Friday, May 1, 2015

Gateway Drugs And Possible Epiphanies

by Willsin Rowe

Like most people who embrace the insanity of chasing writing as a career, I’ve defined myself around it from an early age.
My first writing to achieve acclaim came about in Year 4, when our teacher explained limericks and asked us each to write two. I still remember the unbridled joy on her face when she read mine and realised I was the first in the class to have nailed it all–the rhymes, the rhythms and even the payoff. That moment, more than any other, was my gateway drug.
So considering the vast majority of my work these days is in erotic romance, it’s clear my work has changed since then.
But on a less literal level (although an avidly alliterative one), I should probably focus in on the arc of my grown-up writing.
My first published book arrived in 2006, through a contest I won. Any time I read back through that story I can see plenty I’m still proud of, but far more cringeworthy moments than I’d like. And those cringeworthy moments mainly come about from a lack of discipline. There are so many darlings in need of killing.
My second moment of importance–possibly even an epiphany, though let’s not get too overblown here–came about almost at random. In 2010, on a whim, I decided to take part in Alison Tyler’s “Smut Marathon”. This was a flash fiction contest. There was more to it than that, but its importance lies in its flash-ness.
Already having spent 20 years striving to craft songs, I found the concept of flash fiction fascinating (Agh! Alliteration! Again!). It also turned out to be a writing form which resonated with me. The act of distilling concepts into as few words as possible, and of conveying an unmistakable meaning while still only implying it…damn, but I love it. And it’s an element which informed all my writing from there on in, no matter what length.
And my third moment of importance actually came about thanks to the Erotica Readers & Writers Association. I found two pieces of short fiction on the website which resonated with me greatly.
The two pieces were “Girls’ Night Out” by Giulia Cosentino and “A Taste of Jessica” by T.D. Fallon. They’re both FF stories, which is something I’m kinda fond of (who’da thunk, right? A dude wot likes girls snogging). What struck me most about both those stories was how they seared like flash fiction, yet sang like novellas. And the power of them came intrinsically from how much the authors left out. It was a light bulb moment, especially when held up against my then-newfound love of flash fiction.
When I first started treating writing as a serious part of my life, I lacked self-confidence. And there was an unwitting element of brittle arrogance in there, too.
I knew I could write short and random. Poems were a specialty (ribald and humorous, particularly…stay tuned for more on THAT!). But I didn’t trust my ability to construct an arc, or to craft characters, so I overcompensated. That lack of confidence led me to describe actions and feelings in more detail than was necessary. Brittle arrogance told me it was vital that all readers interpreted my words in JUST THIS WAY.

It was only with the growth and learning described above that I learned the true value of a story: that above all it’s far more a connection than a creation. We might think we’ve created a story, but many times it’s nothing more than a gateway drug to the vast imagination of the person reading it.


  1. Or writing is only our own until the moment of release. Once it is read by another it becomes the property of that other, to interpret as he desires within the context of his own experience. We must relinquish control and trust our words to fly true; always remembering that truth rests in more directions than we can possibly tell.

  2. And, of course, T S Eliot put it far better than I (and possibly, although I would not attempt to judge here, you) when he wrote in the Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock:

    And would it have been worth it, after all,
    Would it have been worth while,
    After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
    After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
    And this, and so much more?—
    It is impossible to say just what I mean!
    But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
    Would it have been worth while
    If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
    And turning toward the window, should say:
    "That is not it at all,
    That is not what I meant, at all."

    So there we go - my two pieces of pretentiousness for the day.

    1. Aw, I love pretentiousness, though. And yours are unfailingly delightful and contribute much to the topic, Ms. Mary!

  3. From time to time there have been some discussion both here and on ERWA of whether or not flash fiction is of any value at all. I was ERWA flasher editor for several stints and maintain that even though they're not particularly sellable, not everything of value is. Flashers are great exercises in plot structure and economy of words that teach us far beyond the simple flasher. Among other things, the exercise teaches us how few words it *actually* takes to tell a story.

    And, of course the best flashers are true works of art in themselves.

    1. Forgot to comment when I read this before. I'm a big fan of flash for its discipline. No, it's not a seller at all, and I completely understand that. But great flash is brilliant reading.

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  5. Go for it, whatever it is, however it will be read. Go for it while you still can. Before, as Prufrock also muses, (and I quote roughly, from an aging memory)

    "I grow old, I grow old,
    I shalll wear my trousers rolled.
    Do I dare to eat a peach?
    I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each...
    I do not think that they will sing to me."

    The mermaids do still, occasionally, sing to me, but it's true that I've had to shorten my trousers as gravity whittles away an inch and a half or so from my height.

    And yes, my typos increase, which is why I deleted my first attempt at this post.

  6. Last December, we dedicated a fortnight here at the Grip to flash fiction. We also had a topic ("Frustration"). You can see our efforts starting here:

    It used to be that I found writing "flashers" incredibly difficult. I'd write, then cut. Count. Cut. Count again. Repeat ad nauseum. When we did this exercise, I was startled to discover that it wasn't nearly as hard as I remembered. I suspect this means that I have better control over my writing now. Which is a welcome change, I guess.

    I didn't realize you'd started writing F/F only recently, or that ERWA was involved. I loved "Her Majesty". I found your female characters strongly believable.

    Keep writing. Keep learning. That's all any of us can do.

    And with regard to the need to over-explain, there used to be a guy on ERWA whose tag line was:

    What you read is not what I wrote. I supply the words. You supply the meaning.

    A reminder to many of us, I think.

    1. Oh, I've written a few FF titles before, though yes, only in recent years. And I had a bunch of my flash stories out in an anthology which...wait for it...BARELY SOLD ANY COPIES! As could be expected.

      Thank you for the praise on Her Majesty, though. I do maintain its final polish owes a great deal to the editing!

    2. Lisabet says-
      It used to be that I found writing "flashers" incredibly difficult. I'd write, then cut. Count. Cut. Count again.

      Try the opposite way- Write a skeleton but complete scenario, then fill in extra words until you hit the desired word count.

  7. Maybe we should do another flasher fortnight sometime soon. Anybody game?

  8. I would be up for another flasher! I still have a few that I posted in Erotic Readers & Writers Storytime years ago. Of course, I haven't found anywhere to sell them.

  9. Welcome to the Grip Willsin. The most important thing is to love what you do.


  10. "above all it’s far more a connection than a creation"

    This is a wise and valuable conclusion to your grownup writer arc. :)

    1. I sometimes sound a bit smart! But then again, I'm a bass player, not a drummer. Heehee!

  11. I'm reading this late (I missed it somehow)—but I found it to be a very interesting writing history, with a lot of unusual twists, turns, and touchstones (and I loved the alliteration business!).


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