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.



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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

Why I’m addicted to feedback from readers

To me, a story without a reader is incomplete. I want my stories to be read. I want to *know* they are being read. I want to understand the impact of the stories on the reader. That is why I keep my stories on a website that allows comments and part of why I’m a member of the Erotic Readers and Writers Association forum.

Writing is a solitary occupation (not a lonely one – there are too many voices in my head for writing and loneliness to share a room -it’s one of the reasons why I write – to keep those voices alive). It takes me weeks to get through a story unless it’s one of those “channelled” stories that come from nowhere once in a while.

To keep at it, i need to fall in love with the story. I also need to be able to take the story apart and reassemble it: language, characterization, tense, point of view, plot, pace, tone, timeline etc etc. Both of these activities get me so close to the story that I am incapable of knowing how it will come across to a new reader.

Being in love with the story means I sometimes assume that more is on the page than I’ve actually put there (backstory that’s still in my head, emotions behind the words that haven’t made it to the surface, missing details of time and space that will trip the reader up). It also means I read my story with a generous heart and a knowledge of what it aspired to that I cannot expect the reader to share.

Taking the story apart sometimes means I can no longer see the whole. I can’t judge the pace or the tension or the level of emotion. I believe that a story read for a second time is no longer the same story. The reader cannot “unknow” the story. Each subsequent reading changes the knowing. So taking the story apart over weeks denies me the experience that a new reader has.

Comments from readers put me in touch with the reader’s experience.

No. Stop. That sounds way too academic for what I really mean.

Let me give you a very male analogy here: after the laughter of foreplay, after the fierce heat of the first deep penetration, after the slipping and sliding and groaning and biting, after the thighs tensed and the back arched and the rush of sperm stripped his mind of function for a second or two, at just the point where she is thinking of love or sleep or whether he can do it again, or how he can be done already, he has only one question that he wants to whisper in her ear: “Did you come? Did you come good?”

Stripped of the academic gloss which argues that interactive media enables a creative discourse between writer, written, read and reader, this is the egotistical question the writer-lizard wrapped around my hind-brain want to know the answer to – Did you come good?

I grew up in that “Joy of Sex” generation who poured over drawings that seemed to suggest that a man needed a beard to have good sex but which left me wondering if men washed their beards after oral sex or wore their woman’s scent like a cologne – hey, I was sixteen with nothing but hormones, imagination, fear and excitement to guide me- so perhaps my second question is inevitable: “How do I make you come better?”

When I ask this question of readers I want the equivalent to “well that felt nice but if you moved your tongue up a little and used a little more pressure I’d be bouncing against your face”.

When I ask this question of another writer I want the equivalent to “if you want to stay hard a little longer, put a finger, yours or hers at the base of the penis just here and press like that.”

So what I want from comments ranges from: “this is how your story made me feel” through “this part of your story had my toes curling but around about here I started to compose my shopping list” through “You use language and imagery like whore with a long tongue and lots of practice but your characterization has the authenticity of a blow-up doll with a slow leak.”

What comments mean to me is that someone read my stuff and took the time to tell me about what it meant to them. The generosity of that never ceases to amaze me. They help me take a fresh look at what I’ve written and they help me to improve my craft. Most of all, they keep me writing

Chasing Words

Where do the words come from?

Words come to me when I have no time, when I’m under pressure, when I’m tired, when I’m locked in a plane, or trapped in an airport. They race across my mind like bitches in heat, willing to be caught but determined to make me work for it.

Words do not come to me when I clear my desk and my mind and set aside time to write. Then I have to go to them.

I seek them like a dog looking for rabbits in an empty field. I work at it, poking my nose into one empty rabbit hole after another. When I’m tired, and almost out of time the words will pop up out a hole I’ve already looked in, right on the edge of my vision, and make me chase them with what little energy if have left.

Sometimes, when I have left the chase behind and turned my mind to real life, words will come to me in dreams, pouring themselves across my consciousness like spilt ink. To catch them I must wake swiftly and work hard and at the end it seems to me that the best of them have escaped to haunt me another day.

I may never catch enough words to write a novel but I have learned that I will always be chasing words.

The Three Fs of Fiction Writing: Finding, Fixing, Finishing

Writing is a refuge from my day-to-day, deadline-driven, write-to-order world of management consultancy. It’s a deadline-free, non-goal-oriented zone where I try to make no demands on myself other than to write good stuff on the day – whatever that turns out to mean.

I don’t mean to give the impression that I’m careless about what I write – one of the joys of writing is that it takes my full attention – I only mean to say that I am not writing to a schedule.

The combination of having a compulsive need to write and no pressing requirement to publish means that I always have several unfinished stories on my C Drive at any given time. As of this morning, my WIP file (Work In Progress file – hey, I’m a management consultant, of course I have a WIP file) has thirty stories in it.

When I feel the need to write, usually when I’m away from home on business, often in the early hours of the morning, I open up my WIP file and browse the stories until I feel one call to me, demanding completion.

Sometimes I’ll open a story, make some progress or do some tidying up and then pop it back in the WIP file until the next time it calls to me. Sometimes I open story after story without stirring my own interest. Then, if I’m lucky, a new story will push its way to the front of my mind. If I’m very lucky, most of the story will be in my head already, waiting to spill out over the keyboard. The only question then is whether I can write for long enough to get it all down before the creative tide ebbs.

But most new stories aren’t like that. They give up little pieces of themselves, like young girls wearing clothes that hide and display at the same time. I capture what I can- plot, dialogue, imagery, character – and leave myself clues about what I haven’t yet seen – what might happen next, how the characters feel, phrases they might use, images that aren’t yet connected to the body of the text. Think of them as jig-saw puzzle pieces that have been selected because they’re probably pieces of sky but you can’t link them yet and besides they might turn out to be part of the ocean.

Recently I’ve been trying to figure out what it is that gets some stories completed while others remain as creative driftwood, just attractive enough for you not to want to throw them away but not really useful for anything.

For those with an editor to placate, bills to pay and a deadline to meet, I suspect the answer is focus and will power. That’s how I turn my words into cash in my day job.

I’ve been looking for a different solution for writing stories: one more in keeping with my dilettante motivations. It seems to me that sailing provides the metaphor here. Sailors go where the wind blows. The speed they travel at and their ability to choose a course depends at their skill on harnessing the wind and their ability to navigate.

I need to find a way of harnessing the creative breeze so that it will carry me further and with greater control.

So, being a management consultant, I analysed the data and developed a hypothesis. Don’t worry, I won’t be using gant charts or PowerPoint slides.

I decided that there are three parts to writing a story and I couldn’t resist the alliterative opportunity of having them all start with F.

So here are the Mike Kimera 3 Fs of story writing:

Finding, Fixing, Finishing

is about the new, the joy of the blank page, the endless possibilities of beginnings, the buzz you get from making new connections to old ideas. Finding involves reaching into the great swirl of stimulus and response just below the conscious surface of my mind and pulling out things and making patterns. It’s a little like fishing – you need to be still and calm so as not to spook your prey and it helps if you can cast a hook to catch them on.

Finding is also a little like fresco painting: you have to act boldly before the plaster dries and nothing more can be added.

I Find best when my mind is open and my emotions are engaged and when I feel so full that if I don’t write something I will burst.

I Find badly or not at all when I’m empty or jaded or tired or depressed. If I keep trying to Find when that mood is on me I either come away empty-handed or I fool myself into seeing silver where there is only tin. In the first case I feel sterile and talentless and in the second I feel foolish and frustrated.

When the glamour of the initial Find wears off you realize that sparkle alone is not enough. A good story structures imagery, dialogue, character, plot and pace to create something coherent, something that presents the sparkle effortlessly. The structure is something that should not draw attention to itself but is absolutely fundamental to what’s going on.

One of the reasons that a story lingers on my C Drive is that the underlying structure is broken. Something doesn’t work. The next piece of the story refuses to be grafted on to what went before or else simply refuses to reveal itself. This is where Fixing comes in.

is an ineffable process; a hybrid born of craft and intuition. A sculptor was once asked how she turned a piece of rough marble into a life-like statue of a dog. She replied that she simply cut away all the stone that wasn’t dog. This kind of intuition helps you sense where there story is broken and how it needs to be reset to grow whole. Craft provides the tools to make the repairs.

Sometimes the break is because the narrative thrust has run out of steam and the whole thing is taking too long. Sometimes the plot dead-ends or you have no idea what the character will do next. Finding the break is a little like searching for the puncture on tire that seems to be whole but deflates under pressure.

Once my intuitive sense of the story locates the break, I lay out my craft tools to fix it: can I change the point of view, edit down the text, put more exposition in dialog, change the tense or the timeline or simply leave stuff out.

I Fix best when I’m focused and patient and intolerant of imperfection.

I can’t Fix in a hurry.

I can’t Fix until I have some distance from the story.

For me, the hardest of the three Fs is Finishing.

is the eldest child in the family, the sensible one that is right more often than they are fun. A person can lose themselves in endless rounds of Finding and Fixing because they are fun to do. But without Finishing, Finding is just a game and Fixing degenerates into tinkering, a triumph of craft over purpose.

Most stories, when you read them, have a beginning, a middle and an end. But when you write them, stories are not at all like that. The middle demands that you move it, the beginning wants another turn and the end refuses to come when you call.

Finishing is about discipline and clarity. It is how writers keep their implied contract with the readers. Mondrian’s work has been described as taking a line for a walk. The writer takes the reader on a journey and has the responsibility for deciding when the destination has been reached.

Finishing involves being able to hold the whole story in your mind and survey its proportions. Like Fixing, it involves intuition – this time of the “is it done yet?” kind.

In some ways Finishing is the antithesis of Finding. It is about resolving probabilities to 1 or O not about extending the curve.

Finishing requires judgment and confidence. If Finding is infatuation with a new love, Finishing is affection for a long term friend.

I Finish best when I am alert but not excited. When I feel the pull or structure and order.

I Finish badly when I am frustrated or bored or out of time. In those circumstances I end the story rather than finish it.

So how does a dilettante like myself use the three Fs to get produce stories without feeling like I’m back at work?

The first step is to be clear on which F I’m going to use today – each F is a sail I can catch the wind with but I can’t put up two sails at once.

The next step is being able to link my mood, my reason for writing today, to the appropriate F, there’s no point trying Find when I’m tired, or Fix when I’m urgent or Finish when I’m still in the love with the idea.