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 www​.susanketchen​.ca