Stubborn Irritating Fuzzy Muse. When your muse stops talking to you, there is sometimes a reason.
Something I read recently reminded me that writers, ‘real writers’ (whatever that phrase means) write because they have to write. Even if no one ever reads their work, or hates their work, or everyone lauds their work, they write. Why? Well, because writing is really like breathing, absolutely necessary for life.
I’ve always written. Characters romp through my head and through my dreams and writing them down is the only way to get them out of my head. This is why I have a gazillion muse bombed manuscripts hanging around my house, and my kids know the stories I tell in all their variations. Except for a very few short years when my babies were young and I was struggling with a long term potentially crippling illness, I have written. My muse spews stories from one end to the other in a mostly linear line (well, most of the time, anyway; I can’t say the Finder is following this pattern) and I rush to keep up with the scenes running full cinema through my head. But can I say this thing I call writing actually adding something to the world? There are days I don’t know, days that I think that my writing is just a series of vignettes, not a story that shows how and why the character changes.
Let me explain. Recently, I read Write Your Novel From the Middle. James Scott Bell argues that there is a moment in every character’s life when they look in the mirror and have to face the big choice, and that moment both sets up the whole question and drives the change for the rest of the book.
The novel manuscripts I’ve finished all have this ‘mirror moment’. I can find it. I know exactly why it is there, and how it causes the rest of the story to unfold. For Desie, my main character in CHOICE OF DESTINY, it was the moment when she chose to use what she knew to protect her two very young sons from being murdered by the Usurper Emporer. The rest of the story is her accepting her destiny as a result of that choice.
In THE DUODECA PROJECT it is that moment when Jo realizes that only the information in her head will be able to stop the coming pandemic, if she is willing to face the cost.
In THE FINDER, it is the moment when Isabelle accepts her own truth, and choses to use her skills to save herself and the woman caught with her. Everything after that moment unfolds because she decides to fight to save herself.
The manuscripts that are still in muse bombed pieces don’t have that moment, or the moment isn’t clear. The lack of mirror moment totally explains why they are 60k word long vignettes and not finished novels. Just learning this concept is helpful, because now I can see how to fix them. I understand how to make them coherent wholes, with beginning and end. That is exciting, and helpful, even if it is a little daunting. I don’t regret writing them; they are huge vignettes of characters I love to hang out with. I had to write them because writing is like breathing for me. But, if I want to make them into pieces that will be ready to launch into the world, they need work to have more than just vignettes. In the end, that is a good thing to learn.
Time once again for a check in.
I have only accomplished a mere two thousand words on my current projects in the last ten days. I could make excuses (the stomach virus going around school hit me hard, and I ended up in bed for four days, followed by a dreadful week at work), but I’m not going to do that. Excuses don’t really get the writing done, and the writing is the point.
This week, it is time to get back onto the horse and just write.
I do have some work done on Super School, just a few scenes. I am still working on fleshing out the middle of second and third year, along with the ending. Why is her skill important? What is it that makes her a super hero, and not others. There are muse bombs all over the place in what I have written so far, and I want to find out! My villain suddenly became two, and it is exciting to see it all take shape.
I have also worked on a few background pieces for The Finder: the first time she finds a body (and the police officer who finds her), and how she tries to figure out where she fits in with all the other psychics by going to a psychic fair, and meeting the woman who later becomes one of her mentors. Enjoy.
The Beauty of the Cards
Isabella Maynard wasn’t sure what she thought she would find at the psychic fair, but it wasn’t what she saw in front of her. She paused as she held out her ticket to the bored man at the door, staring at the ball room, awash in crystals and bejeweled perfumed women. Everyone she saw seemed to be desperately seeking something, some meaning, some way of justifying the value of their frantic lives. She was searching for some way to understand why she heard those voices calling her, pleading with her to find them. Sighing, she moved off the heavily traveled walkway, and just stared up and down the aisles.
Here were jewels, and stones, and dragon statues. Here were collections of tarot, sold by jeweled and exotically draped women with low and mesmerizing voices. Here were the astrologers, promising easy futures with fortune and love if you just did the right thing on the right day, and serious faced men selling angel statues, and promising divine help with the right choice of picture or figurine. Here were the palm readers, and the jeweled daughters of gypsies, seeking silver for blessings.
Nothing she saw, from the crystal ball reader to the tarot card vendor, seemed to have anything to do with the voices or connected to that overwhelming sense of the awe and wonder of the creator and the connected intersections of the people around her. The fair around her seemed mercenary, frantic, restless, unconnected.
“Fun, isn’t it?” a voice said to her side, and she turned to look at the dark haired middle aged woman, in the dark pants and bright shirt with a quiet, sensible, pair of shoes on her feet. “All this panoply.”
Isabelle shrugged her thin shoulders and stuffed her hands into the back pocket of her worn jeans. “I guess.”
The woman looked at her for a very long time, seeming to see beyond the teenager to the questions she hid, and then nodded, still smiling. “Not into angel guides and crystal channeling, are you?”
She shrugged again, not wanting to hurt the feelings of this stranger if she was into it. “Not…really,” was all she said.
“Why don’t you and I have a cup of coffee at the cafe there, and you tell me what you are looking for, then. Sometimes I have a bit of luck with that. Finding what people are looking for, I mean.”
Isabella wasn’t sure why she followed the woman off to the side of the room where the bored women in orange and brown polyester chatted in Spanish as they poured hot water and coffee. Somehow, coffee seemed like a neutral idea. She couldn’t imagine something important happening in the brightly lit cafe sectioned off by blue nylon curtains. The excited chattering women in front of them took hot water for their Celestial Seasonings teas, and started enthusiastically showing off their tarot card collections.
Mona smiled as she carried her cup of coffee and orange over to an empty table. “I like the tarot cards myself,” she said after introducing herself. “The art is usually so beautiful. But the power isn’t in the cards, and not everyone understands that.”
Cradling her coffee as she sat down, Isabella just sighed. “Sometimes, I think that people who use the cards want the easy way, the way that gives them what they want but doesn’t change them, not inside. Real power doesn’t work like that.”
“No,” agreed Mona, sipping her coffee. “It doesn’t. It isn’t that easy, but it can be beautiful. It helps when the seeker is grounded, and centered. You need to understand and respect your own boundaries, and to know and to deal with your own pains and hurts first. Otherwise, you project the things you don’t accept about yourself onto others, and do harm. The first rule, the one all of us with power must learn, is to do no harm.”
“But, is it important–all this stuff? The crystals, the tarot, the knives and herbs and spells and stuff, I mean? Does all this stuff help make the power make sense?” Her voice was hesitant as she asked, carefully cradling her cup of coffee between her hands.
Mona smiled. “For the right person, the tools can be a useful focus point, a way to understand and organize their universe and explain how their world differs from the way others see it.” She looked around. “Just like wearing symbols like the pentagon, or the cross, are symbols for others to see and understand that these are people who don’t organize their world the way others expect.”
“What about the ones who …. don’t need .. or want the … toys? Where do they fit in all of this? Or, do they fit?” And Mona nodded slowly, hearing the question that the girl with the dark blue eyes wasn’t asking.
Mona smiled, and the girl sensed that this woman understood the power in a very practical way, and had experienced the touch of the divine. “Each of us finds our own way.” Then, Mona grinned as she looked around the room. “We come and sift through all of this to find that one connection that called us here. It helps to not take it all so seriously.” She peeled her orange, offering a small piece to Isabella. “To remember the joy in the connections between us, and the holy that calls us together, no matter what name we give it. It helps, too, not to take it all so seriously. And to remember, sometimes, that the whole point can be the beauty in the art on the cards.”
Hello dear readers!
I’ve been plugging away at a whole host of writing related things this last week or so, including the first stages of the big edit for ‘The Duodeca project’, research, and planning pieces for my novel ‘The Finder’ (my HTTS project), two flash fiction vignettes, and going back to work on another older novel: Super School.
The Finder is currently in research ‘no man’s land’ and planning purgatory. My main character is a psychic who found her first dead body at four. Her antagonist is a serial killer who is currently stalking her because she found two of his bodies, and he is afraid she might be able to catch him. During the planning phase, my muse decided I needed more information on everything before I could properly plan–police procedures, psychics, serial killers, everything. Yes, yes. I know the rabbit hole of research is easy to get lost in! I decided to limit myself to five good books. I ended up with three on psychic abilities, one on serial killers, and one (a basic reference book) on police procedures.
There is a lot written about the paranormal, and the development of psychic abilities, but most of it has little or nothing to do with someone like Isabella, who has been psychic from childhood. Or for that matter, the people in my own family. As my mother often tells me, I am related to a tribe of gypsies who made a living fortune telling before they escaped the old country. My view of being psychic is a lot more pragmatic and a whole lot less ‘woo-woo’ than nearly everything available commercially.
In The Rational Psychic Jack Rourke discusses his own experiences as a psychic. He does a lot of debunking of various theories and phenomena. I really liked how he emphasizes the need for appropriate emotional boundaries, and doing your own emotional work so that you do not project your own issues onto others. It was a good read, and a useful resource, His experience is a whole lot closer to my own family experience of psychic, (although no one in my generation has gone on to become a psychic on his level).
The Reality of ESP by Russell Targ is fascinating. It presents proof of ESP from the point of view of quantum physics, but it isn’t a book for the faint of heart, or for someone afraid of science. Russell Targ is a physicist who originally worked with lasers; he and a number of others pioneered a program to develop ESP, in order to spy on ‘non-visible’ targets during the cold war. The work he cites in the book is amazing. He presents his work with a low key but reasoned approach. I found it helpful, particularly how he organized the different levels and layers of skills, and their development.
Growing up psychic by Chip Coffey looks good, but we will see once I start reading it in more depth. What I have read seems pretty reasonable, but I haven’t gotten very far. If I start sputtering, or muttering, I will let you know. It is one of the few that actually talks about parenting childhood psychics.
I decided to limit my research on serial killers to psychology and development. I could spend years on true crime stories, but I don’t need that much detail floating through my already vivid imagination. Serial Killers: the method and madness of monsters by Peter Vronsky is a very thorough walk through a difficult topic by an experienced journalist. It is one of the few books that includes the psychological development of a serial killer, but there is a whole lot more in his book than just that, While I find it an emotionally challenging topic, the book is extremely well written, and well researched. I’m just not speeding through it.
I also picked up a reference book for mystery writers called Police Procedure and Investigation by Lee Lofland, a police veteran. The book is a solid basic text with a whole lot of information about police procedures with a US flavour. It is just something to be aware of if you write in a Canadian or international setting. What it doesn’t do is go into a lot of procedural details, or flow charts or checklists. I may let myself pick up one of the Canadian Police Procedural manuals, or Detective Procedure study guides I saw which do, eventually, but for now this is a good place to start.
I also wrote two flash fiction pieces this week, both little vignettes of Isabella’s life. It is so exciting to see her develop as a person.
One of my big goals is to finish things and get those muse bombs into order and out the door as proper finished manuscripts. So, while I’m doing research for the Finder, Super School is getting the attention it deserves. So far, I’ve added nearly eight thousand words to the manuscript. Another twenty thousand words, and the first draft should be done, I see the end, and (way more exciting) I know how it is going to end, or at least mostly how it is going to end. I can hardly wait to finish it.
I’m sure, dear reader, that most of us who are writers have a stash of partial manuscripts hiding in different places in our house (life, garage, files, you name it…). I know I do. Another writer I know refers to these as muse bombs. These last few weeks I have been unearthing and filing my muse bombs–partial manuscripts, first chapter pieces, notebooks with good ideas and a few pages. I have filled one box of hanging files and am starting on box two. On the good side, I will never run out of stories. I will always have a backlog. On the other? Well, apparently, my muse likes to drop her toys all over the place and just leave them there, while she starts playing with other toys. I have muse bombs littering my life.
These muse bombs are affecting my other writing, too. This week my muse threw a muse bomb at me and took my writing for a ride, literally. The new story starts with the protagonist being picked up by a truck driver on a long haul, and taking her along with him, and I now have 10K words on yet another manuscript. Since the story started from the black box exercise in HTTS, I’m not complaining. But, it doesn’t get my other pieces finished. And finished and out the door is the goal of this year.
The Finder is turning very dark, with body parts and flowers as part of the stalking and psychological torment. The previous boyfriend has now arrived at the hospital, and been the required jerk. My DH muttered about me writing horror. I don’t write horror, but this one is…definitely darker than I expected it to be. I was aiming for thriller. I think I’m getting horrifying thriller. I need to do some more research on a few pieces before the manuscript goes much further, however, so that piece is in a temporary time out.
Organizing and cleaning has still not unearthed the first half of the manuscript that was finished, Here be Dragons. This is the manuscript I was going to take through editing with HTRYM. This is the story that inspired the dragon theme in my Flash Fiction Collection, and it is a solid piece. I have read it aloud to my primary editors. However, three weeks of looking and I still have only page 1, and pages 90-200. My dear husband (forever known as DH) continues to assure me that it must be somewhere in this house.
Organizing has, however, revealed four different versions of the Meningitis Plot, all starting at different places in the story arc, three different versions of The Reluctant Princess, and nine versions of Return of the Empress. I am also 80% through Super School, and have a printed version of it. (We won’t talk about the other mumblety number of pieces in the blue filing boxes, dear reader). Like I said, I will never run out of ideas.
So in self defense and desperation, I have once again returned to using Flylady. I am working on getting the house back to easy to take care of and able to have company without stress. I’m trying to build Space into my system and my life. I have discovered that keeping the sink cleared and the dishes done takes far less time if I do it every day. I don’t know why it surprises me that keeping it up takes less time than getting it to go in the first place. So far, the habit is sink/dishes and 15 minutes in a zone. I am trying to add put things away as I go, but that one is proving to be harder than I expected. Perhaps my muse is following my inner diva’s lead?
In other news, I now have a fourth short story out for consideration and for some editorial review (my first piece for this kind of feedback). It isn’t a long piece, but I am excited to see what the editor will think of it, and what kinds of suggestions she has for tightening it up. I have also taken some time to go through the catalog of writing contests I purchased from Brian Henry at Quick Brown Fox and have started to enter them into my calendar so I write to a deadline. No news on the first three, and that should happen any day now.
It is a new year, and the by-word of my year is space. Space to write, space to live, space to create. I have vowed: no more handwritten dusty manuscripts sitting hidden in a drawer, unseen by readers eyes, Too long have I hidden this gift under a concrete bunker of fear and circumstances, instead of letting this light shine for others to see, and share.
And so, though it is scary to let out the stories into the wild, I know I have to let go and let them become what they will be in the eyes of my readers.
This week, I started to create space in my mental drawers by finishing my edits on one of my longer short stories, ‘North Watch Keep’, and sending it off to my beta readers. My muse is pleased to share her toys, I think, and the story makes me smile.
I also finished writing the last two flash fiction pieces for my collection ‘Here be Dragons’. I have been working my way through Holly Lisle’s writing courses, one of which is a course on how to write Flash Fiction. It took me a while to get into the swing of the course, but I am very pleased to have gotten to the end of ten flash fiction pieces, all on the theme of dragons. Some of the pieces are modern, some fanciful, one is medieval (based on the novel I am taking through the process from How to revise your novel) and two feature characters in the novel I am starting in my How to Think Sideways course (a police detective story with a twist).
And, because, dear reader, my muse likes to share her toys, I thought I would share one with you:
The psychologist looked at the worried couple in front of her, and then glanced at the bright cheerful seven year old, dressed in lace and satin, with black shiny shoes, poking around her office. The mother wore pearls and a rough silk jacket of navy. The father wore a cashmere and wool overcoat, over a faultless navy suit. Her hair was neatly, stylishly cut; its simple elegance contrasted with the worried lines spreading across her carefully maintained beauty.
“We’re hoping you can help our daughter.” the father was saying. “Our daughter has always found things. But, last week, she found the body of a missing boy, and we are afraid it traumatized her.”
His wife shuddered delicately. “It was awful. She snuck out of the condo, and she was missing for four hours. And then, there were all the police and the dogs.” And the press, she thought, looking at her husband, always the press, with their cameras and their unflattering pictures, and their cynical words. The man nodded, and reached out a comforting arm, putting it around his wife’s delicate shoulders. “It has to stop. She can’t just keep wandering off like that, and we are at our wits end.”
The psychologist murmured assurances, and watched out of the corner of her eye as the little girl went over to her cherry desk and snagged a pencil from the holder, and then went back to poking under one of her book cases in the corner.
“Isabelle,” the man said, softly, and the girl stood up, smiling at her father. “Yes, papa?”
“We are going to be back in an hour or so. Be good while we’re gone, and no wandering off.” She looked at him with dark, smiling eyes, seeing the concern and shrugging it off. They loved her, she knew. They just didn’t understand the voices that called her, and she accepted that with the quiet faith of a child. “Yes, papa.” And he led his still trembling wife away from the office, leaving his precious daughter, their only child, in the care of the psychologist.
The girl stood up again, clutching something in her fingers. Her fancy dress was now rumpled, one sock already falling down, and one of her pony tails rested drunkenly, like a sigh. Softly, as though she had practiced for hours walking like an adult instead of a romping child, she walked over to the psychologist. “Here.” she said, opening her hands to reveal glitters. “You used to wear these when you were happy. You should make them happy again.” And she handed the shocked woman her missing diamond earrings, and the great emerald engagement ring. They were the glitters she had lost when she had thrown them at her ex-husband and former secretary in a fit of fury, after finding him on her secretary’s desk, his pants around his ankles, and his interest where is should never have been.
The girl picked up the pencil, and started doodling on the pad in the middle of the low coffee table as if nothing had happened.
When the couple returned, the psychologist was still fingering the earrings in her pocket. They would never understand their daughter, she knew, though they would always love her. The girl would never be able to turn it off her ability to hear those calling voices, but perhaps, with time and care, she would be able to know when she could follow them safely.
“You should get her a big dog to keep her company.” was the psychologist’s suggestion to the worried couple. “She is lonely. A mutt that is smart and careful with children, and that will stay with her if she wanders off again.” Because she would, the woman knew. She wouldn’t be able to stop hearing those calling voices.
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Until next week, dear reader.