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.

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.


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.

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.

Sin, Shame and Secrecy


Writing fiction, particularly erotica, is a very intimate process.  Consciously or unconsciously, you mine your imagination and experience to provide the stone you sculpt your stories from.

As your fiction piles up behind you like a series of cast-off skins, themes and attitudes emerge that tell you and your readers something about how your mind works and where your heart lies.

It turns out that my heart lives in the gap between who I want to be and who I am.

What I yearn for, what I struggle to achieve, what I sometimes fail at, is to be faithful: to myself, to those I love, to doing the right thing rather than the easy one.

Much of my writing is about people coming to terms with the “infidelity” that keeps them from being who they want to be. People who understand, deep in their bones, the nature of sin, the shame it breeds and the secrecy it wraps itself in.

I don’t believe in god, but I do believe in sin.

Sin is about persisting in behaviours that damage your ability to see the world in a way that enables you to choose good over evil.

“Sinful” behaviour is pathological, it shapes the sinner, twisting them, perhaps crippling them, and making it harder and harder to be a person who does not sin.

I see infidelity is quintessentially sinful.

I also see it as a normal, perhaps inevitable, part of being human.

That’s why I write stories and not sermons.

I want to ground all of this in the physical and emotional reality experienceed by those who know, deep in their gut, that if they gave themselves up to the sexual desire inside them, the world would not be enough, who struggle each day to find the grace to live well and who sometimes fail. Those points of failure are the jumping off point for a lot of my stories;

“Deserving Ruth” about a man who has failed his wife.
“Happy Anniversary” about a man in a long term affair with his sister-in-law who is forced to face the kind of man he has become,
“Happy Hour” about a woman in an affair that is consuming her but which she cannot end
about a good man with the opportunity to do a bad thing.
Back When We Were Happy” about a woman so lost she no longer wants to live,
“Paying For It” about a man who betrays himself, and so on and so on.

These aren’t happy tales but they aren’t the kind of thing you’d find in a Hallmark movie either. For a story like this to work you have to feel the lust, to share the humanity, to care about what happens next.

Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a short monolgue that gets to the heart of the matter.

I hope to see you again next week. In the meantime, enjoy.


(C) Mike Kimera 2006

We all have secrets. You have one don’t you? Don’t look so shocked. You’re in your forties. You have a ring on your finger. My guess is that you’ve been married a good long while now. You look like a nice person. I’ll bet you’re good with kids and animals and so on. So, seeing all that, I know you have to have a secret.

You don’t even have to think about it do you? I can see it in your face. It’s there, just below the surface of your mind, pecking at you like a chick trying to hatch, that thing that you know that your wife doesn’t, the one that would change everything, the one that you desperately hope doesn’t define who you really are.

No. Don’t get up. If you’d really wanted to get up you’d have done it when I sat opposite you in this cosy little booth, in this quiet little bar, where it feels like midnight even when it’s noon outside.

Stay. Finish your drink. Let me tell you more about secrets.

Well that sat you down fast enough. Who’d have thought that a cute little thing like me could make a big man like you sit? Amazing what producing a brown envelope and a smile can do.

Do you know you’re holding your breathe? I’ve been told that men feel it in their balls; the anticipation of being caught. You’re wondering what I know and what I can prove and whether there is hope for you in the gap between the two.

But I bet that some small part of you, possibly even the part that you think of as “really” you, is more relieved than afraid.

People start out thinking that the hardest thing about a secret is keeping it. But someone like you, someone who’s had a secret for a while, someone who’s learnt that they can smile and lie and not get caught, you know that the hard part is that, in the end, the secret keeps you.

You’re good at this. By now lots of guys would’ve started to speak. Started to deny or threaten or even plead. But you’re sitting there silent because, speech, any speech at all, might give you away. I bet you’d be a real good poker player, except I suspect you don’t like to gamble unless you have to.

You know, the sad thing is that most guys, right up to the moment that they’re caught, don’t really know what their secret is. Oh they think they know. They think that’s it’s the mistress that they slip it to when they can’t face going home, or the whores they buy when they’re away on business, or the preferences that they only reveal through their (highly traceable) choice of on-line porn.

No. Don’t relax, not yet, I didn’t say that your secret was like that. Because we both know that the real secret is about who you’ve become.

Do you do that a lot, turn your wedding ring between finger and thumb? I bet you do. I bet you know why too. It’s because you love your wife. And you want her to love you. But even when she looks in your eyes and says she loves you, when she opens her legs and welcomes you in, when she comforts you on the nights you can’t sleep, you know she doesn’t love you. She can’t love you because she doesn’t really know you. If she knew who you really are then she’d know the secret and then what?

What do I want?

That’s what you say when you finally decide to speak?

Nice move. Let’s stop talking about you and talk about me instead.

Nope. That’s not going to happen. This isn’t about what I want. This is all about you and your secret.

Do remember what it was like before the secret? When your wife trusted you and you knew you deserved it? Then, if she was sad, you knew it wasn’t your fault. If you made her happy you knew her joy wasn’t tainted by lies. You were happy then.

Those nights when you can’t sleep no matter how tired you are, the ones when you lie awake thinking and hope that she won’t notice. Think about what’s really keeping you awake. With some men it would be the fear of discovery. Not you though. You’re careful. Very, very careful.

But you’re still afraid.

You’re afraid that somehow, at some level beyond facts and logic, she already knows.

You’re afraid that she is also pretending.

You think about it don’t you? What it will be like when the kids have gone and there’s just the two of you, alone in the house except for the secret that neither of you mentions.

Tears. Good. I hoped for tears.

I cried when this happened to me. When I was liberated from my secret.

The envelope is empty by the way.

What happens next is up to you. I think you’re brave enough to break free of your secret. I hope so.

If you do, I ask only one thing: find someone who needs this envelope, needs it as badly as you did, and give it to them.