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Making the Word Flesh

‘The word became flesh and dwelt among us.’

 

No, I’m not waxing Biblical on you this lovely spring day. It’s just that I’ve been thinking about the power of the word. Duh! Writer here. When am I not thinking about the power of the written word?

 

At the moment, I’m still struggling with A Demon’s Tale, the fourth novel in the Medusa Consortium series. Like all the Medusa tales, it’s a big book. In fact what is taking me so long is that almost three quarters of the way through a novel that still needed LOTS more space, I realised that I was trying to write three novels into one. SOOO, I’m now unraveling the three so that A Demon’s Tale will truly be the Guardian’s story. The other two stories are for another time. As I work through this unraveling, occasionally I find myself wondering how we writers can create something out of nothing, from the tiniest seed of an idea. As much as I love a good TV binge, there’s nothing like a good novel – whether you’re reading it or whether you’re writing it. Few things engage the creative process quite like a novel does. In the mind of both the reader and the writer, the word becomes flesh and the world of the story becomes as real as the world we live in … at least if the author has done her job.

 

The very best novels are the ones that pull us in to the point where the writer’s world seems more real to us than our own, to the point that we physically feel the story, not simply take it into our mind. That’s also true for the writing of a tale. Some days the Guardian’s world seems more real to me than my own, and honestly, if I’m not pulled into the story physically, if I don’t feel it in my gut and below, then I can hardly expect my readers to, can I?

 

You see, the thing about being a writer is that we’re entirely self-entertaining. The stories seemingly come out of nowhere, and expand to fill our days, and often our nights and any moment we can spare in our efforts to get them down, in our efforts to create something real. Even when I’m not plopped in front of the computer writing, the story, the characters, the next scene – they’re all going through my head. Some of the best, most creative writing happens when I’m not physically writing at all.

 

If you’ve read the Judeo/Christian creation myth in Genesis, then you know that God simply speaks the world into existence without any seeming order of plan. That’s writing in a nutshell. I have an idea. I shape it enough to anticipate what the ending might be … might be, and then I write and let the story unfold and surprise me.

 

Eeep! I guess I am waxing a bit Biblical, but you have to understand, there’s a whole lot of mythology going on in the Medusa books, and as a lover of myth, how can I not get pulled in and end up contemplating the connections and meanings?

 

While a writer brings her world into existence using nothing but words, she has to do a little more than that with the characters. They can be created with words, but they need life breathed into them, they need chemistry, connection, personality, pasts, flaws, feelings, neuroses and a driving force that’s greater than themselves. The world unpopulated is a lonely and boring place. Let’s just say Magda Gardener’s world is anything but. And there comes a point when I’m not entirely sure if I’m breathing life into my characters of if they’re breathing life into me. And like Adam and Eve, my characters, at some point, become autonomous and don’t always do what I want them to do, what I command them to do. What I discovered early on is that the story only truly takes flight and evolves into something alive and powerful and real when my characters leave the Eden I’ve created for them and step out into the wilderness of flawed humanity. What I am certain of is that my world is brighter, more textured, more three-dimensional because of the characters I’ve created to populate the worlds I’ve written, and especially because they choose free will over my commands. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me, since the stories we writers create are a part of ourselves yet to be discovered and the discovery is absolutely an adventure in creation.

 

When the Parts are Greater than the Whole

 

 

That the parts of a piece of music, a work of art, a novel or poem can inspire more than the whole won’t likely come as a surprise for those of us who see a story in everything. I was lucky enough to catch two exhibitions in London recently. While they were completely different in nature, what they had in common was that they were prime examples of the parts being greater than the whole.

 

The first exhibition was Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greeceat the British Museum. Presently some of Rodin’s most famous works are being exhibited side-by-side with a selection of the Elgin Marbles. Though Rodin never made it to Athens, his work was profoundly inspired by the art from the pediments that had once adorned the Parthenon.

 

“No artist will ever surpass Pheidias … The greatest of sculptors, who appeared at the time when the entire human dream could be contained in the pediment of a temple, will never be equalled.” Auguste Rodin

 

“The entire human dream … contained in the pediment of a temple.” Has there ever been a better description of what we as writers, as storytellers try to do in the pages of our work? And after seeing a photography exhibition at the Museum of Londoncalled London Nights, I couldn’t keep from noticing that theme played out over and over again.

 

Rodin’s temple with its pediment of the human dream is his Gates of Hell, a work I knew nothing about before the exhibition. The Gates of Hell, was to be a representation of Dante’s Inferno. Sadly only a small clay replica of that masterpiece was on display. For a better view and more details about Rodin’s Gates of Hell check out the YouTube link.

 

The sculpture was commissioned in 1880 for a museum that was never built. But Rodin was so pulled into the effort, so inspired by it, that he continue to work on it on and off until his death in 1917. Many of his most famous sculptures, including The Kiss and The Thinker (who originally represented Dante sitting in the tympanum of the sculpture) were inspired by and taken from his original work.

 

“None of the drama of Life remained unexplored by this earnest, concentrated worker … Here (in The Gates of Hell) was life, a thousand-fold in every moment, in longing and sorrow, in madness and fear, in loss and gain. Here was desire immeasurable, thirst so great that all the water of the world dried up in it like a single drop.”

Rainer Maria Rilke (Briefly Rodin’s secretary)

 

The following weekend I found myself at the Museum of London standing before two images that, like Rodin’s Gates of Hell, invited me to dwell on the intriguing details and secrets of the parts, rather than the whole. Since there was no photography allowed, I ended up frantically taking notes on my phone. The images were both temples, of a sort, both attempting to contain the human dream in their “pediments.” One was a photograph from Rut Blees Luxemburg’sLondon: A Modern Project. The image, taken in 1999, is of a London high-rise apartment building in what looks to be a lower middle class neighbourhood. I was pulled in because I could see into people’s windows, into their lives. I wondered about their stories; the bicycle sitting on the balcony of the top floor, the Christmas lights visible in several windows, the dark flat with “shadow monsters” from childhood dreams pressing to the balcony windows seeking entrance. At the center of the photo is a stairwell illuminated in garish florescence, bisecting the building from top to bottom. It’s the only apparent connection to the stories in the apartment framework. This building is a container for the human dream played out in a thousand different ways with a thousand different outcomes.

 

The counter to Blees Luxemburg’s high-rise of flats is Lewis Bush’s high-rise office building. The particular photo that drew me was taken at night when the offices should have been deserted. The image itself is slightly distorted in perspective, a view from below, but not from the ground. The glare of light reflected at certain angles obscures the view in some of the floor to ceiling windows. When I looked closer, I realized there were a few people still inside. And none of them looked particularly happy – though that could have been my imagination, because to me, this was a story waiting to be told. This “pediment” was a perversion of the human dream. There was nothing personal about it and very little human. Perhaps that’s why I was so drawn to the few people who were there. What was written on every face, at least to my observation, was the terrible cost of living that dream. Here are a few of my frenetic notes.

 

Soul captured in a photo. People still in the high-rise office at night? Why? What are their stories? What’s the guy at the bottom looking at? The one looking out the window, does he see the photographer? Would anyone stuck in the building believe him if he told them?

 

The one with hair hanging in his face — what’s he looking at on his screen? He looks frazzled. Woman with head down on desk? Why? And is there a man sitting in the reception area? Why’s he there? What’s he waiting for? 

 

Is there a guy in a priest collar???

 

Is that a gym?

 

Reflecting on the two photographs now, it seems interesting to me that there were no people visible in any of the windows of the flats, as though they might be able to hide in their private world. But there is nothing private about the office high-rise. The photo seems all about being exposed in the darkness.

 

The enclosures, the containers that hold the stories we long to tell, are high rises, homes, tunnels and caves underground, spaceships, battles being fought, beds being fucked in, and long roads travelled. We write them voyeuristically, as we look into the windows of our experiences and beyond. The stories we pen are the pediments for human dreams. They contain our Gates of Hell, our gods and goddesses and their epic toying with humanity. They contain our monsters in the dark and our unexplored lives. They will remain always only in the pediments where we can see them, and take them out, and explore them, and be uncomfortable with them, or aroused by them, or frightened by them, or totally pulled in to their tale. Their tale is always our own retold, and yet never quite like we’d planned it, certainly not the way we lived it out. What holds us within the framework are the once upon a times and the happily ever afters, the what ifs and the whys. What keeps us coming back for yet another look is the hope inspired by a dream kept alive when death looms ever larger.

 

 

It’s an overwhelming task we take on as writers, as artists. How could we endure it or
explore it if all we ever saw was the high-rise or the temple? It’s too much to take in.
It’s the secrets in the pediments, in the office at night, in the curtains not quite completely drawn that keep us telling our stories. In our imagination, in our urge to create, we’re drawn to the pediments for the dreams, the vignettes. We’re pulled in
by the questions that reveal themselves and startle us into realizing what they might mean. But we linger there because of how they surprise us when they’re suddenly the center of our focus — those things we didn’t notice before.

 

 

The Side Effects of a Good Read

I’ve spent the last week dragging around with a brutal cold. I’m very seldom ill, and almost never ill enough to take to bed. But this time, without full brain function, it seemed the expedient thing to do — lousy timing or not. While I groused and grumbled between sniffles and sneezes, aches and pains, I also made a discovery. I did have enough brainpower to lose myself in a good read. Since I wasn’t sleeping well for the first couple of nights, I took full advantage, binge rereading Naomi Novik’s wonderful Temeraireseries, while snuffling and coughing and feeling sorry for myself. Who doesn’t feel better after quality time spent with a dragon?

 

I’m on the mend now. Though I’m still dragging, still dealing with the after effects. But here’s the thing. Being forced to take some down time and fully indulge in the pleasure of a good read was worth every sniffle and ache. It’s not that I don’t do my best to make sure there’s reading time in my schedule. It’s just that it’s often the first thing to go when that schedule gets tight. It’s sad that it takes a nasty bug to remind me that reading is far more than just my duty as a writer. It’s far more than just a frivolous pleasure; it’s a priming of the pump, a feeding of the creativity, a grounding for the storyteller in me.

 

Creativity cultivates creativity, and being inspired by the works of other people’s imaginations is one of the best ways I know of to be more productive and more creative myself. Sadly that fact is one of the easiest things for a busy writer to forget. I’m willing to bet it’s one of the easiest things for most of us to forget, whether we write or not.

 

I used to read every novel with the idea of learning how to be a better writer – whether the novel was a good one or not. Now I’m way less likely to even finish a poorly written novel. Time is too valuable. More often now I hold out for the really good novels, and I read them for the sheer pleasure of being drawn outside myself into another world, into another person, into an experience far different from my own. Coming off a good read, I’m reminded just exactly why the ancient storytellers in some cultures sat with kings and queens as their equals.

 

It’s far too easy to pick up all of our information in bits and pieces off social media

and the Internet. We’re connected in ways we could have never imagined even twenty years ago. But while all the information we could ever want and, in some cases WAY too much, is available at our fingertips, the magic, the real magic, only happens when we slow down, back away and let the storytellers enthrall us.

 

What Does it Take to Get You There?

Today is a red letter day for me. Three years ago I reached my goal of losing 35 pounds. Three years on, I’ve maintained my new weight and am still enjoying the healthy lifestyle and enjoying the benefits.

 

Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve  come to love working out, and that for me it’s always been a creative process. That’s why I joined a pole dance class twenty months ago, and I’m still loving it. Next weekend will be my second pole shoot. I shared the  journey of getting to that first pole shoot with all of you lovelies last year.

 

For me, the fitness journey began as a way to combat depression. I hadn’t expected it to be such a life-changing experience. One of the reasons I do enjoy it is because I consider a workout a creative process. I know how to put together a routine for myself with any equipment or with none at all. And now that I have my own pole at home, I am beginning to make up my own workouts for pole as well. What does it take to get you there? I suppose that’s the big question I asked myself every day along the journey, whether it’s fitness, maintaining my weight, or writing, and I still do. It’s also the big question of my novella In Training. What do you want? How badly do you want it? And what does it take to get you there?  What inspires you enough to make you pull out all the stops and totally go for … well for anything that really matters?

 

My own journey being what it has been, it’s not surprising that my heroine, PR guru Lauren Michaels, has to find her own reason for pushing herself. A gym is the last place she wants to be, but her boss has just made her the ‘get fit’ star in a reality fitness TV show with bad boy personal trainer, Wolf Jennings, who will get her there even if he has to drag her kicking and screaming. At least that’s his plan. But it’s only when she finds her reason to push that Lauren decides she really wants to “get there,” and she wants to do it with Wolf Jennings. Here’s a little excerpt.

 

In Training Blurb:

Getting fit on reality TV is PR guru, Lauren Michael’s, brainchild for gym equipment and fitness company Physicality, Inc. The brilliant PR stunt involves one brave volunteer who wants to be fit badly enough to submit to the not so tender training techniques of personal trainer, Wolf Jennings, whose successful, but non-conventional, methods would make a drill sergeant look like a fluff ball. But when CEO and owner of Physicality, Inc, Claire Amos, decides her PR ace in the hole needs to walk the talk , Lauren finds herself between a kettle bell and a hard place … er a hard trainer. That’s nightmare enough, but for six weeks, 24/7 the explosive chemistry between the two will be sweated out live on camera for the whole world to see. What could possibly go wrong?

 

Wanna Bet? In Training Excerpt:

“On your knees, Michaels! Do it on your knees. You can’t do a full press-up until we strengthen those spaghetti arms. Do it like this.” He demonstrated the modified press-up. “Now I want you to do as many as you can in thirty seconds.” While thirty seconds lasted forever, as many press-ups as Lauren could do didn’t take long at all before she fell to the mat with her arms trembling. “Damn it Michaels, you gotta be willing to push yourself. I can’t do it for you.” He reset his timer. “Do it again.”

 

“Well this isn’t an auspicious beginning, Misty,” Del Allan said as they observed the training session going on in the gym below. “As much as I admire Claire Amos for believing her people should walk the talk, it’s clear to me that Lauren Michaels’ heart just isn’t in it. One has to wonder why the waste of time, energy and money for someone who doesn’t want to be here when there are so many who really do. I’ve said it before, I hope Physicality has a back-up plan because I’m betting Lauren Michaels won’t make it to the end of the week.”

“The real question, Del, is not whether Wolf Jennings can ‘get someone there,’ but whether he can motivate someone to wanthim to. Certainly this is a world away from what Lauren is used to, and apparently she didn’t know she’d be participating until twenty-four hours before.”

 

It was near the end of the fourth day when Lauren finally broke. “I can’t do any more,” she gasped after what seemed like miles of lunge walking back and forth across the gym with a dumb bell in each hand — dumb bells that got heavier with each step. “I need the hot tub. When do I get to use the hot tub?”

“When you’ve earned it,” Jennings growled. “Now do it again.”

“I hate you,” she forced the words out, no longer caring if the ever-present cameras picked up her remark or not. She reckoned that would be one more reason for the ‘sack Lauren and hire me’ faction to tweet nasty things about her. It’s not as if she wouldn’t trade places with them in a heartbeat.

“I’m not here for you to like,” came the reply. “Keep your back straight, shoulders back. Head up!”

She was halfway across the gym when one of the dumb bells slipped from her sweaty fingers, hit the floor with a loud crash, and she tripped over it doing into a belly flop in the middle of the gym.

“Get up. Keep going,” Wolf yelled, jogging effortlessly to her side. “Don’t be a wimp, Michaels. Finish it. I don’t train babies. Stop whinging and keep going.”

“I hate you.” This time she all but yelled it as she hefted the sweaty dumb bell and forced her way forward a couple more steps before she dropped the weight again — this time on her foot. It was only a glancing blow. She jerked away just in time, but it was enough. It was fucking enough! She dropped the other weight next to its fallen compadre and stormed back across the gym.

“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” He said, “You’re not done yet.”

“Oh yes I am.” She grabbed up her sports drink and her towel.

“What? Are you a quitter, Michaels?” Jennings stepped in front of her effectively blocking her way, “Is that it?”

“What I am is sick of you yelling at me, sick of you treating me like a sub-human.” She hadn’t planned it, but when he didn’t move, it just happened. A quick twist of the lid on her sports drink and she let it fly. Her aim was true, hitting Jennings in the face with a shower of bright orange Lukozade. Then she stomped off toward her room. She hadn’t expected him to follow her, but then there were a lot of things she hadn’t expected about the man she’d met at the pub less than a week ago.

Legs still screaming from the workout, she took the stairs two at a time with him gaining on her fast. At the top, he called after her. “They’re taking bets on how soon you’ll quit. Did you know that, Michaels?”

She stopped, dead in her tracks, as though she were suddenly frozen to the spot. For a second she squeezed her eyes shut, fighting back tears. Then she took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and headed back toward the stairs, stopping in front of him to meet his cold glare. “Then they’ll lose.”

Fucking hell! Did she just say that? Surely she didn’t mean it. She would do almost anything to get out of this chamber of horrors, and yet here she was marching back downstairs, picking up the goddamned dumb bells, taking a deep breath and willing her legs to move forward. When she got to the end, instead of stopping, she gave Jennings a defiant glare, from where he now stood at the foot of the stairs, then she turned and headed back across. Somewhere a long way off, she could hear gasps and chatter from Wolf’s mezzanine fan club, but it didn’t matter. The world around her narrowed to the in and out drag of her breath, the pain in her quads and the slow step and lunge, step and lunge, that pulled her forward.

At the end, she dropped the dumb bells and bent over gasping, eyes clenched shut, hands on her knees. When at last she had the strength to stand up, she was surprised to find him next to, hair still dewed in orange. He handed her a bottle of water and a towel. While she drank, he wiped his face on his shirt.

She didn’t look at him, she was still battling the urge to cry. She knew all eyes were on her. After the drama she was now embarrassed to have caused, that was a given. But it was only Wolf Jenning’s eyes she felt in ways that were somehow even more intimate than his kiss at the pub. At last she handed him back the bottle and struggled to meet his gaze.

“That’s better,” he said. “Now drop and give me ten. Pull a stunt like that again and I’ll shove you on the treadmill till your Reeboks wear out.”

She did as he ordered, counting each press-up out loud and hardly feeling the effort, dazed as she was by what had just happened.

 

New Years Resolutions and Navel Gazing

Here it is the last day of 2018. I don’t mind saying the last month has been a total gut punch for me with the loss of my sister. I’m more than ready to shed 2018 and move forward. As of tomorrow, the gym will be overflowing with New Years Resolutioners; all around the world new diets will have begun as soon as the New Year hangover wears off; people stop drinking, stop smoking, begin learning Spanish or French, people promise to take better care of themselves, spend more time with good friends, waste less time in front of the telly, and the list goes on. Since Boxing Day, the universal urge to be ‘better’ in the New Year has been nearly palpable in the soggy English air.

 

It happens every year, that urge to reflect on what has been and plan how the New Year will be better. Hope and excitement at new beginnings is so much a part of our human nature that the end of a year and the beginning of another one can’t help but be the time when we anticipate, plan change, and dare to dream of what wonderful things we can bring about in the next year. In fact there’s a heady sense of power in the New Year. I think it’s the time when we’re most confident that we can make changes, that we really dohave power over our own lives. It’s the time when we’re most proactive toward those changes, those visions of the people we want to be.

 

Before I actually began to sell my writing, back when I dreamed of that first publication, back when there seemed to be a lot more time for navel gazing than is now, I was a consummate journaler. I filled pages and pages, notebooks and notebooks full of my reflections, ruminations and navel gazes. And nothing took more time and energy than the end of the year entry, in which I reflected on how I did on the year’s resolutions and planned my resolutions for the next. This was a process that often began in early December with me reading back through journals, taking notes, tracing down some of what I’d been reading during that year and reflecting on it. Yeah, I know. I needed to get a life!

 

By the time New Years Day rolled around, I had an extensive list of resolutions, each with a detailed outline of action as to how I was going to achieve it. I found that some of those resolutions simply fell by the wayside almost before the year began — those things that if I’m honest with myself, I know I’m never gonna do, no matter how much I wish I would. Others I achieved in varying degrees-ish. But sadly, for the most part, a month or maybe two into the year, that hard core maniacal urge to be a better me no matter what cooled to tepid indifference as every-day life took the shine off the New Year.

 

It was only when there stopped being time for such ginormous navel-gazes and micro-planning that I discovered I actually had achieved a lot of those goals that were my resolutions simply by just getting on with it. As I began to think more about how different my approach to all things new in the New Year had become the busier I became, I realised that I had, through no planning on my part, perfected the sneak-in-through-the-back-door method of dealing with the New Year. The big, bright New Year changes I used to spend days plotting and planning no longer got written down, no longer got planned out. Instead, they sort of implemented themselves in a totally unorganised way somewhere between the middle of January and the middle of February. They were easy on me, sort of whispering and smiling unobtrusively from the corners of my life. They came upon me, not in a sneak attack so much as a passing brush with someone who would somehow become my best friend.

 

I’m my own harsh task master. I’m driven, I’m tunnel-visioned, I’m a pit bull when I grab on to what I want to achieve with my writing. No one is harder on me than I am – no one is even close. And yet from somewhere there’s a gentler voice that sneaks in through the back door of the New Year and through the back doors of my life and reminds me to be kinder to me, to be easier on me, to find ways to rest and recreate and feed my creative self. I’ll never stop being driven. The time I’ve been given, the time we’ve all been given, is finite. And that gentler part of ourselves must somehow be a constant reminder of comfort and gentleness, of self-betterment that comes, not from brow-beating and berating ourselves, not from forced regimentation, but from easing into it, making ourselves comfortable with it. We, all of us, live in a time when life is snatched away from us one sound-bite, one reality TV show, one advert at a time. Often our time, our precious time is bargained away from us by harsher forces, by ideals and scripts that aren’t our own, and the less time we have to dwell on the still small voice, the deeper the loss.

 

So my resolution, my only resolution every year is to listen more carefully to that gentler, quieter part of me, to forgive myself for not being able to be the super-human I think I should be, to settle into the arms of and be comfortable with the quieter me, the wiser me who knows how far I’ve really come, who knows that the

shaping of a human being goes way deeper than what’s achieved in the outer world, and every heart that beats needs to find its own refuge in the value of just being who we are, of living in the present and coming quietly and gently and hopefully into the New Year.

I wish you all the very best in 2019 in a very gentle, very peaceful sort of way.

 

 

 
© 2018 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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