This week’s post is about two kinds of ghosts. The first relates to my creative process. The second refers to the ghosts my characters may be dealing with. I spent the past weekend at the Dallas-Fort Worth Writers’ Conference in Dallas with two dear writing friends: Kimberly Emerson and M. Pepper Langlinais. (I affectionately refer to this great city as Fresno, TX. It’s flat, super-hot, and a temple to the gods of urban sprawl. But, I digress.) Naturally when you get a bunch of writers together, we start talking shop and comparing notes. One topic cropped up again and again- yep, our creative process. Where do we get our ideas? What inspires us?
I hear voices. It’s as simple as that.
No, seriously. And no need to fetch the guys/gals in white coats. I’m perfectly sane. It’s just I’m never alone.
Before I start typing out a story I dream about it. People kind of appear, like ghosts haunting me. The characters begin to flesh themselves out in my head, and I overhear snippets of conversation. Next I see the actions: a laugh, a sword fight, the fall of a blossom on a grave. The details depend on the type of story. Finally, these elements coalesce into a complete picture and then I have to get it on paper or my laptop before they begin to disintegrate once more and fade from view.
I do a great deal of journaling- never travel without one in case the ghosts appear. Once the outlines of the story are set then comes more daydreaming, usually when I am running or working out. Story arch, motifs, themes, those get worked out through sweat. After that, it’s pedal to the metal writing. Music helps with the heavy lifting section of the writing. I run with music and write to it. When I wrote The Dragon in The Garden I listened to Yes’s Learning to Fly. Sea Strand came to life with various Nightwish albums as its soundtrack. Those North Atlantic rhythms blended perfectly with the cadence of the story’s ocean currents.
This summer I am working on the finishing touches to a novel whose title has not been firmly set. The music has been Iron Maiden. The darkness of some of their songs creates a great mood against the combination of noir and snark I want for this urban fantasy centered around a female P.I. named Charlie Watts.
Right now I am haunted by unfamiliar ghosts. Not a dragon, selkie, ogre, or banshee in sight. Nope, just everyday people living everyday lives. There’s a short story building in my brain which has nothing to do with the fantastical. Odd.
For a long time it’s struck me that social media is doing funky things to our personal interactions. Take FaceBook or Twitter for example. Someone can post “Yippee! Financial security at last!” Obviously, their friends will “retweet” or “like” this good news while making lots of supportive, affirming comments. Yet, what if said financial security came from defrauding the elderly of their pensions? Would that person’s Friends or Followers be so quick to join the party? My point being that the Internet has always allowed us to show slivers of our true selves, choosing and editing our personae as we see fit. We do this every day in our real world lives, but it’s more extreme online.
In the beginning three ghosts haunted me. A husband who left his wife and kids, the wife he abandoned, and the mistress he goes to. Naturally, and sadly, there’s a fair bit of overlap to the two relationships. I wanted to tell the story from three viewpoints and largely through FaceBook posts. Few people consciously set out to behave like complete asses. Each of these characters would possess their own hopes, dreams, and motivations. Each would seek to justify their actions.
Over time though, I’ve had a difficult time with the husband. He’s not as strong a presence in my mind. Probably because as a woman, it’s far easier for me to imagine their thoughts than his. The haunting is reaching the tipping point and it’s time to start writing. I’ll be using the two women’s points of view. Simpler, cleaner for a short story. Though the philandering husband has exited the story, wisps of him linger in my mind.
How can one person go from a marriage to an affair and a rapid engagement? Wouldn’t they be haunted? No time to process, to figure out where the train jumped the tracks? How would that lack of introspection and self-awareness affect the second marriage? Maybe I’m over thinking it or feminizing the process. People do jump into relationships all the time. A hasty remarriage is not uncommon. Of course, the success rates of these later marriages resonate with failure, so there’s that. I would imagine that over time the person would develop their own ghosts. Memories, regrets, and questions swirling through their head. Makes you wonder not if but how quickly the second marriage would unravel.
Hmm, maybe there is a second story there for another day? In the meantime, this week’s song springs from one of my ghosts about his ghosts. It’s My Heart is a Ghost Town by Adam Lambert. A bit pop for my usual taste, but the sentiments fit here. Enjoy.
This post was written by Erika Gardner. If you enjoyed it, please sign up to receive updates on this blog. Or you can follow Erika on Twitter @Erika_Gardner or “Like” her Facebook page Erika Gardner- Writer and Storyteller. Check out her contributions to the BBB Blog.