All Hallows Eve is on our doorstep; houses are draped in cobwebs and ghosts, tombstones clutter the yards, dark cloaked figures keep watch in the darkness; the crisp air crackles with the energy hovering beyond the veil. I am drawn to the stories of the strange and mysterious: vampires, witches, and worlds that might exist in and around our own. I love to unearth these stories from the experience of everyday life.
One of my first published stories is a supernatural thriller that takes place in a storage locker. I took a real life experience and transformed it, creating a frightening world out of a common situation. The wonderful thing about writing on the strange and mysterious is that I can create any scenario; in the obscurity of the unknown, there are no facts, therefore, the story can be as mind-boggling and improbable as the imagination will allow. Creating worlds is what liberates writers from the boundaries of reality. I love to draw a reader into a fictional world that leaves them wondering about a nameless fear, that pulls them into the story and drags them from the safety of the familiar. Mysteries of the unknown engage us; we are both terrified and fascinated. Writing the dark side should be done eloquently, and include a splash of reality in order for readers to feel they are part of the story. There should be a blending of normalcy along with the impossible to make it appear genuine in a fictional world. The use of imagery and senses are key in drawing the reader into a dark world and making the hairs on the back of their necks rise.
“She grabbed the collar on her coat and held it tightly between her hands, trying to close the gap against the creeping cold. She didn’t like the feel of it – the frigid cement beneath her feet, the steel doors, and the maze of hallways leading to dead ends. She didn’t like the unsettling sensation that she was being watched, and when she turned to look behind her, she saw shadows retreat into the walls.” – The Storage Locker by J.G. Chayko
Happy All Hallows Eve
She looks towards the camera, a high ruffled collar crowding her neck, a long dress dripping down her back and spilling onto the floor, high cheekbones displayed in a shadow of light, a wistful expression on her delicate face…she is an image from a bygone time staring out from her black and white world. Who is she? Where did she come from? What is her story? That’s up to you to decide.
Pictures are an excellent source of storytelling. Images can incite a story or ignite a current project. I wrote a short story based on a picture of a brick building in New York; an antiquated iron fire escape snaked its way down the side of the building, and suddenly, I had the makings of a tale of a clandestine affair. Looking at pictures can unleash endless possibilities. I like to take my camera when I go for a walk and snap photos of parks, streets, buildings, alleyways, people, whatever catches my attention, and then I go home and look at them, searching for a story, an emotion, a character. On my corkboard, I have a collage of magazine clippings and sometimes, in a dull moment, I just gaze at the cacophony of colorful images and it provides me with a setting, a moment, or an action.
A picture is not only worth a thousand words – it’s worth a whole literary world.
I don’t always come to the desk ready to work. There are some days I just don’t feel like a writer. I arrive at my writing space feeling sterile and lacking the desire to write. I sit before a blank screen or stare at the last thing I wrote and can’t figure out how I did it. On these days, I need a little incentive to pull myself out of that rut.
The singer Billy Joel once talked about how he could motivate himself to write on days he didn’t feel like writing – he would dress up in a nice suit, go to an outdoor café, order a glass of wine, sit with a notebook and trick himself into the mindset of a writer. The concept is to institute some small change that stimulates the brain towards its objective. By making a change in my environment, my clothing, or by altering my routine, I can open a door to put myself into the mental space to write. I don’t go as far as dressing up in a suit or an evening gown – it can be something as simple as putting on my creamy cashmere scarf, noticing how it feels against my skin or the way it looks draped over my shoulder; it may be moving into a different room of the house, or popping out to a coffee shop. It’s a theatrical strategy that helps pull me out of a blank state; it triggers that smouldering ember to bring me back to a writing state of mind.
Fall is one of my favourite seasons. The outside world explodes in a burst of color. Crisp mornings lead into mild afternoons before dropping into chilly evenings; people gather indoors and relax in the warmth of their house, and clear nights burst with a dazzling display of stars. It’s the harvest time, not just for families to gather and celebrate the abundance of life, but for me to harvest new ideas for future projects. This is my writer’s pallet, where I can draw from the elements of nature a rich setting for story, or celebrate the change with the evocative words of poetry.
A lone bird trills, singing the last song of a dying summer, while change swoops over the Western world like medieval soldiers swarming the battlefield.
Crimson leaves dance, glittering with dew in crisp sunlight, gallantly clinging to weary branches;
The enchanting aroma of smouldering wood and mulled wine linger in the air, and behind the orange glow haunting misty windows, families gather to celebrate the harvest.
An idea hits and we run with it; the perfect beginning to what could become the perfect story pours out of us, our fingers racing over the keyboard or our pens gliding over the page. The divine beginnings of story streams along, characters appear and splendid descriptive settings emerge in a rich tapestry of words. Sometimes throughout this initial burst, a magnificent ending materializes, and before it’s lost, we leap ahead to our final conclusion. This is the easy part. We have the preliminary slivers of a developing story and the only thing missing is the body that links beginning to end. This is where the real work begins, picking your way through the mire, building the core of your story.
In school I was taught to create an outline before sitting down to write; but I’ve learned when a concept comes crashing in like a rogue wave, I don’t have the time to design the framework. I write down everything as it comes –settings, descriptions, beginnings, characters, conclusions and back story. Once the flow has been purged, I sit down and begin my first outline, filling in the holes and piecing together the events that guide the story from beginning to end.
Inspiration does not arrive in an orderly fashion. I build my stories from the fragments of an initial vision, like purchasing the tools before designing the structure. Sometimes I find my best work comes from shifting the order of things.
Writing is all about letting go and taking chances. I wrote this poem when I was about twelve years old. It’s about living your life without fear and having the courage to follow your passion; in other words, learning to dance. It still holds true for me today.
Upon a wire I dance; a thin thread of true romance.
The world lies far beneath me and without a net I prance.
Is there fear in your heart? The thought that I could fall?
Are you watching the risk I take, waiting for my call?
Is it foolish for me to think that you care at all?
Hear my laughter, see my smile; I am not afraid.
Take my hand and join me; do you want our love to fade?
Dance upon the wire with me for the devil has been paid.
Take my hand and hold on tight, there is no need for fright.
The world lies far beneath us, our destiny in sight.