Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Creation Process

Over on the Witchy Chicks we were discussing the creation process each of us uses. This was a post in which I was supposed to sound very author-ish, very cool and in control as I intelligently discussed Creation, that strange, otherworldly state that occurs when I sit down at the computer and begin to write. How I create what I do, tools and techniques, how do I keep everything straight in my head.

The truth is . . .

The truth is, tools and techniques and bibles sound just a little too hardcore for little ol' fly-into-the-mist me. They're the kinds of things I should be doing but can't bring myself to put much effort into. I don't know why. I'm funny that way, I guess. Maybe because so much of it hasn't been put into words yet, because it's all still stewing away in that mysterious cauldron of creation, waiting for its turn to boil . . . and trying to find words for it before it's ready would be kind of like tasting a recipe before all the ingredients are in there. It just doesn't do it justice.

I'm a seat of the pants writer. When I sit down to write a new project, I develop a very generalized plan for what's going to happen. I know which main characters are going to be involved. I know who the victim will be, and his or her relationships with the people in their lives. I know how my Maggie will come to be involved. I know a few of the scenes that will need to be there to carry on the series arc due to what happened in the last book. I choose a point in Maggie's life to open things, and I allow her and her friends and relatives to guide me, and--voila--creation happens. Beyond that, though, it's all very nebulous and hazy and requires a great deal of trust from me.

Trust. I'm very big on it.

I have faith that the characters will come through for me. I have faith that the magic will happen. And because I have faith, it always does. I close my eyes, I take that leap of faith. The bridge always appears beneath my feet. Sometimes it appears a step at a time, sometimes I see a dozen feet at a time, but I'm always given a briefest glimpse of the entire blessed thing as reassurance that I'll be able to walk the walk when the time comes.

This process has never failed me, and I don't expect that it ever will.

What I do keep in a file is a list of characters and the books they first appear in, the briefest of descriptions and major character issues; a list of establishments Maggie has frequented, and their general location in town; and a huge number of pictures that "speak" to me with their imagery. I'm big on imagery and atmosphere, because they appeal on a subconscious level and lend a bit of creative magic to the mystical dreamworld going on somewhere in my brain.

Creation really is an interesting process, isn't it? One would think that, since the end result is the same, the process itself must also be the same, but I've found that it's very different from author to author to author. Flying into the mist is not for the faint of heart, and it's not for anyone who must control every aspect of everything at all times, but it works for me, and that's all that matters.

Love to all,

Mad {madly!} ... and now that label probably makes sense, heh ;>

P.S. The Find function {Control-F} is my best friend :) :)

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Stranger than you've dreamt it...

If I tell you that I've never actually seen a ghost, will you hold it against me?

To me, it doesn't matter, really. I don't need to see them to know that they are there. I always have known, even during the years I tried to convince myself that they were figments of my imagination. For me, it's all about sounds, feelings, perceptions, and movement.

Let me share a few glimpses into my world:

1) The first house that we rented when we returned to Indiana ate shoes. Honestly. One half of pairs, and none of them were ever seen again.

2) Another of the houses that we rented had a cold spot in the laundry room, and a very anxious feeling to it. My oldest boys were four and two at the time, and the older of the two would tell me about waking up to find a "chocolate man with red eyes" standing at the end of his bed. Now, we live in rural Indiana, and at the time the population was predominantly caucasian--I don't think my boys had ever actually seen an African American person at the time, which seems terribly odd to me, but that's just the way that it was. We also live in an area that was quite active in the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. Could it have been? Or was this another kind of entity entirely?

3) The chocolate man apparently followed us to our next home, because the younger of the two started seeing him as well. This house had more than one spirit in attendance. Often when I was home alone, I would hear very distinct human footsteps cross the entire length of the two rooms above. We also had a prankster. Things would disappear quite often and then reappear later in places that did not make sense--for example, a recipe card I was using for some cookies I was baking went missing, only to show up three days later in the center of my bed.

The strangest thing that happened at this house, however, occurred on a rare "mental health day" I had taken off work. My employer at the time had a habit of calling with a million questions, no matter if you were sick or on vacation or what, so when I left the house to pick the boys up from school, I took the phone {a wall model... this house was small enough that I just had the one phone, and this was back in the day... ;> } off the hook and laid it on the floor below so that if my employer called, the phone wouldn't just ring and ring, alerting them to the fact that I was not, in fact, at home. I locked the door, and left the house. When the boys and I returned fifteen minutes later, I went to replace the phone, and--you guessed it--the phone was already back on the hook. No one had been there, and the doors were still locked.

4) Most of the dreams I have are just run-of-the-mill dreams {with the odd pre-cog one thrown in for good measure, but always over something trivial}. Some, though, are extremely vivid and detailed and have a sense of urgency to them. That "Hey, pay attention" feeling.

Back when I was searching for an agent for what has become the Bewitching series, I received an offer of representation from two agents on the same day, and I was faced with making a decision between the two. Both had excellent reputations--that wasn't the problem. One of the agencies had irritated a few authors with contract provisions, but the agent was effusive about the first book {TTWM} and felt positive it would sell with only a few very minor revisions prior to submission. The other agent liked the book, liked my writing, but thought that there were elements in it that would need to be completely revised -- but this agent was highly regarded by the authors the agency represented, and I knew more about them than I did the first agency.

I struggled over this dilemma for a few days, knowing that control of my destiny was in my hands, and I would have only myself to blame if things went badly. How was I supposed to choose between two good agents? Which one would be more likely to sell a difficult project? How could I possibly guess? Did my manuscript need a tremendous amount of revision, or would the changes the second agent wanted edit out the things that made the book mine? I had no idea -- agents don't tell you what they want to see without signing you on, so even that was no help. But in reading back over the manuscript itself, it felt right. It felt good. Minor changes I could see, but nothing felt wrong structurally, which is what a major revision would have entailed. But what if I was wrong?

The night before I would have to give my decision {which I still had not made}, I had a conversation with my guides. Look, I told them, I really could use some help here. If you have sent me signs and I've missed them, I'm sorry, but you know that sometimes I get so busy that I can't see what's right in front of me. Help me, please. Help me make the right decision.

That night I had a dream, one of the "Pay attention!" kind that you can't mistake for anything other than Notices From On High. The dream took place sometime in the medieval period -- maybe the 1400s from the way I was dressed when I looked down at myself. It felt like England to me, and the place--a big, cavernous place with a round tower --was very familiar to me, as though I'd been there often. The dream started out sunny and clear, the sky brilliantly blue, warm both in actuality and in the overall feeling of the place, but things quickly changed once inside. Suddenly I was being chased by several men along these raised platforms within the big barn structure. The fear was overwhelming--I could taste it in the back of my throat. I can still feel it now, remembering. I ended up running the wrong way. I remember clutching my stomach and thinking, "My baby..." I was trapped, and I knew it, and the men were coming at me from all directions. I looked down over the railing of the catwalk, and I remember hearing this voice in the dream: "You can either stay here and almost certainly die, or you can take a leap of faith now and perhaps live..." I made my decision. I leapt.

And then I woke up.

I knew the dream was more than that the instant I woke up. The symbolism in the dream to me was unmistakable as it related to my situation, and I accepted the answer I was given gratefully. I called agent #1 that morning and accepted her offer. Four months later, 1 month and 1 day after the book was submitted, she sold the first 3 books in what became the Bewitching series to Berkley. I've been very happy with the agency ever since.

But the dream ... I realized later that it worked on more than one level. I've dreamed of the same place since then, the people, snippets, not a continuing dream, just bits and pieces that all fit together like a puzzle. But nothing that relates directly to my life currently, or if it does I haven't figured that out. Just this place. There is a man there, and the feeling of intense love, blindingly sweet. All I can see is his eyes, and the overall sense of him, but I know I adored him.

I love having these dreams. They leave me happy and serene and... I don't know... certain of the continuation of awareness? Of life?

5) While traveling in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, we stopped at a touristy place called The Mystery Spot, just west of St. Ignace. Like its more famous sister in Oregon, this is a place where compasses don't work right, where things seem to roll uphill, where time and space and distance all seem to converge and fold in upon each other. Or that's what they say. ;> I took the boys in for a little bit of fun, expecting optical illusions and the like... and was amazed by my reaction to the spot. I don't know if it's all part and parcel of being a sensitive/intuitive, or whether it's just because I'm sensitive to energy in general, but the moment I crossed a certain line, I felt... off-balance. Heavy, as though something weighty was pressing down upon me from above. My ears rang. My skin buzzed. It wasn't an uncomfortable place, just very different from what I normally experience. And once I left the property, everything was back to normal.

6) Indiana has a lot of places where Indian battles were fought, as well as places that were sacred to the regional tribes. One of these is a place called Seven Sisters, a series of rocky promontories that overlook the Wabash River, where the movement of the river over eons has carved out a series of seven columnar features from the limestone riverbed. We went looking for this place on recommendation from a friend, and were pleased when we managed to find it, considering that it is kind of out of the way. I got out of the car and approached the edge cautiously {this isn't a well-marked place, so apparently they don't feel the need to put up fencing or guard rails for visitors}. Standing there on the edge, surveying the lower floodplain opposite, I had a flash of fires and sound, almost like the overlay effect often used in film. We found a small sign later that told of the sacredness of the site to the Miami tribe, and that they used to hold rituals there.

7) My most recent experience actually took place at work last fall. I was standing in the doorway to an office, chatting with a friend, and all of a sudden felt a puff of very much directed breath against my neck. It surprised the heck out of me -- I stopped mid-sentence and spun around, wondering which of the office goofballs were feeling just a little bit naughty that morning. :) There was no one there, of course, but it was definitely too focused to be a random draft {if you've ever had someone gently blow their breath up the length of your neck, then you know this feeling... }. We did have two vehicular deaths happen a couple of years apart, directly in front of the building, and of course you never know what has happened on open land prior to the building's existence. Whoever or whatever it was was definitely feeling a bit frisky that morning, though.

This is getting way too long so this is it from me for now, but I hope you've enjoyed the tales. For me, what most people view as paranormal or supernatural is just a normal part of life and the way I experience it. And really, I can't imagine living it any other way. :)

What about you? Do you have tales to share?

Love to all,

Mad {madly!}