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One Part Inspiration, Two Parts Crackpot

Frequent visitors to my home office (or, as my impertinent family likes to call it, “the dining room”) will be familiar with my wall of horror: a large cork board upon which 2D victims of my amusement are impaled with thumb tacks. Perhaps not the best preprandial artwork to peruse. Also: the reason we don’t eat in the “dining room”. There, I keep pictures and lyrics, sketches and quotations, scribbled notes and to-do lists that look like I stole them from Dahmer (fix “bone snapped wetly” … corpse would be dry by now). Of course, Dahmer only ever gave me nausea, a Clark Bar (“For Quick Energy!”) and some nightmares in the early ’90s. Just kidding, I don’t have nightmares.

I’ve been asked where I get my weird ideas. My knee-jerk reaction was: “Who you callin’ weird, you fuc–oh, that was a compliment? Ah. Right. I was going to say, focaccia … that old Italian verbal lovetap. I know it’s a bread, sillypants, where do you think they got the name? No-no, no need to Google it. Focaccia translates as: delicious friend. Yes it does. Trust me, I’m a writer, I’m paid to *know* these things.”

Today’s blog is in response to the question of Inspiration. (That’s right, I did it. I capitalized. Again, trust me. I am a writer. I can capitalize all day long if I want to. Sometimes, that’s all I do.) I guess people are worried about writers of horror and dark urban fantasy; if we can imagine such dreadful things, surely there must be … urges? Urges that may be dangerous to the general public. Urges that should be medicated. Can’t she write something nice, they wonder? Maybe there’s nothing nice inside her. <insert concerned head-cock, squinty eyes and lips pursed in thought> Maybe her brain is just a big rotted mat of evil. <insert sage nod>

I can’t answer to that; I’ve never seen my brain, not even when I roll my eyes way up ’til it hurts (warning: don’t do that, it hurts!) What I can say is this: I believe in the two wolves thing. You know, that old saying … inside every man are two wolves, dark and light, in constant battle for dominance. Who wins? The one you feed most often.

So I feed my dark wolf (raw organ meat, door-to-door salesmen). When I don’t, I honestly can’t write horror. I lose touch with it, then I feel like I’ve fallen between the cracks. Once I’m lost, it takes a long time to wriggle back into the grimy crypts and cold dank cellars of my imagination. And that’s where I belong, make no mistake about it. That’s where I come alive; my smile hardens, my eyes sparkle, my family hides the knives (no biggie, you can do a surprising amount of damage to door-to-door salesmen when you’re dual-wielding pickle forks); my Word Count tool heaves and shudders as it attempts to calculate, when I’ve been in dark places. Apparently, I have lots to say, some of it absurdly goofy, most of it gory, and not a page of it “nice“.

So how does this writer maintain that dark wolf? Music, sometimes. And the cork board o’ horrors, which is ever-changing. What’s on there today? 

  • the lyrics for “the Derelict”. Sea shanties help me write. “Twas a cutless swipe or an ounce of lead/Or a yawning hole in a battered head … yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

 

  • Pictures of mountain lakes north of Boulder, Colorado, where my imaginary town and lake (Ten Springs and Shaw’s Fist respectively) are located. Since I’ve only been to Colorado once, I live off  memory and travel guides and the interwebz. Part of me that loved Denver got stuck there; placing my first person character there made sense, felt right. On my outline for Book 3 in the series, she comes to visit my neck of the woods: St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Thorold, Virgil, Welland. But she’ll always go home to Denver.

 

  • A picture I cut out of the Sears Catalogue of that blond guy who’s been modelling for Sears for-fucking-ever. He’s wearing a suit. When I was 13, he was my pretend boyfriend whenever I catalogue-daydreamed. I have this fantasy where I run into the Sears Catalogue guy in the produce aisle of the grocery store and I drop my Freudian cucumber and sputter: “holy flaming twatwaffles, it’s YOU, it’s really YOU!”, at which point he freaks out, because other than a deranged stalker, who recognizes a fucking catalogue model? At least the fantasy never includes me dropping to baritone to croon into the cucumber-microphone: “Fifteen men of ’em stiff and stark/ Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!”  That would just be weird.

 

  • A side shot of Jude Law (Do I really need to explain that one, ladies? Do I need to explain the half naked cops and firemen? Do I need to explain why I drew chest hair betwixt their man-nips with my kid’s brown crayon? I didn’t think so.)

 

  • sketches of fallen angels, Leviathan, graveyards, ravens, crypts, abandoned autopsy suites, old plantation houses, Mansard mansions like the house from Psycho, the Paris catacombs, London at night, primeval Serbian forests, sigils and symbols and magic alphabets and conjurings, sketches of Cthulu (with brown crayon chest hair. I couldn’t help myself!)

 

  • various artists’ interpretations of Asmodeus, banker at the baccarat tables of hell. I shoved Him in my books, for as He doth command, so shall I–erm, because I was being creative. Yeah, that’s why. I’m a good girl. *tents fingertips and eyeballs the southwest corner of the room over her shoulder* “Ten fathoms deep on the road to Hell/Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

 

  • Pictures of every classic vampire, and by classic, I mean “tear your throat out and leave you in a twitching heap” vamps, not “I’m too emo-vegan for my fair trade bamboo shirt, but maybe, if it’s all right with you, I might softly kiss the back of your hand? But only if you’re ubercomfortable!” vamps. My favourite shot: Bela Lugosi as Dracula, lurking around a corner in half-shadow. Oh, the pure creeptastic delight!

 

  • Many pictures of the goblin shark Mitsukurina owstoni and the vampire squid Vampyroteuthis infernalis, the coolest real monsters currently residing on planet Earth, to my knowledge. I mean, besides clowns. 

 

     

    • A handwritten lovenote I wrote to myself, to boost my self-esteem: “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I have no faith in you.” It makes me happy.

     

    • Latin words useful in binomial nomenclature, for inventing new plague names for zombie goodness in Book 2. I dig science when it allows me to explain preternatural goodies. I used the bacteria yersinia pestis, responsible for the Black Plague, and altered it to spread an undead plague through bites. Fun! (Ooops, is my nerd showing?)

     

    • a list of possible (mythical? legendary? supposed? partially-logical?) ingredients for raising a zombie via Haitian necromancy. Because I enjoy blending the two types: classic, shambling, risen zombies as undead slaves to a bokor, and infected contagious fast zombies of modern movie thrills. How? Well, that’s where it starts hurting my head, but I’ll figure it out. Book 2 is “first-draft finished”, but definitely needs work. 

     

    • anatomy sketches, names of major arteries, important bones, toe-curling words for innards. Blerg!

     

    • A stick-it note with Christmas ornaments on it that says at the bottom Nice Balls, upon which I have written a warning: Lack of routine is a writer’s doom. I didn’t come up with that myself, I don’t think, but it’s the scariest thing on the board by far.

    I hope this helps answer the question. I can’t be the only writer with a cork board, or a wall of Inspiration. (See? I capitalized again. Incorrigible? Who, me?)

    What morsels do you feed your wolf?

    author’s note: you may notice there are no pictures of clowns on my cork board. *presses two fingers to eye twitch* That’s not because I’m terrified of clowns. *blinks rapidly* I could put pictures of clowns up there if I wanted to. Yes, I could. Shut up. Think you know everything. No, what are you–don’t. Why would you … knock that off. Seriously. I will slap you. Please? God, NO! DON’T, PLEASE! OH GOD, PLEEEEEASE NO, NO, N– *falls off her chair in a dead faint*

    There. The answer to your other question: “What could possible scare a horror writer, AJ?” Clowns. Only clowns. Next question?

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    4 Responses to One Part Inspiration, Two Parts Crackpot

    1. AJ says:

      Heather: I tried to write a clown scene into Death Rejoices, the second book in my Marnie Baranuik series; I got about 3 paragraphs in and had to stop. My skin was crawling, and I kept feeling the urge to look over my shoulder in case a killer clown was standing behind me grinning from ear to ear holding a butcher knife. Even writing THIS is making my shoulders inch up. I’m sure if I had the nerve to tap into this creepy-crawly thing, it would work well. Call me a ninnypants, but I haven’t managed yet 🙂

    2. AJ says:

      Nigel: LOL Thank you. Glad you got a chuckle!

    3. Heather says:

      I’ve never thought of trying the corkboard idea….perhaps this would be a good visual for writing scripts? I know who I would love to cast….but then would I better fit the characters if I can put a real face to them?
      Have you ever thought that writing about your fears would help cure you of them? If you had a *ahem, clown in the story would you find it helpful to deal with your fear or do you think it would prevent you from continuing? I’m very curious about that. What do you AJ?

    4. I had to think about this for a long time. How could I express my thoughts and emotions inside such a small space. How could I sum up my feelings in a few words? But, how could I not?
      So, after a lot of thought, and I say this with the deepest respect for your feelings, your nuts!
      Thanks, gave me a good laugh!
      Oh, and look, behind you, clown!
      Cheers.

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