Writing Dark Stuff

Writing Dark StuffAmanda recently wrote a post on getting rid of our writing filters and I’m still thinking about the topic.  My writing friends are not surprised when I pull a twisted, blackened story out of the stuff between my ears, but my relatives are always taken aback. I’m the responsible one, the nice one, the compassionate empathetic one. I laugh easily and smile often (regardless of my perpetual RBF). I look harmless.

But there’s a part of me that is happy to write stories that horrify my mother and make my children a little nervous. I research serial killers and psychopathology. I spent several months learning all I could about long-term captivity and Stockholm Syndrome. I don’t mind talking about autopsies and the Body Farm at dinner (I assure you they very much mind listening).

Joanna Penn has commented several times on her videos that people ask how such a happy, smiling woman can write about things like corpse desecration.  I understand how she feels. There’s something about the dark side that feeds my inner storyteller. I wish I could remember who said this (if you know the reference, please let me know), but someone commented that comedians are often quite depressed and people with bad childhoods often learn to entertain. He or she posits that people with normal lives or happy childhoods might wander into the blacker side of storytelling. I suspect most horror writers are quite normal. I don’t think, if you met me in person, you’d suspect I’ve written about a serial killer’s first time or the calculated revenge of pets.

My filters are to avoid writing anything that might offend family and more delicate friends. For the most part I don’t write gruesome, but turning off that filter on occasion has led me to a few pieces I’m quite happy to have written. The freedom to write what comes to mind is the best writing gift I’ve ever given myself (and credit is due to the Muses for encouraging it).

So why am I telling you this? It’s because I hope all writers will allow themselves space and time to write what comes. You don’t ever have to show it to someone or publish it, but putting the words down is a gift to your inner writer. I think there are two reason for that. The first is that you are getting beyond your filters and thoughts of “I can’t write that!” The second is  that, since writing begets writing, you are opening yourself up to other story ideas if you let yourself go.

I do have hard lines I don’t cross. Ever. But they are a choice rather than a filter imposed upon me by someone else. I hope that makes sense. This post is as much my reaction to Amanda’s encouragement as it is my hope for fellow writers. It’s written in first person because I believe we are not alone in our anxieties when it comes to the words we write. It won’t kill me to be vulnerable, right? And if it helps someone, so much the better.

What I want to say is to write what is in you to write. If that’s zombies, cannibalism, human experiments a la Dr. Mengele, or (insert squeamish thought here), then write it. Leave it in a corner of your hard drive forever if you want, but all writing is good practice and opening yourself up to writing without filters teaches your writer brain to be more forthcoming.

Have you written anything you feel might horrify someone close to you? How difficult was it to write?

My Favorite Procrastination

My Favorite Procrastination: what I do when I should be writing.Writers procrastinate.  Of course we do.  I’d like to think of it as part of the plotting or pre-writing process.  Sometimes it is.

And sometimes it’s just good, old-fashioned procrastination.

I can waste time in Tumblr and Pinterest with the best of them.  However, there’s a special place I get lost, only to surface hours later with a sheaf of notes in my hand and no clue how I managed to stay up so late.  I did it last night.

I have a thing for history.  Not just any history, specifically Colonial and Edwardian America, European history, the history of Britain, and the history of the Picts (because I’m insane for wanting to know the unknowable).  I ran across a link for a documentary while listening to a song that was stuck in my head.

That’s all it took.

I surfaced from my gluttony after 2 a.m., cringed, and clicked to the next episode.  Crazy, right?  But I have a small pile of notes on Medieval England, Neolithic Scotland, a lost continent in the North Sea, the Romans’ efforts (and failure) to conquer Scotland, and the role of the Church in governing birth, marriage, and death to add to a growing collection.  And I’m just getting started.  Part of that sheaf is a list of documentaries I want to watch. Regrets?  I have none.  I was filling the well of writerly things (or adding to the compost pile if you prefer).

Procrastination, yes, but also story seeds by the dozen, a short list of characters, and settings both beautiful and bold.  I was also clever enough to write down sources and bibliography information to use as reference.

Procrastination with a purpose, then.  A few well-spent hours feeding my love of learning and history and legend and story.  It was worth cursing my alarm clock and dragging my sorry arse out of bed this morning.

I do have one regret.  My body is shutting down in a quest for sleep, and I won’t be able to start on that list of documentaries tonight.

I had a bad day…


We all have terrible days.  Those kinds of days where you want to just pull the blankets over your head and go back to sleep or when you wake and not a damn thing goes right from the moment your feet hit the floor.  My personal favorites are the ones when someone strikes a wrong chord with you and all you want to do is throw every piece of china you can get your hands on at them.  *takes a deep breath* Yes, we can all relate to those kinds of days.

What kills me is when I finally get the inspiration to write and one of those days comes crashing down right on top of me.

Last night, I wanted to write.  I’d been stressed out all day, stressed for the last two weeks to be honest, and I suddenly found myself with a few moments of peace and actually in the mind set to write.  It figures that SOMETHING would kick the happiness right out of me.  My husband, bless his little heart, decided to start a rather frustrating conversation that predictably landed me in a bitch of a mood.

I didn’t want to write then.  I didn’t want to do anything.  I disappeared into my room, readied myself for bed, and stared at the ceiling.

I had wanted to write.  I should have written.  There was no excuse why I didn’t just channel all that anger and frustration and pain into a scene, into a character.  But no, I chose to shut down completely.   Cause that’s what I do.  I shut down.

What does this have to do with writing?  A lot actually, especially when it comes to me.  I will find every excuse under the sun why I can’t write.  When I finally do find a moment of drive and inspiration, it often is overshadowed by days like yesterday.

How do I push past it?

When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

~ Kirsten

One Writer’s Epiphany

A Writer's EpiphanyAt the beginning of this year, I was writing queries and a synopsis for one of my books.  Of course, I got rejections.  Thinking the problem was in my presentation, I set the queries aside so I could think things through.  Earlier this month, I sent the query package to a friend in marketing for his thoughts.

His response was that I sounded as if I didn’t believe the story was marketable (and the tag line didn’t nail the story).


He’s partially right.  This novel is multi-layered, multi-faceted, and though it has a supernatural twist, that is only one element.  How can one tag line do it all?  Do I believe it’s an easy book for an agent or publisher to slot for genre?

Probably not.

So I sat on my porch and thought hard about the book, the characters, the facets, and the ramifications for my MC and the world around her.   I’d like to say the heavens opened up and a chorus sang.  They didn’t.  It was more like lightning. I had an epiphany.

The aspects of this novel that make it a challenge to quantify are the aspects that make it special.  It’s a story worth reading that will appeal to all ages.  It’s about redemption, responsibility, secrets, lineage, mystery, love, social expectations, aspirations, overcoming the opinions of others, friendship, and trust.  It’s about accepting the responsibility and choices we make when we let ourselves care about others.  It’s about embracing the possibility of getting hurt or rejected.  It has a monster. And it is set in 1952.  Without apology.

I called it a literary YA with a supernatural twist.  It is, and so much more.

Do I believe in this story?  Do I believe readers will identify with Lillian and her friends?

A thousand times, yes.

So my marketing friend asked me to draw some parallels to other books in print.  That’s much harder, because it is different from what’s on the market right now.  But I can say that it has the flavor of The Spitfire Grill, The Secret Life of Bees, A Great and Terrible Beauty, and maybe a tiny touch of To Kill a Mockingbird.   Literary, coming of age goodness in a unique package.

Will agents and traditional publishers be interested now that I can approach queries with a different mindset?   I don’t know.  My writers’ group will tell you I have insecurities and lack confidence, but I believe in this story and its potential to touch readers.  I will find a way to get it out into the world.    This story deserves to live, not because I wrote it, but because it wove itself around a truth that resonates within us all:  caring about others leaves us vulnerable, but also gives us the strength to rise to challenges we could only imagine.

Image: Original Photo: Morguefile; Quote: Albee