Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Author Take Over: Dina Keratsis - Guest Post

Writing Obsessions


There is no past that we can bring back by longing for it. Only a present that builds and creates itself as the past withdraws.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach


The Titanic was my latest. I binged, reading and watching everything I could about that fateful night. Survivor accounts intrigued me the most, especially the story of the passenger who watched a baby slip through its mothers fingers into the deep dark sea then witness that mother’s sanity unravel as she yanked out her own hair.


After relating this tale at dinner, my mother, concerned, asked, “Why are you always so obsessed with tragedy?” The answer slipped easily from my throat: “I’m half Greek with a splash of Irish. What do you expect?”


Inside, I did wonder if something might be very wrong with me.

I’ve always courted darkness, fixating on certain tragic moments in history, lost worlds, stories, songs in the minor key, the forgotten. I can shut out reality for days as I hunt down every last fact about tragic legends. Crumbling asylums, neglected graves, wandering ghosts, rotting buildings, and lost ships entrance me. Ruined people, destroyed by disease or bad choices, dwell in my mind. I call this brand of obsession the tragedy of what-could-have-been. The lure of the unattainable.


Husband says I need medication.


Fixation on anything is inherently unhealthy. Obsession is a well of despair filled with pointless, endless longing and no resolution, a muddy pool that keeps one from living in the present.


What to do?


Write a book!


Obsession can also be a great tool for a writer. Writing, in turn, can cure obsession.

A writer can fix the unfixable and dream the impossible dream all without meeting the same sad fate as Don Quixote.

Despite my penchant for tragedy, I prefer writing romances. I love the roller coaster emotions of courtship and satisfying ending that my hero and heroine earn because they finally, finally learn how to live. Yet the story, for me, is not complete unless the tale carries my broken obsessions with them, begging to find the same unconditional love that the hero and heroine are guaranteed.


My first book, Charlesgate, (soon to be released with a facelift!) was the exorcism of the relentless obsession I had with a ruined old hotel. Back in the early 1990s, virtually no research existed on that building. The more I hunted for information, the more desperate I grew. I’d stand outside and stare, hoping it would notice me. I stalked that mansion.
At the time, I was also researching female pirates for a romance I wanted to write. The pirate queen, Charlotte de Berry, caught my attention. I liked her name. However, she was a mystery, even to Google. All I could find was that she was a seventeenth century English pirate and that my grandmother shared her surname. Both the 17th century pirate and the 19th century Charlesgate became characters in an early 21st century romance. I like a lot of ingredients in my stories.
My latest release, Cake, is a conglomerate of ingredients, er, obsessions, all unrelated. At its baking, I was infatuated with yet another building. The office building on the edge of my neighborhood was not remarkable but for its curious chimney – a brick column with faded paint that spelled APOLLO CAKE.

Instantly obsessed and finding no satisfaction in research, I started to write. In the forming story, the god Apollo had been banned from Olympus and was trying to make a living baking cakes.
Concurrently, in my non-writing life, I had been baking my own cakes, over and over, intent on perfecting the famous mud cake from Worcester’s long lost El Morocco. A small misfortune, the loss of that cake recipe, but every bit of history forgotten is a tragedy.
Then one night I had a dream about King Arthur. I’ll never forget that dream. I wanted to climb back into the tragic, unresolved lust of that strange land with its tortured, lonely king, and an impossible future. A different book evolved, one that incorporated Apollo Cake, my mysterious cake recipe, the dream, and the history of the Somerville neighborhood in which I lived.
That book saved my waistline as well as my mind.
In reality, that cake recipe will never be found, an old hotel will never be what it once was, and Camelot may never have existed at all. The ending to “Titanic” will never change, no matter how many times I watch it. Yearning for the might-have-beens will never wish them into existence.
Unless you’re a romance writer. Like the hero and heroine, these tragic obsessions, from small to devastating, find a happy ending. Redemption found. Tragedy averted. Love wins. And love, as we know, is the cure for everything. Especially obsessions.

Novels save lives. That’s a fact. For some of us, fiction is a route to light and truth, an extension of the divine.
I have been Beth at Orchard House; Misty, frolicking on Chincoteague; Scarlett, tortured by her own ambitions; Katniss Everdeen, the reluctant heroine, who only wants to keep her family close; Henry Chinaski, the sometimes writer, and Nobody, graveyard orphan.
Reader, I AM Heathcliff.
Well, not Heathcliff, thankfully, but who doesn’t have a few dark moments? Anyway, if you are here, you feel the same way about books.
For me, it got to the point where consuming books simply wasn’t enough. I had to create my own characters. Why romance?
Mostly, DNA. Really. I did one of those DNA tests and there it was – 95% romantic. The rest is nurture. Nana always had stacks of Jude Deveraux and Cassie Edwards around her house and reading them by her pool became a generational bonding experience.
I write romance novels because I love them.
It took my over-educated mind a long time to accept this love.
In college, I majored in English Lit and pretended not to read romance novels. (Secretly, though, if one of the great classics didn’t have a romantic subplot, I made one up.) In grad school, I tried to justify reading romance novels by proposing a study called “Why Women Read Romance Novels?” (Conclusion: They are fun.)
So when I sat down to write a book, a romance novel popped out. And I realized, as I wrote, that romance novels are not just tales about romantic love. They, like most everything, are a route to LOVE.
As E.M. Forster said, “you can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal.”
Most of us forget that love is eternal. Call it science, call it religion, or call it the Force, but love is the essential core of all of us. We tend to forget this. Our journey, as humans, is to remember this, to depend on that core and to truly thrive. Otherwise, we risk spending our lives in doubt, fear, anger and yearning.
The romance heroine, like all of us, must face her inner and outer demons, not with a sword and snappy wit, but with an open heart and compassion. Okay, and sometimes a sword. She has to complete herself (Jerry MacGuire not required). If she can’t do that, then she’s not going to be happy with a man. Any man. Or anything.
Luckily, in romance novels, the heroine always succeeds. (Sorry to ruin all the endings.) She completes herself. She wins because she opens her heart and dares to be herself. She also gets true love. Sometimes, he wears a kilt.
Romance novels speak truth, even underneath the rose-colored view. They are fun to read and fun to write. They celebrate love. And LOVE.  And hot men it kilts.
I hope my tales bring joy to you.

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