“Where do you get your ideas?”
I don’t think there’s an author who ever existed who doesn’t get that question. My usual answer is “I buy them in bulk from Costco.” But here’s a little secret, between you and me…I don’t, actually. The truth is, I steal them.
Yep. I’m a thief. All my story ideas come from life. Things I see or hear, stories other people tell me about what they’ve seen and heard or done. Everything goes into the vast compost heap of my brain and gets stirred around until something pops out.
“Do you do everything you write about?”
As an author of erotic fiction, perhaps I get this question more than someone who writes mystery or science fiction, but it always makes me laugh and shake my head. “Yes,” I say. “Sometimes twice or upside down.” But of course I don’t do everything I write about! Who’d have time? My goodness, it’s hard enough to write books and do all the other stuff my life requires like eat, sleep and talk to other human beings — how on earth would I find the time to do everything I write about?
“How do you decide what to write about?”
“Write what you know” is another of those bits of advice authors get (or like to give to newbie writers!) — and I’ll argue that’s not entirely accurate. I’d say that I don’t always write what I know, but I always write what I can imagine. I write what I wish would happen to me, or what I fear happening to me. Sometimes those are the same things. I write what I have experienced and what I hope I never have to face.
Those are the top three questions I get asked, and the truth is, all three are sort of the same question. HOW DO YOU WRITE? And really, there is no simple answer to that. Every writer does it differently, and there’s no magic potion, there is no special club or secret handshake, there is no One True Way. Oh, sure, you’ll get those who want to convince you that there is (usually their way = the OTW) or that if you just manage to do everything on a specific check list, you too can write your very! Own! Novel!
Believe me, it ain’t that easy. Most things that are worthwhile aren’t. Writing my September release, Tear You Apart, was a hideous experience. Compared to other books in which every single word had to be dragged up, hand over hand, from the mind-well, you’d imagine that being able to type for an hour and realize I’d written an entire chapter would’ve been gratifying. In many ways, much of the novel came out without effort, in that when I sat down to work on it, the words flew out. But each of those words felt like a dagger piercing me all over in my soft and tender places. I was emotionally drained. Satisfied, yes, but shredded. Tear You Apart is perhaps some of my darkest work, emotionally, and yet I feel like it’s also maybe some of my best.
In my experience, the only way to write a novel is to tear yourself apart. Dig deep and find all those things you’d rather were kept in the dark. Mine your emotions and strip yourself, layer by layer, to get at all the stuff that makes great books great. Because at the heart of it, all great fiction springs from emotion. Fear, love, hate, joy. The genre doesn’t matter.
In the end, it’s all about how it makes us feel.
Excerpt from Tear Yourself Apart:
The piece is simple. Carved, polished wood. There's no real form or figure, though the piece is evocative of a woman's body. The smooth curve of hip and thigh and belly and breasts, the curl and twist of hair. It's not a woman, but it feels like one. Without thinking, I touch it. She feels like a woman. My fingers curl against my palm as I take my hand away. I shouldn't have touched it. Oils from my fingers could harm the finish. It's not a museum piece, but even so, it's not right to ruin it.
And Will is right. I like this one. I have no place for something like that in my home, but suddenly, I want it.
"Do you know who did it?" I'm already looking for the artist's card.
Will says nothing. I look at him, thinking he'll be smiling, but he's not. He's studying me.
"I knew you'd like that one."
My body tenses. I'm not sure if I don't like the way he says it, or if I like it too much. Either way, I frown. "You sound so proud."
Will looks at the piece of carved wood that shouldn't look like anything but looks like a woman. "I like to figure out what people like. I mean, it's important, you know? For an artist who wants to sell his shit."
"Is that what it's about, for you? Selling things? I thought real artists wanted to...you know. Make art."
He laughs, low. "Sure. But I'm also into paying my rent and eating. Not many people can live on art."
Not many of the people displaying here in Naveen's gallery tonight, anyway. New York city has galleries like this all over the place. Competition's fierce. I told him to keep his Philly gallery, but he insisted on branching out. I'm still not sure this one's going to make it.
"So...you like to know what people like, so you can sell them things."
"Sure." Will's grin is a little sly. "And I was right about you. Wasn't I?"
"Yes." For some reason, I'm reluctant to admit it.
He nods like I just revealed a secret. Maybe I have. "You like things smooth."
I take a step away from him. How could he know that? Hell. Until a few minutes ago, I'm not sure I knew it.
Will nods again. "Yeah. Smooth. And curved. You don't like sharp things. Angles and shit. You don't like it when there are points."
"Who does?" My voice is anything but smooth.
"Some people do." Will looks again at the carved wood. "You should buy it. It would make you happy."
My laugh snags, like a burr. "Who says I need to be happy?"
"Everyone needs to be happy, Elisabeth," Will says.
Oh, my name.
When he says my name, I see it in shimmering shades of blue and green and gray. Those are not my colors. I'm red and orange and yellow. Brown. My name is autumn moving on toward winter darkness, but not the way Will says it. When he says my name, I see summer. I see the ocean.
Blinking hard, I have to look away from him. My breath catches in my throat. I'm sure I can't speak, not even one word.
I was born and then I lived awhile. Then I did some stuff and other things. Now, I mostly write books. Some of them use a lot of bad words, but most of the other words are okay. I can’t live without music, the internet, the ocean or Coke Zero. I can’t stand the feeling of corduroy or velvet, and modern art leaves me cold. I write a little bit of everything from horror to romance, and I don’t answer to the name “Meg.”
Read in bed!
Read in bed!