reading series 8.14

Through the Looking Glass by Mo T

I wanted to share something fun and different through this reading series, so I decided to share a little bit of a play that I had created many years ago.

When I received a MFA in Creative Writing, my concentration was not in fiction or poetry; it was in playwriting. I had entered the program on the strength of my poetry. I had intended on switching to fiction. But I fell in love with playwriting, and I decided to focus my efforts there. My thesis project was a full-length play called “Through the Looking Glass.” I loved and lived this play for many months, and it was the culmination of the time I spent at the university pursuing an MFA. Upon graduating, there was a staged reading of my play at a space in Manhattan, and it was bound and published in the university library, where all the thesis projects are stored. You can read the beginning of this play here.

For a long time, I was a writer without a MFA. I had studied poetry and fine art as an undergraduate student. After I received my bachelors degree, I spent about a year working at a bookstore. While working there, I ran a poetry workshop and immersed myself in writing. I was considering going for a MFA, and I began an inquiry into graduate programs across the country.

As fate would have it, I also fell in love with someone I had met while working at that bookstore. He introduced me to Andre Breton. I introduced him to Bettie Page. We shared a love of surrealism, poetry, music, and art. I started receiving pamphlets and booklets from graduate programs in writing around the same time I discovered I was pregnant. The pile on top of my desk became heavy, but it could not match the weight of the life that was growing inside me. I loved poetry. I lived poetry. And ultimately, that was what led me to my decision.

At 23, we moved in together, a musician and a writer. We were in love. We were going to start a family. We had no money; dreams were our currency. And at the time, I believed that was enough. I decided to go back to school to receive a masters degree in Education. I had initially went to the New School with the intention of learning and enjoying education again. I intended on pursuing teaching at the masters level, after I received my BA. I wanted to have a career as a teacher, so I could have a stable income. First, I thought that being a teacher would provide a job I would love while I pursed my writing. Then, I thought being a teacher would provide an income for my family. I never thought that I would make any money as a writer, but I also never wrote for money. That was never a motivating factor for me. I actually went into “being a writer” feeling that I would never make money from it. I didn’t care. Writing was just something within me, something I couldn’t stop doing if I wanted to, something that was given to me, a gift.

Fast forward a few years, and I was a single parent with two children under the age of 5. I was working nights and weekends as a cashier in a grocery store. (The bookstore had closed almost 2 years after I worked there) I was healing from the break up. I was raising my children. I was writing. I took a couple of classes each semester to finish my degree in Education. In order to graduate, it is necessary to complete a semester of “student teaching.” Those twelve weeks were some of the hardest of my life. I enjoyed teaching. I loved the children I taught, and they loved me. I loved my experiences teaching kindergarten and first grade. But I had to leave my own children in the care of others from early in the morning until late in the evening. It affected my relationship with them. It affected my relationship with my self. I felt that even though I’d make good money as a teacher, I would not be there to raise my children. That wasn’t acceptable to me. It was at that time that I decided that I would wait just a few more years (until they were both in elementary school) to get a full time teaching job.

I left my job as a cashier and began tutoring. I worked at a learning center, then as a freelance private tutor at a SAT company. During that time, I was writing mostly poetry. I had published some poems over these years, but not very much. I had two full-length manuscripts of poetry, unpublished. I applied for grants. I applied for book publication. I applied for a lot of things that would help me get my work into the world. But I felt mostly invisible (This was also before the explosion of the internet into what we know it to be today). I began noticing that most of the contemporary writers I was seeing published had MFA’s. I began wondering if that was what was stopping me from being published. For the first time in a long time, I remembered the choice I had made, and I realized that I could make another choice.

I couldn’t go across the country to get a MFA. I couldn’t even go into Manhattan, which is about an hour away from where I live. The commute alone would take away too much time from my work and my family. I needed something close by. Even though I had never heard of any, I decided to look into graduate programs in writing in the area I lived. That would be the only way that I could get a MFA.

At the exact time I looked into this, a relatively local university decided to start a MFA program in creative writing – to begin the next year!! I couldn’t believe it. No other colleges or universities in my area offered an MFA. It would mean adding an extra year to my plan, but it would only be another year. This was my second chance. I received the information. I applied. I was accepted! I applied for loans, which were also granted. Strangely enough, that summer before I attended, I received notification that three of my poems were accepted in some new experimental-type online journals. This was proof that I didn’t need a MFA to be more widely published, like I had started to think. The type of writing I was doing was different. The world of publishing, especially considering online resources, was changing. But I took this as a sign that I was on the right track. I entered the program, which was brand new. Because it had just begun, it was a very small and intimate program. It was just right for me. I was among the first graduating class.

I was 33 when I decided to get a MFA in creative writing, exactly 10 years after I had seriously considered it as a possibility, a lifetime away from where I had been ten years ago. My intention on entering the program was simply that I wanted to be a better writer, to expand, to grow. I wanted to enter the world of writers again. I had been solitary for so long. I wanted to learn how to write fiction, because it seemed elusive to me. I had never been introduced to playwriting before the program, and when I took my first playwriting class, I loved it so much. (It is said that most people come into playwriting as either actors or poets.) I met a lot of different people through the program, people of varied ages and stages of writing, people I still consider close friends. I became a different student than I had ever been in the past. I have always loved school, but this time I was incredibly active in my learning. I was back in a world where writing and reading mattered. I spoke out in class. I wanted to! I shared my work. I read my work aloud. I offered my ideas, opinions and insights. I listened to the ideas and opinions and insights of others. I learned how to stand behind my work, to make conscious choices. I didn’t take a single thing for granted.

After the program, I immediately got a job teaching at an elementary school. I continued writing. I began publishing more. After a few years, I was laid off from my teaching job. I went through a series of unemployment and crappy jobs. I continued writing. My writing moved in an inverse direction, and my work has been published more. I am proud of the work I’ve done so far. After I was unemployed was about the time I created this website and blog, so this brings me to now, where I am. My goal for so long was to have a career as a full time teacher. I was devastated when that plan fell through. I became an unemployed teacher, surprisingly unqualified for most other jobs (or at least those who are hiring seem to think so). I have dated and I have had long term relationships, but I’ve never had a marital relationship (nor do I want one). I am still a single parent. I still don’t have that ability to provide for my family in the way I wanted to. I am poor. I work at very low paying jobs, the only jobs I seem to be able to get. What happens when you don’t have a plan B? What happens when a dream falls apart? I know, I know. This is the story of my life. Fail better.

When I received a MFA in creative writing, I entered a transformational space. I did literally begin again, anew. I didn’t think that at the time. I looked at it as a second chance to do something that I had wanted to do in the past, but didn’t. I didn’t think that it would change me, or that it would alter my path in any way. I even went right back to my idea of teaching elementary school. I imagined it as a moment in time, and I knew it was an important step for me, but I couldn’t foresee the ways in which it would affect me. When I was unemployed, I also entered a transformational space. Similar things resulted. I was forced to begin again. I didn’t know the ways it would affect me or how it would change me. But interestingly, that wasn’t something I chose. That was something that life chose for me.

Sometimes we are fixated on what we want to happen, and forget that the world is so mysterious, so filled with things we can barely understand. Things happen for reasons that we do not understand, in the universe, in the world, our societies, our governments, our personal lives. Even when a choice is made for you, you can choose how you respond and how you grow from the experience. I believe that we each have a path in life, and that we are guided by our passions. Some people call this intuition. Others call it following signs, which is the idea that Paulo Coelho talks about in The Alchemist.  I believe that following our passions is the only guide we really have in which to live our lives. It is what we love, at the core of our being, that helps us make our decisions and choices. As Joseph Campbell says so wisely,

“Follow your bliss, and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t even know they were going to be.”

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through the looking glass

 

Through the Looking Glass by Agnes Cecile

 

Through the Looking Glass

(excerpt: prologue + first three scenes)

CHARACTERS:

ALICE – Female. 35. Slight American accent. She wears monochromatic colors and layered clothing. (Alice at varying stages is played by manipulating hair and clothing as noted)

GAVIN – Male. 32. Slight British accent. He wears monochromatic colors and layered clothing. He also wears glasses. (Gavin at varying stages is played by manipulating clothing as noted)

SETTING:
In the center of the stage, there is a 9 x 9 three-sided box packed with items, extraneous home furnishings, and miscellaneous boxes, which are piled in a haphazard and seemingly precarious manner, painted white to resemble Louise Nevelson’s structural work. There is a large hanging mirror on the back of the box which is in reality a door, blocked by said items. Two working doors are on the left and right sides, obvious to the audience. The bottom of the box has a hidden space of about 12 inches with a sliding opening in which a pull out mattress can be revealed to position at front center stage. The bed/mattress is made up in black, white and grey sheets, blankets and pillows. On front stage right, there is a painted black bench or a small black couch. On front stage left, there is a desk painted black and two chairs (black). These four areas are reminiscent of the circular Celtic Cross position, and indicate four main components: the present problem and resolution (box), creativity (desk), analysis (couch), and intimacy (bed).

TIME:
The Present –1999
The Past –1996 –1999

Notes on Light, Colour, Sound: The entire stage setting is a mixture of monochromatic (black, white, grey) colours. At the end of the play, when the mirrored door is revealed and opened, the space should be filled with glowing, vibrant colour through use light and a dropped canvas painted in abstract colour. Lighting plays an extremely important role as each area of the stage is representative of different times and places and is illuminated or hidden by the light; also, the light indicates the movement of a circular pattern across each of the four areas on stage. The lighting in cases should incorporate shadows, sounds and emotions. Sound/music should be slightly dissonant and surrealistic.

Epilogue/Prologue: These poems (from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll) should be shown to the audience, either by screen painting or projection, on the front of the box.

Notes on Punctuation:
“…” slight pause
“-” interruption, continuous flow in dialogue
“/” point of overlapping speech (notated “/”at point and where next character begins)
“//” additional overlap in line (notated “//” at point and where next character begins)
“ ” quoted text, read as natural speech

 

PROLOGUE
ALICE and GAVIN stand to either side of the box, each holding a book, and a dim, surreal light shines above each of them. They are reading aloud this excerpt from the poem, addressing the audience, with awareness of each other.

ALICE
“A tale begun in other days,
When summer suns were glowing—
A simple chime, that served to time
The rhythm of our rowing—
Whose echoes live in memory yet,
Though envious years would say ‘forget’.

GAVIN
Come, hearken then, ere voice of dread,
With bitter tidings laden,
Shall summon to unwelcome bed
A melancholy maiden!
We are but older children, dear,
Who fret to find our bedtime near.

ALICE
Without, the frost, the blinding snow,
The storm-wind’s moody madness—
Within, the firelight’s ruddy glow,
And childhood’s nest of gladness.
The magic words shall hold thee fast:
Thou shalt not heed the raving blast.

GAVIN
And though the shadow of a sigh
May tremble through the story,
For ‘happy summer days’ gone by,
And vanish’d summer glory—
It shall not touch with breath of bale
The pleasance of our fairy-tale.”

Blackout.

 

SCENE 1 (excerpt)
The stage is dark. Lights come up within the three sided box at back center stage. ALICE sits profile inside the box- to the left, on the floor and against the wall. It is winter, 1999.

ALICE
I need to find the key.

GAVIN
What key?

ALICE
My key. I want to open the door.

GAVIN
What door?

ALICE
The door… The door is locked / and I can’t find the key.

GAVIN
/ No… the door is open. I just opened it.

ALICE
That’s your door.

GAVIN
My door?

ALICE
Yes.

GAVIN
If that’s my door, then where’s your door?

ALICE
Behind me.

GAVIN
I wasn’t aware that we had separate doors.

ALICE
They lead to different places.

GAVIN
One door leads to your study, the other one leads to the hallway…

ALICE
You’re so literal. Different places … different spheres of existence.

GAVIN
Which is our door?

ALICE
Our door?

GAVIN
If there’s a door for each of us individually, shouldn’t there be one for us collectively?

ALICE
I … don’t know.

GAVIN
Why did you lock it?

ALICE
I don’t remember locking it.

(holding back tears)
All I know is the door won’t open and I can’t find the key.

Gavin walks to closer to Alice. She turns away.

GAVIN
Are you really thinking about leaving me?

The lights in the box dim. End Scene I.

 

SCENE 2
Lights up on front stage right. The light is slightly dim and holds passing shadows. It is Fall, 1996. GAVIN sits uncomfortably on a couch; his tie is loosened and he is holding a plastic cup. A party is going on; music, laughter and chatter permeate the space. ALICE saunters into the light, holding a joint out to Gavin. He declines, holding up his cup to her. She laughs and sits down unceremoniously on the couch, putting out the joint in his cup.

GAVIN
(placing the cup on the floor)
Well, that’s the end of that, then.

ALICE
Boo.

GAVIN
I was quite done, anyway.

ALICE
Don’t lie. There was nothing in there but warm sediment. You were nursing the cup out of security … working yourself up, but too afraid to come over and talk to me.

GAVIN
I wouldn’t say that.

ALICE
What would you say?

GAVIN
I was working my way up to leaving actually.

ALICE
Boo-hoo.

GAVIN
It’s almost midnight.

ALICE
Didn’t you know that the fun always starts after midnight?

GAVIN
Does it?

ALICE
What, do you need to leave the ball before you change into your galley clothes?

GAVIN
No –

ALICE
Or perhaps you’re afraid your coach will turn back into a pumpkin?

GAVIN
I hate to disappoint you, but I am quite ordinary.

ALICE
I’m sure you’re anything but.

GAVIN
Well, it’s true. No fairy godmother beckoning my arrival. Just work … I have to wake up early for –

ALICE
You must be terrified.

GAVIN
Terrified? … I don’t quite know what you’re –

ALICE
You’ve been watching me all night / and here –

GAVIN
/ I haven’t!

ALICE
Yes, yes you have!

GAVIN
Well, perhaps I looked your way –

ALICE
Perhaps?

GAVIN
I … I wasn’t –

ALICE
It’s okay. There’s no need to falsify the evidence. I saw you. I waited. You never approached me, so… here I am.

GAVIN
Okay…

ALICE
So what are you going to do now?

GAVIN
(standing up, wavering)
I really must be –

ALICE
(pulling him back down)
Oh, no, no. Sit back down. You have … some time before the clock strikes.

GAVIN
Okay.

ALICE
Am I making you nervous?

I don’t mean to be… Although, you probably should be nervous, considering it’s almost the witching hour.

GAVIN
And why would that be?

ALICE
Don’t you know?

GAVIN
Are you telling me that you are some sort of …witch?

ALICE
(laughing)
Would things begin to make sense then?

GAVIN
I feel like your words are spinning around me…

ALICE
So now we’re getting somewhere…

GAVIN
Are you casting a spell on me?

ALICE
Do you want me to cast a spell on you?

GAVIN
“Are you a good witch or a bad witch?”

ALICE
“Why, I am not a witch at all…”

GAVIN
You’re lovely.

ALICE
That’s a promising statement.

GAVIN
You’ll have to excuse me but… I don’t recall your name –

ALICE
(laughing, holding out her hand)
Alice Lewis.

Gavin takes her hand and kisses it, then holds it lightly. She looks at him questioningly.

ALICE
And you are…?

GAVIN
Gavin. Gavin Carroll.

ALICE
So. Gavin. Carroll? / You seem to have my hand? //

GAVIN
(letting go)
/ Yes. // Oh, sorry.

ALICE
No, no. It’s fine. Lewis. (pointing to self) Carroll. (pointing to him)

They laugh.

ALICE
“In another moment, down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.”

GAVIN
What’s that?

ALICE
(laughing)
What? Oh. Lewis Carroll.

GAVIN
I do rather feel that way myself.

You are bewitching.

ALICE
It must be the hour.

GAVIN
How are you getting home?

ALICE
I thought you were taking me in your pumpkin?

GAVIN
Ah, but what if it is only a pumpkin shell?

ALICE
Then I should never be your wife.

GAVIN
Well, we needn’t worry about that… It is still before midnight after all.

ALICE
A few minutes.

GAVIN
Where do you live?

ALICE
Too far. How about you?

GAVIN
Very close.

ALICE
Well, that sounds about right.

GAVIN
Do you need to say your goodbyes?

ALICE
I never say good-bye.

Lights fade to black. End Scene 2

 

SCENE 3
It is later the same evening as Scene 2. The sound changes to that of night and traffic; a car driving, music played on the radio, doors slamming shut. Lights up on the bed front center stage. GAVIN and ALICE enter the stream of light, kissing passionately, removing clothing. They fall onto the bed as lights fade to black. End Scene 3.

 

*

 

 


breaking up

 

“Breaking up is hard to do” is the popular wisdom, and anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows it. But why is breaking up so hard, when we all know that nothing can truly last forever? I believe that our feelings about breaking up are rooted in our ideas about growth and change. I also think that the way we think about relationships has a direct correlation to how we think about break ups.

We know that death is a natural and essential part of life, that an ending and a beginning are two sides of the same coin, and that each person goes through life alone. But knowing these things doesn’t make breaking up any easier. For many people, a break up represents a loss, a failure – “giving up” instead of working through problems together. And while I know that working through problems and issues is part of being in a relationship, sometimes “holding on” is not the answer. Many people “hold on” to people and situations out of fear – fear of failure, fear of change.  Conversely, many people “let go” of people and situations out of the same fear.

Relationships are very complicated. I’ve come to think that relationships carry a certain kind of energy that is created and shared between the people involved. I’m focusing here on monogamy, defining a relationship as a “couple.” Even so, these ideas are applicable to those who choose a poly lifestyle. When two people are involved with each other in an intense way, there is a “twinning” energy. This kind of energy can either double strength or split power. I’ve also heard this described as “the royal we.” An unavoidable part in being a couple is that one person’s identity becomes enmeshed with another. Adding to this, many people seem to think that a partner is someone who “completes” another. In any partnership, there is an interdependency, and the best relationships seek to balance individuality and togetherness. Even having this awareness and taking a mindful approach, it can be challenging to maintain.

As someone who has been in several long term relationships, I’ve come to realize that a relationship is a constantly evolving process. It is one of the most important ways that we learn about ourselves and others. I’ve always thought of relationships as learning experiences. Even if you are with the same person over the course of many years, there is still a process of break and renewal. Life changes. People change. Relationships are organic, and they need to change as we do. The person you loved a year ago, or five years ago, even ten years ago, is likely to be a different person now, even if you have been in a relationship with the same person the entire time.

When a break up occurs, it means that you are making a choice to not stay in a relationship with another, at least in the capacity you once shared. That choice is sometimes reciprocal, sometimes unwelcome, and sometimes indicated by the actions and behaviors of the people in the relationship. In a best-case scenario, people who have shared an intense and close relationship will remain at least friends. However, usually this positive end result comes from an amicable break up.

Unfortunately, breaking up is not always amicable. A break up is the final result of what didn’t work in a relationship, and that is sometimes very hard for people to deal with, because often the cause for the break-up is what they’ve been struggling with as a couple throughout their relationship. There is an idea that when we meet someone new, there is a glimpse of the ending in the beginning. Meaning, all of the potential (good and bad) between you is there, right from the onset. Many people are so swept up in the idea of a relationship that they focus on the positive, and either ignore, downplay, or reconcile the negative aspects by thinking that the other person will change.

One of the most important things I’ve tried to teach my children as they enter dating is to be kind. For the most part, I’ve been lucky to have been involved with kind and good hearted people in my relationships. But I have also had relationships with people who were not exactly good, people who were troubled and confused about what they wanted, and people who were incapable of actually being in a healthy relationship – accepting, giving, and receiving love, starting with themselves.

One of the relationships I was involved in ended very badly when I discovered that my partner had been lying to me. This betrayal of trust was a deal breaker for me, and he knew it would be a deal breaker for me. He loved me, but he also lied to me. He never intended that I would find out about his “omissions of truth” and when I did, the results were catastrophic. Other truths were revealed. But instead of feeling sorry or taking any responsibility for his behavior, he tried to blame me for what happened. When I refused to take the blame, he became angry and defensive. He talked badly about me to his friends, manipulated the truth about why we broke up, and blamed me for everything that had gone wrong between us.

Even though I told myself that the truth existed, and anyone who knew the both of us would understand the truth no matter what he said, it still hurt. But what hurt the most was that the person I loved, and the relationship we shared, didn’t exist anymore. Because of how we broke up, a terrible shadow cast itself over our entire relationship. Everything was thrown into question. I didn’t know what had been true or what had been a lie. I didn’t even know who this person was anymore. The backlash after we broke up showed me that, even after what happened, he still didn’t want to face his own truth. He still was blaming me. He still was lying, but in the face of all evidence; he was lying to himself. Our break up was much more painful than it needed to be. Any relationship between us, even friendship, became impossible.

This is an example of why I feel that kindness is so important in relationships. When we love another person, we have to open ourselves up. In the process of opening up, we also give the other person a set of tools in which to hurt us. This leaves us tremendously vulnerable. Trust is necessary in a relationship, and trust also leaves us vulnerable. We all experience this. And I think that knowing this should make us feel a sense of responsibility towards the people we love – to be more mindful about how we treat others, and to understand how our actions and behaviors affect others. The importance of reflection and communication in a relationship can never be underestimated.

Even though it is usually painful, breaking up with someone you have shared a close and intense relationship with can provide an opportunity for change that is unlike any other. We always have choices. We can repeat our mistakes. We can learn from our mistakes. We can do the work necessary to really look at ourselves, no matter how hard that may be. The fact is that a relationship is a dynamic. Nothing is one-sided. We all make mistakes. We all are learning.

In the past relationship I used as an example, even though the person lied to me and we had a “bad breakup,”  I didn’t blame him for everything that went wrong. I was a participant in the relationship, not a victim of it. I tried to understand what happened between us, but I also tried to understand what happened to me, throughout our relationship. And in retrospect, there were other problems between us, other issues not involved with why we broke up, but just as important, maybe even more so.

I think that breakups magnify the fault lines in a relationship, but sometimes obvious problems also underlie other problems. Human beings are strange and complicated creatures. We lie to ourselves. We have blind spots. We stay in unhealthy situations. We seek out unhealthy situations. We give implicit consent when we allow others to treat us in certain ways. We even participate in our own undoing. We have a deep sense of self-preservation, even if it means preserving an illusion. We do all of these things, and we do it without even realizing it, unless something provokes us into realizing it.

When we look at how complicated the motivations for our choices, behaviors, and actions can be, with or without our subconscious awareness of such, we can begin to see how our behaviors and actions can reveal something else entirely, which goes a lot deeper than what is apparent on the surface. Only when that deepness, that root, is touched, can we truly change. And people can consciously change. We have that potential, always. I think that potential is strongest when we are shaken, awakened. That is why I feel that breakups offer a unique opportunity for growth. In magnifying the fault line we’ve encountered with another, breakups also give us the chance to encounter ourselves. Ultimately, in an abstract but fundamental sense, any relationship we have is not simply about our relationship to another; it is also about our relationship to ourselves.

A break up can also be an opportunity to care for yourself, to heal yourself, to nurture yourself. When most people end a relationship, they feel that their heart has been broken. They feel acutely alone. Many times, they are losing someone who has become, above all else, their closest friend. But instead of thinking of what has been lost, it is important to see what has been gained. There are reasons why people break up, but there are also reasons why people were together. When people hurt each other and are left with pain after being in love, it is sometimes harder to see that. But the depth of pain is directly relational to the depth of love. It’s important to remember that the love and the positive aspects of the relationship you shared are lessons, too.

After a break up, it is very natural to be wary of getting involved with other people again. Some people will jump right back into dating. However, I think that time alone is important, especially if you are coming out of a long term relationship. It is important to reconnect with yourself, and to strengthen your relationship with yourself. You have spent so much time as part of a couple, it is important to reassert yourself as an individual. I think that the issues we confront in our relationships are lessons we need to learn. I also think that each lesson we learn brings us closer to understanding ourselves, and what we want and need in a relationship. We can try to understand and learn from our experiences; we can transform our lives. We can grow and expand and develop, and embrace change in healthy and positive ways. An ending is a new beginning, another opportunity to start again, anew.

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lariat

The Big Book of Submission: 69 Kinky Tales is now available!

This anthology, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel and published by Cleis Press, contains 69 short-short stories by as many authors. I’m so happy to have my story “Lariat” included in this collection! “Lariat” is linked to another story of mine called “Ring of Fire,” which was published in Best Bondage Erotica 2014.

I had already written “Ring of Fire” when I saw the call for submissions, and I knew that I wanted to submit it.  “Ring of Fire” is about two people in a BDSM relationship who celebrate their anniversary by renewing their vows to each other. At the time, there was also a call for “short-short stories of submission.” I don’t usually write stories under 1k words, but I wanted to do something fun, so I decided to give the characters in “Ring of Fire” a beginning.

I was thrilled when both stories were accepted! Both of these stories are a little more psychological, and a conscious attempt on my part to explore the positive and healthy aspects of committed loving relationships that include hot BDSM play/sex.

Both The Big Book of Submission and Best Bondage Erotica 2014 are available in bookstores and online in all formats. If you are interested in BDSM and erotic stories of immeasurable variations, you will love these anthologies!

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on creating characters

I’ve been wanting to write a post on this topic for some time. The process of creating characters is very interesting to me, and I am always intrigued at how other writers approach bringing their own characters to life.

While looking for a picture that would invoke “character” for this post, I came across so many different meanings and approaches to understanding the term. There are characters in books, but there are also characters in comics and graphic novels, cartoons, drawings/illustrations, movies, television, theater/film/performance, music, dance, and other creative arts. We also refer to the word “character” to define the core of one’s personality, the moral and ethical make-up of a person, the compass that one lives by.

For writers, there are many books dedicated to creating characters. There are lessons, templates, webs and maps, and computer programs intended to help us develop character. Part of the reading and writing curriculum for students of all ages is to identify and understand “character,” and school based worksheets are to be found for children as young as 1st grade.

It is no accident that the term “character” has such deep connotations. When we create character, we are creating sentient beings. If one is writing other people, then it follows that we are following the same guidelines … what makes one’s “character” in life is the same as in fiction.

I like some of the templates for creating characters, especially the ones where you fill in all the pertinent info about the character (name/age/place of birth/physical, socio-economic, and mental characteristics/habits/memories/friends/etc). That’s because I like to make lists. But I confess that I rarely use these templates.

I believe that the essential ingredient to creating characters is deep empathy. I think that people who successfully create characters have an ability to corporealize all of the above information into the character’s thoughts, behaviors, and actions within the story.

It is not the list of information that creates a character; it is knowing where that information affects the character’s motivations and choices. This understanding, this deep empathy, does not judge either, which is why people can create “bad” characters without actually being bad people. It is an ability to step outside oneself and to see with another person’s eyes, to feel with their heart, to know their strengths, their weaknesses, their blind spots, their failures, their successes, their desires, their passions, their memories. It is living in another person’s soul. This is not memoir. This is how a fictional character becomes a living, breathing person.

While looking at quotes on “character,” I compiled a short list.  I feel these quotes say something essential about character, and really get to the heart of what we do when we create character.

“Our character is but the stamp on our souls of the free choices of good and evil we have made through life.”
~ John C. Geikie

“Men best show their character in trifles, where they are not on their guard. It is in the simplest habits, that we often see the boundless egotism which pays no regard to the feelings of others and denies nothing to itself.”
~ Arthur Schopenhauer

“Every thought willingly contemplated, every word meaningfully spoken, every action freely done, consolidates itself in the character, and will project itself onward in a permanent continuity.”
~ Henry Giles

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
~ Abraham Lincoln

“Choices determine character.”
~ Brandon Mull

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
~ Helen Keller

“Character is an essential tendency. It can be covered up, it can be messed with, it can be screwed around with, but it can’t be ultimately changed. It’s the structure of our bones, the blood that runs through our veins.”
~ Sam Shepard

“You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”
~ Ernest Hemingway

“Until a character becomes a personality it cannot be believed. Without personality, the character may do funny or interesting things, but unless people are able to identify themselves with the character, its actions will seem unreal.”
~ Walt Disney

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”
~ William Faulkner

When we create characters, we also are entering the territory where fiction straddles the line between truth and lies, the idea of “the truth inside the lie.” Many times people think that authors create characters from people they know or who they are, especially if the author writes in 1st person.

I have dealt with this sort of identification, which is why I like to come back to these topics every once in a while. I know that many people don’t always understand this part in being a writer.

I’ve had the experience of reading fictional work and having people ask me afterwards, “did that really happen?” Once, after one of my erotic stories was published, someone asked my boyfriend at the time if he was the protagonist in my story! I’ve also had friends ask me if I modeled a character after them, or someone they knew, or if I created a setting from a place they had been. I think the reason for this is because writers do use bits and pieces of real life in their fiction. It is inescapable.

For example, a friend of mine used to live in an apartment in Harlem. The thing I loved most about her apartment was the antiquated, ornate molding where the walls met the ceiling in each room. The apartment house was old and had fallen far from the glory envisioned in the original architecture. The molding was painted over many times carelessly, almost as if trying to erase it under layers of paint, without regard to how beautiful it must have been in its original state.

Let’s just say that aspect of the apartment fascinated me. I thought about it a lot. I began noticing this type of molding in other places. This single detail. Why? I have no idea. I thought it was beautiful and sad and it just struck me. Years later, I had written a story where I used a detail of ornate crown molding in describing the setting of the character’s run-down apartment. My friend picked up on this, and asked if I used her old apartment for my story. No … I didn’t. I actually didn’t even think of her apartment when I was writing the story. But that detail of the crown molding had stuck in my mind.

I consider this to be a kind of “occupational hazard.” Many people seem to think that writers write about their lives and experiences, but non-writers don’t know the difference in process between memoir and fiction. Memoir -is- the I, whereas Fiction is beyond the I. This is an important but powerful difference.

Writing in 1st person pushes this hazard further, even though I think 1st person is the easiest way to really get into a character as a writer. It is a powerful tool, but it is also a double edged sword because the “I” who is narrating the story sometimes becomes fixed in the readers mind as “I” (the author).

No matter how imaginative we are, fiction writers draw from their lives and experiences because we can’t help but be the medium that our work passes through. Even high fantasy contains elements of reality, sublimated with bits and pieces of the author’s experience of being a person in this world. No one exists in a vacuum, and I believe that no matter how successful a writer can be in practicing this kind of deep empathy to create characters, there are always threads to connect the writer to his or her work. Some of the quotes I came across by Kundera address this very eloquently.

“Characters are not born like people, of woman; they are born of a situation, a sentence, a metaphor containing in a nutshell a basic human possibility that the author thinks no one else has discovered or said something essential about.”
~ Milan Kundera

“The characters in my novels are my own unrealized possibilities. That is why I am equally fond of them all and equally horrified by them all. Each one has crossed a border that I myself have circumvented. It is that crossed border (the border beyond which my own “I” ends) which attracts me most. For beyond that border begins the secret the novel asks about. The novel is not the author’s confession, it is an investigation of human life in the trap the world has become.”
~ Milan Kundera

Over the years, I have taken many classes and read many books about the process of writing. I have also taught writing to students at many different age levels. There is always more to learn, more to explore, and more to discover. Writing is a complex art that offers continual paths for growth.

After creating a character, a writer then needs to put the character into the world of the story. Or sometimes, the world of the story dictates the kind of characters that will be created. There is an interconnectedness here. But no matter how the seed idea comes into being, I still feel that deep empathy is the essential component to fully realizing a character.

One of my favorite books about writing is The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri. Next to my encyclopedic dictionary, this is the book I reference most. If I am stuck or feel like I need to revisit the fundamentals, this is the book I turn to. In this book, Egri devotes several chapters to “character.”

Moving forward from how characters are created and into how characters function within a story, I’m going to share an excerpt from Egri’s chapter on character growth:

“Regardless of the medium in which you are working, you must know your characters thoroughly. And you must know them not only as they are today, but as they will be tomorrow or years from now.

Everything in nature changes – human beings along with the rest. A man who was brave ten years ago may be a coward now, for any number of reasons: age, physical deterioration, changed financial status, to name a few.

You may think you know someone who has never changed and never will. But no such person ever existed. A man may keep his religious and political views apparently intact through the years, but close scrutiny will show that his convictions have either deepened or become superficial. They have gone through many stages, many conflicts, and will continue to go through them, as long as the man lives. So he does change, after all.

Even stone changes, although its disintegration is imperceptible; the earth goes through a slow but persistent transformation; the sun, too, the solar system, the universe. Nations are born, pass through adolescence, achieve manhood, grow old, and then die, either violently or by gradual dissolution.

There is only one realm in which characters defy natural laws and remain the same – the realm of bad writing.

A character stands revealed through conflict; conflict begins with a decision; a decision is made because of the premise of your play [or story or novel]. The character’s decision necessarily sets in motion another decision, from his adversary. And it is these decisions, one resulting from the other, which propel the play [or story or novel] to its ultimate destination.”

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Character is an essential tendency. It can be covered up, it can be messed with, it can be screwed around with, but it can’t be ultimately changed. It’s the structure of our bones, the blood that runs through our veins.
Sam Shepard – See more at: http://josephsoninstitute.org/quotes/quotations.php?q=Character#sthash.S27O2Q7Z.dpuf
Character is an essential tendency. It can be covered up, it can be messed with, it can be screwed around with, but it can’t be ultimately changed. It’s the structure of our bones, the blood that runs through our veins.
Sam Shepard, – See more at: http://josephsoninstitute.org/quotes/quotations.php?q=Character#sthash.S27O2Q7Z.dpuf

she

I’m very happy to announce that No Sight for the Saved, a collection of stories and poetry inspired by the art of Niall Parkinson and edited by James Ward Kirk, is now available on kindle! A paperback version of the book is forthcoming.

“Surreal journeys through landscapes of the angry and abandoned, the lost and lonely and the weak and wounded. These are the realms of the Dead End Collective.” The horror art of Niall Parkinson is used for inspiration for the short stories and poetry included in this anthology. This fully illustrated anthology is a wonderful collection of horror fiction inspired by horror art. Seeing is believing, and horror awaits.

My story “She” was inspired by:

“She” by Niall Parkinson

 

My interpretation of “She” became the embodiment of this powerful dark female energy, descended from the mythos of Arachne, and drawing upon “spider-women” in the noir sense, “black widows”, and the femme fatale archetype. This is horror with an erotic edge. Things get explicit in my story, but it is necessary to go there in order to fully encapsulate “She.”

Check out the anthology to see more of Niall Parkinson’s dark, evocative artwork alongside a wide variety of inspired horror stories and poems!

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reading 7/24

calling all literary geeks

I’m very happy to join Rachel Kramer Bussel, Kristina Wright, Tess Danesi, and Emerald for a reading on July 24 at Lotus Blooms in Alexandria, Virginia!

Calling all literary geeks! Join us on July 24th at Lotus Blooms in Old Town, Alexandria to welcome one of the biggest names in erotic fiction, Rachel Kramer Bussel. Boasting an impressive portfolio, Bussel is editor of over 50 anthologies, including The Big Book of Orgasms, Cheeky Spanking Stories, Best Bondage Erotica 2014, Flying High: Sexy Stories from the Mile High Club and more. In this 90 minute meet-and-greet, Rachel Kramer Bussel and guest authors will share excerpts from her highly anticipated new book, The Big Book of Submission: 69 Kinky Tales and one of her most popular compilations, The Big Book of Orgasms. There will be time at the end for a book signing and a short Q&A.

The reading is free, but there is limited seating. Registration prior to the event is required through eventbrite. Please follow this link to register and find out more details about the event. Hope to see you there! x

 

 

 


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