A Tendency to Obsess…

I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent; curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self-criticism, have brought me to my ideas.”                           – Albert Einstein

Is obsession a bad thing? Sometimes it can be especially if your obsession is a person. But for most careers and most dreams obsession *in a particular field/set of skills* is not only healthy but necessary for success. I – like so much of the world – have been caught up in the Olympics over the last few weeks. With 9 dedicated channels to 24/7 Olympic coverage on the television, there is always some event to watch or some interview with an athlete. These Olympian athletes are prime examples of Obsession being a necessary boost to fulfilling their ultimate dream of besting their personal best times and ultimately standing on the podium accepting a medal.

Growing up I was fascinated by the law, science and journalism. I chose my high school subjects with that focus in mind. It was a toss-up between being a criminal prosecutor, a pathologist, a criminal psychologist or a National Geographic journalist or a war journalist. I was also enamoured *and still am* with the FBI and MI6. Unfortunately though geography did not favour me here.

“A writer is someone who writes, that’s all. You can’t stop it; you can’t make yourself do anything else but that.” Gore Vidal (Writer)

Life had another route for me though, one that would lead me to the truest path for me and that is writing. If I had pursued any of those adolescent dream careers I might have come to the writing path much later. I am certain no matter what route I chose it would have eventually lead me to writing. But for now I am really glad that due to life circumstances I did not pursue any of those careers.

obsession |əbˈseSHən| noun the state of being obsessed with someone or something: she cared for him with a devotion bordering on obsession.• an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind: he was in the grip of an obsession he was powerless to resist. DERIVATIVES obsessional |-SHənl|adjective,obsessionally |-SHənl-ē|adverbORIGIN early 16th cent. (in the sense ‘siege’): from Latin obsessio(n-), from the verb obsidere (see obsess) .*Dictionary Definition*

I am a 100% all or nothing type of person. When I put my mind to something I put it in 100% effort and everything else falls to the wayside. I also have a perfectionist gene inherited from my German mother that won’t allow me to be anything than the best or put any less than 100% effort in. Which is why I am glad I did not pursue those early dream careers. I would have thrown myself headfirst into them and writing would have fallen to the side.

The creative habit is like a drug. The particular obsession changes, but the excitement, the thrill of your creation lasts.” – Henry Moore (Sculptor)

But my dogged determination, my stubborn perfectionism and a tendency to obsess serve me perfectly in Writing. As a writer my characters have their own careers, their own obsessions that have to come across as authentic. So here is where my leaning towards the law, justice, science and journalism can be played out on the page.

I’ve been called many names like perfectionist, difficult and obsessive. I think it takes obsession, takes searching for the details for any artist to be good.” – Barbara Streisand (Actress)

One of my favourite parts of a new story, any story, is the research. To come off as authentic your plot, your setting and your characters have to be obsessively researched. Once you have come up with the idea then the FUN part begins. You get to throw yourself into a hunt for information of all kinds.

“If you don’t have obsessions, don’t write. My characters are obsessed.” – Marguerite Young

My current WIP deals with serial killers, psychics, tattooists and the FBI. So to get my facts correct I must study up on everything I can to get the characters right and to come up with an authentic plot. The internet is fantastic for the modern-day writer. Now with a tap of a button I can research millions of articles related to the subjects contained in my WIP. I can connect with experts in these fields through their online presence by following their blogs, emailing them pertinent questions and picking their brains on likely hypotheticals.

What moves those of genius, what inspires their work is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.” – Eugene Delacroix (Painter)

Even though I am writing fiction, I still have to get the facts straight. If I don’t, the errors will be picked up by readers. The worst thing for a writer is to come across as inauthentic. So for this WIP a tendency to obsess combined with an adolescent fascination of criminal law and justice gets to play out in my research. This means I am in my element. For the time that I write in the Voice of my characters I get to see the world and the story through their POV. I get to “be” a criminal profiler much like the actors on shows like CRIMINAL MINDS (One of my television obsessions.) have to step into the shoes of criminal profilers. I also get to understand the alternative world of the tattooists and psychics.

The trade of authorship is a violent, and indestructible obsession.” – George Sand (Writer)

So even though I did not become a criminal prosecutor, a criminal psychologist, a pathologist, a National Geographic journalist or a war journalist…I get to “be” all these for a time period in my stories and through my characters. I get to write about people in these fields and for as long as I crank out the words in the drafts I get to “be” these people. I get to rub shoulders with the experts who are willing to assist me.

“You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed.” – John Irving (Novelist)

Yes, a tendency to obsess over the details and the facts and to walk in your characters’ shoes/inhabit their lives is necessary to write authentic fiction. I know I am a writer because even in life’s worst circumstances in real life I am spinning these seeds into story ideas. I hear things, see things, experience things and my itch to get it into a story is nothing if obsessive. It is true what they say, be careful what you tell a writer…you may read about it in one of their stories. Writers are the obsessive magpies of the world always on the hunt for that shiny new idea.

What are your obsessions?

If you could have your life over, what dream career would you have?

As a reader, have you come across glaring errors in stories that have had you questioning the author?

As a writer, what has been your favourite subject to research and obsess over?

Stories: Passports without borders

Stories are passports without borders. Stories are passports without visas. Stories are passports to adventure. Stories are passports into the exotic and the extraordinary. Stories are portal doors into worlds unknown. Stories are magic carpets.

One of the first reasons that made me fall in love with stories is the ability to travel to exotic places, experience exotic cultures all without leaving my chair. I love traveling and often call myself a Gypsy at heart. New places usually mean new people to meet and new adventures to experience. In an unknown place the average and ordinary can suddenly become extraordinary. Having a coffee in my local cafe is very been there, done that. But having a coffee in some little plaza in an Italian village on the Amalfi coast would immediately be extraordinary for me. In the same way, that Italian local may find having coffee in my local cafe an extraordinary event.

For this reason I have always read books that are based in foreign countries and even foreign cultures. I come from South Africa, now live in New Zealand – to me neither of these two places is exotic. They are what I know. They are familiar. But when I have told American friends that I come from South Africa and now live in New Zealand – they are always fascinated. They want to know if I have seen lions in the wild. When I tell them that we had a family of leopard living on one of the farms my father managed, they go: “WOW!”. They want to know all about New Zealand especially since the Lord of the Rings Trilogy that really put NZ on the map. But for me exotic places are in Europe or in Central Africa/Northern Africa or the Amazon in South America. But I doubt those same locals who live in these areas think that they live in an exotic locale.

That is the joy of reading stories and in my case going one step further and creating your own stories. I love writing about places I have not been because I find often what may be fairly ordinary to the locals there becomes extraordinary and special in my fresh eyes. One of my favourite pastimes is searching for fresh inspiration for not just story ideas but setting ideas. Pinterest (new addiction) comes in as a very useful tool in these moments. I also love reading/studying/researching the history of each setting and often finds it seeds an idea in my imagination that I let lie and germinate to see what it could potentially blossom into. Nowadays with the ease of the internet and software like Google Earth/Google Maps your research into a place can become acutely accurate down to the street names and the name of that cafe on the corner in that Italian village on the Italian Amalfi Coast.

But at the end of the day the best research you can do when checking out a setting in an exotic locale (if traveling there is absolutely ruled out) is to talk to the locals on the internet. In this day and age there is an internet group for just about everything and there are blogs for just about every type of subject. So I trawl the blogosphere and see if there are any local-specialised blogs devoted to the locale I want to set my story in. Setting is so much more than just a geographic location or street names. Setting is also about the quirks that make that place unique. Is there a particular smell? Smell is a big one. For instance when I smell oranges and lemons I immediately think of Athens, Greece. One of the strongest memories of my time spent there 12 years ago was the tree-lined streets with trees heavy with oranges and lemons. So the smell of oranges and lemons now sums up Athens for me. Location bloggers will give away a lot of these type of tidbits in their blog posts. And most people are always flattered when you tell them you want to learn more about their home because you find it fascinating.

So while I have begun writing on my next project I have been trawling the internet for setting ideas. So I will leave you with some images from my Pinterest board. Some of them are definite settings in my story and some of just teasing seeds of inspiration right now…Mum’s the word (for now) on which settings I am actually going to be using in both the current WIP and upcoming ones. Perhaps you can guess which settings I have chosen.

Perhaps you have been to these places or live there. I would love to know at least 2 quirks that I could not find out from the internet that is unique to each place. Leave me a comment in the comments.

Tell me>> What exotic places would you like a story to be set in? What places grab your imagination?

Source: weburbanist.com via Kim on Pinterest (Abandoned mountain town in Sardinia, Italy)

Source: worldtopjourneys.com via Kim on Pinterest (Manarolo, Cinque Terre, Italy)

Source: toptenz.net via Kim on Pinterest (The City of the Caesars, Patagonia, South America)

Source: underthesunexperience.blogspot.co.nz via Kim on Pinterest (Carcassonne, Languedoc Roussillon, France)

Source: earmchairtraveler.blogspot.com via Kim on Pinterest (Meteora, Greece)

Source: accommodation-bol.com via Kim on Pinterest (Dubrovnik, Croatia)

Source: une-deuxsenses.blogspot.com via Kim on Pinterest (Swallow’s Nest, Crimea)

Source: toptenz.net via Kim on Pinterest (Angkor-Wat, Cambodia)

Source: weburbanist.com via Kim on Pinterest (Gunkanjima, Japan – “Ghost Island”)

Source: roman-empire.net via Kim on Pinterest (Herculaneum, Italy)

All imaged embedded via My Pinterest boards – Feel free to follow me there…

Myths & Legends & Lore

Various mythos.

There is something magical about mythology. I have always been fascinated by Mythology. Mythology has really shaped the modern fairy tales and modern stories. One could say it is the cornerstone of fiction. I have been delving into different mythologies over the last year while doing research on my current works in progress. What I love most about mythology is that it teaches us about the human character – both good and bad. The other thing about mythology is that one never tires of it.

No matter how many times I read the tales of Greek mythology, I never tire of it. There is always something new that I learn to love about it. Over the last few months though I have been delving into ancient African mythology, Native American mythology and Romani (Gypsy) Mythology. All this mythology has been research for my works in progress.

Researching all this mythology has made me wonder about the writers of these early myths and legends. Except for the Greek mythology, many of these mythologists remain unnamed but yet the myths have lived on for centuries and for millennia. Many of these myths were created before writing. They were told around fireplaces and passed down generation to generation. Like with all tales that are spoken, they changed subtly over the years with each telling. One could almost say that all mythology is like chinese whispers: that childish game where you sit in a circle and whisper a tale into someone’s ear and then that person whisper’s into another’s ear and so on until the last person has to say aloud what was whispered. What comes out is very rarely what was first spoken. Perhaps this is why the writers remain unnamed. Instead of just one story-teller there were different story tellers with each generation.

Last year I met Chris Vogler who wrote The Writer’s Journey. He was one of the main key speakers at a writing conference. He gave a fascinating talk on Muses: where the idea of muses came from and who the muses are. He was also saying about how so many modern stories have their basis in mythology. It was a fascinating talk.

One can learn so much about a nation by studying their myths, legends and folklore. Every culture has their own mythology and their legends are how they identify themselves with both the inner and outer world. For me these tales are so much more interesting than flat history tomes. The history that these myths and legends tell of is rich in imagery and evocative in description.

Even the modern tales of magic, vampires, elves and dragons are built on the foundations of this mythology. Another thing that I find fascinating about mythology is that whether the myth is Greek, Roman, African, Russian, Celtic in origin; they have the same elements of good and evil. Who is to say what is fact or fiction? In mythology the reader gets to decide what is real or imaginary. To me that is very exciting.

What is your favourite mythic tale or legend?

What mythology would you like to know more of?

Kim