Thursday, June 30, 2016
Today I’d like to talk about how exposed we writers are every time we put pen to paper, or fingers to
That got me thinking about just how neurotic I am as a writer, about every piece of fiction I write. I’m not so neurotic now about writing sex and romance, at least not as neurotic as I used to be. Lots of writers, however, claim they can’t write sex well or they simply don’t like to write it at all. That’s fair enough. I don’t like to write crime investigation scenes. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t do them well, so I don’t write crime. But unfortunately this sex and romance -phobia often leads to dismissing anything romantic or sexy as not worthy to be considered serious writing, therefore not worth writing and certainly not worth reading.
Writing fiction to share with anyone less indifferent than the cat is a bit like exposing oneself on High Street. As a writer, I never feel more vulnerable than when I’m offering up a nice, fat slice of my inner workings. And that’s exactly what happens when anyone attempts fiction. No matter how unconscious it may be, it’s all about me, Me MEEEE! It may not seem like me, I strive to make sure it doesn’t, and yet I’m still there on every single page. I’m not the story I tell, and I’m not my characters, but my unconscious is always there at the core, the driving force, not only, for the tale but for my own creative process as well.
Since I write, knowing it’s all about me, my neurotic little mind is racing, going wild, wondering just what conclusions readers will draw as to just HOW it’s all about me? I expect people to be bright enough to know that I’m not the secret agent, the lawyer, the prima ballerina, the space ship captain. Yet, why is it that if I write one sex scene peppered with a bit of romance, I suddenly fear everyone will believe K D really DOES steal vegetables for lewd purposes, or that K D really IS a member of some secret sex cult? And is that such a bad thing? People will believe what they believe, and I would be a very rich author, indeed, if I had a dime for every time someone has asked me, or my husband, if I actually did all the naughty things in my novels. I’d be willing to bet no one ever asks that of Thomas Harris. But when the fiction I write deals with the emotions that revolve around sex and love, I feel more vulnerable, more exposed, somehow more flawed.
One of my favourite quotes on the topic comes from a wonderful essay by Wallace Shaw on why he likes to write about sex. He writes, “If I'm unexpectedly reminded that my soul and body are capable of being totally swept up in a pursuit and an activity that pigs, flies, wolves, lions and tigers also engage in, my normal picture of myself is violently disrupted. In other words, consciously, I'm aware that I'm a product of evolution, and I'm part of nature. But my unconscious mind is still partially wandering in the early 19th century and doesn't know these things yet.”
Writing sex and romance is that unexpected reminder that we can be swept away in our animal passions just like all the rest of the animal kingdom. That implies a loss of control, an unfitness for civilized society. Banishment from the social group is an age-old punishment for what is considered improper behaviour in the tribe. Though we may no longer be sent into the wilderness to fend for ourselves with only a rusty knife, the archetypal fear of being ostracized still remains and, along with it, the neurotic idea that surely we must have something to feel guilty about. I suppose we might
A writing teacher told me once that the best stories, the ones with the most power to grip, are those that come from the place inside us that makes us the most uncomfortable. Nothing any teacher ever told me has stuck with me so powerfully, nor served me so well. The place that embarrasses us, that frightens us, the place where we have the least control, that’s the places where story begins. It’s the place where our characters come alive, the place where their love and sex and violence and fear and celebration compel the people to whom we’ve exposed ourselves -- our readers -- to keep reading to the end. And, hopefully, if we’ve exposed just the right bits, those readers will eagerly come back for more.