I get asked that question more times that you’d believe. “How do you think of this shit?” My inspiration comes, as I think it does for a lot of people who find themselves inspired to do, say, create, write, paint, craft, sculpt, or whatever something: in a sudden flash and usually out of nowhere.
One of my favorite stories I’ve ever written is “Dirty Little Secret” that’s published in Not Safe for Work. The working title for that story was “Ice Cream” until I actual compiled the anthology of short stories and was putting it into print. The entire inspiration for that story came from an exchange in an online forum in which an ice cream cone was mentioned.
Ice cream. Those two words were the catalyst for a whole story. Honestly, nothing more.
Obviously there’s more to making it into a full-blown story than that. Once the inspiration hits me, it sits at in the center of my thoughts not unlike a magnet, and bit by bit, ideas drift by and are attracted like bits of stray bits of metal. The ice cream story started small, as little more than a stroke piece. But as I finished writing the first section, published it, and stepped away from it, I realized that the magnetic inspiration that sat at the core was still attracting ideas. I thought the story was told, but it wasn’t. The characters had more to say, so I opened the file and kept writing.
The second time I stepped away from it, I felt like the story was told, and the resulting story of a man who in a moment of crisis walks away from everything he holds dear resolves itself in a way that was true to the characters. I felt like my characters had both grown and discovered something about themselves. The central idea had stopped attracting, so to speak.
It’s also one of the sexiest stories I’ve ever written, I think, not just because these are two people who’ve just completely given themselves over to fucking each other, but because of the turmoil going on inside his head. He’s a complex character and I think it’s why his story garners so much response. I think it’s why people are sympathetic to him even though he’s cheating on his wife. They can relate to how he feels. He’s very real.
He is, to be clear, no one man I know. Yeah, he shares attributes in common with real people that I know well. They’ve let me inside their heads by being friends and lovers and companions. I know how they think because they’ve told me. They’ve shown me. That character is his own man, but the way he feels about his life, the way he deals with his angst, the things he needs from the much younger woman in the story–those all come from different places. They are different bits of metal drawn to that central core.
One of the comments I hear a lot is that my stories are so real, but with the tagged on assumption that I draw heavily from my own life. Obviously, I do to an extent. I do write what I know.
For instance, I wrote the short story “Falling” out of thin air. The inspiration for that story was an ad on a website that had a picture of a rumpled bed. It flashed by as ads do, largely unnoticed. But the image that barely registered in my conscious brain became that magnet. And ideas floated by and grabbed on. I don’t know what order they took or how an innocuous picture of a bed made me think of two people being in it that shouldn’t be.
Even the imagery of falling means something different to me than it did to the people who read it first. I pictured two people on the edge of something big. Something life-changing. Two people having to make the decision to let themselves go, to give into their lust for each other, to just…fall, and damn the consequences.
I didn’t mean falling in love, and I was surprised when that was the reaction I got. I had to go back and re-read it again with different eyes to see if that’s actually what my words said.
I meant it was two people not necessarily in love giving in physically to a craving for each other.
I could see how a reader could assume deeper feelings, though. I thought to clarify it, but decided not to when I realized those beta-readers were bringing their own thoughts and feelings to the story. My experience, my fantasies, my own moral compass aren’t the only driving force. I steer the ship, but the readers all follow their own currents.
But that story brought up a lot of questions, especially from my husband. We had a long talk about just this sort of thing: where do my ideas come from? Is this about someone in particular? Am I having feelings for another man that he should know about?
The answers were no, it’s not about anyone in particular and no, I don’t have any feelings for any other man but him.
But I can imagine those feelings. I can articulate those feelings and apply them to characters I create. I can do those things because I’m a writer.
It has (and does, I guess) beg the question if my stories are in any way me working out my own personal fantasies.
The answer is yes, and no.
Sometimes I find myself working out some of my own issues in my writing. But more often than not, it’s just my imagination hard at work. Do I want to cheat on my husband? Hell, no. But can I imagine it? Hell, yes. I get in my own head and think, in that situation, how would I feel? What would I do? What kind of emotions would I be feeling? It’s not hard. And there’s an honesty to that kind of writing. A lot of the fantasy I write is just that–pure fantasy. Not some deep-seated desire or any sense of longing for anything in particular, just a matter of asking myself “Can you imagine?” and finding the answer is, “Well…yeah. I can.” I won’t lie. There are other men I find sexually attractive. I mean, just because I’m on a restricted diet doesn’t mean I can’t look at the menu.
Right now I’m working on a story that’s got so much metal stuck to it that I can barely see the magnet at the core. I’ve started writing it three times now, trying to weed through all the bits that have stuck on and finally think I’m moving it in a direction where it will highlight the more substantial pieces I want to get at.
The basic idea that was kicking around in my head, the inspiration magnet, was the idea of a long-distance romance. I was drawn to the challenge of writing an erotic story where the two people never actually touch each other. There’s a lot of romantic possibility and a great conflict.
My brother-in-law’s wife once said that she didn’t consider Internet friends to be real friends. I was affronted, to be honest. Hell, one of my best friends is someone I met when she was living in England, then for the three years she was in Germany, and now even though she’s stateside again we still have yet to “meet”. We’ve laughed together (a LOT) and cried together and have shared our hearts time and time again. The fact that we’re not breathing the same air doesn’t matter. I’ve come to know her through words, and as a writer, words matter to me.
Knowing in my own life that I have Internet friends that I hold very dear to my heart, the idea of a romantic relationship forming doesn’t seem far-fetched at all. And sexually? Well, there are lots of dirty things that can be done over the ‘net. I know it. You know it. Maybe you’ve even done it. I don’t judge how you get your jollies.
So the story is a friendship with sexual overtones that’s about to jump over into romantic feelings, and while both people are free to be in that relationship, will it be enough for both of them? It’s been a hard story to write. The subtext is tricky.
And I really should get to work on it.