Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Partners in Crime

If I don't write to empty my mind, I go mad.  --Lord Byron

It's quite true, and from time to time, I need a little help. I can hardly remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. I’ve been making up stories and worlds and characters since I was very young. As a child, my imagination won me praise. I constantly heard the words “clever,” “imaginative,” and “intelligent.” This elated chorus gave me lots of confidence, but then something changed. Once I reached junior high, the question of “what do you want to be when you grow up” was asked very differently. It took on an oppressive sort of menace. Saying I wanted to be a writer met with a frown. Some people were nice and would say, “Oh, you mean you want to go into journalism?” I eventually gave up and just started saying I wanted to study journalism and kept my real dream to myself. I’d grown tired of people telling me I needed to live in the “real world” and stop being “silly.” One very kind person told me the best way to become a writer was to read and write as much as possible, so that’s what I did every single day.
In high school, I soon became known for my writing. I actually shocked people when I decided to obtain an accounting degree in college. That didn’t last very long thanks to a group project in my first pre-business class. I got placed in a group with three unbelievable idiots. I looked into the future and imagined myself sitting in a cubicle with these three guys around me. I changed my major to English, and this decision eventually led me to teaching, which I adored and may one day return to, but I realized something else that semester. I wanted someone to share my dream with, and I don’t simply mean someone to talk about writing with me. I wanted a writing partner.
I thought I would find one in college. Three years in the B.A. program followed by two years to get my M.A. yielded no one. Though surrounded by writers and literature lovers, I never found that deep connection I craved. I eventually married a fellow English major, but for him writing was a talent, not necessarily a passion. Also, our writing styles are very different, so that didn’t work out either. I never officially stopped looking, but I did stop hoping.
I began to meet more writers in 2006. I was still writing under my real name at that time, and as my publishing credits increased I began to use online social networks to connect with other writers. I loved talking to other writers about the creative process and how e-publishing had begun changing the industry, but I still found myself confronting that blank page alone. One friend online encouraged me to enter a few contests, and we read each other’s work, but the conversations we had about collaborating on a novel never led anywhere. Finally, in 2010, my dream came true in a surprising way.
I usually steer clear of role-players online because of a couple of very strange past experiences, but I began talking to someone on Facebook who used the persona of a character from one of my favorite television shows online instead of his real name and picture. He wanted to maintain his privacy but still go online and gradually connect with other writers, I later discovered. When he first connected with me, I didn’t pay much attention to him. He was polite and sweet. He made me laugh and never assumed “erotica author” meant “girl who will hook up with anyone,” as many men online do. He read one of my stories from years ago and sent me a comment about it. We began talking about writing then. He revealed that he was actually a ghostwriter for a small company. So he spent all day writing; almost every pamphlet, memo, and corporate decree from on high in this company was actually written by him. I told him that sounded wonderful. He told me that what I did sounded far more wonderful. I laughed at first because I write romance and erotica, but he was quite serious.
My writing career had hit an interesting transition at this point. My husband had nearly completed law school. We were planning to move back to his hometown, which has a population just over 30,000. We worried my husband’s practice and future aspirations of entering politics or obtaining a judgeship in a small and fairly conservative town might be hurt if everyone knew his wife wrote erotica. Maybe no one here would ever care in the least, but we didn’t want to watch all of his hard work go down the drain because of something we could easily avoid. So I revived the pen name I had once used to write book and movie reviews and began the long process of letting readers know I would soon be using a new name as well as slowly getting that new name out there and rebuilding a following as I promoted my old works and name less and less.
I had started final edits for the first release under my new name when we began talking about my writing. I sent him a copy of everything I’d ever published and could still get my hands on, bombarding him with PDF files and scanned documents. I have no idea how he found the time to read it all, but he obviously did because every comment he sent me proved helpful and enlightening. I had a work-in-progress driving me crazy at that time and sent it off to him for comment. The document came back to me with both proof of his exceptional editing skills and dozens of comments and suggestions. These comments, suggestions, and corrections were not attempts to make me write like him; each and every one aimed at making my writing better. He took my work seriously, and he understood how my mind worked more clearly than I ever imagined anyone could. He judged my work based on the substance contained within, not the genre or length or the size of my publishing house. He strove to help me make every work the best it could be.
When my first collection came out in December 2010, I dedicated it to him as a surprise. I could hardly believe how stunned he was. I couldn’t stop laughing when he asked me why I did it. He’s the shyest, most withdrawn person I have ever met, and I still have not persuaded him to get much of his own work out there. However, his taking a chance and opening up to me has brought me more joy than I could ever have imagined. My dream came true, and I am happier and more fulfilled as a writer than I ever have been before. I continue to dedicate all my works to him because I know this is only the beginning of something wonderful.
All my gushing aside, not everyone needs or wants a writing partner. Some people work best alone, especially writers. I think it’s amazing when a writer can churn out blog posts, articles, short stories, screenplays, and novels without a second pair of eyes or a voice of reassurance. Having a writing partner was a dream for me, and it is a very personal experience. Trust is key to this relationship. Both writers have to be open-minded and ready to accept even the harshest truth or the partnership will never reach its full potential. For anyone seeking a writing partner, there are lots of options out there. Creative writing classes, post-graduate workshops, and writer’s groups offer the best selection of serious writers, but tons of resources exist online. Writers go to every type of social networking site to connect, and there are even websites where writers can actively search for collaborators. One of my friends found a partner at and so far she’s had only good things to say about the relationship. My best advice to anyone seeking any kind of working relationship with another writer is to do what is best for the work itself. Anything less is a waste of time for everyone involved.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Return to Collinwood

Yesterday marked the 45th anniversary of Dark Shadows. As I watched episodes 561-567 last night I began thinking about how much the show has influenced me. Dark Shadows had everything—romance, horror, fantasy, science fiction and adventure filled those candle-lit hallways and misty graveyards. Barnabas Collins (portrayed by Jonathan Frid) was my vampire, a tortured Byronic gentleman with a tragic past and a complex personality. He was introduced as a temporary character, but he soon saved the show from cancellation, and it’s easy to see why. Barnabas wasn’t a two-dimensional monster. He was an intriguing character who terrified and enchanted the audience. He always kept me emotionally engaged. I wanted to stop him when he tried to bite Maggie Evans, but then I grieved with him when he begged his lost love Josette du Pres to appear to him as she had appeared to young David Collins. Flubbed lines, crew members stumbling into shots, flies buzzing around the set, and the persistent boom mic shadows couldn’t distract me.

Yet as much as I loved Barnabas, Quentin Collins (David Selby) was my favorite character. He got to do everything—he existed in many different time periods and got to be a ghost, a werewolf, a time traveler, a sorcerer and occultist, an inventor, a temporally displaced amnesiac, a victim of body-swapping, a zombie (just the once), the perfect incarnation of the nineteenth-century rake, and even a supremely brooding version of Dorian Gray. His character alone shows how diverse the show truly was. I was about fifteen when I first watched the entire storyline involving Quentin’s first appearance, a retelling of The Turn of the Screw in which he tries to possess David. I willingly confess I often turned all the lights on as I made my way up to my bedroom some nights. I felt the same way after watching the franchise’s second movie, Night of Dark Shadows, an intoxicating blend of themes from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and H. P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Quentin has stayed with me like no other fictional character ever has. I even vetoed “Here Comes to Bride” to walk down the aisle to Quentin’s theme song, “Shadows of the Night,” which I also—in case you hadn’t made the connection—named my blog after.

I could go on and on about the amazing men (and women) of Dark Shadows—and I may eventually do so—but that’s not my point today. Whether I’m writing horror, romance, science fiction or urban fantasy, my mind wanders to Dark Shadows. Most of the characters on the show were both three-dimensional and identifiable (even the villains, most of the time). Even if I haven’t watched a storyline in years the mention of most names brings memories flooding back. Dark Shadows drew on classic literature, supernatural lore, and Dan Curtis’s “what kind of mischief can we get into next” attitude. I don’t get upset about celebrity deaths too often, but I simply couldn’t keep from crying when he passed away in 2006. Dark Shadows inspired me in so many ways. I genuinely doubt my imagination would have developed the same way if not for this show. I was lucky to discover it on VHS beginning in 1989. Most daytime serials never get syndication, let alone release in any other format. Many of them have even been lost forever. I believe Dark Shadows was lucky, but I also think it deserved to endure. Now, if can’t get over wobbly sets and actors stumbling on lines every now and then while the boom mic comes into shot, you may want to just wait for the upcoming movie. However, if you actually care about great characters and storytelling, I highly recommend this personal favorite.

For more information, Stuart Manning is the true go-to guy: