Nothing annoys me more than listening to an author talk about his/her ‘muse.’ It always strikes me as being a tad pretentious; the notion that one’s creativity and output comes from a demi-goddess from Greek mythology. I inwardly cringe whenever I hear the words coming from someone’s mouth, because in my mind the writer is basically stating, “My inspiration is from the divine,” as though every creative artist is somehow touched by heaven. I don’t have a muse, would never claim to have one, nor do I think I am somehow touched by magic or some such.
For me, inspiration comes from life. One of the great things about being a writer is every situation I come into contact with is prospective material for a story, for a book, or for a scene in a book. Life is material for a storyteller; wherever you draw inspiration from is a valid source.
To be a writer is to be an observer of other people and situations, and to translate those observations onto the page in a compelling way.
To give an example, my story “Disaster Relief,” published first on the Suspect Thoughts website and then again in Best Gay Erotica 2007(edited by Richard Labonte and Timothy J. Lambert), came from a very bizarre place. After Hurricane Katrina, I had to meet with a FEMA inspector to examine the extensive damage to my home in order to determine what federal aid I might be entitled to in the wake of the disaster. The last thing I expected was to have a sexy young man in cowboy boots and tight jeans show up. As I led him through the rubble of my home, as he took notes and measurements and pictures, I kept laughing to myself about the notion that I thought he was kind of sexy; and kept thinking to myself, This would be such a great set-up for a scene in a porn movie.
Afterwards, I posted that very thought on my blog, scottynola.livejournal.com, and one of my readers, who was guest editing the next issue of Suspect Thoughts, urged me to write the story. So, I sat down and started writing — and it evolved into a story about the nature of spiritual and emotional healing through sexuality. The story got a much bigger and more positive response than any of my earlier erotic works. I don’t know how my straight FEMA inspector would have felt about having a gay erotica story built around him — but that’s what you get for showing up for an inspection of a gay writer’s home looking sexy as hell.
“Unsent,” recently published for the first time in The Mammoth Book of New Gay Erotica, edited by Lawrence Schimel, came from an even stranger place. I was in a bar one Sunday afternoon in the French Quarter, standing in the doorway with a beer in my hand, when I saw an incredibly beautiful young man in desert fatigues standing across the street. We were drawing close to the war with Iraq, and as I watched him look across the street with unmistakable longing in his eyes, I couldn’t help but think That boy could be dead in just a few weeks, and my heart broke as I watched him, as I thought about his life, his family and friends, and his potential which could very possibly be wasted. I’d been asked to contribute to an erotica anthology about the military, and as I watched him finally turn and walk away, the story started writing itself in my head; an encounter between a young gay serviceman and a bartender on the eve of his being shipped off to the Middle East. I wrote the story that very night when I got home, and my objective was to bring home to the reader the incredible waste of war. The anthology I wrote the story for collapsed, but I was always very proud of the story, and was very happy that it finally found a home.
Not every idea or inspiration will pan out, obviously, but I write all of my ideas down and keep them in a folder in my top desk drawer where I can pull them out every once in a while and go through them. I rarely have a day pass where I don’t get an idea for something, whether it’s a book, a story or merely a scene; sometimes it’s just a character that comes to me. But I meticulously write all of these ideas down to keep them handy.
I am currently writing a story for a fantasy anthology. The inspiration for this story? One night I was at a dance club, standing on the second floor looking down on the crowded dance floor, and I saw a sexy young man dancing with his shirt off, lost in the joy of the dance, and as he moved around, I noticed a tattoo of a swan on his right shoulder. As I stood there, listening to the latest Deborah Cox remix, I wrote an entire story in my head about the boy with the swan tattoo. Now, four years later, I am trying to convert that story from my head and imagination to the page.
Inspiration does not come from a beautiful woman in a toga sitting on your shoulder waving a magic wand over your head as you sit at the keyboard. Inspiration comes from observing, from paying attention to what’s going on around you, from reading a magazine or newspaper article. It is part of your job as a writer to pay attention and observe — and to translate that into fiction.
If you wait for Euterpe or Terpsichore or Clio or whichever muse to show up and smite you, you could be waiting for a long time.
“Hard Business: Writing Gay Erotica” © 2007 Greg Herren. All rights reserved.