Friday, May 10, 2013

From Where the Worlds Touch - the writing of Saurimonde part 1

Telling my strange tale to the camera for the documentary, 'The Otherworld', in the ancient settlements at the chateau du Montsegur.
Coming off of filming the documentary 'The Otherworld' (which is a feature length documentary directed by Richard Stanley, co-written by me, filmed by Karim Hussain, and produced by Metaluna Productions, about the myths, legends and high weirdness associated with the Aude and Ariege regions in the south of France. It features some of our research and couple of my more fantastical anecdotes) I knew I wanted to write a erotic fantasy book. After writing so many horror scripts and doing tons of translating and in-depth esoteric research, I really wanted the chance to let my imagination run wild and hear my own voice, writing wise, a little louder. To spread my literary wings so to speak.

In sunshine and shadow... Montsegur, the castle of dreams.
The first place I encountered Saurimonde was in Maurice Magre's, 'Return of the Magi' (1931), on my first visit to the French Pyrenees many years ago, "the solitary Saurimonde, the inspired prophetess of the Mazamet district, who went naked as in the days when the world was born, because her soul was as bright as the sun she invoked.” I mean, who wouldn't love a woman like that? The Pyrenean mountains are chock full of secrets and legends. It's a place somewhere out of time where the past and the present walk hand in hand. Magic still lives, breaths and resounds within its ancient peaks and valleys. 

So Saurimonde had been spinning around in my head for a couple of years more in an abstract manner than anything else, but there's a resonance to her name that always stuck with me. And sometime late last winter I have the vaguest memory of sitting by the fire and sketching out the first details for the opening of the story (which was very different back then). I believe I was working on a very dense piece at the time about decoding some of the symbols at the Cathedral de Notre Dame in Paris according to Fulcanelli's book, 'The Mystery of the Cathedral's' (1922), and was writing ideas for the story of Saurimonde as a mental break from hardcore alchemical overload. I kept these musings in a notebook along with the thousands of other mental notes I've written over the last few years.

One warm night last summer I took out the notebook and started in earnest to put together an outline and the story just sort of blossomed from there. But I knew this was something I wasn't ready to do alone so I invited my friend Melissa St. Hilaire onto the project with me and to my relief she accepted. 

Myself and Melissa the last time we went to Malibu. These things happen...
Melissa and I have worked together many times before building websites, making images, and roughing out script ideas. I knew we had very similar tastes in fantasy literature, and I knew she had the writing chops for the job and that she'd remain upbeat throughout the process, but also would interject if things were taking a left turn to nowhere. I like having someone to write with and bounce ideas of off. Writing is a solitary business and all of us get a little crazy if we're locked inside our thoughts for extended periods of time. Having people that you trust to be a fresh pair of eyes and ears is crucial for any kind of creative endeavour. For me personally, and I know this sounds childish, but I need deadlines and just knowing there is someone out there waiting on you to get those pages in is motivation enough for me to get my ass in gear and get down to business. This is especially true of a first book as I really had no idea of the ride I was in for.

Summer was really easy as it was the beginning of the narrative tree where stories can go anywhere. The sun was shining and I'd take the notebook out to the high meadows and write and sunbath and then come back later and transcribe. I took long walks up the Lasset (which is the river which snakes down from the Lake of the Devil, through the Reboule and onwards through Montsegur) and sit on the river banks, staring at the water to get a feel for my characters. I rode on horseback through the forests pretending I was Sordel. Butterflies would land on my pen and not leave. Often I would lose track of time and become pink all over with sunburn. There were many little anecdotes that went into the story. I stayed with it day after day until the characters started to take shape and I could hear them beginning to talk to me (and no, I'm not schizophrenic, I prefer to think of this ability as 'a gift', rather than a particular form of madness). 

"Not all those who wander are lost..." J.R.R. Tolkien (photo by Richard Stanley).
But it was not the easiest of summers either. There was a lot of personal tension and strife in my life and I poured that emotion out onto the page. It was a relief to have somewhere to put it. Anger is an energy, sadness is an energy, regret is an energy, redemption is an energy and love is an energy. Like any personal work, the story is dotted with my own personal pathology in places. I know what it's like to feel conflicted and to feel love and hate about a person or situation at the same time. I think the essence of this would be best described as 'bitter sweet'. But this is what a lot of emotions and memories are made of and it's this ability to feel a vast array of things that makes us human. I don't personally enjoy conflict although I won't run from it either, but I like it in my characters. I like them to be a mix of things both good and bad and to be confronted with choices that are neither morally right or wrong, but that go against their personal creed, and opens up some facet within them that makes them view the world in a different way. Take Gilles for example, he was a fairly easy character to write because he was so obviously the bad guy, and like most villains even though he's a complete bastard I liked his quirks. I didn't approve of the way he did things or how vicious he was, but I can't say I 100 percent hated him either and in writing his scenes, I was always curious to see where he'd go because there were no limits on his badness – not even necrophilia! Even though reprehensible he's still entertaining. I don't know why it's so much easier for me to write bad guys rather than heroes and I'm certain a psychoanalyst will have a field day with me someday.

The mists of the Mount de la Frau and the view from my window.
As the shadows grew longer, the writing became harder. I had scripts to doctor and a film to keep a vague eye on and throw my two cents in while it was being edited. There were small patches of days when I got a chance to work on nothing but the book, but it was rare. I would try and get whatever I could down in the morning before scriptwriting duties, but I was usually pretty foggy and it takes me some time to get into the flow of things. Like Saurimonde, I don't like staring at a blank canvas and will balk for a while, not knowing where to start. There was also the fact that I'd never written a full novel before and there were times I'd deviate off the structure and then have to rethink the whole thing. But little by little it started to fall together, although not in prolific amounts, it was enough to keep me going.

The winter snows came into the valley shutting out the rest of the world and I spent a good part of it locked up in my one warm room in this 16th century icebox. When the spring festival came to Montsegur I saw some of the other villagers for the first time all winter and they asked me how my vacation was. No one had seen me so they all assumed I'd headed for warmer climates. I told them I'd been here all winter writing and working and they smiled politely and looked at me in a slightly confused manner. But this is pretty normal as they aren't quite sure what it is I do besides help make movies and string words together. And to be honest, my conversational French is remedial at the best of times.

Then suddenly one day a few weeks ago. It was finished. Well, almost finished. There was that pesky little thing called editing but we won't talk about that as my head still hurts just thinking about it. I almost failed copy-editing in Journalism school and to say I suck at it royally is being polite. Of course there's been no time to celebrate as I'm hip deep in writing another horror script and this one is based on the kaballah. Although fun, like all original scripts it's a lot of work, but, hey, there are much worse ways to make a living.

The view from the battlement where I would sit and write until the sun went down.
I'll end this here before I go on another digression. Linear thinking was never my forte, but I live off the grid and outside the box and I prefer it that way. I think I'll put together a list of some of the stuff that inspired the story as the weather is bad (as in snow in April bad - can you believe that! Thank you Mother Nature!). I've already put a dossier together of the legends, but there were other books and authors who were along for the journey and lots and lots of music. And art, I shouldn't forget art as used this to get myself motivated on certain days when I was lagging. I'd look around for images to inspire me (and firmly tell myself I was not trolling the internet – I was working!) because it all helps at the end of the day. Maybe I'll gather together a few pics of the places I was writing from. Montsegur is known as the 'grail castle' or the 'castle of dreams' because of its history, but its story is bitter sweet as well and full of beauty and tragedy. I completely forgot until now I spent a few nights writing up in the castle, watching the sun set and only stopping when the light completely faded. The last time I did so last summer there was a meteorite shower and I was the only person on the mountain in the ruins of the castle to witness it. Watching the reign of shooting stars from those heights made it feel like they were falling directly into the soul of the mountain and like if I reached up high enough I could easily catch one in my hand. It was one of the most visually ecstatic experiences of my whole life and, hell yeah, I made a lot of wishes that night. 

The morning after...
The next morning was the most intense and blazing sunrise I have ever witnessed. Just watching it was like being reborn in fire and if you know anything of the history of this place then you'll understand the relevance of this phrase.

Okay, I really mean it this time, I'm stopping here.

Much love from where the worlds touch,

S. - xx

Scarlett Amaris.
Montsegur, April 5th, 2013

(photo by Jan Pierre Texier)

From the City of Angels - the writing of Saurimonde part 2

It’s funny how sometimes the collective unconscious can seemingly conspire to collide two like minds in an effort to create something new to share with all humankind.

View of Pacific Ocean from El Matador State Beach, Malibu, CA
Last summer my book group (that I haven’t been to in ages and feel terrible about but I’ve been neck deep in writing, editing, and doing research which leaves zero time to read other stuff) read that 50 Shades of Grey book by E.L. James. In fact, I think that’s the last book I read, or tried to read, with the group. See, I got about, oh, maybe a quarter of the way through but I couldn’t force myself to finish it. Not because of the explicit sex. Rather because that whole corporate environment was a huge turnoff to me. Suits do nothing for me. I was completely repelled by the whole mise en scen. So, I put it aside and picked up A Game of Thrones instead, which suited me so much more...

However, as I was reading I began to recall something a friend had mentioned a few months, perhaps even a year, earlier. Scarlett and I were lounging by the pool outside my apartment under the harsh Southern California sun, swaying palm trees, and lush fuchsia bougainvillea spilling over the fence during a much needed break from either designing her website or outlining my Castaneda script when she mentioned that she had an idea to write something of which she felt there wasn't enough: goth erotica. I was immediately intrigued.

Searching the seemingly infinite horizon for inspiration...
I’d read a smattering of what, I suppose, could be considered erotica over the years like Anne Rice’s Exit to Eden and the Sookie Stackhouse series (which, I know, isn’t exactly erotica but it gets pretty steamy at points), but few romance type novels ever appealed to me. However, I’m a sucker for anything goth or dark, occult or supernatural, fantasy or horror. Her idea had all those elements.

So, fast forward about a year to me just having put down 50 Shades of Grey and diving into Game of Thrones, when a light bulb went off in my mind and I sent Scarlett an email saying, “Maybe it's time for your goth erotica?” and she wrote back, “Maybe it is time to dust off the Saurimonde stories - wanna help me write them????”

Exploring the California desert
Of course I said yes despite the fact that I was knee deep in a rewrite for the Castaneda script, but I had hit a wall there because I needed to do more research and desperately desired a fun distraction to cleanse my palate. What could possibly be more fun than a bodice-ripping, gore-filled, supernatural erotic fiction series? So, I set aside the script and dove head first into the world of Saurimonde. A world of real heartbreak and betrayal, flirtation and lust, demons and witches, heroes and villains, love and death. I traversed these intensely emotional scapes alongside Scarlett exploring the nature of human sexuality while delving into deeply personal experiences and twisted fantasies.

Hiking the trails of Griffith Park
Sometimes, however, nothing came. No words. The muse slept. So, I scoured the internet seeking inspiration while listening to my Saurimonde playlist on Spotify. Or drove to Malibu to stare at the seemingly endless horizon of the great Pacific Ocean, silently calling to the universe for ideas. Or I’d head east to the desert to watch the stars, always hoping to catch a shooting star or, better yet, a spaceship. Other times I’d disappear into the Los Angeles forest or Griffith Park to listen to the trees whisper in the breeze waiting for the words to come like pictures in my mind. Mini-movies only I can see and hear. Always building off Scarlett’s detailed outline and carefully crafted character descriptions until those characters became me and I them and they crept into my dreams at night.

When the forest is my office...
And now it is finished. Well, almost, I’m still halfway through the final edit as I type this, but it’s so close and by the time this blog is posted it shall be done to be released to the wild, to the world for all to experience, for you.

Welcome to Saurimonde: Do you dare to go there?


Melissa S.
City of Angels, April 6th, 2013

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Introducing Saurimonde... the Painting by Michele Bigler

Saurimonde by Michele Bigler, 2013

As I write this, the Sunshine soundtrack plays in my ears mixed with the sounds of chirping birds, leafblowers, and planes far overhead. The sun shines brightly warming my skin while I sit on my porch contemplating Saurimonde's cover that I just sent to Scarlett for review. We're so close. Just a few more tweaks. But something is still off...

I lift my face to the sky and a wild humming bird suddenly appears as if out of nowhere hovering over my recently blossomed basil plant (an omen?) and it feels like only yesterday that we began discussing a cover yet at the same time it feels like a lifetime ago. Time is funny that way...

When we first started talking book covers, there was one thing we knew for certain, we wanted it to have an organic feel to it more like a painting rather than straight graphic design and we both wanted original artwork. Scarlett mentioned that a friend of hers, Michele, was a painter and that I should check out her stuff on Facebook. So I clicked on Michele’s album and immediately agreed she was the one.

Sketch of Saurimonde

Michele sent us a handful of sketches, we chose our favorite, then we got our first scan of Saurimonde and she was perfect. Or so we thought until we realized there may be some censorship issues... So we toyed with a few ideas but ultimately decided the best thing would be for Michele to paint in some jewelry to cover up the "offending" nipple (and hopefully that will be the end of that and this cover will pass - as of right now we don’t know yet). I thought the repaint was expertly done and the necklace exquisite (I kinda want one like it in real life).

Saurimonde with Necklace

Now if only we could have left the cover as is, but we had to add text and make it fit certain guidelines... Thankfully, Scarlett and I have experience with book cover design. Independently, I’ve been doing graphic design for over a decade, then I met Scarlett in 2008 and since we’ve designed multiple websites, posters, and book covers together. Scarlett is excellent at envisioning striking visuals and I use the tools at my disposal to help turn those visions into reality as best I can. It’s not always easy - what you see in your head doesn’t always work on paper or screen, but patience and taking risks are key.

In The Now by Melissa St. Hilaire;
I needed a book cover but was struggling with ideas,
Scarlett mentioned a scene in the book saying it might make  for a good visual,
that gave me direction for the rest of the cover as above.

L'Autre Monde un film de Richard Stanley;
Of all the designs I've worked on, the above poster is one of my favorites.
Richard, Scarlett, & I worked tirelessly on it.

To make the actual cover, we had to lay in text, which means choosing the right font(s) and color(s), as well as creating a back cover with space for a summary and barcode. Additionally, all the elements should flow and have balance.

Scarlett scoured the internet for possible fonts while I read countless articles and blogs on choosing fonts for book covers. We perused various novel covers, choosing ones with elements we liked, as well as a multitude of imagery from myriad sources. We finally settled on a rich golden design for the back that wraps around the spine and front cover framing Michele’s painting.

Back Cover & Spine with Blurb in Garamond

After a few trials and errors, we agreed on a combination of Trajan and Allura for the fonts.* Trajan is a fairly common book cover font and it’s easy to see why - it’s simple yet elegant and is easy to read as a thumbnail without getting too blocky full size, while Allura’s more free flowing style nicely compliments the more formal Trajan. (*With the back cover blurb in Garamond for easy readability.)

Front Cover & Spine with Trajan & Allura fonts

Lastly we needed a color palette. We decided upon using Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, as we had already chosen a couple coinciding colors and, seriously, what better inspiration for a romance cover than the birth of the goddess of love and beauty?

The Birth of Venus (Italian: Nascita di Venere) by Sandro Botticelli, 1486

Melissa S.
Los Angeles, May 1st, 2013

Introducing Saurimonde... the Painting by Michele - part II

I asked my old friend, and former room mate, Michele Bigler, if she'd be interested in coming up with the cover artwork for 'Saurimonde'. I've always been a fan of her drawing and her ladies are the best. It's hard to draw sexy ladies and Michele always nails it. When we were in art school together I was pea green with envy over her ability to draw anything straight out of her head and it was always amazing: Monsters, vamps, dancing tea kettles, our other friends etc. I don't possess such abilities, although I can paint decently if pushed. Michele and I have a long history which spans back more years than I'll admit to. We used to buy comic books together and ohh and ahh over the artwork of Frank Frazetta, Vallejo, Bruce Pennington, Esteban Maroto and Druillet. 

Frazetta, Pennington and Druillet.
Michele introduced me to bands which I still listen to today. We drank too much and caused mayhem wherever we went while growing up in Chicago and Hollywood. Yes, indeed, we were bad girls and we enjoyed being so to the fullest. 

Scarlett & Michele - the baby goth years...
I knew Michele could realize the vague concept I had in my head. So I told her I wanted something like a young, golden Claudia Cardinale from 'Once Upon a Time in the West', but give her a slightly more fairyish aspect and make her more like one of the ladies from the 'Slaine' comic book that we adored so much as teenagers. I knew she would get me, and she did, perfectly. 

Close up of 'Saurimonde' - uncensored and in the flesh...
Melissa and I both agreed this was the image and then Melissa sent me a mail reminding me of the nudity policy on Amazon. This was not something which I'd considered before as I'd always pictured a naked woman on the cover. So I gritted my teeth and asked Michele if she could 'fix it' to hide the 'offensive' nipple, although I have to admit this frustrates me as I don't believe the female form is ugly in any sort of way, and I refuse to cooperate in a shame based culture, but sometimes you have to play by the rules even if you don't want to. Being naked is fun, but I'll write more about this subject at a later date. Still, I'm over the moon with the results and Melissa has done a heck of a job designing the website and the cover with Michele's art work. I'm really lucky to have such talented people around me. I love creating things. I love making stories and movies, just as I love bringing people together to realize these creative endeavors. It's a collective breath that brings these visions to life, and for me that's one of the most exciting parts of the process.

Kudo's ladies to a job brilliantly done!

Much love from the misty mountains,

S. - xx

Scarlett Amaris- Montsegur, May 4, 2013