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Bring in the Man with the Sword
by Karen Mahoney
So, when Chloe asked if I had anything to say about visual inspiration in my work as a writer I could actually say: Yes! :)
Normally I don't think of myself as a particularly visual person when it comes to writing fiction. I like playing with the words - that's the best part for me - and I especially enjoy writing dialogue, so it came as a big surprise to me when the second novel I completed (currently with my agent), a YA urban fantasy called DAUGHTER OF LIES, was largely inspired by a visually creative undertaking.
I made a collage:
I'd never done this before, but I was at my Day Job flipping through a magazine (at the time I worked in a library and was sorting out old issues to be recycled or donated) and came across a photograph of a guy wearing a smart suit, standing on a rooftop overlooking a city backdrop... and he was holding a sword. It was just an advert for something - I don't remember what - but I was drawn to the picture. I thought it was great that an image used to sell a watch or aftershave was so reminiscent of urban fantasy. You can see the picture in the bottom left of the collage, though the sword isn't very clear in my photo.
At the time I was working on some notes and research for a new idea - it was going to be a dark and gritty adventure, involving demons hiding in the shadows of a place that may or may not exist called Fortune City (it's not too far away from Boston). I liked to think of the project as: 'The Bourne Identity with demons and teenagers'. As soon as I saw that photograph, I knew I had my sort-of hero. I already had lots of ideas for the main character, Maxine Sullivan, and knew she was going to lock horns with an older guy who was supposed to be protecting her from the nasty things that came out to play at night. Okay, so his hair was all wrong, but the combination of suit and sword inspired me.
I decided to cut out the picture and see if there were others in the huge pile of magazines, and began cutting out all sorts of images. I didn't know quite where they'd fit - and a couple of them never did end up in the book - but it was fun and felt creative. I enjoyed it so much that I bought a huge piece of (bright pink) cardboard and stuck them on in some kind of pattern. Eventually I hit upon the idea of taking a photograph of the finished article and uploading it onto my laptop as the desktop background. Every time I switched it on and prepared to write, I saw that image and it really helped me focus.
Now I'm experimenting with inspiration boards, thanks to Anne Sage's great guest blog on Chloe's site and am trying to create one for my latest project, BEAUTIFUL GHOSTS. I didn't think that visual inspiration was such a big part of my writing process, and it wasn't until I came across that random photo of the man-with-sword. Whatever product it was advertising, I'm very grateful. :)
Thanks for having me, Chloe!
Karen's first professional publication will appear in THE ETERNAL KISS: 13 Tales of Blood and Desire, a YA vampire anthology edited by Trisha Telep (published July 2009). You can visit her at: www.karenmahoney.net.