Two years ago, around this time, I found myself cloistered in a Barcelona hotel room for hours at a time. While my husband pushed the latest and greatest of his company’s achievements at a technology convention, I slogged away the hours doing design for my agency back in New York. I got up early to keep time with my coworkers and worked until 1 or 2 in the afternoon. After logging off, I’d grab some lunch and wander the city. After a few days of that routine, I had exhausted all the major tourist sites and began branching off to lesser known spots. I explored the Guinardó district and the Parc del Laberint, meandered through Born, and admired the tombstones in Poblenou. I hadn’t written a single word; in fact, my fantasy novel The Tendrils of Fate wasn’t even half way finished at that time. I was determined to enjoy myself; to free my mind–to take in all of Barcelona! Then, on a warm Thursday morning, as the first rays of sunlight filtered through the hotel curtains, I had a daydream. I found myself in an unfamiliar place and heard the quiet sobbing of a girl.
I stared past the curtains at the desk in my room but saw only a white-marble room in my mind’s eye. I threw off my sheets, grabbed my laptop and began to write. The words flowed. The spark grew.
The story unveiled itself like a depraved streaker; wanton and defiant. I had written several chapters before I realized what time it was. I hadn’t bothered with work. In fact, I had forgotten all about it. My chat box was chiming: ‘Hey, you there?’. I had a meeting on Skype and was totally unprepared. Shit.
Reluctantly, I put the story on pause and went and did my job. All day my mind was elsewhere. I wasn’t just in another place; I was in another world; in a realm that was part myth, part sexual gulag. I was deep underground in a place called the hive which was inhabited by a daemonic society who called themselves the Carceroi. It occurred to me much later that perhaps I had drawn the name from Piranesi’s feverishly scrawled works Le Carceri d’Invenzione (which I adore) or from Dungeon & Dragon’s Manual of the Planes which describes the Depths of Carceri (The Red Prison) as a chaotic plane of existence.
2 PM rolled around and, in spite of being in Barcelona, I had no desire to leave the hotel. I opened the double doors that led to the veranda, pushed my desk to face the balcony and continued work on what I consider one of the darkest, most depraved stories I’ve ever committed to paper. I drank a lot of coffee that day; and some wine. I munched on some protein bars I had in my bag and often ignored the urge to go to the bathroom. Glued to my screen, I went from desk to bed to floor, all the while chasing my mercurial muse.
My heroine was young. Impressionable. A daemonic virgin. A slave.
Her name was Xarla, and she confused me as much as she thrilled me. I didn’t know whether I felt bad for her or if I’d torture her some more. I had no idea why I was writing such a lewd heap of what I could only imagine was pornography? I mean, was it even erotica? I had no idea. I just needed to know more.
By 7 PM I was hungry, and it dawned on me that I was really in Barcelona. The ochre glow of the streetlights had replaced the warmth of the sun and the breeze blowing in from the sea was chilly. My husband wasn’t due back for several hours, so I packed up the laptop, got dressed and ventured out into the night. The streets were abuzz with people. It was all a blur. Every face passed me unseen. My legs knew what to do, and I was grateful they didn’t need my brain. I walked for a while, passing wine bar after wine bar promising tasty tapas. I recall thinking that people from Barcelona were very much like hobbits. First breakfast, followed by second breakfast, followed by elevensies, followed by a siesta, tapas, some more tapas and finally dinner which starts at 10 PM and drags on till midnight.
I ducked into a place with a beige awning that had a placard outside announcing cheeses and sausages. I drank some more wine; indulged in some patatas bravas, croquetas, and a small salad. I passed on the cheese plate but indulged in some strong espresso. Nothing happens fast in Barcelona–or anywhere in Europe for that matter. By the time I had paid my bill it was close to 9 PM, and I was itching to write some more.
I felt guilty, I did. On the way back to the hotel I wondered what the hell I was doing? I am a notoriously slow and fussy writer, and there I was cheating on the manuscript I was supposed to be working on with a virgin! This Xarla thing was lunacy. All anyone needed to do to brand me a sexual predator was to read the first two paragraphs.
Well, fuck. It’s what I wanted to write. And so, feeling guilty, I went back to the hotel and started up again.
My husband arrived sometime after 1 AM and found me tapping away at the keys. He was exhausted after having put in over 14 hours of work. I tucked him in, bid him goodnight, and continued to feed my demons in the dark.
Oh, and what a guilty pleasure it was! Xarla with all of her sorrows caught between desire and tradition–rebellion and dogma. A society ruled by chemical subjugation. A scorched wasteland of perennial sunlight. A bucolic perversion of chastity and morality.
By 5 AM I was thoroughly convinced there was something seriously wrong with me. I mean, I’ve always known that, but damn. I had channeled some grim and violent prose that in the past would have gotten me … hanged? Burned at the stake?
Right before bed at around 7 AM, I had this vision of needing an exorcism. That’s when I knew I was on to something. Whatever was inspiring me to write this story needed to be explored if only for my own sanity.
Xarla was this strange literary anomaly whose future was entirely uncertain. All I knew was that I had pulled back the veil of an intrigue that I needed to unravel. With every page and the introduction of each new player, the rabbit hole deepened. The hive took on a depth that went far beyond smut and pornography. It extended into the realm of psychology and my disgust at how some cultures denigrate women. It soon became apparent that Xarla was an exploration of fetishism, feminism, and sexual liberation. I was writing a story that both lacked a Judeo-Christian context and criticized religion as a whole.
The following day I wrote all the while thinking that I would end my peculiar, never-to-be-published “short story.” The day after that I wrote with much the same idea–that I’d finish. But I didn’t finish. Xarla just grew and grew, and life in the hive of the control-worshiping Carceroi took some fun and unexpected twists.
Fast forward. Two years later.
I finished Tendrils of Fate (my main squeeze) and kept working on Xarla in the background. The short story turned into a novella which then transformed into a novel. And guess what? It’s still not finished!
As I type this, my husband is back in Barcelona at the same tech convention. I’ll be flying out to meet him in London where we will begin a fantastic road trip that takes us from London to Northumbria. Already I have begun to wonder if I will cheat on Xarla (like the undisciplined writer that I am) or finally type those coveted two words: ‘THE END.’ There are times when I think that the reason why this manuscript is still in progress is that I’m secretly ashamed of it. Leave it to me to write 70,000 words of erotica without ever penetrating the cunt. Yes, I said cunt. It happens to be one of my preferred terms for the female genitalia (and I’m unapologetic).
Only my coauthor has read Xarla the WIP. He has been very encouraging, but as we all know, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree [insert emoticon of your choice here].
I’d tell you more, but it’s late and I have a suitcase to pack. When I get back I’ll let you know what happened as well as share that tourist-must-do photo of me humping Stonehenge.