Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Vicarious Living

By Gwen Masters

I am a cardiac heart specialist.

Surprised? Wait until you hear the next part:

In my spare time, I’m a NASCAR driver.

But wait, it gets better! When I’m not burning up tires on five-hundred laps, I’m an international assassin with four different identities.

And when I’m not doing that, somehow I manage to step into my time machine and become a housewife in the 1940s, trying to keep my family together during the height of World War II.

It’s not a movie sound stage, and it’s not multiple personalities. It’s writing, and being able to become whomever I want to be in the pages of my books, in the paragraphs of my short stories. It’s living vicariously through my characters.

If there is something I have always wanted to do, but never had the chance, skills, or other necessities by which to do it, I can write about it – and through the magic of my PC, a lot of research and a little bit of luck, I’m right there.

When I was lost in the depths of Leigh, the cardiac specialist trying to save the life of the bastard who just ended their relationship, you can bet I could almost feel every tiny gasp of breath as I tried to pound life back into his cheating heart. When I was lost in Karen, the woman who entertained clients in her high-priced suite and offered them caviar and champagne after their encounter, you can bet my heart was pounding at the thought of having all four of those men in bed.

All four...at once.

Ummm...ah, give me a moment...my mind just veered off into the direction of satin sheets, strong muscles, broad shoulders, magic hands, moans of ecstasy...

Ahem. Excuse me. Where was I?

Ah, yes. Living vicariously.

That’s one of the joys of writing, one of those guilty little pleasures tucked away in the back of my mind every time I sit down at the keyboard. I might have hours stretching before me, empty time to fill with all the imaginings of my mind, and it’s all about what I want to do, what I want to feel, and what I hope to accomplish. It’s a selfish pleasure, make no doubt about it. I write for the money, honey – but most of all, I’m writing for me.

Making that perfect stranger fantasy a reality? Being the center of a BDSM party, my body bared for the lusty gaze of dozens of men and women? Riding out a hurricane? Assassinating leaders for the cold cash in my Swiss bank account? Having sex with a ghost? Not in real life. But in my pages – yes, yes, and oh, please, yes.

I’ve been a frustrated wife, lusting over the priest while I should be in Confession. I’ve been a married man having an affair with two different women. I’ve been an older woman with the lawn boy, and the younger woman with the college professor. I’m just as likely to be a junkie as a marriage counselor. I haven’t become a vampire yet, but just give me time. It all depends on the mood of the day.

Sometimes living vicariously though my characters leads to living vicariously...for real. For the cardiac specialist, I spent two days in the ER at the invitation of a good friend, who showed me what ‘controlled chaos’ really means. For the former CIA agent, I spent long days at the firing range, learning about weapons. I’ve been storm chasing in Oklahoma. I’ve been behind a bar in Atlanta, shadowing a bartender. In that particular venture, I learned what a proper Jack Daniels hangover feels like. Saying it wasn't pretty is an understatement. Hey, I never said this living vicariously thing was easy all the time, did I?

This time it’s something a bit more sedate. In a few weeks, I’m going to spend time with Iowa’s covered bridges, interview first responders, and delve into reams of psychological profiles – all research for Iowa, my latest writing venture.

And after that...well, there's a gorgeous, very experienced stripper, the one my fiancé seemed to like so much the last time we ventured into the strip club. She had many years of seeing things most of us can only imagine, and quite a life to talk about.

Besides, she gave great lapdances. A few more wouldn’t be out of the question. It's all for research purposes, you see?


Nikki Magennis said...

Ah, Gwen. You've hit on the exact best part of writing.

For all those people who never could make up their minds what to do when they grow up - ta dah!

And I do so love research that I can waste weeks finding out stuff I'll never really need to know. Who was it that said before he could make a character leave a room he had to know exactly what the doorknob looked like?

It's a license to be nosy, really. I love calling people up and asking lots of questions. I love finding out about weird, tiny obscure little details.

Right now I'm researching for a sixties story (I should be writing it) and it's taken me deep into geology. I reckoned I had to know the whole history of geology, plus what a mass spectrometer sounds like when it works, plus how a grammar school boy would fit in in a rarified university - I could go on...

I'm curious about Idaho - what's it about? Is it a novel?

danetteb said...

Your life sounds exciting,its nice to hear that you go out and exsperience to get in your mind set. I can't imagine what it would be like to shadow a surgeon,I'm so afraid of blood that they might have to work on me too if I were watching.*g*

Olivia Knight said...

If we're all quiet today, Gwen, it's your own fault for waxing so eloquent about the joys of being a writer that we've all scurried off to our computers/notebooks/stone tablets, eyes shining and excitement bubbling. Like Nikki, I think this is the best part of writing - sure, book covers and royalties and reviews are nice, but they're a bit like the chocolate on a cappuccino: you feel a bit cheated without it, but it's peripheral to the cappuccino experience. (Actually, I'm more a latte girl)

One of my greatest vicarious pleasures is allowing my characters to believe things and have opinions I don't really agree with. Having characters argue both sides of something I feel conflicted about is gloriously satisfying, feeling the anger and frustration of both sides, holding both opinions with equal fervour. Unlikely jobs is another pleasure: writing about an astronaut is probably the most fun I've had on my own this year. I became quite infatuated with him at one point, despite the rippling muscles and bulging pecs.

Right, must dash; I have an urgent vicarious political campaign for presidency to conduct...

Gwen Masters said...

Writing about writing always makes me want to write more...funny how that works!

Nikki, the doorknob thing made me laugh out loud. I'm the same way...I research something until I dream about it in my sleep, and then I write the novel, and I realize I have waaaaay over-researched...if there really is such a thing, you know?

Thanks for asking about Iowa. It is a novel that starts with a bang -- literally -- when two men kill each other over a woman. The rest of the novel studies the fallout in the sleepy fictional town of Crispin, Iowa, where history runs deep and old grudges die hard. It's very dark, and filled with surprises. Sometimes even I'm not sure what's coming next.

danette, I had no problem with the blood...I had a real problem with the uncertainty. It was unnerving to wonder what was coming through the door next. I love that uncertainty in my writing, but in an ER, no, thank you.

Olivia...astronaut? Lucky you! What great research to be had with that one...

Jeremy Edwards said...

Fascinating post, Gwen! I just woke up, and already I feel like I've put in several full days' worth of work, just by hearing about your activities as an indefatigable researcher.

And--finally!--someone has satisfactorily explained why books and cappuccino are related. Thank you, Olivia, for having shed light on what previously seemed like just an arbitrary juxtaposition in the retail world.

Deanna Ashford said...

I so agree and as I love writing historicals all my research at present is based in the past. The best part about it is rummaging through the library and stacks of books or trawling through the internet to find out as much detail as possible about how people really lived.

Most of it however doesn't actually end up in my books but it helps to give me a real feel of the times. I'm sure I've made mistakes but so far fortunately no one has actually picked up on them.

I also love visiting the places I write about, although sometimes my finances make that an impossibilty.
I've wandered though the streets of Pompeii for hours at a time trying to envisage what it felt like living there, and stood in the centre of the arena imaging what it would feel like to be a gladiator faced for fighting for my life. I don't know if it is just me but I feel as though places such at Pompeii have such a strong atmosphere that if I close my eyes and wish hard enough I might actually be able to step back in time.

I also on occasions find myself watching people way too closely at times, maybe because I want to know what makes them tick.

Of course I write for the money, we all have to live, but I also write for myself. It is so easy to lose myself in my charaters and my plot and sometimes I find it really difficult to force myself back to the present again. Currently I'm about to return to a galley, loaded with Greek Fire, sailing towards a beleagured city and I do not want my adventures to end.

Madeline Moore said...

Wonderful post, and a great start to the week. I admit that when I was attending university I hated research...mostly because we weren't allowed to photocopy books anymore, so those volumes deemed important by our professors were held at the front desk of the library. On my appointed day, at my appointed time, I was given access to the book. Much note-making ensued.

Research on the web? A whole different thing! It's fun and I can do it in the privacy of my own home (the two things integral to my working life.)

I tend to write contemporary erotica so most of my research is into things like professions, ensembles, and fetishes. hoho.

So far the most research I've done for a piece of fiction involved hours of reading about poker. Penny, in 'Wild Card', is a championship poker player, so I needed to create a realistic poker game, with other championship poker players, and, naturally, have her win.

Wardrobe research? Vogue. And fetish research? The world wide web and the phone.

I still do some research the old fashioned way - from books. But now I decide which ones are important to my work, and I buy them.

Alison Tyler said...

I love diving into my characters... As a champion voyeur, there is nothing sexier to me than eavesdropping on someone else's life. Even if it's the life of somebody I've created. I've said this before, but I definitely do tend to dress like my favorite characters, talk like them, walk like them. They live and breathe for me. The sluts.


Gwen Masters said...

I sometimes watch people too closely, too. I'm sure some have been offended or worried by my close scrutiny, but I can't help myself. Each life has a story, and each story is interesting.

I love long plane rides -- I spend so much time watching people. I wonder why they are traveling, where they are going after this, who is going to meet them there? Sometimes I get up the courage to ask, but most of the time, I don't. I like to wonder and make up my own scenarios for them.

I usually write stories on those long plane rides, and they always center around who I think that person might really be!

Janine Ashbless said...

Hey, don't forget about the sex!

I mean, I'm no Alison Tyler. No movie star ever wanted to get a look at my copper-coloured knickers. No music producer ever whisked me away to his mansion to watch me undress. *sigh*

If I want a beautiful six-foot Alpha bloke with perfect athletic build, deep penetrating eyes (I said EYES!), long dark hair and an absolutely unstoppable sexual appetite to fall wildly in love with me, then I just have to make the bugger up.

Of course, I couldn't actually live with a bloke like that. I'm too competitive. After one week of his insupportable perfection I'd feel so goddamn inadequate I'd probably kill myself.

So my plan when I make a billion is to pay Gerard Butler to shag me. Just once. He'd do it for the money, don't you think?

In the meatime, the best bit about being an erotica writer is having wonderful sex with loads of wonderful people and living happily ever afer with all of them.

Kate Pearce said...

Yes, the day dreaming about all those other lives and exciting possibilities...yum. Sometimes I love being a writer!

I remember reading that Ian McEwan shadowed a neurologist for 2 years to make sure he got him right for his book "Saturday"-now that's dedication.

I've just finished picking the brains of a heart specialist (not literally that sounds gross)-she offered to have me go to work with her but I don't think I could stand the 'reality' of all that complex surgery and blood-I just love the idea of it.

I love the historical research as well. I spent a while trying to learn how to play picquet so that I could use it in a seduction scene!

Janine-Gerard Butler should be honored that you want to shag him.

Janine Ashbless said...

Kate, that's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me.

Ally said...

Oooooo. I just woke up and I am having my 1st cup of Joe,,, hmmm Joe? He sounds like fun. What a yummy article to wake up to. Get my juices flowing and help me dive head 1st into my writing. Thankyou for the inspiration!

Ally said...

Oops I forgot. How long or short does the Short Shorts for Short Nights need to be? My ideas are churning, but I would like to know how far I can go. So please tell me how short my leash must be.

Alison Tyler said...

Hey Ally,

All will be revealed on Wednesday -- but since you're the type to want an early start: we're looking for 100 words. Max.


Alana said...

Hi Gwen,

Thank you for writing and sharing this post. I enjoyed reading about your vicarious adventures in research.

In the past, I've shadowed a venture capitalist, a Web Mistress, a dentist, a web cam girl, a poet, and a migrant farm worker in the fields of Fort Collins. I spent a year in graduate school researching the life and death of Eva Braun.

My most recent research project was a boy toy. I took him on strictly for the sake of my writing. Seriously.


Gwen Masters said...

A boy toy for research?

That beats the library any day of the week...unless, of course, you're having the boy toy IN the library... in which case, well, you've got a story that needs writing, my friend. -grin-