The Dark Sources of Creativity – guest blog by Susan Ketchen

Readers of my novels often shake their heads when they finally meet me and say, “Where do you get your crazy ideas?”

 I usually brush them off with jokes about my over-active imagination, and about how ideas come easily when I’m lost in thought (something that happens more and more these days) in the shower or in the pasture with my horses, though of course never while house cleaning.

These responses are diversions from a darker truth.

I am inspired by mistakes, misdeeds and transgressions.

Sometimes the mistakes are my own. I seem to feel that I can redeem myself by disguising my own ridiculous behaviour in the deeds of a character. For example, in a piece about the perils of self-delusion, I fictionalized an interaction I had with a neighbour. His lovely garden was being decimated by deer so he installed an ultra-sonic deer repeller.

Unfortunately I could hear it. I was reluctant to complain, but found I could not ignore the noise and after a few days tromped next-door for a chat. Perhaps he could turn it down? He thought he might try, or he would just return it to the store.

Two nights later I was again at my bedroom window, steamingly indignant because I could still hear that awful high-pitched noise. I really didn’t want to complain again, but that night I needed earplugs to sleep, and how fair was that?

The source of creativity – and all the twisted turns it takes – will forever remain a mystery. Photo by Susan Ketchen

So the next day I returned to my neighbour. I wasn’t sure what to say. What if he didn’t believe me? Or thought I was being a pest? I muttered something nonsensical to him. And he told me he’d returned the unit two days before, generously adding that I must have been kept awake by something else.

This dark event has so inspired my creativity that not only did I devote several chapters of my novel to the puzzle of self-delusion, but I am still writing about it here. I fear I may never sort it out.

I have also used the transgressions of others to inspire my writing. And it seems that my memory is very long when someone wrongs me. From grade one through three, I was socially secure at school. In fourth grade two new girls arrived. They were exotic because they were twins. They had lovely clothes, were smart and socially gregarious, and one of them pushed me down in fun on the playfield and hurt my back! I also toppled from the social scene. I felt as though I’d become invisible overnight.

Several decades passed before my wounded pride was repaired by creating Amber and Topaz in my novel Born That Way. I made the twins into a couple of stuck-up little girls who bullied my protagonist, Sylvia, but never really got her down. Through Sylvia I experienced success managing a more difficult situation than I had faced originally. Apparently it’s never too late to grow up.

For my next project I am considering writing about how we rationalize our treatment and training of animals. Controversy is everywhere: there are trainers and whisperers and behavior modifiers all over the place, and mostly they disagree with each other. Plus they all have loyal followings, and people get quite heated when it comes to defending their pets:  advising someone that their dog needs better training is never met with gratitude. Bad behavior abounds. Indeed, there are mistakes, misdeeds and transgressions everywhere. It is a goldmine of creative inspiration.

All I need is a decent pseudonym.

Susan Ketchen is the author of the novels Born That Way (2009), Made That Way (2010) and Grows That Way (2012), all published by Oolichan Books. Find out more about Susan on her website