Another month has flown by and it’s time to step on the scale for my monthly novel weigh-in. Have I been a good girl this month? Well, I’ll admit, I’ve been no saint, but what use would that be for an erotica writer? On the other hand, I have generated some new prose and, more importantly, I’m definitely moving deeper into my story, to the extent that the Universe itself seems to be supplying inspiration.
For example, my novel’s protagonist is married to an older man but will suddenly find herself involved with one who is younger, a difference of thirty years. Thus far the “reality” of this was nothing more than a twist of plot in my preparatory outline. I hadn’t given the details of it much thought. Then last Friday, I walked into my yoga class to find my usual teacher—a charismatic, well-toned Santa Claus type—had arranged for a substitute, a man about thirty years younger. The new teacher had a slightly different take on the classic poses, and this made me more aware of ways to envision and enact the positions in my body. Not to mention, the younger man did some handstands and effortless flips that gave an acrobatic dazzle to a usually sedate class.
Yet I also missed the soothing familiarity of my regular teacher and was mildly annoyed he hadn’t warned us of the personnel switch. Then, about halfway through the class it hit me—this is just like my novel! My heroine will experience this same unsettling change with her lovers, in a more intimate way than I did of course, but now I could be her in a more visceral way as I registered the differences between mellow maturity and the edgy energy of youth.
That’s when I knew I’d reached a new level of engagement. There’s a point in every longer piece of writing—be it dissertation or novel—when everything in your life suddenly becomes relevant to your project. Halloween, the fiction writer’s favorite holiday, is another example. Forget the cheap candy, ever since I can remember, my favorite part of October was dressing up and trying on another identity, just as I’m doing in my novel. Yet this year I’m more keenly aware that hiding myself behind a costume actually reveals something about me that I don’t usually show to the world.
Dressing as a witch or ghoul helps us get in touch with our shadow, of course, but even if the connection isn’t direct, the choice of alter ego itself speaks. When I decided to be “Melanie” from Gone With the Wind or Anne Boleyn back in my elementary school days, I was also showing my girlish attraction to the romance of history. In later years I’ve gone for a sari, a Korean hanbok, an Austrian dirndl and a Venetian carnival get-up—all but an open announcement of my international Wanderlust.
In the cool-eyed, rational phase of outlining my plot and developing character sketches, my protagonist was most definitely “make believe.” Her job, her family and romantic history, her looks, her sexual preferences were, in factual terms, very different from mine. And yet, now that I’ve slipped into her shoes and begun to live her life out scene by scene, I feel us growing closer. I can’t quite say whether I’m becoming more like her or she’s becoming more like me. In any case, our moments of communion have taught me a few things about my fantasies and desires I don’t always see in “real life.” Thus, while tricking my reader with my fiction, I’m really treating them with an intimate glimpse into the real me.
Talk about scary.
While I’ve never written an erotic story that is 100% autobiographical—120% is the most I’ve managed—I will admit that my readers know more about my erotic self than the majority of people who’ve actually had sex with me. Now and then, that thought still makes me feel shy, even tempted to hide myself behind more veils of make-believe. But I quickly realize that tactic is futile. Every story, every image, every word speaks of the writer’s sensibility. As an avid reader, I’ve long been aware of the irony that I seek deeper truths about the human heart in fiction. But only recently have I realized that even when a writer is all dressed up in her characters’ clothes and fantasies, s/he is essentially naked.
Accordingly, for one (very) brief moment, I toyed with the idea of going naked on Halloween, my naughty parts modestly covered with a flowing, long-haired wig, so that when I was asked if I were Lady Godiva, I could reply, instructively, “No, I’m a writer.” If you found this idea scandalous, I assure you I quickly decided I’m too busy with my novel to shop for such a wig. If that decision disappoints, there’s always next year when I might dare to show an even braver and bolder side to the world than my current story does now.
After all, the writing life is nothing if not an unpredictable adventure.
As cooler weather descends, our bellies crave warming foods—especially true for naked writers—so I’ll leave you with a recipe for a filling dish that mingles a sweet and tender winter squash with sturdy grain and manly legumes. Bon appetit and may this Halloween reveal new and fascinating facets in your life and your writing!
A Very Revealing Barley, Butternut Squash and Black Bean Ménage à Trois
(Serves 6; adapted and corrupted from a recipe in Prevention, February 2005)
1 cup barley
1 14 oz. can chicken or vegetable broth
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
2 cups chopped butternut squash (1 small or 1/2 medium)
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cook barley in broth according to package directions, add water to broth if necessary. Meanwhile heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add leeks and squash and cook, stirring occasionally until slightly softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add a Tablespoon of water if the vegetables seem dry and half of the parsley and cook 2-3 minutes longer. Transfer vegetables to a large bowl. Add barley, black beans, salt, remaining parsley, lemon juice and pepper and stir to combine. Serve warm or let cool to room temperature—it’s delicious either way.
Donna George Storey
“Cooking up a Storey” © 2010 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.