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Reading Shamelessly

From the Archives

http://www.listchallenges.com/books-youll-never-brag-about-having-read

 

No doubt you’ve all seen the checklists that periodically go around with must-read books, or the hundred best books of all time, or the checklists that test how well read you are. Honestly, who can resist? And who can resist possibly even cheating just a little bit and ticking the boxes of a couple of the ones we’ve not actually read, but maybe we’ve started, then got bogged down and finally just gave up and watched the movie or the mini series instead. Oh come on! Admit it! I’ve done it. Being thought of as erudite, well read and worldly is just so damned appealing.

 

There’s a link on List Challenges that goes around on Facebook periodically to another such list. But this list contains the titles of ‘books you’ll never brag about having read.’Some of them are just mindless guilty pleasures and smutty bonk busters. Some of them are infamous for being poorly written, but making their authors a mint. What writer isn’t a little green around the gills where those books are concerned? Some of them were the trend of the day — all the rage one week, forgotten the next. Some of them were written by people who were once admired, but have now fallen from grace. Some of them are rubber-necking books – you know the type – literary train wrecks and gossip fests just too juicy to resist. Some of them had me scratching my head and wondering why they were even on this list at all – especially when I could think of a few of my own I’d have added if I’d been making up the list.

 

Of course I had to test myself and felt slightly smug that I’d only read six. Yup! That’s me, Social Media folks! I pat myself on the back, I stick my nose in the air! I read only the highest quality literature. As for those six, well everyone lapses a little now and then, right?

 

But the lovely refreshing surprise that really got me thinking about what we read and why, was that most of the people who responded to my sharing this link on Facebook were unabashedly unashamed of reading their share of the books on this list. It’s reading, rights? These very smart people realize that. Whether it’s a bonk bust or a train wreck, the power of the written word is totally awesome! It’s an eye on the world that’s nothing less than magical.

 

The world we experience in the rarified air of what’s considered great literature is no more the real world than the one we get when we read fluff ‘n’ stuff. Reading isn’t now, nor has it ever been a reality check. If anything it’s the ultimate escape, the voyeur’s view into how the other half lives. It’s the opportunity to be entertained, titillated and even occasionally transformed. Being educated and well read is a thing we all treasure, and rightly so. But the experience of the written word is as much about pop culture and gossip and trends and history unfolding in all it’s marred, messed-up glory as it is about being educated. In fact, it seems to me that there is a point of cross-over that we can’t really afford to miss if for no other reason than because it’s a part of our culture, a part of the world we live in — bonk busts, bunny fluff, woo-woo and all. Besides, we need the escape, we need the view from outside ourselves. Guilty pleasures are often the best, and they’re never better than when we feel we should be reading Dickens, but end up reading Dan Brown over a pint of chocolate ice cream consumed straight out of the container.

 

Don’t get me wrong, some of my best, most life-changing reads have been classics, and they were wonderful and transforming, and I see them as mile-markers in my life. But I have my own list of fluff, woo-woo and mindless pulp novels, my own dirty little secret reading list, and I’m fine with that. Those books make me feel good when nothing else will. The fact that I canread, that I do read, that everything is out there for me to read; the fact that the written-word, no matter how shallow or forgettable is still the written word, well that’s nothing short of wonderful. At the end of the day, reading is an activity worthy of respect in its own right. The fact that we DO read is of far greater value than just how highbrow the reads on our checklist are.

 

Thoughts on Cinderella and Being Our Own Hero

From the Archives

I’m thinking about Cinderella today, oh I know there’ve been lots of face-lifts to the story to make it more modern, and I know the original fairy tale had some seriously dark stuff in it. The old Russian version has the evil step sisters cutting off their toes to try and fit their enormous feet into the dainty glass slipper! And the evil toe-cutters are exactly my point.

 

I’m thinking about how often women are portrayed in pop-culture as either wanting to or NEEDING to be willing to cut off their toes to spite their feet in order to be worthy of a Prince Charming to come and rescue them. I’m also thinking about how often that perfect beauty of tiny feet, tiny waists, big tits and gorgeous face are the main characteristics of the damsel Prince Charming rescues. In fact, they’re quite often the ONLY characteristics of the damsel in need of a romantic rescue. Sadly, we’re encouraged not only to read about that vacuous blank canvas of a damsel, but we’re expected, likewise, to want to BE her. That dream of being rescued by the prince on the white horse will surely become our reality if we can only cut off out toes and be Cinderella!

 

Okay, if I’m honest, at every single one of the difficult points in my life I would have been more than willing to be rescued from the struggles, or even at times I would love to be rescued from my ordinary life and brought into something more exciting. (That’s always a very dangerous thing to wish for!) And who hasn’t spent serious time ‘looking for a hero,’ even if it’s just in a really juicy fantasy.

 

Most of the time, though, we don’t get rescued. We have to do that ourselves, and we’re all the better for it. In the best situations, and in the best stories I’ve read, the hero and the heroine rescue each other, and they’re both worthy of the rescue.

 

I suppose the need to be rescued is archetypal, just as is the need to go on a quest, which is often only an elaborate way of rescuing ourselves. But the makings of a fictional hero and a heroine these days seem to have more to do with fat bank accounts and chaining virgins to the bed in an expensive dungeon and less about the journey that risks everything.

 

Oh, did I mention the journey? Right! The rescue, the quest, they always go hand in hand with the journey. And this is why, for me, Cinderella is one of the weakest tales. The journey is the leaving of our comfort zone – quite often screaming and kicking every step of the way. In that respect, no doubt Cinderella was outside her comfort zone at the ball, but in most journeys, there’s no glass slipper, no prince charming, and no fairy godmother dashing to the rescue. There’s much fear and trembling and digging deep. THAT’S what makes a book nail-biting and un-put-downable (there! A new word) It’s when chaos springs from the mundanity of order that heroes are made. And the resulting quest, the resulting journey is usually at least as painful as having toes severed to fit into glass slippers.

 

We rescue ourselves on a daily basis. We find within ourselves the makings of the hero, and we push forward. That little seed of the hero’s journey exists in all of us, and it’s never a matter of sitting in the ashes by the fireplace and waiting to be rescued. It’s a matter of getting muddy and mucky and taking risks and moving into the places inside us that terrify us, but that pull us like magnates, nonetheless. We are our own heroes, and our stories – those of us who write stories, come from the deeper places in our selves – or at least they should if they’re ever to matter much.

 

Am I being judgmental? Quite possibly. I never claimed not to be. But I know my own journey, and I know when I sit in front of the computer and break into a cold sweat because I fear the place I see myself heading, because I know I have no choice but to go there if this story is to be born, then I know that no one will rescue me but me, and I have to go deep into chaos to come out the other side as my own hero.

 

Sex and Ritual

from the archives

Those of you who follow my blog and read my books know that I’m fascinated by the
connection between sex and spirituality. I’m not a mystic. I’m a bit of a skeptic these days, but I’d be the first to say that there’s definitely something spiritual, something magical about sex, and not the least of it is the ritual involved.

 

I’ve always loved ritual. I made rituals up when I was a child. Later, I was involved in everything from conservative Christianity to practicing in a Wiccan coven — drawn in by the ritual. I spent three years training to be a spiritual director. I did it for the ritual. Contemplative prayer, meditating upon passages of scripture, the use of movement, dance, chant, are all tools of ritual. During my time spent in the Wiccan coven, the year itself was lived out in ritual — full moon, new moon, the changing of the seasons, the celebration of spring and harvest. During that time my husband and I even underwent the ritual of hand fasting in the stone circle at Avebury.

 

Ritual is a set of actions performed mainly for their symbolic value. But that’s only the beginning. The real power of ritual is that it’s the gateway to something beyond itself, it’s the gateway to a deeper understanding of what it represents.

 

That ritual infuses my erotica is not surprising. Sex is steeped in ritual, and often the rituals we practice before sex are strikingly similar to religious rituals. We often wear special clothing for the occasion, just as priests and acolytes do. We may share a romantic dinner together before hand, with special foods, just as the priest serves the Eucharist. Flowers and gifts may be offered. And all this we do in hopes of experiencing and celebrating le petit mort, the sexual version of death and resurrection.

 

When life was a lot more tenuous than it is now, fucking the world into existence was an act of high magic, sympathetic magic. One hoped that by having sex in a field or a cave or possibly a stone circle, the birds and the bees would see what was happening, and take a hint. Pollination would take place in the plant kingdom, plants would grow. Procreation would take place in the animal kingdom, animals would give birth. There would be food to eat, and the next generation would be guaranteed. Our ancestors got it — that there was something in the act, something in the lust driving the mating rituals of all living creatures that brought about new life. New life was in itself magic.

 

Today sex is more about recreation than procreation. The urgency is no longer there, nor is the belief that our efforts will encourage the cattle in farmer Jones’s field to breed. The urgency may be gone, but the ritual is still there. Strangely and wonderfully, so is the magic, albeit a different kind of magic.

 

 

The beauty of sex as ritual is that we don’t have to be members of a religious group; we don’t have to undergo years of training to practice the rituals of sex. Whether it’s BDSM, kink, vanilla or masturbation, sex contains the built-in default rituals of all humanity, just like it does for our animal cousins. Yes, I get that it’s biology. But when cranes dance and grebes do synchronised swimming and apes groom each other, it certainly seems like more is happening than just the old in and out.

 

Giving and receiving pleasure is the ultimate ritual of human connection, even if it’s
just some much-needed connecting with ourselves. There are as many versions of the ritual as there are people to practice it. No organized religion can offer a ritual that is more personal nor more universally compelling. Perhaps that’s why so much effort  has been made through the centuries to regulate it, to control it, to limit it.

 

Back in the dawn of humanity when sex was both ritual and religion, our ancestors got it right. Though the science wasn’t yet available to back up that intuitive connection, that visceral urgency of fucking the world into existence, even back then, our ancestors already knew that the ultimate ritual, the ultimate magic takes place in the arms another.

 

 

 

 

Lakeland Inspiration and Free Reads

Surely there is no other place in this whole wonderful world quite like Lakeland … no other so exquisitely lovely, no other so charming, no other that calls so insistently across a gulf of distance. All who truly love Lakeland are exiles when away from it.

— Alfred Wainwright

 

 

 

I’m just back from a lovely few days in the English Lake District. As always, I had a glorious time and would have loved nothing more than to stay a little longer. Few places inspire me quite like the Lakes. Proof of that is in the fact that all three of my giveaways for the month of July are set in the English Lake district. More about those later.

 

 

I’ve never seen it this hot or this dry in Cumbria. Many of our favourite walks involve being up high enough that there are no trees. While that is not a problem under an overcast sky, with the July sun beating down and not a bit of shade in sight, it can be brutal. As you can see, I was in shorts. I’ve never before walked in shorts on the fells.

 

 

That being the case, we spent some of our walking time down lower on more shaded walks. This is Ashness Bridge, iconic Lakeland, and a part of our walk that involved an ascent up the back side of Walla Crag and then down to walk around Derwent Water.  One of the best parts of that glorious walk was the wild bleaberries. For those of you that don’t know what those are, think mini blueberries that bite back. They’re tiny and sweet and deliciously tart, and I didn’t get any photos because I was too busy stuffing my face. We all had blue fingers and teeth by the time we were at the top of the fell.

 

 

We had a nostalgic walk retracing the steps of the walk that inspired Anderson’s slate quarry shelter in Body Temperature and Rising, the first of the Lakeland Witches novels. In fact the whole walk from Grange, up to High Spy and down Rigghead Quarries figures into the series over and over again. This walk is a part of the Newlands Horseshoe Ridge, which one of my very favourite walks in the Lakes.

 

 

My best British memories come from the Lake District, and it’s the place I write about most often just because I get to be there vicariously when I write, and I get the remember and dwell on all those places I love so much.

 

 

 

Follow these links to FREE READS all set in Lakeland.

 

 

 

 

The Hotter the Better Steamy Romance Giveaway

https://books.bookfunnel.com/thehotterthebetter/7o1156uuyo

 

 

You’ll find my sizzling novella, In Training in this fabulous library of steamy romance. Read blurb and excerpt here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kick-Ass Women of Urban Fantasy

https://books.bookfunnel.com/womenurbanfantasy/r09cfeffoq

 

 

 

 

You’ll find my novel, In The Flesh, here. It’s the first novel of the Medusa’s Consortium series. Read blurb and excerpt here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Short but not Sweet

https://books.bookfunnel.com/shortromance/mkz0o5zg9l

 

 

 

 

You’ll find my M/M novella, Landscapes, here. Read blurb and excerpt here

 

 

Demon Dreams

Dreams have been a driving force in story and magic since our ancestors told tales
around the campfire. The connection between what goes on in our dreams and our unconscious is so startling that it’s no wonder mythology and religion are full of stories in which dreams are the way for the divine to speak to mortals. When we dream, it feels like we’ve fallen asleep in one dimension and awakened in another where different rules apply every night – every dream in fact – and where, struggle though we might, we are most definitely not in control.

 

People have always believed that there’s something magical about dreams, that in our sleep, we can see the future, be warned of coming catastrophe, see the face of a lover, even see our own doom. These days there’s not a lot that can’t be explained by science and technology. Magic is the realm of fantasy novels and super heroes, but dreams, well there’s still something almost magical about them. We can tell when someone is dreaming; we understand the physiological process, we can understand in part why we dream certain things. But even knowing what we do about the anatomy of sleep and dreams, a nightmare is still terrifying, a disturbing dream still stays with us for ages after it happens, and a sexy dream, well who doesn’t wish we had a lot more of those?

 

One of my very favorite classes in Uni was a psychology class that involved keeping a dream journal. All we had to do was write down what we’d dreamed every night. I was surprised to find that, in the beginning, I had trouble remembering much more than an image here and there, but then I’d never thought much about my dreams before that class. My teacher suggested I keep a spiral notebook and a pencil on my bedside table and that I set my alarm at two-hour intervals. Each time the alarm went off, I was to jot down just a few key words that would kick-start my memory in the morning, then go back to sleep. At first it was mostly mundane bits and pieces that I remembered, but it didn’t take long until I was remembering multiple dreams and detailed sequences.

 

I was so impressed with the results that I kept a dream journal for a long time after the class came to an end. I only stopped because it was beginning to take more and more time as I remembered more and more details. Later, when I worked with a Jungian analyst for a couple of years, dreams once again took center stage in exploring my inner workings. The thing about dreams is that every image, every action, can either symbolize something that could be important for the dreamer or, as Freud observed, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

 

Long after I stopped keeping a dream journal, I still wrote down powerful dreams, dreams that disturb me, or dreams that left me feeling like maybe I’d touched something deeper in myself. I recorded them and then I analyzed them and explored what they meant to me, what the Self was trying to communicate. I almost always found my efforts rewarding and enlightening.

 

There are dreams we’d like to linger in a little longer, there are also dreams we can’t wake up from fast enough. In the interviewing of the Guardian, which I am sharing now on my blog, as it unfolds, I am doing a lot of dreaming. In fact, I must approach the Guardian’s prison inside of Susan through a dream, and even from there, I am never sure I am in a nightmare I can’t wake up from or a dream I want to linger in.
While Talia, the succubus who helps me enter that dream state, promises me I’m perfectly safe … well, between a powerful succubus and a demon imprisoned inside a vampire who is herself a Scribe, with a capital S, I’ve seldom felt truly safe since I began the interviews. And no matter the reassurances I get from both succubus and vampire, how can anyone guarantee my safety in the Guardian’s presence.

 

New episode of Interview with a Demon coming up Tuesday.

Stay tuned.

 
© 2018 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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