As I said in my previous post, taking a look at where my ideas come from turned out to be a more complex subject than I anticipated, and ran into this one, which I think counts as a subject in its own right. Also as I said there, please be patient with material that looks like it’s wandering off-topic; it isn’t.
When I was nineteen, and came out as not heterosexual (I lacked the terminology at the time; the word I use now is “pansexual”), my writing went through a massive transformation. Instead of trying desperately to keep it “clean” with no sex or gender exploration, I started to allow myself to play with whatever came.
Fairly early on, I created, as a kind of shortcut, a set of characters that I dropped into a wide variety of urban fantasy situations, essentially to observe what happened – what if this character isn’t human but is a, oh, werewolf? dragon? vampire? Now, what happens if I switch which character it is? The dynamics were fascinating, watching how the story shifted and flowed and altered with small changes. Along with being an immense amount of fun (yes, this is my idea of how to spend not just a Friday night, but an entire weekend and then some), it also taught me an incredible amount about how stories work. However, since I was writing these only as an experiment, I didn’t censor anything or rule out anything, just let it all happen.
I don’t know what happens to most people if they stop censoring themselves, but I know what happened to me. It got kinky. Frequently. At first, mostly in blatant ways, but as I got some of the backlog out of my brain, it sometimes became more subtle. Either way, it fed my passion for writing and fed my writing itself. Much of it is terrible writing, but every word of it contributed to my current technical skills and to my ability to follow ideas wherever they lead, and also to the list of projects I’m putting effort into reworking and expanding and finishing.
Therefore, a key part of the answer to my question in the last post, at least as far as my urban fantasy, is: erotic fantasies.
However, I used to make sure that anything from that source was kept separate even in my own mind, labelled “not real”, and intended never to be shared with anyone except perhaps a few trusted friends. After all, if that was the seed it sprouted from, then it must fall into the same category as the countless examples of erotic fiction available all over the Internet, regardless of whether mine actually had a plot and proper grammar (unlike much, if not most, of what’s out there). It falls outside of “acceptable” social limits, and could never be commercially viable, and could therefore only be a liability to me as a writer, possibly even embarrassing to have turn up after making a name for myself with “real” writing.
This created problems, though. The internal division produced, essentially, two writing modes and two sets of projects. The “real” ones were begun with the intention of trying to get them published; the “not real” ones were all about my own pleasure. Guess what happens when you’re working on a story that you’re trying to make commercially viable, but your heart and mind are on another project that has less restriction and more open passion and fluidity and playfulness and fun to it? Forget self-discipline; if you can’t feel what you’re writing, your audience isn’t going to feel it when they’re reading it, so what’s the point? And which of the two is going to get the extra hours stolen here and there in place of TV or a social life? Know how many “real” ones I’ve finished? Zero. The “not real” ones? Well…
BlackWolf (description here), the first novel I (will admit to having) finished, is actually a spinoff from those shortcut characters. A character meant to be minor and one-off intrigued me, because he was very unlike the rest of the cast and came through so clearly. I couldn’t resist looking into Jesse’s history, which just turned out to be more interesting the more I investigated. (This was, incidentally, also the novel that I learned how to do proper editing on.) It no longer has any real trace of the original group. Much of the “alternative” content was lost in the process, and in this case, I have no regrets about that – it works better as it is. However, the influence of its roots is still there, underneath the rest.
I took a chance with Lamia (in heavy rewrites as of June 2021), and actually hammered one of those raw experiments into a novel. The core of it is still remarkably similar to the original hand-written version, although much smoother and more fluid. I made no effort at all to turn it into something with commercial potential; I just wanted to see what I could do with what I had. It plays with gender, sex, sexuality, attraction, trust, and power dynamics, and trying to clean that up, to water that down, would have turned it into one more bland and sappy vampire novel in a world that already has an over-abundance of those. Leaving it intact, though, means I ended up with something unique. I found that alarming, that something “not real” could have turned out worthwhile, and I had intense self-doubts about it.
YinYang (description here) is born directly from those experiments as well. From multiple versions, in fact, since various situations within the novel that are divided between groups of characters were originally variants on a theme, using the same characters and changing one or two factors. It, too, is something a bit different from what’s generally available. However, it took me several years to decide to bother finishing it, simply because it’s “weird” and I assumed no one would have any interest in it.
Somewhere in there, between Lamia and Yin-Yang, I started to figure something out, but it wasn’t until I expressly and specifically made the decision to not seek a publisher that I actually allowed myself to understand it.
I write stories. I write about people, and about what they want to accomplish, and what they go through. Settings are just frameworks for that, for me; plots are all about the characters, not about the Big Bad Guy who’s threatening to end reality as we know it. A novel filled with nothing but repeated sexual or kinky scenes would bore me to death, because that would be only one aspect of the characters’ lives, and I want to know everything about them. Much of the explicit early-draft content, and a huge amount of other content, never makes it into the final version, but it nonetheless colours and feeds it.
It doesn’t matter where that initial seed came from, or any of the other ideas that coalesce to form the whole. It doesn’t matter whether it comes from the part of me that society at least pretends to approve of, an intelligent and inquisitive and independent mind, or the part of me that reflects something our society finds deeply uncomfortable, a way of seeing people as individuals and not as members of categories and maybe especially the unconventional sexuality that is only one facet of it. What I write works, and that is the only thing of any importance at all.
So, where do my ideas come from? All of me. Everything that makes me who I am. The public face that people see, and the deep private parts of my own soul. I can no more stop having ideas for stories than I can stop eating, and for much the same reason. Sometimes the trick is less about finding ideas than it is about allowing yourself to acknowledge them and welcome them in and give yourself permission to go wherever they lead no matter where they came from.