Published on January 14, 2022 by The Chamber Magazine. Click to read: https://thechambermagazine.com/2022/01/14/castle-winterdrecht-dark-supernatural-fiction-by-lisa-voorhees/
Published on January 14, 2022 by The Chamber Magazine. Click to read: https://thechambermagazine.com/2022/01/14/castle-winterdrecht-dark-supernatural-fiction-by-lisa-voorhees/
Some days I’m a veterinarian, running through diagnostic trees and fine-tuning treatment plans for a variety of diseases and medical conditions. Other days I’m at my computer in front of the page, hashing out strings of words in pursuit of a story that’s playing out in my head, anxious to capture the images in their purest form.
I can’t think of two more disparate ways of having to use my brain. Transitioning between these aspects of myself can be difficult. Context switching is expensive at the same time as it’s necessary. Most writers have jobs or careers outside of writing, and I am no exception.
Tuning into my subconscious in order to pick up a story thread where I’ve left off is essential to productive writing days.
I’m equal parts pragmatist and dreamer, or as I like to think of it, a practical mystic.
Herein lies my dilemma.
To function both as veterinarian and writer, I must embrace both.
My rational brain takes precedence inside the clinic. After a few days away from the page, the much quieter voice of my intuition, or subconscious, is all but drowned out.
It drives me crazy. How can I stay in the same frame of mind as after I’ve freshly written – that near euphoric, selfless state where the world and all concept of time has melted away and I’m living inside the dream world I’ve created in my mind?
Over the past few years, I’ve had to talk myself down from panicking over the focus I lose amidst the constant context switching. My sincerest hope is that what I’ve learned will also help you in the pursuit of your creativity.
Well, there you have it. My humble tips for learning how to give my subconscious more love and affection so I can hear all the wonderful things it’s trying to tell me. If you’re a practical mystic like me, drop me a line. Let’s chat! How do you cope with context switching in order to get your writing done?
When a book starts with “What had happened was…”, you know it’s going to be good. I didn’t even realize I needed this book until it literally *dropped* into my lap by (almost) pure happenstance. <and targeted marketing> Don’t let the innocent exterior fool you. Princess Floralinda and the Forty-flight Tower is more than a perfect spin on an old trope; it’s a powerhouse of a novella with real depth to it, amidst the rampant parody.
Whimsical and hilarious, I cried legit tears of enjoyment at Tamsyn Muir’s satiric wit and quick turns of phrase in this comedic retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale.
An evil witch builds a forty-flight tower and entraps Floralinda at the top, ensuring her demise by carefully positioning monsters designed to poison, kill, or destroy at every level. Any prince destined to win the reward of the golden sword, along with Floralinda, will have to battle the monsters, not least of which is a jewel-encrusted dragon whose roars shake the tower walls at night. So far, the princes have all been reduced to dragon kibble, crunched to oblivion between its massive diamond teeth.
The princess has a real problem on her hands, that is until Cobweb enters the scene – a wily fairy with a mouth twice the size of her diminutive stature, and a razor-sharp intellect to boot.
In the end, Floralinda’s predicament is not so different from our own. We may or may not have a quick-witted fairy guiding us through a perilous journey. Yet truth lies not in treasure, but who we discover ourselves to be along the way, a confirmation of inner strength that, at the outset, we aren’t sure we possess.
Don’t worry, I won’t spoil the ending. Suffice it to say, this story is packed with as much heart as humor. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
If you decide to kick off the New Year with this gem of a tale, let me know. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I would be lying if I said the holidays haven’t affected my writing the last few weeks. While a joyous season in many ways, this is also an incredibly difficult time of year for me. My dad passed away three months ago and his absence is palpable, still a fresh wounding.
Grief absolutely saps the life out my writing efforts, making it hard for me to focus on my long-term projects. I’m constantly second-guessing myself, my mind chattering in nervous circles while my practical side tells me to get to work, to quit wasting time and get on with life.
It’s kind of a vicious cycle. *smiles*
Since December is the month of gift-giving, I thought I’d share some of the many gifts writing has bestowed on me. It’s a reminder to myself of why I do the thing that I do, and why I love it so much. Perhaps it will serve as inspiration for you, too, in dealing with your own struggles.
Writing has enriched my life in countless ways beyond these five, as I’m certain it will for you. Are you stuck at the moment? Struggling with an idea, or bursting with more than you can handle? Drop me a line, I’d love to chat about how your creativity has blessed you.
Together, we inspire each other. Perhaps that’s the greatest gift we can give each other.
If you’re looking for a classic Gothic thriller that will keep you up late at night, search no further than The Woman in Black. Though closer in length to a novella, Susan Mills delivers the solid punch of a much weightier work, hitting all the plot points you long for in a traditional haunted house story. What made the difference for me between this ghost story compared to others was the deliciously creepy setting of Crythin Gifford.
From the moment Arthur Kipps, a young solicitor from London, sets foot in the misty, windswept marshlands along the far northeastern shore of England, he’s troubled by the sense that there is something very sinister about the assignment he’s been given to settle the affairs of the late Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. The moldering stone estate sits at the end of Nine Lives Causeway, a twisted gravel road that disappears under the murky water at every turn of the tide, rendering the house inaccessible for large portions of the day.
As the townspeople grow more suspicious of Arthur’s business dealings at the house, he becomes more determined to uncover the mystery behind the shadowy specter of the woman in black who haunts the halls at night. From the strange, rhythmic creaking behind locked doors to a child’s cries that echo across the gloomy, deserted marshland in the dark, Arthur gradually pieces together the tragic, decades-old secret behind the haunting of Eel Marsh House.
Even after he returns to London, Arthur cannot escape the harrowing impression the house and its ghostly inhabitant have left on him. You won’t want to miss the ending of this truly terrifying psychological thriller. Susan Mills is a master of Gothic suspense. If you’re a fan of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca and Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, grab a copy of The Woman in Black today. I promise you won’t regret it.
Recently I was asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s an excellent question, and one that made me chuckle. My immediate thought was, I worked for hours to wrestle that idea into shape! It didn’t just happen. When I considered the question a bit longer, my next thought was, I have no idea how my subconscious came up with that. I focused on a single image, and gradually, my mind worked out the rest.
Here’s the thing. We don’t get new ideas from logic. Adopting an attitude of playfulness is how we get in touch with our subconscious, yet most of us are conditioned to believe this kind of activity is “a waste of time” or “unproductive.”
The process of tuning into our intuition is counterculture. Workplace efficiency dictates that we arrive at the best possible decision in the least amount of time. The natural reaction to our fast-paced, profit-driven, time-obsessed society is that we’re constantly pressed into fight-or-flight mode. We leap to reason, often at the expense of suppressing our deepest feelings and creative impulses. If someone comes up with a clear solution quickly, that person is perceived to be more intelligent than someone who needs time to consider a problem from many angles and to take their time doing so.
In other words, if working out a solution takes time, we assume we’re doing it wrong.
As creatives, this is where we often get into trouble, stuck inside a vicious negative feedback loop in which the left hemisphere (our logical, analytical mind) dominates the right (our creative, intuitive mind). When we’re engaged in the creative process, our feelings, not our thoughts, are what guide us to truth. As soon as we allow doubts to creep in about the space (or time) required to give expression to those feelings, our Inner Critic wins – the voice that says, “You’re not good enough!” or “You’re not a writer!”
Our subconscious mind is temperamental. We can’t order it around or demand it to work for us a certain way. It exists in the deepest part of us, yet in a noisy culture, its subtle promptings are easily drowned out. Is it possible to ‘trick’ this essential component of our creative minds into working for us when we need it?
The answer is yes. Our creativity is like a muscle: the more it’s used, the stronger it grows.
John Cleese has a unique philosophy on the nature of creativity and inspiration. My tips are a summary of a number of talks he’s given about his creative experience and beliefs.
Our subconscious minds are powerful, more so than we imagine. Although I’m guilty of worrying about the amount of time it takes to develop a nascent idea into a fully-fledged story, recognizing when to allow my logical brain to impede on the creative process is vital. Play is essential. So is learning how to be comfortable with the ambiguity of the early stages of creation.
Part of respecting any idea is giving the creative process the time it deserves.
Trust your intuition. More than likely, it’s your subconscious mind trying to get your attention with your next bold idea.
Have any thoughts you’d like to share about your creative process? Drop me a line! I’d love to hear what works for you.
Ever wonder what it would be like if two fantastical creatures from different cultures met each other and hit it off? Look no further than Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni, and its thrilling sequel, The Hidden Palace. I dusted off my copy of The Golem and the Jinni and binge read it about three days before I started the sequel. I’ll admit, I’m not much of a re-reader. There’s too many books out there waiting to be discovered to spend my time re-reading even the ones I love, but in this case, my appreciation of the scope of Helene Wecker’s storytelling was richly rewarded.
She’s not only brought early twentieth century New York City to life, she’s created a host of characters, both human and magical, whose relationships survive the difficult and often harrowing circumstances immigrants faced on newly arriving in America. In this continuation of her previous story, Chava the golem, or a woman made of clay, and Ahmad the jinni, a creature of fire trapped in the body of a man, continue their journey of friendship wile the city around them rapidly changes and the world prepares for war.
Their newly budding relationship is tested when each meets another of their kind, whom they either did not presume to exist, or expect to discover wandering the streets of the metropolis. Drama unfolds as Chava and Ahmad must decide what they mean to each other while, at the same time, they must find their place among the people and neighbors with whom their lives have become intricately intertwined.
This sweeping narrative, spanning both Hebrew and Arabic folklore and creatures of legend, is sure to enthrall you as much as it did me. The characters are endearing and their struggles, while primarily brought about by magic, feel relatable and real. The story is not without its twists and turns, though, and the ending, while wholly satisfying, leaves open a delicious hint that there may yet be more books to come.
Until then, enjoy this masterful duo. The golem and the jinni have become unforgettable characters to me. Read, and tell me if it’s the same for you.
This is the first time I’ve recommended a graphic novel, but that’s because this is one monstrously delicious spooky season treat you won’t want to miss. Sarah Andersen is perhaps best known for her well-loved comics, Sarah’s Scribbles, yet that same wry humor and irresistible whimsy makes its way into her charming girl-meets-boy tale, Fangs.
Elsie, a three hundred year old vampire, never anticipates running into Jimmy the werewolf when she swings by the Odditorium for a drink late one night. The two quickly discover they have more in common than they expected, though they must be willing to adapt to each others’ monstrous inclinations if their relationship is going to work.
From dusky strolls to full moon transformations, dinner dates (sans garlic), and a shared love of horror movies and sinister novels, Elsie and Jimmy experience the spectrum of awkward and tender moments that come with starting a new relationship.
Sarah’s brilliant illustrations had me bursting out with laughter the whole way through and wishing the story was longer by the time I reached the end.
Pick up a copy of Fangs and give it a read. I promise, your Halloween won’t be the same otherwise.
They say death is final.
Yes, in a way, they’re right.
Consider love’s strength, though,
how hard I’ve seen you fight.
Creeping stiffness threatened
your will to hold a brush.
You painted anyway
from your wheelchair, in no rush.
I bought a bag for you
to carry all your stuff.
Hair clippings fell inside
and if that weren’t enough,
you left something else, too.
A token of your love.
Precious gift of color
shed by a heavenly dove.
Death couldn’t hold you back.
I know your spirit’s free!
Or why else would you send
that li’l blue feather to me?
You’ve read the articles on writing and productivity. You know what they say, or rather, how they make you feel. If you’re not writing every day, however many thousands of words, you’re not a real writer. Plant butt in chair. Produce on demand, without exception. This is what you’ll have to do if you expect to survive as a professional writer.
I’ve read other articles that state the opposite, freeing you to create as your schedule permits, as long as you commit to your writing in some form on whatever timetable works best. Be regular. Be consistent. These are the keys to success.
I’d like to suggest something else. Something new and a little different. Instead of focusing on how much writing we’re getting done, how about we focus instead on how much writerly rest we’re allowing ourselves? I’m talking about balance, yin and yang style. Our lives, and especially our writing lives, are inseparable from the rest of our bodily well-being, in the most holistic sense.
As writers, we are intimately aware of the complex interplay that must take place between our minds, bodies, hearts, and spirits in order to produce our best material. If even one of these aspects of our lives takes a nosedive, the others quickly feel the added strain. If we’re not careful, our inspiration languishes and we may begin to straggle into the dreaded wasteland of burnout.
I’d like to suggest some ways to prevent this from happening. If we stay tuned to our body’s needs, both external and internal, our art never has to pay the price.
Physical lack: I don’t know about you, but when I’m exhausted, everything seems harder to do, including writing. I’ve read articles that say to write when you’re tired since your inhibitions won’t be as strong and you’ll be more likely to speak form the heart. That sounds plausible, but what usually happens for me is a muddled mess I have to struggle to untangle later.
Fix: Pick another artistic project to tackle, like sketching, gardening, scrapbooking, arranging flowers, or whatever activity gets your creative juices flowing. Maybe for you, that involves a walk in the woods, chatting with a writing buddy about your latest idea, or cracking open the cover of the next irresistible book on your to-be-read stack. Refresh yourself physically by taking yourself on an artist date, so to speak. Then come back to your writing when you’re more rested. Challenges feel less insurmountable when we’ve got a healthy amount of physical reserves to throw at them.
Mental lack: I get so frustrated with myself when, after hours of a good plotting session, I still don’t have what I would consider the best representation of my idea. I just spent hours, hours! at the drawing board. Why don’t these plans look any better? *tosses papers in the air* *huffs* This is taking too long! I must not be a real writer. Sound familiar? Yeah. You’re not alone.
Fix: News flash. Writing takes time. LOTS of time. More than you might think. This is normal. We are creating something out of nothing and although our final products will be streamlined and polished (we hope), the process to arriving there is not simple or linear. Extend grace to your writerly self and your creative mind. Tread gently. Accept that the process will take time and that this is normal and essential to producing good work.
Emotional lack: Recently I was all set to write a certain short story I’d been excited about and planning for weeks. The day came to put words to paper and I hit a brick wall. I couldn’t face the opening to the story any more than I could gouge out my own eye. Writer’s block? I didn’t want to think it, let alone breathe the term out loud. I moved onto another project and wrote something else that day instead.
Fix: Several days later, I realized what the problem was. I’d just finished writing the emotionally charged climax to my novel and, rather than giving myself a change of pace by starting a short story, I’d exchanged one emotional challenge for another one very similar to it. I’d bitten off more than I could chew emotionally. My psyche threw up a red flag as a result and pointed me in another direction. I wasn’t blocked, I was emotionally overwhelmed. My creative brain knew the difference and together, we blazed a trail forward. I kept writing. (I intend to finish that short story eventually.)
Spiritual lack: Sometimes life doesn’t cut us a break. It plays hardball. We get thrown zingers that knock us off our feet or demoralize us beyond what we can control or anticipate. I get that. I’ve been there, and I understand. Spiritual fears can be the hardest to detect in ourselves, and the most difficult to overcome, especially without outside help and counsel. They can even lead to us putting down our pens permanently.
Fix: Self-care is so important, guys. It’s vital, now more than ever as we face new and greater challenges in our society than many of us have known in our lifetimes. I can only speak for myself here, but meditation has played a HUGE part in my artistic recovery. It’s no coincidence that shortly after I started practicing yoga regularly, I wrote my first poem, then my first novel. Mindfulness isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a healing journey that will spill over into all areas of your life as you learn to silence the world’s clamor and tune into your inner voice.
I hope you find time this week to take the writerly rest your body craves, whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. As in music, the rests are as important as the melody itself. Restoring ourselves is essential to staying productive and finding inspiration in the world around us.
Rest up and take care of yourselves!