Slipping Over The Line – my last post

This isn’t the post I’d planned to write when I proposed “Taboo Or Not Taboo” as this week’s topic.

 

I’d intended to attempt a light-hearted piece, accompanied by some provocative graphics, that discussed whether erotica needed to be inherently transgressive or whether we betray ourselves and our readers when we seek to make the violation of the sacrosanct arousing.

 

OK, when I say it like that it doesn’t sound light-hearted but I’d like to think that I’d have made it work.

 

Instead I find that I have quite a different message. Perhaps even the message that my subconscious was trying to send to me when I selected the topic. It is time for me to stop being Mike Kimera.

 

Taboo is derived from a Polynesian word meaning both sacred and forbidden. Taboos are are meant to be markers, lines we should not cross, that honour the sacred and protect us from following instincts that will diminish our humanity.

 

I am not by nature a rule follower. I am one of those who feels no need to respect the marks others have made when they label this or that behaviours as taboo. Sometimes I descend into a petty, “I’ll do it just to show they can’t stop me” kind of attitude.

 

Yet there are some things that you should not do, especially if no one has the power to stop you.

 

Today I realized that I have crossed a line that I should not have crossed and in doing so I have lost something precious to me.

 

I stopped writing a while back because there was too much emotional turmoil in my life and because I wanted to put my wife back in the centre of my world. I stopped for two years. Then I started again.

 

I’ve learnt that I need to write. I told myself that by writing again I was doing no harm, that in fact I might be doing myself some good by getting my emotions on the page.

 

I see now that it isn’t writing that’s the problem; it’s being Mike Kimera.

 

Mike Kimera is a name I hide behind. Mike Kimera pushes my imagination towards things that I will not admit to in public and which I do not incorporate in my own life. Mike Kimera is someone my wife doesn’t love.

 

The more time I spend as Mike Kimera, the less time I spend living my real life.

 

On the whole, I like Mike Kimera. That’s part of the problem. I’ve grown used to having him around, I’m proud of at least some of the stories that he’s written. I’m flattered and pleased that people read his stories and write to him.

 

It is the nature of taboo things to be attractive; if they held no attraction they wouldn’t need to be protected or forbidden.

 

I see now that, to be the person I want to be in my real life, to live with authenticity, I must stop mentally sneaking away to be someone else. I should spend that energy in my marriage.

 

Mike Kimera is a man who sounds like he always knows the answers. I am a man struggling to understand how I came to be where I am: unhappy with myself and unable fully to express the love that I feel for my wife.

 

I have decided that I will carry on writing, but not as Mike Kimera and not writing erotica. I will write stories I can share with my wife and show to my friends. I will still try to write the truth. I will still listen to hear what the truth tells me about myself.

 

I hope that I will find my way back to a place where expressing my love is as natural and as necessary as breathing.

 

My guest on the blog this week is Nikki Magennis, with a great post on book burning. I recommend it to you and I apologise to everyone for my sudden change in direction

 

This is my last post on “Oh Get A Grip”. I have been honoured to take part in this blog and I wish it continuing success.

 

My thanks to all of you who have read my stuff.

 

Good bye and thank you for your kindness.

Hope and Gloria – a work in progress

A while back I wrote “Photographic Memories” a story about a damaged photographer trying to find his way back to happiness. He said: The camera is a machine for trapping time. Flypaper for moments of truth.

That thought was in my head when I saw the black and white photograph below. It got me thinking about when the moment was and what truth it captured. My imagination led me to the first part of a story. I’ve shared it here as an illustration of where my ideas come from.

The text is of course fiction and does not based on any factual information about the women in the photograph.

Like all fiction, tt is only as true as the extent of your belief.

Enjoy.

 

Photograph by Hans Steiner

Hope and Gloria

© Mike Kimera 2011

 

“Thank you for agreeing to meet me, Ms. Denton.”

The researcher is young,  pretty and dressed to display her athletic form without actually revealing any of it. I assume that the publisher thought I would be more open in the presence of this fetching ingenue. Sadly it seems that the girl herself has not been briefed on her role and, instead of flirting with me,  she is speaking slowly in deference , I assume, to  my great age.

“Agreeing to meet you seemed to be the only way to avoid endless tedious phone calls with your boss. Is she always so anal about every detail? It seems to me that she is the sort of woman who would benefit from Rhett Butler’s advice to Scarlett O’Hara…”

I’ve clearly caught the girl off guard by attacking her boss and I’m fairly sure that she has never seen “Gone With The Wind” but one of the few privileges of age is being able to discomfit the young, so I  look her in the eye, lower my voice by an octave and say: “You need kissing badly. That’s what’s  wrong with you. You should be kissed and often and by someone who knows how.”

The poor girl’s eyes have gone wide. This one is as straight as a die, I think. There was at time when I would have taken that as a challenge, but not today.

“Do take a seat, my dear.” I say, as if nothing at all odd had happened.

She perches her tightly clad bum on the seat opposite me, crosses one leg over the other and leans forward in a way that may be meant to create intimacy.

“I’m sorry to trouble you with this, but my editor asked me to do some last minute verifications before your autobiography goes to press.”

Her smile takes her from pretty to adorable. I forgo the pleasure of asking her if she is accusing me of lieing.

“What is it that you would like to verify?”

“Well, the story you tell in Chapter Three is quite startling. My editor is excited, of course, but…”

“She’s worried that Gloria Smythe’s litigative descendants will try to sue? You can’t libel the dead, my dear. Your boss should know that.”

“Well, Gloria Smythe was the sex symbol of British Cinema in the 1950s. People have a special place for her in their hearts. We’re concerned that your story could attract a lot of bad press.”

“Don’t give me that ‘Nation’s Darling’ crap,” I say, allowing my irritation at the girl’s book-blub sentence to show. “Gloria’s relationship to sex was more than symbolic. She was a sexual omnivore with an insatiable appetite for the novel and the naive. The first time she ate me, I was both. Do you know, I think she only fucked me because my name is Hope and she couldn’t resist the opportunity for us to be Hope and Gloria?”

The girl actually blushed. Where do they find these people?

“The thing is, Ms. Denton, we would feel more confident in going to press if we had something that substantiates your version of events.”

My version of events. She makes it sounds as if having more than one version is a flaw rather than an inherent attribute of the human condition. Still, at least she had the backbone to raise the point.

“Well, Gloria is dead and her spineless excuse of a son burned any papers that he felt were inconsistent with his mother’s image. In those days we didn’t have the option of filming ourselves having sex and posting it to YouTube. Dear Christ, if we’d  been able to do that, Gloria’s film career would have been much more interesting. All I can offer you is this.”

I hand her a photograph and a journal. True to the ways of her generation, she looks at the photograph first.

“That’s me and Gloria. We were drying off from our swim. I’m the one looking at her. She’s the one looking into the distance.It was the last day of summer. The last day we were together. I was no longer either naive or novel. I didn’t know it then but Gloria had already lost her appetite for me.”

The girl, I really should have tried to remember her name, looks from the photograph to me and back again, trying to find that young swimmer in my face. She’s wasting her time of course. That swimmer drowned in grief decades ago.

“You both look so young.”

“I don’t think Gloria was ever really young. I on  the other hand was an absolute puppy. Look at me. Look at us.It is all there for anyone to see.”

“Who took the photograph?”

Hah, this girl may be brighter than I thought. That’s an excellent question.

“My mother. At the time I thought she knew nothing of what Gloria and I were doing. Certainly she never spoke of it. But a picture like that is not born of ignorance. My mother was addicted to seeing life through a lens. She took her camera with her everywhere. She once told me that life without a lens lacked focus. She always shot in black and white. She said that it removed the distraction of colour and the pretense of documentation and presented each picture for what it was, a choice on how to show the world to others.”

I realise that, while I’ve been evoking my mother’s ghost, my little fact-checker has opened the journal at the place that I had bookmarked.

“It’s my mother’s journal of course. I found it after she died. I rather wish I hadn’t. It demonstrated that while I’d never really known my mother, she had known everything about me.”

The girl looks up at me. Her mouth is open. She looks stunned. “Your mother…”

“…watched Gloria Smythe finger fuck me and then went back to her room and wrote it all down. Fascinating isn’t it?”

§§§§§§§§§§§§§§

Ok-That’s as far as the picture has taken me so far. I hope that the next piece will be an extract from the Jounral. If it arrives in my head I will bring it to you.

 

Not A Lot Of People Know That

Michael Caine convinced me that, combined with enough dry wit and self-effacing charm, trivia could be cool. Mind you, he also looked good in those horn-rimmed NHS specs that were the bane of my early teens.

I acquire trivia the way a white shirt acquires coffee stains; there’s no plan involved, I’m just certain that it’s going to happen.

I’ve always been able to play “Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon” without breaking a sweat. I grew up listening to radio stations where you had to be able to build chains at least seven songs long with each song sharing a lyric or a theme or a performer or a writer.

Things only became seriously uncool when I fell prey to addiction. At this point I should shuffle to my feet, hang my head, wring my hands and murmur: “My name is Mike and I’m addicted to etymology.”

As my fellow addicts will already know, etymology is the study of the true sense of a word – coming from the Greek word etymon meaning true sense and logos meaning reason, idea or word.

At first I told myself that I could handle etymology, that it was just a means to an end, that I was the user not the used. I rationalized that words were the instruments by which I brought meaning to my life, shaping my thoughts, memories and perceptions so it was only natural that I should want to know more about what words mean, where they came from, how they evolved, and how they are still changing.

By my late teens, even I had to admit that what started as interest had turned into addiction. I owned three etymology dictionaries. I lost hours following chains of meaning from one word to the next and yet seldom used these words in the presence of others.

I started acting out a school.  In the grip of my addiction I could not understand why teachers reacted badly when I explained that it was illogical to ask me not to run in corridors because corridor came from  correre, meaning to run and was originally used to describe galleries at the top of fortifications that soldiers could run along while remaining protected. Nor did I understand why they were unimpressed by my assertion that gym-kit was a contradiction in terms as gymnasium was originally a place for training naked, taking its roots from the word gymnos meaning naked.

As I matured, I came to accept, that non-addicts saw things differently.

Non-addicts used words as if they were blank Scrabble tiles, cramming into them whatever meaning seemed to fit the ear and then repeating it often in the hope of making it true.

Non-addicts seldom felt drawn to use a dictionary of any kind and those who did dip into them could stop after a single word if they wanted to.

Non-addicts did not feel the seductive pull of etymology and often branded the hard-won fruits of my research as trivia.

Not many people know this, but trivia is the plural of the word trivium meaning the place where three roads meet; implying well beaten ground that everyone has access to. Trivial became the descriptor for grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic. These were the artes sermocinales, or language skills and were seen as the least important three of the seven Liberal Arts.

By the way, the Liberal Arts were so named because the Romans believed they were the things that a Free Man needed to study to enlarge his intellect without being immediately useful for anything.

I accept that I will always be an addict. Like many high-functioning addicts I hide behind the mask of the creative process and tell people that I am a writer searching for the truth and not a wordster jonesing for his next high.

Did you know that Jonesing is believed to have become a term for addiction because of the high incidence of drug addicts who lived in Great Jones Alley, off Great Jones Street, between Broadway and Lafayette Street?

This is slang of course, and so not entirely respectable, but then slang was originally a term used to describe the secret language used by beggars and thieves to prevent outsiders from understanding them.

I could continue… beggars were originally lay brothers who helped mendicants.

But I should… Mendicant comes from the Latin mendicantem meaning beggar but also cripple (menda meaning fault of physical defect), which creates a link to mendacious meaning to lie and deceive.

STOP.

Writing Blind

Writing Blind

They say that the first bite is with the eye, but it’s not the bite that you remember, it’s just the one that lures you in, the tease but not the taste.

If you close your eyes, clear your mind and summon up the memory of the last good sex you had, what do you recall?

Is it what your partner looked like?

Or their taste in your mouth?

Or the wet warmth of their sweat-slick skin?

Or the sound they made, gut-deep and involuntary when the rapture finally hit?

Or that sensation, immediately afterwards, when you and they momentarily merged into an us warmed by a post-coital glow?

The truth does not lie in what you see; it is etched in flesh by sweat and tears.

The eye is too easily tricked by glamour, too readily rejects the unusual, too willingly settles for observing without touching. Those who feed only with the eye breath without living.

It is the eye that gives porn it meretricious sparkle. It by-passes the thoughts and emotions and memories that make us who we are and clamps itself to our optic nerve, juicing us up until we jerk and twitch like severed chicken-legs strapped to a car battery.

Perhaps I have a twisted view on this. My eyesight is not standard issue. I have no binocular vision, so no depth of field. I literally lack perspective. I can’t see the 3D in 3D movies, and I’m colour blind. I long ago learned that what I see must be tested before it is trusted

Not surprisingly perhaps, my stories rarely start with what my eyes tell me. I write with my ears instead, most often starting with a voice, not a face. My characters speak to me and I write down what they say.

My two most recent stories start more or less with the first thing that the character said to me.

“Bar Snack” starts

“Sandie was my type of woman: alone, a little drunk, more than a little overweight and flashing her flabby flesh like a fritzing neon sign on a rundown whorehouse.”

I can hear this man. His accent is modified received pronunciation with just enough of the edge shaved off to stop him from sounding posh.  I know immediately that I don’t like him. He is a repellent mix of high insight and low humanity. He is intelligent, introspective, even witty, which makes it  harder to forgive that he is a narcissistic prick bastard.

What I don’t know is what he looks like. It turned out that the plot required him to be attractive enough to be out of Sandie’s league but that is all I know about his appearance.

Can you see this man? Have you met him? Would a physical description from me have helped you see him any more clearly?

“The Sisters” starts

“My name is Jonas Kale. I am forty-six years old. I was married two days ago. By dawn the Sisters will have taken the last of my breath from me and I will be dead. Most of my strength has already been drained away. The face I see in the mirror is that of an old man, hollowed out by life.

I have determined to spend my last hours recording what has happened to me. I know it will be difficult to believe. I ask you to remember that I am a dyeing man with nothing to gain from lies and nothing left to lose from the truth. I do not intend to rail against my fate. I am the architect of my own demise. I hope that by exposing the Sisters for what they are I may save some other soul from their clutches.”

This man’s voice tells me that he is in shock. He knows what’s happening to him, he just cannot quite absorb it. He is a self-regarding man, slightly pompous, slightly too serious, who has somehow become engaged in something that will suck his life away.

Can you see him? Do you know the kind of man you would cast to play him in the movie version? Perhaps not quite yet, but by the end of the story you will see him even though I never describe him.

The only time that I start with an image is when a painting catches my attention. Even then, I don’t really write about what I see, I write about the voice I hear from the painter.

It seems to me that painters are even more obsessive than writers. They spend weeks focused on making a single image perfect. When they get it right, I can spend months, sometimes years, navigating the layers of meaning that they have  built up one brushstroke at a time

I’m currently drawn to the work of the work of Katherine Doyle.  The picture below is one of hers.

Katherine Doyle is sometimes described as a realist figurative painter. It seems to me that the reality she presents is very specific. It is a riddle hiding in plain sight. The images seem natural but they are not in the least neutral. The colours, the point of view, the body language, create an atmosphere that has a distinctive emotional flavour.

There is a secret in the picture of this young woman that I can almost grasp. It calls to me just a plainly as the voices I hear in my head so I have set about trying to write a story based on it.

The process is a little like holding a séance: I clear my mind and listen for voices. In this case I hear a woman’s voice: not the woman in the painting, the woman looking down at her. I sense love tinged with guilty desire, heightened by fear and sustained by hope. I don’t know her story yet, but I know that she wants it to be told. Perhaps, if I keep my eyes closed and write blind, she will speak to me.

If she does, I’ll let you know.

Promoting The Digital Me

I’m an amateur writer. I’m fortunate enough to be able to make my living doing something else so I’ve taken the view that I don’t need to be paid for what I write. Publishers get twitchy if they can’t pay you – paying you is how they know they’ve bought something – so I sign a contract that donates any income to the Red Cross. So far they’ve been happy with that.

This is self-interest rather than altruism on my part. Not having to get paid is very liberating. It means that I only have to self-publicise to attract readers and let them know where they can find my stuff.

The self that I promote – Mike Kimera – is an internet construct. He only exists as the guy who writes erotic stories and contributes to blogs. It’s logical then, that his existence is promoted primarily through the internet.

More by luck than judgement, Kimera was born with a name that is not widely used, so if you google for him you come up with list like this full of links to his stuff. This makes him easy to find once you know you want to look for him.

I brought Kimera to people’s attention by getting my stories on ERWA and Clean Sheets, excellent venues that are widely read and have a reputation for good quality. Getting Kimera published there made him visible to editors like Susannah Indigo, Maxim Jakubowski, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Alison Tyler, Lisabet Sarai and Seneca Mayfair, who have been willing to publish my stories, and in in Susannah’s case, even to edit a collection of them.

Once Kimera had things in print, I promoted them primarily through lists on Amazon and on Good Reads and I set him up with a blog “Inside Mike Kimera”

I did this for about nine years and slowly Mike Kimera started to get some name recognition but I had no idea how many people read my stories or what most of them thought.

Last year, with help from the internet savvy Remittance Girl, I set up a website on WordPress for my stories: “Mike Kimera’s Erotic Fiction”

This is perhaps the ultimate self-promotion on the net. Vanity publishing of a kind. I invest in it because I can see the traffic I’m getting and which stories are being read and because some of the readers take the time to comment on what I write.

WordPress provides an impressive stats tool that lets me know that I typically get between 100 and 200 visits a day and that on some days, for reasons that I don’t understand, I hit up to 280. I know that hits go up as I publish new stuff and that the more regularly I publish, the higher the average number of hits.

I also know what searches bring people to my site. Last month, for the first time, the top of the search list was no longer “Dominance and Submission” but “Mike Kimera”. I was very happy about that.

The website changed things for me in ways I didn’t expect.

I had to come up with a visual identity for Mike Kimera. Not just the Gravatar that comes after my name but a look and feel for the site that sets some expectation of its content. I had a lot of fun with this and it started to shape how I looked at my own work.

I had to find ways of classifying my stories and tagging them to make them easier to navigate. This made me analyse my work and sensitised me to the themes that run through them.

I started to get comments from regular readers and I look forward to finding out what they think about a particular piece.

Once the website was up, I found my way to twitter. I’d never understood what twitter was for but I was intrigued to watch what Remittance Girl was doing there so I signed up. I discovered what fun it is to write twitterfiction live in little slices of 140 characters a time and I discovered that when I posted links to new stuff on my site, I got more readers.

Recently it has occurred to me that Mike Kimera now has a brand. People read his stuff with an expectation of what they will find. For the most part this helps me to have happy readers. Sometimes it means I disappoint. Clean Sheets posted “Sex With Owen” a few weeks ago. The title is perhaps poorly chosen because the piece, while graphic, is a kind of romance. One reader commented that the story wasn’t up to my usual standards and that he preferred my earlier, grittier stuff.

Which poses the question, what happens when I want to write outside the Mike Kimera brand?

At the moment I have two thoughts about this: I’m adding catagories to my website to incorporate the mainstream and erotic romance stories into the brand and I’m setting up another website for stuff that is too dark or too violent for Mike Kimera.

I’m considering creating another internet construct for this: Kim Remaike an anagram of Mike Kimera but more sexually ambiguous, with a less Western background and a fascination with the beast within us and what happens when it runs free. The look of the website is edgier and pulls on the erotic images (copyright free) of Egon Schiller.

The main thing that gives me pause is whether I have the energy for two internet constructs or whether I should just show people that there is more to Mike Kimera.

What do you think?

Writing For Happiness

I’ve never been good at happiness.

Maybe it’s the way I’m wired: serotonin seems to kick in more slowly with me.

Maybe it’s the way I was raised: to be suspicious, not to hope for too much, not to be surprised if I get less, never to let others know what I want in case they try to take it from me.

Whatever the cause, the effect is that happiness is not something that I have a lot of experience of.

This is not as dire as it sounds.

For me, happiness is like a favourite holiday: I’m always glad when it comes around, I look forward to it, I cherish the memory of it, but I don’t expect it to happen every day. Mostly, I’ll settle for not being depressed, afraid, lonely or miserable.

Over the years I’ve developed the habit of distancing myself from immediate emotional reactions. Partly that’s a natural pre-disposition; partly it’s a professional hazard. These days, the emotion most likely to penetrate my defenses is anger.

I’m really good at anger. I do the full range from the slow smolder, through vicious wrath, on to all-consuming rage. Anger, like luxury, comes as a guest to take a slave. Anger is the enemy of happiness: mine, the people around me and particularly the person that I’m angry at.

I started to write out of loneliness more than anything else.

I was traveling too much, alone too much, disliking myself and my surroundings too much. I needed an escape. Alcohol doesn’t work for me, I need way too much of it before it has an effect and the effect often leads to a clarity of thought and vulnerability to emotion that turns an escape route into a cage. Drugs have never appealed; there seems to be too much loss of control involved. I’m not a people person. I hate small talk and abhor rooms crowded with people that I don’t know.

So I turned inwards, not pursuing happiness, just inuring myself from life. To my surprise, I discovered happiness.

It turned out that, for me, writing is what the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes as a “flow experience.” Csíkszentmihályi was one of the few psychologists who treated happiness as problematic. He felt that happiness needed to be explained. His research revealed that many people experienced joy, sometimes even rapture, when they could immerse themselves in a task that took their full attention, that was challenging but at which they could succeed and which required them to harness their emotions.

Some people get into the flow in sports or playing video games or dropping their bike into a perfect line through a curve. I get there through writing.

When I write, time slows, the world fades and there is nothing but me and my imagination. It is, in its way, a little bubble of happiness.

At first I thought that I had found a way to daily happiness, but the more time I spent in the bubble the more I realized that the activity was similar to masturbation: a pleasurable relief but not a sustainable source of joy. I began to understand that real joy, real happiness, required something more: love.

As the words produced by my time in the bubble spread out behind me like a snail-trail, I saw that, subconsciously, I was using my writing to tackle all those things that impeded me from living a loving life. My characters, like me, were largely not happy people. Unlike me, they all tried to do something about that: to reach out to others, to make a change, to seek a form of redemption, maybe even to achieve happiness.

Looking back, I realized that I was telling myself a story, sending myself a message. My emotions had found a way to send me an email.

Surprisingly, some of the emails they sent me where funny. I discovered that I could write about people who were witty and kind and offered each other love. It took me longer than it should have to realize that these were actually the most important emails of all.

The message was a trite truism: those who love themselves and open themselves to others spread happiness like a contagion. Love is the mechanism through which happiness is passed on.

O.K. You all knew that. I knew that. I just couldn’t bring that knowledge to be an active part of my life.

My writing, the content of it, the need for it, the inspiration behind it, slowly convinced me that I needed to love myself a little more and I needed to give that love to others.

Oddly, this resulted in me stopping writing for a while. I decided to get to know my wife again; to see if I could show her the love that I felt, rather than assuming that she knew it was there beneath my angry, difficult exterior. I wanted to centre myself on that love.

Of course, life is never so simple. We went through two years in the shadow of other people’s pain and death. But we went through it together.

When I started to write again, I let my subconscious play its established role and waited to see what message I would receive.

I smiled when I saw that I had started to write stories that were about love and perhaps even romance; about people who were pursuing happiness even though they knew that they might not find it.

I’m still deciding what to do about that. Maybe if I write some more, I’ll find out.

To Boldly Cliché

So, I started to write this devastatingly clever analyse of the function of cliché in the collective subconscious and its role in dreamweaving in Neuro Linguistic Programming and died of boredom part way through. I decided the only way to rescue the post was to fall back on that old cliché ‘show – don’t tell’. This little tongue-in-cheek fantasy was the result.

Enjoy.


To Boldly Cliché

© Mike Kimera 2011

“Is that the Cliché Guy?” I asked Molly.

“Yeh. I told you he was hot. Wait ’til you hear the Brit accent. He could read my grocery list aloud and make it sound sexy. When he reads from his erotica stuff I turn into a puddle.”

I’d let Molly drag me along to her Creative Writing class to see her latest lust object, partly so I could get her to shut up about him and partly because the title of the lecture intrigued me: “To Boldly Cliché – going where other writers fear to tread.” I’d heard a lot of clichéd lectures in my time, but I’d never known a lecturer who advertised that they were doing it on purpose.

“So,” Molly said, almost fizzing with excitement. “Waddaya think of him?”

She was right of course, he was hot. But I wasn’t going to give that to her straight away. Besides, there was something off about the guy; something that wasn’t what it seemed; something that was maddeningly familiar but which I couldn’t name.

“Well, he certainly looks like a cliché. I’d say he’s playing tall dark handsome stranger, pretending to be an academic.”

“You think the geek-glasses are fake?”

“Well, even if they’re real, the tweed jacket with patches on the elbows is way too ‘central casting’ to be authentic, even for a Brit.”

Molly didn’t look pleased at my description, so I threw in a rider: “The jacket does fit him rather well though doesn’t it?”

Molly smiled, leaned towards me conspiratorially and said, “A body like that would look good in anything. Personally, I’m imagining a thong and a tan. ”

I laughed. People turned to look, including Cliché Guy.

When his eyes found us, Molly pretended to be looking for something in her bag. I met his gaze. Behind those ugly glasses, he had beautiful eyes. He raised one eyebrow, gave a hint of a smile, as if we shared a secret and then turned back to his notes.

Not here five minutes and already I was living a cliché; our gazes meeting across a crowded room creating a small bubble of intimacy between two strangers, followed by my heart going all pit-a-pat. And all for a strange guy in glasses.

Suddenly I knew who Cliché Guy was pretending to be; he was Clarke Kent all dressed up to give a lecture. Did that mean he was Superman underneath?

Sheash, it had been hard enough to concentrate when I had Molly’s thong image in my head, now I was seeing the guy ripping his shirt open to show me his big S.

I was about to share this idea with Molly when Cliché Guy started to talk.

“Good evening, everyone. I’m Toby Lambert-Bryce and I’m here to tell you about the joy of clichés”

Toby Lambert-Bryce? He had to have made that up. What kind of a parent lands their child with a name like Toby? And was I the only one with traumatised flash-backs to those drawings of the creepy guy in the beard in my mother’s dog-eared copy of ‘The Joy of Sex’?

Apparently I was. Everyone else was listening to Toby.

“Cliché is actually onomatopoeic. Back in the days when movable type was set by hand, it made sense to pre-set the most commonly used phrases into metal blocks of type that could be dropped into the metal matrix rather than build them letter by letter each time. French typesetters named these pre-set blocks after the noise they made as they slotted into the matrix – cliché .

“The typesetters literally knew how many clichés a writer dropped into their text. It’s a talent many editors would benefit from today.”

He waited half a beat for laughter but none came. I figured he’d lost them at onomatopoeic – which sounded like the kind of volcanic island where Fay Wray gets up close and personal with King Kong. Still, I liked the way he said cliché – with the French accent and a lot of passion.

Addams Family flash: “Ah, Tish. You spoke French”. Now I knew why Gomez reacted like that. It was definitely sexy.

I shifted in my seat to catch Toby’s attention, then I gave him my best ‘You’re doing great and I’m so supportive’ smile.

“It’s tempting to dismiss clichés as the sign of lazy thinking but I believe that would be a mistake. Clichés are the thread from which we weave our understanding of the world. As the much maligned Samuel Goldwyn once said, ‘What we need is new clichés’.”

Again, no laughter. Not even when he used an accent for Samuel Goldwyn’s words. I looked around to see why this was a such a tough house. Then I realised that the group was mainly female and mid-thirities and up and they weren’t really listening to him because they were too busy eating him with their eyes. Poor old Toby had just been dropped into SPECTRE’s piranha tank and hadn’t even noticed yet.

“Clichés are the genes in the metaphorical DNA of our collective subconscious. They are short pieces of code that hold a meaning we all take for granted, so much so, that we have trouble seeing the cliché itself. Clichés evolve from the discourse we hold with ourselves as a society. I believe that clichés are best understood as organisms that have a life-cycle.”

At this point two things happened, Toby started to give his talk directly to me, as I seemed to be the only one reacting to his content (or because he’d fallen madly in love with me the moment our eyes met across a crowded room – yeah, right), and I began to be distracted by what he was saying. It was a bit too dressed-up for its own good but it made sense to me.

“Clichés start life, in their larval state as it were, as insights. Ways of seeing that are at once so distinctive and so accurate that everyone goes ‘ah ha, that’s what I meant’ or ‘of course it is so’. “

Of course it is so? Who says that out loud? Toby desperately needed a translator if he was going to get his message across to Earthlings.

“It is the originality and accuracy of the cliché that results in its widespread use and takes it to the next stage of its life-cycle. The more the cliché is used, the less it is really seen. Its impact is blunted. Its meaning is not lost, but rather is taken for granted. The cliché becomes part of our collective gestalt. It sets our expectations about the truth a writer is describing. It is the establishing shot in the movie, the leitmotiv in the opera, the three basic chords in a Status Quo song. Without clichés, originality would have no place to live.”

I waited for the applause. Anyone who can build Status Quo into a creative writing lecture deserves applause. None came.

“Do you understand what he’s saying?” I whispered to Molly.

“Not a word. But I love the way that he says it. Except, what was with the German accent. Is he faking the Brit thing or what.”

“Gestalt and leitmotiv are German words.”

“Well I knew they weren’t English. You’d think he’d use English in a creative writing class, wouldn’t ya?”

Molly always makes me smile. She puts the dumb act on of course. She thinks it makes her less threatening to men. I think it makes her so non-threatening that they wipe their feet on her as they walk out of her bedroom but I try not to say that out loud.

Toby was still talking but, like everyone else, I wasn’t listening any more. I was watching him remove that horrible Tweed jacket. The shirt underneath fitted him even better than the jacket had. Broad shoulders, narrow waist, hips a teen model would kill for but best of all, when he turned around to hang up his jacket we all got a view of his tight, chino-clad butt. He even managedto make Dockers look good.

“The final stage of the cliché life-cycle comes when it is so over-used that it loses its authenticity, its meaning changes and it becomes either a parody of itself, a source of humour, a sort of Quixotic metaphor that once slew dragons and now tilts only at windmills or it becomes its own shadow and is used to undermine the truth it was once a token of.”

He smiled when he finished that sentence. He shouldn’t have smiled. He’d lost everyone in the room. He should have been feeling at least disappointed if not anxious. There was something else going on here.

I leaned forward to give him my full attention and tried to ignore Molly saying, “Are you starting to drool over him?”

I’d answer that question when I’d worked out the puzzle.

“I’m here today to ask you, as writers, to intervene in the cliché life-cycle. To do a bit of genetic engineering if you will. Don’t bury clichés in the literary landfill; recycle them. Look into the heart of what made the cliché distinctive and insightful. Sharpen the blunt edges. Scrape off the cultural barnacles and find the metal underneath.”

Toby was looking at me now. That hint of a smile was back. I was sure that this was a clue to whatever was going on here.

“Sometimes all it takes is to update one small part of the cliché. Ripley in ‘Alien’ spawned a whole new trope of kick-ass female warriors. The part was originally written for a man. If it had been played by a man, would we have really seen, Ripley? Once the director cast Sigourney Weaver, the edges of the cliché became so sharp they cut themselves a niché in our collective imaginations.”

Ah, now things were getting clearer. I started to see what Toby was up to.

“Sometime a cliché can be used to bait-and-switch the audience towards a new truth. Start with the happy couple clichés: meeting, fighting, reconciling, marrying – but add in some serial-killer secret-identity clichés for one or both of the couple and you have yourself a ‘Prittzi’s Honor’ or a ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith.’.”

That’s when I finally understood what Toby was doing. Even without seeing him in a thong I knew for sure now that the guy had balls.

“In closing, I’d ask all of you to boldly cliché in your work. I assure you, you will be writing at the final frontier. I hope you enjoyed the show folks. Have a great evening.”

There was spatter of applause, then Toby put his jacket back on and people started to file out.

“Wait for me at the door,” I said to Molly, “I’d like a word with Toby.”

“I thought you would.”

Like I said, Molly only pretends to be dumb.

Toby waited for me. He looked relaxed and amused. He had every right to be.

“So, does the college know what you’re doing?” I said,

“That I’m giving a Creative Writing Class on clichés? Sure.”

The Brit accent was gone now, but the smile was still there.

“But they don’t know about your Performing Arts project?”

“No, Professor, they don’t.”

“You recognised me?”

“As soon as you came in. I took your class on the need for a return to narrative at UCLA. You were the hottest prof I’d ever met.”

He took off the geek-glasses. His eyes were a startlingly deep blue.

“I don’t remember you.”

“Tragic isn’t it?”

I was thinking more that not noticing him might have saved me from a serious breach of professional ethics.

“And now you’re doing a Masters in Performance Art?”

“Yes. This is part of my thesis work.”

“And what is your thesis?”

“I’m exploring the role of cliché in dissemblance. The creation of an unreliable narrator that everyone thinks is reliable at first because it’s so clichéd they don’t assess it.”

“The bait-and-switch?”

“Exactly. My contention is that people always believe the body language regardless of the words.”

For the first time he gave me a full wattage smile. My body was telling me that it wanted to speak his language. I ignored it and tried to stay on topic.

“And you have all this on film so that you can analyse the reaction of the audience to the different clichés you present them with?”

“Yes, with the college’s permission of course.”

There was a pause in which a great deal was not said.

“Would it be too clichéd if I asked you to come and have coffee with me?” he said.

My heart did a back-flip and I had to struggle to prevent myself from grinning like an idiot.

“Well,” I said, “I’ll agree on one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“Open your shirt and show me what you’re wearing underneath.”

“Hah, I didn’t think you’d spot that.” he said as he unbuttoned his blue Oxford-weave button-down to reveal a Super Man T-shirt.

“There’s a Starbucks around the corner,” I said, linking my arm through his.

As we walked towards the door, Molly gave me an evil grin, waived and left.

Five Things I’ve Learnt Through Writing

1. Writing, when I do it as well as I can, is even more fun than reading.

It absorbs me totally. There is nothing else that I want at that moment than to write.

2. Having written means a lot less than the act of writing.

Once a story is complete and published (web or print) it’s no longer really mine. At best, the story is like an old lover for whom you have affection but with whom you are no longer intimate. You know each other well but you’ve both moved on. Neither of you are who you were when you were together. At worst the story becomes an ex-colleague that you discover rather belatedly, you never really liked and are glad not to have to spend time with.

3. To beware of the appeal of the next story…

the one that is nudging your imagination, rubbing itself against your ankles and curling its tail around your calf to convince you that you should ditch the half-completed tale that is anyway dying beneath your fingers and move on to something new and fresh and eager.

It sometimes turns out to be sweet but more often deserts you before your relationship is consummated in print, leaving you regretting the tale you heartlessly abandoned and to which you now hesitate to return.

4. That the more you write, the less you know about yourself and the more you know about others.

You know more about others because writing fiction demands that you look at the world through many eyes. To wrestle the story onto the page you must live behind those eyes, see what they see, feel what it is to be them. I find that that kind of writing decreases my eagerness to judge.

You know less about yourself because you become aware of the vast tracts of unvisited landscape that your imagination and perhaps the you that is really you, inhabits and you know that you cannot map it all. The landscape is too large and its attributes are not fixed and you wonder how, if you do not know yourself, others can possibly think that they know you?

5. Trying to write changes how you read

You see things clearly that, as a non-writing reader, were no more than fleeting impressions. You were perhaps always aware of the writer’s voice or power of visualisation or gift for dialogue but you probably didn’t find yourself looking at the changes of tense, the modes of exposition, the choice of whether or not to follow the rules of grammar and punctuation.

This is probably why writers are advised to read.

Have you every seen dancers working out choreography? One will try a move; another will copy it and add a step or two. The dancers feed off each other. You can see the eager “I wanna try that” response to the new and the clever and the respect for the perfectly timed and executed standard.

Now writers are not performance artists but they can still feed of on another’s work, still have that “Wow, I want to try that” reaction.

“Show, don’t tell” – it’s a cop out

“Show, don’t tell” is becoming the editorial mantra of the MTV generation with Lit Fic aspirations  and a whole set of creative writing courses behind them.

Of course there are times when show is a lot better than tell but the aversion to tell is a fad that I think comes from a limited fiction diet.

Show rather than tell is the natural preference of a generation who see the film before they read the book.

They want their fiction to preserve the myth that they are free agents who draw their own conclusion from the scenes presented to them. Fine when it works but surely that is not the only way to read?

It seems that the post-baby-boom generation is afraid of the authorial voice because it might suggest that someone actually wrote the story.  It seems they believed Barthes when he told them the author is dead.

So here you are, the author, with something important to say and a succinct, pithy, direct and original way of saying it and the editor is going:

“No, don’t tell me, I’ll get it in a minute. I know you’re trying to express that lost-sock-in-the-laundromat-of-life existential panic thing the French are always on about”.

It’s like trying to talk about a book to someone who would rather play charades.

It doesn’t matter that you tell rather than show as long as you tell well. That’s why they call it storytelling.

One of my favourite opening lines to a novel  demonstractes great telling. It comes from Anne Tyler’s “Back When We Were Grown Ups”

“Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.”

Imagine Ms. Tyler’s editor putting “show don’t tell” in the margin next to that.

I’m not saying that showing is wrong; it’s something any writer needs to be able to do. I’m saying that only showing is a cop out. Part of the challenge of creative writing is to tell so that your readers will not just believe you but will feel fully engaged in what you are describing.

Rock Magic


In my twenties, when I was still trying to figure out what I wanted and what I was able to get, I joined the ranks of sharp-suited bright young things climbing the corporate ladder. I was good at what I did and made rapid progress. Yet every promotion made me feel more and more like a fake. My suit was a costume, almost a disguise. 

The real me emerged when I put on my leathers and helmet at the end of the day, threw my leg over my bike, kick-started the engine and wove through the all those boring cars until I found a stretch of road where I could open up the throttle and scream at the top of my voice.

That feeling of power and freedom and truth is what Rock means to me.

Rock is a fist that smashes through my intellect, closes around my heart and drags me to new places.

Even now, it enables me to shed my corporate camouflage and enter a parallel universe where I’m a working class hero with a flair for words and a passion for living dangerously in the here and now.

I grew up on stadium bands like Led Zeppelin, Rainbow and Deep Purple, moved on to Bon Jovi, Meatloaf, and Whitesnake and now follow Nickleback, Linkin Park, Green Day and Evanescence.

My most intense experience of Rock was my first big stadium gig back in the 80’s. Meatloaf was playing and I needed to hear “Bat Out Of Hell” live. I went by bike of course. The woman who would become my wife and was already my centre of gravity, rode pillion. She looked wonderful. Her long blonde hair flew out irrepressibly from beneath her helmet. The biker jacket emphasised the narrowness of her waist and the fullness of her hips. When she swung up behind me, legs spread, arms around my waist, I felt so alive that it my body seemed too small a space to contain all that joyous hunger.

At first we were just one bike in a river of cars. Then other bikes merged into the traffic and wordlessly we became a group. The group grew into a horde as we reached the stadium. We were legion and we were strong.

Meatloaf performed Rock magic that night. He pulled in the energy from all our nameless yearnings, amplified it and sent it crashing back over us in a tsunami of sound that transformed us into a single organism moving to a beat stronger and more urgent than our own hearts.

I dance about as well and as easily as an elephant on roller-skates but my wife’s body seems made to express music. As I watched her move beside me that night I knew I would never see anything that I wanted more.

A while back, I decided to try and capture some of that Rock magic in a story. I wrote “Brave Enough To Cry”, about a rock singer who falls for a country and western star.

Of course stories never go quite the way you expect and what came out was filled with as much sadness as joy but I think Rock is like that, it lets us see the truth about ourselves and sometimes that is too much to bear.

Perhaps the most challenging thing about writing the story was that I had to come up with the lyrics for his songs. This was something I’d never done before and it left me with a great respect for those who do this well.

Below I’ve included the start of the story with first song.

Excerpt from “Brave Enough To Cry” by Mike Kimera

All the stations are playing Jonathan’s songs today. MTV play his three best videos once an hour back-to-back and then flip between a rockumentary of the “Lubed and Loaded” tour and a making-of-the-video for his single, “Now I know why Viagra is blue”.

I’m at the can’t stage: can’t sleep, can’t cry any more, can’t stop thinking about him, can’t forgive him for dying.

What the fuck am I supposed to do now?

Grieve and move on, that’s what my mother would say. She has always moved on easily. She never told me that grieving could be so hard. I’m locked behind a wall of glass, deafened by echoes of my pain and loss.

Then the song comes on. The only one we ever wrote together. The one everyone thinks is about how we met, but is really about how we would have liked to have met.

I told Jonathan that he’d never sell the song unless he changed the title and half of the lyrics. “You can’t expect MTV to play a song called, ‘She dresses pure country, but she fucks like rock n roll’” I said.

He just raised an eyebrow and said, in his best British officer-class voice, “Who could possibly object to a song with the word ‘Pure’ in the title?”

It took me months before I realized that I was the one being naive. The song went to Number 1 in the UK the week that the BBC banned it and became so popular in the US that MTV played it under the title “Pure Country” and dubbed over the bits it couldn’t stomach.

I turn up the sound and give my full attention to the TV. There we are, young and beautiful in the way that only a skilled camera man and a lighting crew can make you. The sight of Jonathan, lean and dangerously handsome, takes my breath away. He’s the leather-clad bad boy and I’m the cowgirl of your dreams. There’s no way to tell that he went to Sandhurst or that I grew up in NYC. The attraction between us is so obvious and so physical that the words of the song seem mild in comparison.

Jonathan has, damn – I will NOT cry – Jonathan had a singing voice as distinctive as Springsteen’s or Cobain’s: not good, not trained, but potent and unique and impossible to forget. When he sang, that my-family-have-served-in-the-Guards-for-generations voice disappeared and someone proudly humble, soulfully aggressive and irresistibly sexual emerged. Add in the icy blue eyes, the thick dark hair and the beautifully asymmetrical face and you have yourself an icon.

I pull my knees up under my chin, close my eyes and lose myself in his voice and our lyrics.

I was drinkin in a roadhouse Saw her dancin ‘cross the floor My eyes just couldn’t leave her She made my skin feel raw

With a smile on her lips and a swayin of her hips

She was dressed pure country But I knew she’d fuck like rock ‘n roll Yeah she was dressed pure country But I wanted to fuck like rock ‘n roll

The nearest Jonathan had ever been to a roadhouse was watching Patrick Swayze movies but when he sang the words, you believed in him. That was the thing, I always believed in him, even when I knew I shouldn’t.

My foot got to tappin My heart picked up the beat I knew she was the woman That God sent me to meet.

Had a smile on my lips And my eyes on her hips

She was dressed pure country But I hoped she’d fuck like rock ‘n roll Yeah she was dressed pure country But I needed to fuck like rock ‘n roll

Jonathan was an atheist but he couldn’t resist roping God in on his side. “God is on the side of the big battalions” he’d say, imitating his father. Then he’d grin and say, in a phony cockney accent, “Wanna see me battalion, pretty lady?” I smile at the thought of him and choose to ignore the tear that is rolling down my cheek

So I took her in my arms ‘n span her ‘cross the floor She blushed when I touched her But I could see she wanted more

From the smile on her lips And my hands on her hips

The blushing bit is true. Jonathan could light me up just by brushing his thumb along my forearm. When he kissed me, standing behind me, pulling my shoulders back against his chest, lowering his mouth onto my neck, I understood what it meant to be consumed by lust.

I said, you look pure country She said, I fuck like rock n roll So I undressed pure country And we fucked like rock n roll Yeah we fucked like rock n roll

I’ve been asked so many times, usually by fat men with cameras in their pudgy hands, “What does it mean, Carol – to fuck like rock n roll?” It used to annoy me. It never bothered Jonathan, he’d just smile at the guy, lean over close as if about to share a secret, and say quietly, “Ask your wife to explain it to you.”

No one ever had to explain it to us. When we were together, sex was the backbeat of our lives, constantly present in every glance, every fleeting touch. When we were alone together, the guitar riffs would start and my blood would sing, clothes would be flung off, limbs would tangle and then he’d be in me or I’d be on him and it was like jamming: picking up a song you knew and seeing where the two of you could take it that it hadn’t been before. You both play and you both listen and you both look in each others eyes and you need to smile so bad that you can’t help but pump up the volume.

If you want to read the rest, go here.

Turning “Once Upon A Time” into “Every Time Until One Of Us Dies”

and they lived happily ever after.”

Those words at the end of a story always sounded like a blessing to me as a child. I would repeat them out loud, like a spell or a chant.

But I wasn’t interested in how the “ever after” worked. I never gave it a thought. Winning the right to the ever after was much more important than how you lived it.

Happily ever after was a blessing, not a prophecy. It was meant to mark the fact that love, true love, heart-stopping, once-in-a-life-time, struck-by-lightning love, had triumphed despite all that fate and circumstance could throw at it. It is this transcendent moment of blissful fruition that is meant to last for ever after in our hearts.

In my view, a Romance novel that doesn’t deliver that transcendent moment short changes the reader in the same way that a country house murder mystery would if the no one found out who the killer was.

If I read a novel that declares itself to be a Romance with a capital R, I expect to be taken on a very specific journey. I want the novel to be a cathartic experience. It should have at least two people that I care about and who deserve something more and better than a life of shallow compromise, or corrosive loneliness, or bitter regret. It should subject them to the misunderstandings, injustices, social constraints, fears, small acts of malice and major misfortunes that regularly rob us of our happiness, and it should allow the two central characters to recognise and act upon the fact that their happiness depends upon their potentail to offer each other love, make each other complete, become together something greater and more wonderful than they could ever be apart.

I know that real life isn’t like this. Romance isn’t about real life, it’s about the everyday magic that love can work, it’s about the world as we would like it to be, it’s about our dreams coming true.

The purpose of Romance is to transcend real life – that is why it needs to have that “Happy Ever After” ending.

I enjoy reading romances but I am not temperamentally suited to writing them.

In my day to day life, I am deeply distrustful of glamour and charisma, both of which seem to me to be a form of deception.

I am sceptical of the honesty or self-knowledge of men who claim to love at first sight; I cannot imagine what such love is built on other than a hormonal surge or conditioned response that is bound to fade with time. How can they love a woman they do not know? What is such a love worth?

I doubt the sincerity of the big romantic gestures. They seem to me to be chat-up lines with extended choreography, self-aggrandizing clichés that spring not from love or from a deep knowledge of the woman’s needs but from the man’s desire to be attractive to a woman he wants to fuck.

As you can imagine, this makes it hard for me to write the male romantic lead.

While Romance may be beyond me, I do frequently find myself writing about love. Love is something we do not choose and cannot control. Love can be a source of happiness or despair, of selflessness or jealousy, love can change who we are.

Ironicly, it seems to me that a relationship built on the props of Romance is unlikely to survive the move from “once upon a time” to “every time until one of us dies” while real love at least has a chance of growing strong enough to create a happy ever after.

Perhaps because I write about love, it turns out that I have written a story that describes a Happy Ever After. I’ve attached it below. You can decide for yourselves whether any romance is involved.

“The Last Taboo”

(c) Mike Kimera 2008

Most men lie about sex. I don’t know why. We talk about it often and loudly in all those places where men gather without women. We talk about who we’d like to fuck and how and sometimes where. We brag about our performance on one-night-stands or with whores or with the wives of friends. But, to my ears, these conversations lack authenticity. They have about them a whistling-to-show-I’m-not-afraid-of-the-dark quality that is more than a little pathetic.

I am usually silent when these conversations take place. No one in my circle of male acquaintances, hereafter referred to as, ‘The Lads’, questions this. I was never a handsome man and I am no longer a young one. I think the assumption, in the language of male-(don’t worry, we’re all hetero here, honest)-bonding, is that “Fat Frank isn’t getting any.” What else could explain my silence?

In reality, I remain silent because I think The Lads would not react well if they knew the truth. Fat Frank, (a nickname chosen for its alliterative charm, its factual accuracy, and the ease with which it can be rhymed with wank) deviates from one of the accepted norms of married life. I break the last taboo: I like to fuck my wife.

I mean I really like to fuck my wife. I think about it before we do it. I give myself up to it completely when I’m in her. I hug the memory of each fuck to me, reluctant to let it go.

Liz and I have been married for eight years and been together for twelve, so we must have fucked thousands of times. I know the conventional wisdom is that repetition blunts the experience but Liz is like a whetstone for my knife-sharp desire, each time I rub against her the edge gets keener and cuts deeper.

Perhaps if Liz was the kind of woman that The Lads ogle and comment on (but never EVER actually speak to) I could share the reality of my passion with them. They would slap me on the back or punch me in the arm and shout “You lucky bastard.” Jimmy would say, “Who’d have thought Fat Frank would have it in him?” Robbo would grin and say, “Who’d have thought Fat Frank would have it in her you mean.” I would be expected to drop my head in false modesty and then explain of how Liz goes all night like a racehorse on speed. Jimmy would say, “If you ever need a hand with her, Frank, you only have to ask.” Everyone, including me, would laugh. I’d be offered a beer and my status in the group would rise.

But Liz is not the kind of woman The Lads notice. She’s not a fantasy figure. She’s a normal, healthy, slightly over-weight woman in her mid-thirties.

Liz, it seems, is extraordinary only in my eyes. Her eyes are green with little flecks of gold that shine in the sunlight. Her hair, which she keeps short, curls against the back of her neck as if caressing it. Her smile is crooked and filled with wickedness. Her skin is soft and pale and flushes when she is aroused. But the most extraordinary thing about Liz, the arse-clenching, cock-stiffening, heart-aching thing about her is that she loves me.

I’m not talking about something vague here, some Hallmark sentimental notion of love, a fantasy emotion propped up by romantic gestures and mutual self-delusion. I’m talking about a warts-and-all, robust, uncompromising and unconditional love that crashes over you like a big wave, taking your breathe away but leaving you excited to be alive.

Liz has known me for a long time. We went to the same school. We saw each other grow up. Liz knew the bookish, solitary boy I was and the hormone-charged, cripplingly shy youth I became, and yet she still fell in love with me. The power of being thoroughly known and thoroughly loved is almost impossible to get into words.

According to Liz, words are my weakness. She thinks I use way too many of them and get lost in the patterns that they make. It’s true that sometimes I can be too introspective for my own good. I get hooked on ideas and concepts and lose touch with the day-to-day world where reality happens. Left to my own devices I could float away from the world and become an eccentric old fart who laughs at obscure references no one-else understands. Liz saves me from that.

It’s not that Liz doesn’t like ideas. She loves to hear me talk about them. She just doesn’t let herself become seduced by them. One time I was going through a phase were I was obsessed with the early Greek philosophers. Liz bought me a copy of Plato’s “Apology” written in defence of Socrates. Inside the cover she wrote, “An over-explored life is not worth living.”

Liz and I don’t speak much when we fuck. We laugh and groan and grunt and sigh, but mostly we let our bodies do the talking. From the beginning, Liz has been the one who initiates these kinds of conversation. There’s a certain look she gets that I know means that she wants sex and she wants it soon. I never act on the look alone. Over the years, we’ve developed a little ritual: when the need is strong, Liz will stand close to me, sometimes in front, sometimes behind, put her mouth next to my ear and whisper, “Fuck me.” Those two words are like a trigger, they always make me hard.

Most of our fucking is outside of the bedroom. Liz thinks that beds are for sleeping on and that floors (and sofas, and tables and stairs) are for fucking on. She has whispered, “Fuck me,” in every room in the house. Although we’ve never talked about it, we both understand that I will fuck Liz whenever and wherever she whispers those two little words. We’ve fucked on Ferry Boats, in cars, in phone booths, on the steps of public buildings. I love the risk that this introduces and I love the sense of wickedness that comes from a secret shared.

Liz is the only woman I’ve ever had sex with. Now there’s a statement that would make The Lads shuffle their feet and pretend that I hadn’t spoken. As a conversation stopper, it’s on a par with “Have you opened your heart to Jesus?” The fidelity implied by this statement is not a badge of honour. I have made no sacrifices. Liz gives me everything that I need and I give thanks for my good fortune everyday.

I’m sure that Liz and I are not the only couple with this kind of relationship but I’m equally sure that we are a minority. Many marriages run out of passion or find they no longer need it.

The real reason it is taboo for me to talk to The Lads (none of whom are lads any longer and all of whom are or have been married) about the reality of my sex life, is that they don’t want to be confronted with the possibility that, if they had found the right person, they too would look forward to fucking their wives.

So, I will continue to be silent when they brag and boast and encourage one another. It is the polite thing to do. And it gives me time to think about Liz and what we will get up to the next time that she whispers in my ear.

Hunting In The Snow

The painting at the start of this post is “Hunters in the Snow” by Pieter Breugel.

When I was a child, living in England and largely innocent of a winter that was anything other than wet, damp and gray, a print of this painting hung on the wall of the Victorian school room in which I dreamed away my afternoons.

This picture became the Narnia that I escaped to; a place more vivid, more exciting, and more suited to my personality than the day to day world in which I lived.

I am, at heart, a Winter person.

Spring tries too hard to be new and jolly. Summer is too torpid; filled with oppressively humid days that last longer than they should. Autumn’s fading beauty struggles to disguise the whiff of rot that taints it like stale sweat on a party frock. Winter is starkly honest, uncompromising and fundamentally magical.

It is Winter that transforms the world; stripping away the face-paint other seasons hide behind, to reveal the gaunt bone structure that is the true source of beauty.

“The Hunters in the Snow” shows a world in which every tree is limned in a coruscating ghost-shadow of snow; every breath turns to mist, every sound is muffled, and every pond grows a shell and carries people on its back.

Before I ever felt air so cold it burnt my ears and froze my hair, it seemed I yearned to be in Winter’s fierce embrace.

For me the meaning of “Hunters in the Snow” was clear: life must carve a place for itself in a beautiful but unforgiving world. That, of course, is what makes life exciting.

When, in my final years at school, I was taught that physicists believed that heat will move inexorably towards cold, I was reminded of “Hunters in the Snow” with its bustle of human activity in the depths of Winter. It seemed to me that Breugel was trying to show us that the pulsing heat of life is a fist raised in defiance at the forces of entropy.

At university, in Yorkshire, I experienced real winter snow for the first time. In my ignorance I stayed on the snow clad moors even though I could see the snow storm coming. At first I was surrounded by so much white that I could see nothing at all. Then the sun deserted me and I was left only with the cold and the darkness.

In Summer, being trapped on the moors would mean no more than sleeping beneath the stars. Even I knew that in Winter, sleeping in the snow that blanketed the world would be a surrender that there would be no coming back from.

I found a cleft in the moor to huddle in and shivered through the night, forcing myself to stay awake. I summoned my memory of “Hunters in the Snow” once more and realized that while Summer lulls us into inactivity, like a hand rocking the cradle, Winter makes us pursue life in order to sustain it.

I know how abstract this all sounds, but this is life as I live it.

I am an atheist. I accept that when the last of my heat finally seeps into the ubiquitous cold, there will be no rekindling. Winter will cover all I ever was in a snow so deep, that even the memory of me will not remain.

Now, I live in Switzerland, where, each Winter, snow dresses the mountains in finery so grand, it literally takes the breath away. In February, when the moon is full, the sky is littered with stars and snow has claimed the forest, I like to put on my snow shoes and walk until I can hear nothing but my own labored breathing. The snow on the ground is as beautiful, and frigid and unforgiving as the dark vacuum of space visible above the trees.

If I stand still and listen hard, I can hear the cold calling to me. It whispers that all I need to do to achieve peace is to settle at the base of one of the trees and let myself sleep for the last time.

Each time I hear this Siren call, I let my mind fill with the bright heat of home: hot food, warm spiced wine, and the company of someone who loves me more than I deserve. Then I turn and retrace my steps, a hunter in the snow, returning with a renewed determination not to surrender to the cold just yet.

Giving Short Stories The Power Of A Movie

The spinning top pictured at the beginning of this post comes from the movie “Inception”.

The conceit around which the movie is built is the ability to enter a person’s dream, shape it and plant an idea that they will later think of as their own. This of course grants great power over the dreamer. As one of the characters puts it, “The seed that we planted in this man’s mind may change everything.”

On one level, “Inception” is an explanation of what movies are: they shape the collective dream and reach out beyond the dream into the real world. They make the dream more than real and add dreams to our reality.

Movies can plant an idea deeper than just about any other medium. Our conscious minds see them just as entertainment and sometimes that is all they are, but many times, perhaps most of the time, the surface narrative hides the real interaction between movies and our way of viewing the world. We leave the movie without fully realizing the nature of the seed that has been planted.

Often the movie-makers explain their intent:

“Fight Club” was a wake-up call for the IKEA generation who were being sold a consumer dream that they were paying for by spending more and more time at work; they were wasting their lives chasing a dream rather than living in the here and now. The narrator lays this bleak thought before us when he says, “This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time.”

“The Village”, is about a group of people who have constructed a way of life that is meant to keep everyone safe. But the Village is built on a lie that the elders know and will not discuss and which the young feel but cannot name. The message is pitched by one of the main characters, “We cannot run from heartache… Heartache is a part of life. We know that now.”

“The Matrix” was, in its way, another look at the truth that “Fight Club” set out to plant. At one point the “truth” about the Matrix is explained: “… you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.”

Yet even when the movie-makers tell us clearly what they are doing, we leave the theatre with so much else in our minds (“The first rule of Fight Club is…” “I: Let the bad color not be seen. It attracts them…” “I need guns. Lots of guns”) their inception passes unnoticed. When, slowly, the opinion forms that all might not be what it seems and the truth is ours to discover, the idea seems like our own.

When I write short stories, I aspire to use my few thousand words to carry out an inception of one kind or another, but I am aware that text is sometimes less effective than movies at this kind of thing.

I am passionate about movies and novels and short stories and yet I recognize that I experience and remember them differently.

Few things in life give me more pleasure than movies. I don’t just watch a movie, I enter it. I concentrate on it to the exclusion of everything else.

A good movie will slip into my mind and stay there forever. I replay scenes in my head, sometimes without realizing that I am about to, long after I have seen the movie.

Of course, novels and short stories also have their place in my mind but it seems that the interaction with my imagination and memory is different.

Texts tend to devolve into plots and characters and flashes of language. They are driftwood on the beach; ready to be reworked into something else.

Movies seem to retain their integrity. They colonize my imagination, growing into a spectacular coral reef that each movie adds to.

So what is it that makes the difference? What lessons should I carry from movie-making into short story writing that will help me to colonize the imaginations of my readers?

I believe that the power of the movies comes from one simple shared assumption between the movie-maker and the audience: nothing in a movie is unnecessary, irrelevant or accidental

Real life is so full of random noise and mindless soul-numbing repetition that even those rare moments that mean something to us can sometimes slip past unmarked.

Movies are packed with 100% meaning; this is what gives them the intensity that makes them so much more attractive than real life.

I think there are five “take-aways” from movies that will increase the meaning in my stories

1. Editing

The average movie does not have long to tell its tale and plant its ideas, typically between 90 and 110 minutes. The main purpose of the editing after a movie has been shot is to make sure that not one minute is wasted.

The difference between a good movie and a great movie is often about the decisions that were made in the editing suite. In movies, every moment, no matter how beautifully shot or skilfully acted or perfectly scripted, has to fight to show that it is necessary to the meaning of the movie.

Take-away: try to shorten your story without reducing its impact or diluting its meaning

I fall in love with my prose as I write it. I need to fall in love to get it right. Sadly, not everything that I love will pass the tests of relevance and intensity of semantic value. I need to leave myself the time to get the distance to see this and then cut away some of what I loved to make the rest better.

2. Meaning in a movie is collaborative


The story is told not just from the script but from the the lighting, set dressing, the costumes, the acting, the filming, the directing and of course the editing. Movies are so rich because their meaning is built in layers that complement or counter-point one another like chords being played on some great organ.

Take-away: align the different elements of story-telling to maximise the meaning and the impact

Go back through your story and make sure that the elements of your writing are appropriately aligned. Do the language and imagery build the meaning of the story in the way that film music and lighting would? Do your descriptions of places and people dress the set and establish location? Does your narrative drive the flow of the reader’s imagination the way a camera angle would? Can you get the same meaning with less words by changing the balance of what you try to achieve through these different elements so that each of them makes the optimal contribution?

3. Meaning in a movies is emergent

The audience builds the meaning of the film as it goes along. The movie guides them in arriving at the intended meaning by various forms of foreshadowing or the recurring use of symbols, colours or sounds.

Take-away: give your reader’s clues to follow and patterns to spot and trust them to make the connection

If your readers trust that everything in your story has meaning, then they will enjoy spotting where you have foreshadowed the development of plot or character and they will read day to day actions as having significance beyond their surface appearance. In my recent story “Coming Home” I described the mundane act of a man arriving home from work by saying he: “put down his suitcase and laptop bag in the hall and dropped his keys and his phone into the square leather tray that Gina had taught him to use. She had bought the tray out of frustration at his endless ability to mislay the things that were most important to him.”

One of the first comments that I got on the story recognized that the whole focus of the story was the man’s endless ability to mislay the things that were important to him.

4. Meaning in movies is condensed through the use of known tropes, plots and stereotypes.

Movies are clearly labeled. The audience walks in with an expectation that needs to be met. The use of tropes, stereotypes and well-known plot lines speed up the immersion of the movie goer into the move. They provide a familiar landscape for meaning to emerge into.

Take-away: don’t be afraid to draw on tropes and archetypes to move your story along.
Clichés, stereotypes and tropes can be your friend in keeping a short story short. I agree with Sam Goldwyn’s view that, “What we need are some new clichés”. This needs to be done with skill or it ends up being boiler-plate. Think of it as evoking an image or relationship in your readers’ imagination without needing fully to describe it.

5. Movies play Find The Lady with meaning

Movies use tropes and stereotypes to misdirect our attention and lead us to the wrong conclusion. They play with time-lines to reveal information that changes what we thought we understood. This delights the audience if it’s done well (The Sixth Sense, The Usual Suspects, Memento, The Illusionist) and reinforces the idea that you should pay attention to every moment of the movie.

Take-away: it pays to surprise your reader without making them feel tricked.
This can be done by the use of an unreliable narrator, or by planting a hook at the beginning that sets one expectation and then flashing back to show another interpretation,or by taking a stereotype and giving it an unexpected twist.

I’d like to share one last idea. The seed for this one was planted in my mind by “Inception”. The movie explains that there is a risk to shaping dreams. To shape a dream you must enter it. You must believe it. You must belong in it. How then, will you know that you are dreaming and not living? That is what the spinning top is for. You take it into the dream with you and spin it. Only in a dream can it spin forever.

Writing is an isolated introspective business. We spin tales from the fabric of our lives and imagination and doing so can be thrilling. But we also need to live and to connect. We need to know that in real life the top stops spinning and we need to welcome that.

A Pagan Wish At Christmas

Christmas has always been a pagan time of year.

Somewhere around the 4th Century, the Church picked December 25th as the date to celebrate Christ’s birth in a special “Christ’s Mass”. The date was selected so that the Christians could compete with established pagan winter feasts like Saturnalia, Juvenilia and Samhain. The New Testament has nothing to say about the day or month that Christ was born on. Making Jesus a Capricorn was strictly a marketing ploy.

As I’ve watched Christmases slide by over the past few decades, it seems to me that the pagan nature of the festival has started to assert itself more and more. It has become a festival in which we throw ourselves into excess with as much noise, light, alcohol and food as we can lay our hands on.

Christmas parties are a time to get pissed enough to have the courage to try and get off with the girl from accounting with the big tits and the heart-shaped arse, while still having plausible deniability if you fail to pull or fail to get it up or fail to remember her name in the morning.

Christmas is a time when gangs of well-fleshed young women strut through night-dark streets, in tiny Santa’s Little Helper uniforms that flash more flesh than they make the effort to stretch over.

Christmas is a peak time for the sale of sex toys and fluffy handcuffs and nickers with “I’m Your Christmas Ho Ho Ho” printed across the arse.

Men’s magazine’s run jokey articles on the best positions for a festive fuck, with illustrations of “The Sleigh,” “Jingle Balls”, “The Reindeer” and, inevitably perhaps, “Come All Ye Faithful”.

None of this is my kind of thing.

My Christmas is indeed pagan. It centres not on a born-to-die-for-me baby with parents too clueless to book accommodation when they traveled – that lack of practicality makes a virgin birth almost plausible. My Christmas centres on celebrating life; specifically my wife’s life and the fact that she continues to share it with me.

When we were in our teens, Christmas Day belonged to our families and we would spend it apart, so we developed the habit of celebrating on Christmas Eve beneath the Christmas Tree. We were young. We were not having sex. And yet one of the strongest sense memories I have is what it felt like to kiss and be kissed in the soft glow of the Christmas Tree lights:

Warmth

Joy

Hope

Excitement

Love

For me these are the pagan spirits Christmas evokes each year.

I hope as many of them as you would wish for find you this Christmas Eve.

Flying Kites In Thunderstorms – writing lies to tell the truth

I’m a straight male in my fifties with a long term monogamous relationship and a very short list of lovers. Some might think that this leaves me poorly equipped to write stories about sex and lust and yet I’ve spent the past ten years or so doing exactly that.

I write fiction, not biography. The stories of mine that I like the most are truthful, but they are not true.

I think the art of fiction is to lead the imagination to discover truth through dissemblance.

It is the epistemological equivalent of perspective in two dimensional art: a means of directing attention and providing context without dictating semantic value.

In erotic fiction, sex is a lightning rod for the soul. What pleases, what disgusts, what tempts, what comforts, what excites and what frightens people about sex is like the DNA of their psyche; either who they are defines it or it defines who they are depending on which side of the nature nurture debate your comfort zone lies.

That art of erotic fiction is to use those lightning strikes to illuminate the reader’s understanding.

This is not about testimony, or witness or life-style documentary: it is about sparks of imagination that leap the gap between what you have experienced and what your heart knows to be true.

I’ve written stories from the point of view of straight and gay men and women, young and old from many nationalities. Sometimes my characters are nice people you’d invite into your home and sometimes they’re scary people you wouldn’t want to be alone with.

I’ve written about sexual experiences I’ve never had and I’ve written about sexual experiences I’m very familiar with.

I’d like to think that my reader’s wouldn’t know which is which.

What enables and compels me to do this are the voices in my head.

I shut down my finely trained analytical mind and let my imagination delve into my curiosity, my insight, and my intuition to summon up a voice. Then I listen hard and write what the voice tells me.

In other words, I go looking for those lightning bolts of lust that belong to others and not to me. I fly kites in the thunderstorms of other people’s sex lives to capture the spark and pass it on to others.

When this works well, it seems involuntary. The stories produced in this way remind me of those glass artifacts that are formed by lightning rods stuck into sand in the path of a storm. The rod channels the energy but the storm creates the glass.

So why would I imagine myself in a world I know nothing about?

Because, in reality, all worlds are like that.

Because I hunger to capture the unknown.

Because the voices in my head thrive on my ignorance.

Because that’s what writing fiction is really about: to enable the reader to know a world from your words and sense the truth in the consensual delusion.