity and humanity, they were all the result of what happens when something greater penetrates the blood and the bone and the grey matter of our humanity. What comes from that inspiration may indeed be monstrous or fantastical, but it will always be, in the mythical sense, born of the gods.

Which leads me back to Daphne and Apollo. The cost of inspiration is the loss of innocence. We are seduced, we are penetrated, we are impregnated with something new, something fresh, something possibly even frightening, something that we, as writers must carry to term and give birth to. But none of that can happen without yielding to the seduction. Daphne became a tree, unable to move, unable to think, unable to ever be penetrated or inspired. One can only imagine what may have resulted from the willing union with the god of light and truth and poetry and the arts and all the things we writers crave. I’ll be honest, I fantasize about Apollo. I fantasize about inviting him right on in and saying I’m yoursApolloDaphne Wickipedia450px-ApolloAndDaphne. I’ll take all you can give me, and please, feel free to stay as long as you like. Though, in truth, in my fantasy, I skip the dangerous and scary bits. And encounters with inspiration can often be dangerous and scary. I think it’s probably Apollo who inspired my demon lover – a terrifying version of divine inspiration.

There’s a cost to inspiration. It’s the obsession we all know as writers, the one that won’t allow us to think about anything else in the waking world and sometimes even in the dream world until we get the very last word down, until we make it shine exactly the way we conceived it, exactly the way it penetrated us. My heart is racing just writing this because every writer knows what it feels like, and every writer lives for it to happen again and again and again. So yeah, forget the tree rubbish, laurel or otherwise. Inspiration, take me, I’m yours. Have your way with me. I couldn’t be more willing if I tried.

 

Object Lessons: Silver Crucifixes and Yew Trees

2015-06-30 10.12.08I think a lot about the value we place on things, and I don’t mean in a materialistic way. I mean in a writerly way. I’ve always found myself drawn to detritus and things left behind. Everything left behind has a story, and because of that, everything left behind carries its own little bit of magic, no matter what it’s actual monetary value.

I mentioned when I was in Oregon that near my sister’s house there was a trailer park where a pick-up truck had been left derelict, the back end full, as though someone had vacated a flat in a hurry and then left the truck containing all their possessions as well. It was loaded down with all kinds of household items from a wok to a rocking chair, from a mangled computer table to a battered rodeo practice dummy. My imagination went wild. For me it was a treasure trove of ideas to be filed away for future stories.

I’ve found countless gloves and hats and hair scrunchies on walks that I’ve taken. I’ve found money, wallets – which I returned, underwear – which I did NOT return, shoes. At home in my jewelry box I have a bird skull I found on a walk once, bones like ivory, and every delicate one of them in perfect condition – obviously that I kept. On a walk once in Oregon, I found an unbelievably beautiful geode, broken 2015-05-13 16.49.34open to expose the beautiful crystals within. Trouble was, it was huge, way to heavy for me to carry back on a ten-mile, very steep trail. But I found it, I saw it, I filed it away for future use. If you follow my blog, you know about all the lovely pyritic ammonites I found on the beaches around Lyme Regis. I’ve found bones, bird eggs, feathers, books and large sparkly rhinestones, belts, buckles, ribbons and bracelets among lots and lots of other things, some valuable, most not so much.

But on this particular occasion, I found a silver crucifix about three inches long, half buried in the powdery dust of the path. There was just enough of it exposed for it to catch the sun as I looked down. I just happened to be walking through a stretch of woodland dotted with lots of very old yew trees. Yew trees are often associated with churchyards and holy places, and at the time I was 2015-06-30 10.37.54plotting out the next chapter of my online serial, In The Flesh. That being the case, the crucifix and the yew tree seemed appropriate symbols for inspiration for a story that involves a demon lover in a deconsecrated church.

So far the crucifix itself hasn’t figured into the story, but it definitely inspired what happened next. As for the yew trees,
well, when a good bit of the story takes place in an neglected overgrown church yard, it seemed appropriate for me to spend some time, clenching the crucifix in my hand and wandering among the yew trees. I took dozens of pictures and worked out at least that many scenarios in my head for the week’s edition of In The Flesh.

Afterwards, I stuffed the cross in a small pocket in my backpack and forgot all about it until just yesterday when I was digging around for something else, and I was reminded again how often detritus is a touchstone for story. So often, even when that detritus is not something shiny and silver and something worth hanging on to, it can be the seed of story, or at the very least the 2015-06-30 10.12.28seed of an idea that will become a part of a story. Things for a writer, as often nothing more than prompts, and sometimes those things would be totally insignificant to anyone else. On the other hand, the same piece of seeming rubbish that inspired one writer to a romance might inspire another to a horror story – especially something as evocative as a silver crucifix or an abandon pickup truck full of an anonymous person’s possessions. What makes something valuable is more often than not based on what its emotional attachments are. The value of a wedding ring, for instance, is much more valuable for what it represents than it is for itself. When a good
friend of mine got a divorce, I remember going with her to a jewelry store to sell her diamond engagement ring simply because it no longer represented what it had when she wore it for love. In fact, it now evoked almost the opposite feelings in her.

My good friend, Kay Jaybee often tells people that she can write about anything, that any object can be an inspiration. It’s true. But some things capture our imagination more than others and when that happens, it’s time to hang on to our writer’s caps and enjoy the ride.

 

The Truth About Dressing for Success

Writing pen and birds 1_xl_20156020I’ve just come off of two ‘dress-up’ events, or at least that’s what I call them because for me it’s always like playing dress-up the day of a reading or a book signing or a party, or any time I have to make a public appearance as KD or Grace. I ravage my drawers for my limited supply of sexy lingerie. Not that anyone would know the difference if I wore my granny panty reliables, I grumble as I truss myself up, but it’s the principle of the thing, isn’t it? By God, there should be lace and corsets and boots and frou frou it I’m gonna play the part, and there have to be items that lift and separate and mould and shape and constrict. Oh yes, they absolutely must constrict!

I try on every cleavage accentuating top in my closet with the sexy black jeans or the flowing skirts that are my standard uniform for those occasions that demand a little more, shall we say, sass. Should I show off the valley or showcase the peaks? That’s the question, and it’s never an easy decision. Occasionally I’m really brave and wear something brazen enough to show off both.

There might be a smattering of lace, a little costume jewelry, a curling iron to the hair for that glam look, or my jaundiced version thereof. Of course there’ll be eye-watering make-up (my own eyes doing said watering). I used to sell makeup. I know how to put on a little slap, but that was before I got obsessed with writing. Now, most of the time I just can’t be arsed. Makeup time is time that could be better spent as writing time. How unglamorous is that? But for a reading or a party or a public appearance as KD/Grace, there must be make-up, and usually at least some of it needs to sparkle.

And the final touch is what to do about my finicky feet? Shall I wear the boots with the girlie stamp of approval, or shall I risk several days in traction or a sprained ankle and wear my nosebleed heels. (Note, nosebleed to me means anything with an arch that I can slid two sheets of paper under. The higher the heel, the more girlie choice, right? And the naughtier, of course.

When I go to a reading, when I put my best girlie foot forward, I know how to look the part. And I love reading my sexy stories to equally sexy listeners. I’m in my element when I’m engaging with the audience, sharing the story, talking about the writing. But once the spotlight is off the story, what am I thinking?

‘This damn bra is gouging a trench in my ribs! If it pushes me up any higher, I’m going to suffocate in my own cleavage.’ That’s what I’m thinking! And though the panties I’m wearing underneath may be deliciously displaying my arse-cheeks (unbeknownst to everyone in the room, of course) in reality they make me feel like I need to either excavate or stand on my toes. And standing on my toes in certainly no problem, since I’m wobbling around on heels that feel like stilts, though that doesn’t seem to solve the panty problem. Oh, and the makeup. I never rub my eyes when I’m not wearing it, but the urge is damn near irresistible when I’m in full slap. Why is that? Is it the extra weight of mascara on my delicate, thin lashes? Is it a stray bit of powdery glitz from the eye shadow? Or maybe it’s just the body’s defenses taking over to rid itself of too much of a glam thing.

Before I started writing erotic romance, I had visions of scantily-clad women writing in their boudoirs in corsets and lace stockings and f**k-me shoes. If I had any illusion that I might eventually evolve into such a mythical creature, I WAS WRONG! It just ain’t happening! At least not with this slovenly writer. My dirty little secret: I write in a ratty track suit old enough and faded enough to easily be a charity shop reject. In the winter I write in fuzzy slippers that look like they might have acquired a case of the mange. In the summer, I let me feet breathe. God, how unsexy!

I’m working from the theory that sexy lingerie constricts the blood flow to my brain, inhibiting any truly sexy thought from penetrating the oxygen starved gray matter. I don’t write well in bondage. I need to be free. I need to be the dominantrix when it comes to the written page. My feet aren’t shaped like Barbie’s, pre-formed to fit into stilettos, though there are times when that would be beneficial. But no! My feet love flat surfaces.

And if you take a look at my hands – especially in the summer – no French manicure for me, nosiree! Guess I never got over the love of playing in the dirt from the days of my childhood. I grow vegetables, and vegetables like dirt, they need dirt. I could tell you amazing things about dirt! And here’s the rest of my dirty little secret. Doing dirty, messy, sloppy things, not the kind of things you’d do in a corset and stilettos, inspires me to write dirty, messy, chaotic, romantic fun stories. Being girlie doesn’t come naturally, digging in the garden, walking on the Downs, being outside in the mud and the dust does.

My dirty little secret is actually not much of a secret, and it’s common ground for a lot of my writer friends. We all laugh and joke that we can clean up okay and do the girlie, sexy thang just fine, even enjoy it. But when we go home, when we revert to our natural states, it’s jeans and trainers and tracksuits. It’s walking and digging and getting our hands dirty that inspires. Okay, some get their inspiration getting their hands dirty in the kitchen, baking and cooking raymond 018and creating yummy meals, but I’ve never heard of one of them making a pavlova in full slap and a corset. Of course everyone has a different dirty little secret, so I could be wrong.

I guess ultimately the secret isn’t really a secret, and it isn’t really all that dirty. We writers all do whatever it takes to inspires us. The way we dress, the hobbies in which we indulge, the mindset from which we write is all about inspiration, all about finding the way through the gray matter to that perfect story. Still, it’s a part of the writer’s mystique to have a dirty little secret or two, isn’t it? But this is as close as you’ll get to mine, because if I told you any more, I’d have to kill you.

 

The Beautiful Experiment

431px-Medusa_Mascaron_(New_York,_NY)(While The Beautiful Experiment was first posted on the Erotic Readers and Writers blog, Nov 2013, it was very much front and centre in my mind when I wrote Interviewing Wade)

I was bored. My flight had been delayed. I’d already been traveling forever, and I’d reached that point at which I was too tired to read, too tired to concentrate on writing, too tired to sit still without being twitchy. I didn’t want to drink, I didn’t want to eat. I just wanted to be done travelling. That’s when I began The Beautiful Experiment. I was seated off one of the main concourses, which was a constant hive of activity, of people coming and going, popping in and out of shops and scurrying to make tight connections. It was the ideal place to people watch. But with a twist. I decided to watch the masses to see just how many truly beautiful people I could spot.

Okay, I know everyone has a slightly different ideal when it comes to beauty, but we all know it when we see it. We all know that look that turns heads, that look that makes us want to stare, to take in all that loveliness just a little longer. I didn’t care if the real lookers were men or women. I mean if we’re honest, we look at both, whether we admire it, want it or envy it. So I sat and I watched. … and I watched … and I watched. Since that time I’ve carried out my little experiment in pubs, in museums, on the tube, in busy parks, and the results are always the same. There just aren’t that many real stunners out there!

I was struck by that fact in the airport that day, so I decided to add another dimension to my experiment. I decided to look for people who were interesting. It didn’t necessarily have to be their looks that were interesting, it could just as easily be their behaviour, their dress, something, anything that made them worth a surreptitious stare. And wow! Being delayed in an airport suddenly became a fascinating grist mill for story ideas and intriguing speculation.

I’ve carried out this experiment lots of time now, and the results are always the same. There are very few stunners out Bernini Hades and Persephone close uptumblr_lg4h59T3z31qe2nvuo1_500there, and even when I spot one, even when I find myself sneaking glances at a beautiful person, my eyes, and my attention, can always be drawn away by the interesting people.

In erotica and, in particular erotic romance, the characters are usually voluptuous, sculpted beauties and broad shouldered, wash-boarded hunks. It’s fantasy after all. But how long can a story focus the reader’s attention on washboard abs or perfect tits? Descriptions give us a handle. Descriptions are like the label on a file. They might attract us to the file, but if the file is empty, it won’t hold our attention. It’s what makes the described beautiful person interesting that makes the story.

In our genre, sex is a large part of what makes our beautiful people intriguing; how they think about sex, their kinks, their quirks, their neuroses, their baggage – all of those things make the fact that our beautiful people are interesting way more important than the fact that they’re beautiful. Add to that some seriously delicious consequences for that sex, some chaos and mayhem, a few character flaws that catch us off our guard, that draw us in and voila! A gripping story is born!

Perfection in a story, in characters, is the equivalent of a literary air brushing. No flaws = no story; no rough spots = nothing to hold our attention. Our characters’ beauty is only their handle. Their flaws and their intriguing quirks are what catapult us into the plot, what make us want to stay on for more than just a look-see and to dig a little deeper, to really know those characters and become emotionally involved with them.

Recently on the tube in London, I tried my little experiment again, just to make sure. More data is always a good idea, and good science has to be repeatable, doesn’t it? Taking into account my own preferences and prejudices, the results P1020562

were the same. I can remember a half a dozen really interesting people, people I could very easily write a story about. There wasn’t a single stunner among them, which leads me to the conclusion that we’re more interesting in our flaws than in our perfections. We’re more interesting in our experiences and the way they manifest than in the static beauty of the moment. It also excites me to think that I’m surrounded by interesting people all the time. A story is never farther away than the next intriguing person. Is this an ordinary-looking person’s version of sour grapes? I don’t think so; I hope not. Truth is there’s an astonishing transformation that takes place in the company of truly interesting people. Before long, right before my eyes, those truly intriguing people become the beautiful people. There’s always a story in that.

 
© 2017 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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