When Writing, Like Painting, Is A Naked Art

A few years ago, I did a large canvas painting using sketches of models from an art class I attended. At first, I didn’t know where I should go with it. I’m an okay, but not a particularly gifted painter, unsure of my work.

Some artists talk about staring at large canvases and being frightened. How do you fill all that emptiness? I didn’t quite feel that way. In fact, I felt reckless—what the heck, I can gesso it if it doesn’t resonate with something in me. Or cut if up into smaller tableaus.

Confronting the intimidating titanium whiteness before me, I selected a sketch. I painted her almost smack in the middle of the canvas.

The model stands firmly, but she seems self-conscious. By many artists’ reckoning, she’s not just nude. She’s naked.

Why is she naked, instead of nude? Presumably, it’s because she looks vulnerable, ashamed of being totally unclothed. “Nude” is artsy, above all the shame and the juicy connotations of “naked.”

Titian, Venus d'Urbino from Wikipedia
Titian, Venus d’Urbino from Wikipedia

In painting the first figure, I made a commitment. Her location and her pose plunges me in a certain direction.

I neither gessoed over that painting nor cut it into smaller canvases. Once finished, it clearly contained themes that mattered to me.

We define ourselves throughout our lives around some central question we nuance endlessly. For me, the perennial question is what being female means in this society and at this time. I’ve turned this question over in my head and answered it in many ways. So, perhaps inevitably, it crept into this painting.

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I approach writing like I did that painting. A broad, empty canvas I’m free to fill with my words. Words which could expose me stark naked. (We never say “stark nude,” do we?) But as with a painting, I could zap those words with one or two taps on the keyboard.

The perennial question in my painting also inhabits the heart of my finished fiction. So, while it tells a love story, I usually classify it as “Women’s Fiction.”

My novels don’t just show love, they also explore its nuances mostly from the woman’s point of view. But loving inevitably happens in the context of how we live our lives. So, ultimately, my stories are about life, about real issues women and men face.

One particular review of the book, Hello, My Love by Angela, a freelance writer, blogger, and stay at home mama, captures the essence of my stories beautifully:

I saw the cover and expected more of a superficial story with superficial characters and little else. I found, instead, a life story about love, life, mistakes, and a bit of mystery.

Earlier, she says,

This is not a sappy, dialogue filled, romance book with endless love scenes and little substance. E Journey loads this book with detail, description and develops both characters and plot lines to their resolution. I enjoyed the writing style, I enjoyed the realism, and I enjoyed the depth of the story. (And this comes from a non-romance-novel-fan!) I enjoy a romance with a story beyond the romance–and this book brings that and more.

Okay, that last quote is my naked (buck naked, in fact) attempt to plug the book—something authors must not make a naked art of.

Image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net (http://FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net (http://FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Romance novels focus on the male protagonist, but they’re written to appeal to women, their main consumers. Thus, book covers feature pecs, broad shoulders, and bulging arms. Or Adonis at the point of ravishing the reader in the guise of Aphrodite. (In Greek mythology, Adonis actually ignores Aphrodite’s attempts to seduce him). In contrast, my book covers feature women.

So, why plunk a love story in the center of women’s fiction? Simple answer—I love love stories. After all, Jane Austen sparked and sustained my love for reading. Her focus, however, is on her heroine. I’m also a sucker for happy endings. I find enough that depresses me about real life, but seek no catharsis by writing about it. Escape and entertainment are the raison d’être of love stories, whether they fit the romance or women’s fiction categories.

My novels don’t strive to enlighten. Not consciously, anyway, but because my previous training has given me a bias, the inner lives of characters, fascinate me no end. I relish probing into my characters’ psyche: Insecurities and disappointments, joys and triumph; love/hate relationships with parents; instances they behave out-of-character; passages they go through including life events you won’t typically find in romantic fiction.

Like my painting, my fiction is a naked art of exposing the hearts and minds of lovers rather than the naked art of titillating scenes and heaving bosoms.I do occasionally titillate in respectful obeisance to romance readers who read my books.

My approach probably won’t appeal to hard-core romance readers who might believe angst is superfluous in love stories. To them, the naked art of loving is just that—naked and physical. A review of the first book in the series, Between Two Worlds once said the “chemistry between protagonists isn’t crackling”—quite an original and creative word choice, really, fierier than the oft-preferred word “sizzling.” Though, without the steam.

But how do you make a deep emotion crackle? Only through frequent steamy love scenes and smoldering lust? But lust, though it may incite love or arise from it, is not the same as love. The naked art of loving often manifests itself through quiet gestures.

My stories do have happy endings. I also try to weave in a twist of mystery because mayhem can expose character or enliven a plot. I strive for good concise prose as well—words evoking lyrical or haunting images that are vivid but economical.

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