I've had my best friend Susan "Devin" Droste staying with me for two weeks, and living with another writer opens your eyes. It's amazing how many things go into our subconsciousnesses to formulate the tapestry that is us. Nowhere is it more apparent than when you write.

How does the subconscious work? This picture is as accurate as any


Something funny happened. I started writing Out of the Past, a short story styled after those 1980's pulp novels you bought off the circular rack at a gas station when on a road trip, and named my character Claire Willoughby. I thought it sounded familiar so I Googled the hell out of it and found no celebrity or fictional character of popular note with the moniker. After I wrote the first part of four and uploaded it to literotica.com I took a break and randomly decided to read a romance novel (been on a kick with them lately). So I chose one I read in the 80's, The Duchess by Jude Deveraux, a good novel with a promising plot only spoiled by a forced quick resolution. The first line of the book begins "Miss Claire Willoughby fell in love with..."

Well, fuck. Oh, well.

Funny that somehow my subconscious must have known this inspiration for the name and guided me to select that book from a giant stack of romance novels I inherited. Eh, my Claire and her Claire are vastly different. Mainly I'm not making mine short and then spending twenty pages insisting short women are better in the sack. Trust me guys, petite women have advantages, but us tall girls fit better in a 69. Just sayin'. 

Later that day as we were walking to dinner, we'd discussed when her daughter could read Bunnicula and books from childhood. It's funny we both read The Murders in the Rue Morgue as children and in her it started a lifelong passion for all things Gothic, and in me it spurred a lifelong passion for all detective stories. Then I brought up my personal childhood favorite of scary Stories to Tell in the Dark only to be met with a blank look. I explained it was full of urban legends, ghost stories, horror stories, some funny ghost stories, songs, and creepy-ass drawings. I sang her The Hearse Song and she just looked at me and said, "Suddenly you make sense."

Okay, Edgar Allen Poe also made me quasi-Goth...how could he not?


We got to talking about our influences, the things that stuck with us. Think of every biographical film of an artist, arteur, or writer you've ever seen: they tend to linger on the events that influenced them. If you know Frida Kahlo's art that long scene of the trolley accident with the glitter in the film Frida makes a shit ton of sense. We each have those things, and I believe for writers it's good to know what these events are. I talk about creating a landscape often, but it's necessary. Jude Devereaux has her MacTaggert family lines, H.P. Lovecraft has his Miskatonic U, what do you have?

In thinking of my own life, things that have stuck out most to me are varied and strange. It's funny how often I write about love, given I am commitment-phobic and often celibate, but my paternal grandparents got engaged n their first date, married, and loved each other until death completely faithful and committed. So frankly I believe love can work and I have evidence of love at first sight which fascinates me. Just for fun, for those of you familiar with my work, what in the following list can you spot in my stories?

-I had a great-aunt who was a free spirit, we used to smoke a bowl at family gatherings. She died at age 98 in bed...with two 18 year old boys

-I grew up in Michigan but my family comes from Chicago and on visits and even to this day, when driving along Lake Shore Drive there are two three-story gingerbread Gothic townhouses between high rises I've always wanted to live in

-Growing up with hippie parents is pretty much like growing up without any parents, but two kids you raise yourself

-My father's best friend drove a Mustang convertible I begged constantly to ride in

-I grew up with a family superstition that women with red hair are witches

-My mom's family was very prestigious, and included the Hydes, for whom Chicago's Hyde Park is named

-Believe what you want, but I've had prophetic dreams all my life that have saved lives and averted disasters

-Again in that vein, my mom was psychic, made a living winning contests, and once saved a friend a thousand miles away from dying in a house fire

-I often commune with trees and feel they are individuals, they have often been my salvation and places of escape

-I'm fascinated with Nikola Tesla, early electricity, the marriage of science and magic, and the dark wizard type

-I discovered at age 12 just how prestigious my family was when I discovered I had a huge trust fund...that my irresponsible parents liquidated before I was 18 and could control it

-I am related to half of the Chicago Police Department

-My favorite movie as a child was The Purple Rose of Cairo

-I have always loved the melancholia of Hans Christian Andersen

-One of the nicest gifts I've ever received was a katana sword given to me when I was fifteen by a family friend who swore I'd study iaido. I began in 2002 having completely forgotten it, lost my training blade to a apartment fire only to have my father accidentally ship it in a care package of old things days later

-In 2009 I was bitten by a strange dog, a wolf hybrid, and ever since I have been allergic to silver (even nickel-free)...and my eyes always appear yellow in low-light photos

Kind of hard to see in this 2009 photo of me but the eyes came out yellow *cue spooky music*


Those are some basic things but you can see many things that commonly come through in my stories. You wouldn't believe my life story if I told you, but my stories all borrow heavily from my life. Not to sound too narcissistic, but one of the most common compliments in my fan mail is how fleshed-out my fictional worlds are, how well-rounded the characters are. I know what my influences are and I draw heavily on them, that's the trick.

It's good for every writer to think on it. Remember that as a writer you have two spheres, your life and your landscape. They won't always overlap. For example, I come from a musical family. On my mom's side she was a classically trained pianist who played Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, and Mozart for me as a child playing with Play-Doh, all three generations before her were opera singers and her father was one of the first DJs in the country. On my father's side they've been in the church choir for generations as well as bands. Gramps was in a barbershop quartet and my father had once been a metal band. As a child he sang to me so much we once left a store and over the PA came "Elvis has just left the building." My brother has always had an angelic voice and sang solos all through school choirs. I can't carry a tune in a bucket so I learned to read and compose music, and play the violin, viola, cello, bass, alto sax, tenor sax, piano, and harp. Music is a huge part of my life, I often write to it, for example right now I write this to a Jem playlist on youtube. When have you ever seen a character in a story as into music as I am?

Plus, we're not likely to agree on what is good music

There are other things: I am obsessed with mice, I am a hardcore geek who plays video games, RPGs like D&D, and every now and again LARPs. Why are these things not in my fiction? One, they're the most likely to bore readers, and two, I try to keep my deepest passions out of characters. Why? Well you might want to read about my actual life (today I believe I broke the laws of thermodynamics, two days ago I saw 2 UFO's, and my favorite hobby is spray-painting traffic cameras, so you never know) but the truth is readers judge, we all do it. I want you to judge my fiction, not me.

Remember that writing too close to your own life reads like your deepest fantasies. Sure, they entertain you, but probably not everyone else. You have to keep your landscape separate. In my greatest personal fantasy I live in a bungalow with two dogs and a cat, and have on-call sex slaves. Three out of four of you just cringed and that fourth went "Wha?" so I know better than end any character's story like that.

Trust me, I think this is incredibly hot, and you're likely cringing


Keep working on creating your landscape, and ask yourself what things in your past stand out the most.Then sort them into "interesting to others" and "uninteresting to others" piles, and you're on your way. Good luck!