Monday, September 28, 2015
Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and three cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page.
People who know me know I write horror and dark fiction as well as erotica and erotic romance. I'm going to meet writer Jack Ketchum in mid-October at the Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat. That's the hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, where Stephen King stayed that inspired him to write The Shining. While Ketchum is a horror writer, what he had to say about digging down into dark recesses of your soul to get to the meat of your characters applies to any genre. This excerpt is from an essay he wrote for the book Horror 101: The Way Forward:
"Dig into the dark mean night of your soul." Remember Peter Straub's line in Ghost Story? What's the worst thing you've ever done? Well, what its it?
What god-awful things have you fantasized doing but would never do?
What's the worst thing you can imagine actually happening to you? To your loved ones?
What breaks your heart?
Use your damage. Write from the wound. Go as deep as you dare. Stare into your own abyss and report back. No need to reveal everything – children have to learn how to lie a little, or else they grow up without protection, and so do we writer types. But you need ot embrace the damage as a co-conspirator, as uniquely you, as something you can use. Throw it out there into the light, to a place where it can do some good for others and maybe even for yourself.
You need to be honest. Really good fiction is always an attempt at total honesty. Be true to both the good and the downright dangerous inside. See them as clearly as you can, use your empathy, search out your characters in your own heart and write them as though they were you. They are you, you know. Every one of them, if you do it right.
When I dig down into my soul to get to the heart of my characters, I feel exposed and vulnerable. There have been a few stories I've written I decided against publishing because they feel too close. Too personal. Some of the stories I have published make me feel over-exposed. Although a publisher liked the story enough to publish and sell it, I don't necessarily feel comfortable letting people read it because I feel like the reader will get a glimpse of me I'd rather keep private. My short story Longing in Coming Together: Among The Stars and my novel Don't Call Me Baby are excellent examples of my picking at a festering wound in my soul I won't let heal, and I allow everyone on earth to read about it.
Longing is about my fear of growing old and forgetting who I am. Or my husband losing his faculties and losing his memory of me. The story is about a woman whose husband suffers from dementia and he can't remember who she is. I based the husband on my husband and on a friend who suffers from dementia. I watched this friend devolve from a vibrant and genius-level intelligent human being to a shell of his former self. I don't like to think about it anymore, but I needed to express my profound distress at watching what had happened to him. Likewise, I am over 50 and my husband is over 60. Aging is very much in the forefront of my mind, and I am terrified of losing the sense of who I am and who he is. I know it's a normal rite of passage for someone my age, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
Don't Call Me Baby is semi-autobiographical. I deal head-on with two affairs with married men I had when I was in college. What possessed me to do something as self-hating and stupid as that? The book was in part about my fear of losing my identity to another man's wishes and demands. I watched some of my girlfriends turn from independent and interesting women to creatures who lived to please their boyfriends and fiancés. I didn't want to turn into a Stepford wife. I was afraid that to fall in love meant having to turn my will completely over to a man, and I didn't want to do that. So I chose men who were not only unavailable, but who also couldn't complain when I chose to date multiple men at once. I couldn't get too close to them, and they couldn't get too close to me. I'm very much aware of how selfish this all sounds. Catherine Stone, my heroine in the book, is also very selfish as well as a bit pig-headed. She does meet a man who doesn't interfere with her freedom, and how she learns to trust him is an important part of the book. At that time in my life, I had not yet met that man, and I wouldn't meet him for several decades.
I've noticed the common thread between both stories – my fear of losing the sense of myself. Growing old, losing my sense of myself, ending up alone surrounded by my dozens of cats, and becoming homeless are four of my greatest fears. I've looked into them in some of my stories, especially the horror stories.
What are you afraid of? What fears drive you throughout your life? How would you answer Jack Ketchum's questions? What god-awful things have you fantasized doing but would never do? What is the worst thing you can imagine happening to you? To your loved ones? Use the raw emotions behind the answers to bring your characters to life. Like Ketchum said, you don't need to reveal everything in your writing. However, you need to know that side of your character to make that person human.
Escapism is a wonderful thing to enjoy, especially in erotica and erotic romance. Every woman who enjoys a good sexy story likes being swept off her feet and taken to a fantasy world. I've written escapist fantasies as well. These stories are driven by some of my fears but they aren't gut-wrenching. My two erotic fairy tales Trouble In Thigh High Boots (Puss In Boots) and Climbing Her Tower (Rapunzel) as well as my short lesbian erotic romance Like A Breath Of Ocean Blue and my erotic fantasy A Dance Of Ocean Magic fall into this category. The main characters in those stories have their weaknesses and faults, but the stories have an otherworldly and magical quality to them that helps the reader escape her mundane, daily concerns. She can get lost in another fun world for a few hours.
When it comes to raw and uncomfortable emotion, I prefer the realistic approach, even if the story is fantasy or science fiction. If I wonder if the reader will disapprove of me or not like me, I know I'm on the right track. I know the reader may criticize my character's choices, but those choices led my character down the path toward her maturation. Sometimes that maturation is found through trusting a partner in a vulnerable sex act. At few other times are we more vulnerable than when we are spread out, naked and exposed, before someone we care about. How will your partner treat you? Will you be cared for or abused? It's all a matter of trust.
My story Longing appears in Coming Together: Among The Stars.
Don't Call Me Baby
Trouble In Thigh High Boots
Climbing Her Tower
My story Like A Breath of Ocean Blue appears in Best Lesbian Romance Of The Year, Vol. 1, published by Cleis Press.
A Dance Of Ocean Magic will soon appear in the erotic anthology Forbidden Fruit, to be published by Sweetmeats Press.