Are We All Mad?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWriters.  Are we all mad?

Is that why we all trying to write down our dreams and nightmares?

Today I feel like a blindfolded person trying to put together a puzzle the size of an elephant, and it’s a picture of an elephant, without ever having seen an elephant.  But I only have one piece.  Or is it too many pieces to hold all at once?

I find more pieces when I read other writer’s stories.  Is that why we write?  To show our pieces to others?  Is each story a piece, or each writer?

There are so many of us, now that there are so many places and ways to publish.  Why do the stories need so many writers?  Is it all one big story?  A meta story?  A story that wants to be told?  Are WE the tools, and not our pens and computers?

All I have today are questions.  Are we all mad?

Or, is it just me?

 

What is Inspiration?

Inspiration.  Is it a freight train or a butterfly?

For me, receiving inspiration feels like being struck with lightning wrapped in bacon, or being ambushed by the teasing scent of your favorite flower on your daily walk.  Either way, it’s never the same place twice.  Or arrives in the same way. Because it’s not just the world that changes in the blink of every eye; YOU change that quickly, too.

What has me musing on the subject of inspiration this morning?  Last week I got to watch it in action.  And it was sooooooo cool!

Writers like to observe things.  We are The Watchers of things, and like the comic book characters, we store it all in our grey matter.

If we are smart writers, we make writing a habit.  Even when we aren’t inspired; even if we don’ wanna.  Even if we aren’t being paid for it, yet, we make some space in our lives that is writing time.  Be it bed time, break time, the kid’s naptime, laundry day, Sunday, or every day, we set out some mental space to create with words.

I’ve had this mental writing space in the past, and I wanted it back, so I have worked for it over the last few months, with a lot of bad days and good days.  Inspired days, and slog days.  Golden thesaurus days, and obscenity dripping days.  Numb-to-the-world days, and bleeding-in-gushes-and-spurts days.  Writing days.  You know, normal days, like everyone has.

So I had the good seats to watch myself receive inspiration.  It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer needs to get their name out into the world, and while exposure won’t pay the bills, it can lead to more opportunities.  Yet another chance to submit to an anthology came up and for some reason it caught my eye, despite my failures in the past.  I didn’t have anything that could be modified to fit the theme, so that meant I had to write something new.  There is an open time limit on submissions, but it’s 2/3 full, so there is a bit of a race to submit before the slots are filled.

I began gathering bits of memory together; myths, stories, mental pictures, personal history, and remembered emotions. While discarding those bits that didn’t fit the anthology’s theme, I started fitting everything together, creating the “What if?” questions that will drive the story.

(BTW, I also realized the I do use a type of outline in my process, meaning things had to make sense to me to progress through the story, but it all happens in my head and is very amorphous until the plot is set with an internal logic.  I’m not as much of a “pantser” as I thought.  Huh.)

Flashes of lightning formed in the process, like the flashes you can see in a far off thunderstorm.  Stark blue and white and amber lit my personal night sky, backed by the deep, moist grey and angry navy of storm clouds.  The hidden alchemy of thought meeting thought.  A part of me watched the process, and it was beautiful.

When the flashes  slowed and weakened before I had a full plot, hook or twist, I posed a question to one of the writing groups I follow.  The conversation helped, but I needed more.  I posted to another group, and got a few takers, the conversation causing the “What if?” storm to roil and seethe, flashing like the strobe lights at an illegal underground dance club.  I rubbed my hands together in glee, chuckling evilly, manic grin stretching my lips, as flashes of inspiration brought the story to life.

“IT’S ALIVE!!!!!”

So, that is what inspiration feels like to me.  I don’t know if I can write the story well enough.  I don’t know if I will make the cut off before the slots are filled.  I don’t know if it will be good enough to be accepted into the anthology, or I’ll be forced to shop for another home.  What I do know, is that I have a new story.  It’s in rough draft bits, crammed tightly together with notes, and in the wrong order, and some of it’s still in my head, and some of it needs research, and refining, and to be typed, and edited, revised, edited, again, and again.

But I have a new story I adore.  That is the coolest feeling.

And I’m telling you the story of its creation so you might find some amusement or hope or even a bit of inspiration.  That seems to be my thing as a blog writer, writing about writing to writers, to serve as an example, for better or worse.  Let me open up my head for you to observe.  Please, no touching.  Or sneezing.  Euwww!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI didn’t have a picture of bacon wrapped lighting, but this is the flower that stalks me like a ninja.  Behold, the invasive, humble, and childhood-memory-infused Honeysuckle.

Happy Writing!

Writer’s Crack!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWriter’s crack is real!  No, this isn’t about the pants-sliding-down-while-you-type crack, like the plumber’s crack of comedy gold.  We’re talking about things that put you into a frenzy to write a newly inspired story.  Every writer has triggers, and if you’re lucky you can find them and use them to get out of a slump.

A couple of years ago, while browsing through a used book store, I found a book about English fairy tales and–of course–purchased it.  (That’s it, up on the need-to-read shelf.  The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by W. Y. Evens-Wentz.)  The subject has always fascinated me; it was not my first, and certainly not my last such book.  Some weeks later, on a lazy Saturday afternoon, I had a moment to crack it open.  The introduction (Yes, I read introductions, prologues, glossaries, appendices, and maps.) was both pleasantly surprising and completely cringe-worthy, in the way of dusty, old, and almost forgotten books.  Apparently, I had in my hand a recent reissue of a book that JRR Tolkien had referenced for his world building.  Even more pleased with my lucky find, and hopefully under the influence of a little mystical foresight, I happily delved into the first chapter…

AND FIRMLY SHUT IT, bookmarked on chapter two.  The after images in my head, while my body lay snugly anchored on my couch with the book clasped in unmoving hands, spun like leaves heralding the start of a stormy spring.  The stories!  Characters!  Battles!  Lighting, tempests, swords, grief, love, fear, and loss that is an ache that pierces to the soul’s depth.

I held completely still.  The overfull brain must not be disturbed.  A new/old world sloshed against the sides of it.  For a dry and dated tome, first published in 1911, it held a surprising lushness.

I was aware of movement deep in my psyche.  There was something lurking in my mind.  Lurking like an elder god and getting called to the surface.  The Leviathan rises, or worse…

Unfortunately, I already had three multi-book story arcs that had been clawing at the insides of my skull, rudely pushing each other out of line and snarling to be first.  I closed that wonderful book HARD–like the doors of Tartarus–just to preserve my soul from the punishments I likely deserved.  It contained the breath of Titans snoring, and (as anyone who has lived with a chronic snorer learns) I heard the sound of something nearing an awakening.

It sits on my shelf, unobtrusively, but whispering to me I quiet moments.  I know that like Pandora, I am doomed to open it…

Eventually.  For now, it sits.  It’s writer’s crack, or something like.

Hopefully, a story is really in there, but I think I may need to be a more experienced writer to do it justice.  It’s not the only story I have saved for later in my career.  For now, I have my other stories that I am currently passionate about, and willing to learn on.

This past weekend I added three more of The Lost Library book series to my shelf, risking collusion among them.  Myths are my weakness, and my wellspring.  I–apparently–like to live dangerously.

And that, folks, is about as close as I get to a written book review.  Not an Amazon review (I’ll do those anytime for books I like, especially for independent authors), but an actual blog review.  It’s not my thing, and lots of other people do a really good job of them.  And despite the heavy-handed use of metaphor in this post, it really doesn’t begin to describe what was happening to my brain.

But, I am curious if this has ever happened to any of you?

You Can Have The “Suprise Kiss” When You Pry It From My Cold, Dead Lips

I am very glad there are so many helpful articles about avoiding sexism and racism in our writing, but why do so many of them make my blood boil?

These articles are a mix of sensible thoughts, badly chosen examples, condescending attitude, and weirdly unhelpful tips for improving your work.  I’ve decided to no longer post those types of articles on Facebook or Twitter, even for the lively debates.  The most recent of these, an article about the harmful effects of sexist tropes applied to male characters, left me with a bad taste and these helpful impressions:

  1. We can only write about well-balanced characters.  No Fatally Flawed People!
  2. All characters must have a wholesome and fulfilling home life, with perfect parents.
  3. Everyone must be a winner, and nobody can be unattractive AND a bad person.
  4. No seducing anybody, male or female, ever.  No changing your mind.
  5. Don’t match negative qualities with stereotypes, or… something…  What?

I get it, writers are trying to help other writers.  I’m trying to pass along helpful tips, too.  But the sheer audacity to feel you can write down a set of rules to control what can or cannot be written about stuns and infuriates me. I will use anything and everything I need to tell the story.  If I get it wrong and readers don’t like it, fine.  I will dig my hole with my own damn shovel, not a borrowed one.

It is the suggestions about sexual assault and rape that really ball up my fists.  There are some very uncomfortable truths about these topics.  Yes, male rape exists.  No, you shouldn’t include rape in the story to make a character more interesting.  Seduction exists.  Changing your mind isn’t rape.  Men and women have the right to change their mind about a situation.  Someone can go from dislike or nervous trepidation to accepting sexual advances without losing consent, and can also reverse that decision.  Consent isn’t a fixed point.

But to suggest that no one should ever write about sexual situations that aren’t 100% consensual to all parties is ridiculous and unrealistic.  Yes, consent and rape are controversial subjects, but to silence writers and other storytellers is sweeping the subject under the rug.  As a writer and a survivor of rape, I Will Not Be Silenced! I will use the emotions, unflinchingly, to tell a story.  You live through it, or you die inside.  You can get professional or spiritual help, but it is the internal self that makes that decision.  Being told I can’t write about all of my experiences, whether in fiction or blogging, is my trigger.

Heart pounding, muscles tensed, skin tingling as my senses expand.  Weight shifting to my toes, ready to fight or take flight.  Hands clenched next to a keyboard as I read a damn article.  On a computer.  In my home.  That is what a f**king trigger is like.  It’s a visceral reaction I found–oddly enough–reading words meant to silence me, not words in some novel (with or without a trigger warning).

Trigger warnings are a nice idea, but unrealistic.  You can’t bubble wrap the world.  You learn to survive, just like with any other type of abuse.  You learn to cope.  To thrive.  In my case, to write.

I guess it’s not too surprising that my plots tend towards Romance (and because I don’t look away from the relationship once it ends up in a bedroom, shifts over to Erotica).  The edges of consent and seduction fascinate me.  The negotiation of ego verses vulnerability, and who you choose, and why.  Who pulls at you, opening your soul, giving you a safe place to simply exist?  Who becomes your bedrock, a stable place to stand and face the world?

Do I think surprise kisses are bad?  NO!  Look, if you misread a situation and go all “50 Shades” in an elevator, you deserve the sexual assault charges.  Attraction doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Consent can be implied through action and reaction.  We are past the formal courtship rituals of bygone eras, and you don’t have to ask for permission and have a clearly stated “Yes” for every level of contact.  Body language exists, learn it.

All first contact, like a touch on the hand, is a risk.  Both the chance for outright rejection, and the chance for pushing a line too far because you misread the situation.  If no one ever took that risk, there will be a lot less love, happiness, and children in the world.  You might as well supply your genetic sample to a computer and let it make the next generation in sterile laboratories.  Personally, I don’t want to live in a world without good surprise kisses, even at the risk of bad surprise kisses.

Life isn’t sanitized for your protection.  Live, laugh, and get messy.  I hope you receive at least one steamy, decadent, toe-curling surprise kiss in your lifetime.  It is well worth the risks.

Gender Politics and the Modern Storyteller

Why does the princess dress as a boy?  Why does a girl cut her hair and run away?  Why does a young woman throw her life away, entering a lethally dangerous world, to reject  the marriage proposal she doesn’t want?  Simply to escape the trap of being female in a male dominated society.

The struggle for an equal voice in our society is just as old as those Fairy Tales, if not older.  Some are of the opinion that Campbell’s mythic Hero’s Journey is for men, exclusively, and to place a female in that role is ‘manning’ her.  After centuries of waiting, women–in fiction and reality–are breaking free of the imposed roles of golden princess, mother goddess, and throne side trinket.  We are becoming the Hero, because the hero is Human.

Movie and TV Producers don’t think it’s happening.  Toy Producers don’t think it’s happening.  Book Publishers don’t think it’s happening.  Everywhere I look are people who don’t think it’s happening.  Some Manufacturers see it, I think, but are sure to charge us more for the same product sold to men, while simultaneously paying us less.

Can you not see it?  I see it in social media, dating practices, self-published books, and Sci-fi awards (including the backlashes).  And it’s not just about the equality of genders; it’s equality for all the things a Human can be. (None so blind as those who will not see.)

I see the signs everywhere.  The firm rock our culture is built on is shifting toward equality, moving like a tectonic plate.  Gender politics pop up in every aspect of our lives, like sudden volcanos sprouting in open fields.  The ground shakes, liquefying, and you either figure out how to float or sink down.

It’s a struggle, figuring out who you want to be as a gender.  Some of us make mistakes, as many are quick to point out, fingering the most obvious cases of toxic feminism, confusion at gender fluidity, and concern over woman becoming too manlike.  We are evolving, and that is a difficult process.  Mistakes will be made, and hard lessons learned.  (That’s just the tip, Honey.  Lye back and get used to it.)

I don’t want to take away or suppress the masculine voice.  I just want to be able to say, “Me, too.  I have a story!”  Equality is understanding we all have both masculine and feminine sides, and being allowed to express them as individuals is the evolved form of society.

It may feel like we are entering a new Era to you, but it’s been whispered to me my whole life.  The earliest myths, Fairy Tales, and the stories we tell ourselves are all part of it.  The voice is louder now, promising a better way, if we are strong enough.  You can’t keep a segment of the population suppressed forever.  All of the stories tell us…  They rise.  Always.

I don’t want to be your Queen, or Goddess, or Mother/Sister/Daughter to have your respect.  I want to be acknowledged as roughly fifty percent of the population.  I am equally human, so don’t force me to play the Bitch card just to be equal.

Keep your eyes closed.  Pretend it’s all going back to the way it was.  Feel free to take that risk.  Just be aware that if you keep trying to force that golden bikini on us, we have new role models, and we will wrap that chain around your throat and pull.

If we choose to put that golden bikini on, for you, for an evening, that’s another story…

(Dammit, I’m back to erotica.  Again!)