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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.

 

The Scribe: Letting the Characters Tell the Story

Scribe computer keyboardMG_0777We 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 a new 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. In The Flesh is another of the Scribe stories as is Encounter in a Dry Canyon and the encounters with Alonso Darlington as well as the lady in the sunglasses, who’ll be putting me through my paces for Writing pen and birds 1_xl_20156020a long time to come.

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, coloured 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!

I hope to spend a lot more 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.

 

Sex and Truth in Story

The most freeing experience for me as a writer was when I wrote my first sex scene. Oh, I’m not talking about the ones I Bernini Hades and Persephone close uptumblr_lg4h59T3z31qe2nvuo1_500imagined, or the ones I might have scribbled on a page in a notebook only to rip them out and tear them into shreds before I tossed them, wanting to make certain no one ever saw what filth came from my mind. I’m talking about the first sex scene I wrote for publication.

The actual including of graphic sex in a story I’d written was both terrifying and freeing. It was terrifying in that it was a very difficult letting go. I’ve never had trouble actually writing sex. The writing has always come easily, but I doubt very much if there’s a writer out there who hasn’t written a sex scene and wondered if her readers would see her in it and think that she had either done what her characters were doing. Or perhaps they would wonder what kind of a filthy mind would dream up such smut. Of course now that I’ve written more than my share of sex scenes and done lots of promoting, I know that it does happen. We all get asked if we’ve done the things we write about. We all get the giggling responses from people who aren’t quite sure how to handle sex uncovered, aren’t quite sure how to handle someone actually saying, ‘yup! I write it. Yup, I’m proud of it.’

Other people’s opinions aside, there’s a much more personal connection that one feels when writing a sex scene than when writing almost anything else. I think it’s the vulnerability, the letting ones guard down and the becoming honest with our characters. That also means becoming honest with ourselves as writers – knowing when to leave the bedroom doors open, knowing when sex matters to the reader and when it only slows the story down. But all of those technical aspects of story, all of the finessing of sex in a scene can only happen when a writer is brave enough to put sex on the page for everyone to see and do so realizing that while the reader may question how much said sex scene speaks of the writer, if the writer chooses to leave it out, she will be cheating her reader out of a better view of her characters or an important movement in the story. By the same token, gratuitous sex diminishes both the character and the story. If the writer chooses to put sex in when it’s not necessary, she’s cheating the reader with lazy writing by using sex to titillate instead of good writing and gripping story to keep the reader engaged.

It took ages before I could let the characters speak to me through their sex lives because I was so afraid anyone who read those sex scenes would associate them with me personally. Imagine my fear and trepidation when I released The Initiation of Ms Holly out into the world! Imagine my feeling of exposure. For months before the book came out, I feared that connection, that visceral connection, that I as a writer would be viewed as the sum total of the sex scenes I’d written, in spite of the plot that was moved by the sex, in spite of the characters said sex revealed.

One of the major battles young writers face, in my opinion, is becoming comfortable with writing sex and with being able to separate themselves from what their characters need to do in order for the story to unfold, in order for the reader to be fully engaged. That battle is a double-edged sword in that basic psychology would say everything we write is, on some level, the unfolding of our own story, the way we deal with our personal journey. Let’s face it; writing can be great therapy, if it’s not totally messing you up in the process.

Still, there’s a level of unselfconsciousness that each writer must reach in order to tell the truth. Truth in story carries much more weight than truth in the real world because it’s a multifaceted mirror, not only for the writer, but when done right, for the reader as well. Truth in story is archetypal and touches nerves that anything less real could not. In fiction, denial drops away and the naked truths of the characters and their story become larger than life reality checks that bring us up short and cause us to reflect on our own realities. If the writer can’t be honest, in sex as well as in every other aspect of story, then the reader will know, and if the reader doesn’t trust the writer, then she won’t read what’s been written.

Sex can and should be one of the most honest, most vulnerable places in which the reader encounters character and plot. It can also be the cheapest possible way to bullshit a reader into reading something with no substance. Once the writer is brave enough to let the characters have sex out in the open before god and the reader and everyone, then the writer must also be very sure that it’s the characters and the plot that the sex drives and not a cop-out for lazy, Sleeping woman reading181340322466666994_IswNAb85_bdishonest writing.

Twelve novels and multiple novellas and short stories later, and I still feel vulnerable every time I write sex. Every time I write sex, I find myself in a position of mutual respect. I have to respect my characters and the story that they need to tell, including the sex acts that involves enough to be honest, and I have to respect the intelligence of my readers, who are on the journey with the characters. Sex is a powerful tool. Sex is the true magic of the biological world, and if anything it’s even more powerful magic in the world of story. But like any powerful tool, it can and often is abused to the detriment of the writer and the readers.

 
© 2017 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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