Musings On Inspiration: Author Hal Bodner
An idea is salvation by imagination.
—Frank Lloyd Wright
This week I continue my series of interviews with writers and other artists about the inspiration for their work and about the subject of inspiration in general. The purpose of these interviews is to dialogue either seriously or humorously about the mystery and magic of inspiration—and to offer any insights that would be useful to others trying to find or better employ their own muse or shift into a more productive creative space.
This week’s interview features ultra-prolific paranormal/horror fiction author, Hal Bodner. Hal is the author of the best selling gay vampire novel, “Bite Club”, as well as the paranormal romance, “In Flesh and Stone” to name just a few. Check out Hal’s website for more information about this talented and oh-so-offbeat author.
TSC. How do you define ‘inspiration’ for yourself?
HB: I don’t know if I can define “inspiration” as easily as I can tell you what inspires me. Though I’m best known as a Horror writer, I’ve always considered myself a comedy writer. I have this quirky way of looking at things that I can’t help. A lot of times, I’ll see something in an odd light and I want to share my “discovery.” Also, there are times when I say to myself, “Hey, wouldn’t it be really cool if….” or, better yet, when something intrigues me and there’s an issue I want to explore. And I think different impulses inspire different kinds of work. For example, BITE CLUB was originally inspired because I felt that AIDS was costing the Gay community something more than lives; it had cost us our sense of humor. The cultural humor that I loved when I was younger, the camp, the wit, the cleverness and even, yes, the bitchy archness had largely vanished in the wake of the plague. I wanted to revive that in BITE CLUB.
But, with IN FLESH AND STONE, I didn’t realize until I was halfway through the book that I was using it as a catharsis for my husband’s death. I think the book reflects that. It’s got hot steamy sex — a lot of hot steamy sex! — but, at its core it’s actually a story about dealing with the potential loss of someone you really and truly love and what you go through, emotionally, while you’re processing.
TSC. What do you think first inspired you to become a writer/artist? Can you identify a moment or experience or influence that turned you in that direction?
HB I’ve always written but, due to the way I was raised, I never considered it a legitimate way to make a living. My upbringing taught me that doing anything “artistic” was frivolous and self indulgent — a waste of time that could better be used in productively earning a living. So, it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that the “urge” became strong enough so that I couldn’t repress it any longer. I realized — with a modicum of maturity, I hope!– that happiness and satisfaction do not always go hand in hand with “living up to your potential” in a more traditional job. Fortunately, I was in a financial position (thanks to that same upbringing) where I did not have to earn income from writing to survive. So, I wrote for fun, for myself and, I think, that’s really the best way.
I think when BITE CLUB became a genre best seller, I had a wake up call. Suddenly, writing seemed more legitimate to me. Then, of course, when I did IN FLESH AND STONE and started getting responses from some readers telling me how much it meant to them, how they had lost loved ones and how the book helped them realize that love can continue even when the person you loved is gone, I think that really got to me. You see, at first, I really thought that IN FLESH AND STONE was “just another” erotic romance. In fact, my agent got very angry at me when I kept referring to it as a “stroke” book because of the graphic sex. She was very affected emotionally by it and she took my being so cavalier about it in a kind of very personally offended way. But, I think the ultimate incident which made me realize that I was having an effect and that what I was doing was important happened shortly after IN FLESH AND STONE came out.
There’s this incredibly hot guy who I’ve seen around town for the past ten years or so but never met. Evidently, he’d not only read the book but he also knew I’d written it and knew who I was. Anyway, one day on the street, this amazing-looking young man saw me and came running over to me and burst into tears. He grabbed my hand and starting saying something like, “I read your book. The one about the statues. You can’t know what it meant to me. Thank you.Thank you!” He was sobbing and hugging me and I just stood there completely dumbfounded until he was finished and his friends caught up with him and they all left. Obviously, he’d lost someone close to him and my so-called “stroke” book had touched him on a much needed emotional level.
TSC. What is your most ‘inspired’ work? Why?
HB: BITE CLUB was the book I wrote with the most purpose. I knew what I wanted to do with it when I set out to write it. So, in that way, it was the most “inspired.” On the other hand, IN FLESH AND STONE just poured out of me in 8 days — and there were very few changes between first draft and publication. So, I think that’s a very “inspired” work as well. And, on the third hand (IS there a third hand?), sometimes an dea will really get under my skin — how the “unappreciated” monsters might feel; the morality of what you can do with a stunning zombie who has no soul and, thus, isn’t quite human; what entertainment will be like in a couple of hundred years; the various motivations and attractions of what I call “darker” sex and sexuality — a lot of these themes fascinate me and, in that sense, I’m inspired” to explore them in my writing.
TSC. How do you invoke your muse? Rituals?
HB: As for rituals, mine are mostly relevant to physical comfort. For example, I must have a desk at the proper height. I write in a bit of a frenzy so, if I’m not in a good physical position, my back and shoulders are in agony after a couple of hours. I also drink prodigious amounts of coffee and water while I work. I used to have to have several packs of cigarettes at hand but, since I have largely quit smoking….
Oddly, I also find I have difficulty getting into the “space” to write unless I start in the morning and work the day through — just like any other job. Though I wrote BITE CLUB and THE TROUBLE WITH HAIRY almost entirely in the wee hours of the morning, at my age, I can’t do that any more. I also require quiet to write — no radio, no noisy neighbors, nada. I think, because I need my work to function on multiple levels of text and subtext, I have to be able to concentrate in a way that’s tantamount to juggling several different sized balls at the same time
TSC. What is your take on the notion that writing—or any creative work—is more about perspiration than inspiration?
HB: Well, marketing the work is certainly all perspiration – which is why I hate doing it! I think many of the people who “perspire”, who labor over the work as a whole, may actually be trying to overcome a lack of foundation. You must understand the way words work! That includes the basic rules of grammar, punctuation, etc. (I don’t think spelling is quite as important in today’s world of spell check. And, in most cases, if you confuse “there” and “their”, for example, a decent copy editor will catch it.) But, if you don’t know the difference between an independent and a dependent clause, or between active and passive voice, I think you might consider becoming a visual artist rather than a writer.
That being said, assuming you know the basics, yes, there are indeed times when you struggle to get something exactly right. For me, it’s usually about communicating something without confusing the reader. I tend to over state things that can be done simply and elegantly. Once in awhile, my characters lead my plot into a place that I didn’t anticipate and I have no idea how to proceed. When that happens, I just give them their lead and let them show me how to get out of it. Of course, they don’t really do it — it’s my subconscious, but you get the idea.
TSC. What do you think is the most common—or problematic—myth or misconception about inspiration?
HB: Writers Block. I don’t believe in it. I think it’s an excuse for laziness.There are times when every author may simply not feel like writing. I think it’s okay to not write if you don’t feel like it just as it’s okay for a brain surgeon not to have to operate on people’s skulls 24/7. But it’s soooo “romantic” to say you have Writer’s Block rather than to simply say, “I’m not in the mood to be creative today.” I think sometimes, the author may be struggling with an idea or a concept that isn’t quite gelling. “Writer’s Block” is the term they use which I think is incorrect. Just because the idea isn’t fully fleshed out doesn’t mean they’re “blocked”. It could very well mean they’re still in the process. But again, claiming “Block” is a romantic and convenient explanation.
TSC.. List a few tools or practices or methods that work reliably for you to get you in the mood to create. How do you shift into your ‘zone’?
HB : I turn on the computer, make a huge pot of coffee and spread out my notes. I’ll often back-track a few pages or a chapter and do a mini-edit so that I can get my mind back into the story and around the characters. That’s especially helpful if I’m working on something that I’ve had to put aside for awhile due to other commitments.Re-reading and doing minor “tweaking” helps get me back into the “groove.”
TSC. What are you currently feeling inspired to do?
HB: Perhaps because I’m doing a lot of paranormal erotic romance for Ravenous at the moment, I find myself intrigued by sexual and sensual themes. Also, as a horror writer, there’s a predictable fascination with the darker aspects of sexuality. I’m not talking about mere kink; I mean the motivations behind the kink…an attempt to sort of distill the “essence” of what someone may find attractive about bondage or pain or elaborate costuming.
I’m also having a blast with the superhero book and dying to get back to it. It’s a hoot to write and the only reason I’m not whaling away at it is because Ravenous wants a couple of books from me by the end of 2010 and I’m at a critical point in the fourth BITE CLUB novel. By critical, I mean that I have no idea what’s going to happen next and I need to give my characters the chance to show me. (And I’m positively salivating to find out!)