New Blog – Did Technology Kill the Muse?


The picture with this blog is from our recent vacation. Look closely and you’ll see the hummingbird hovering near my hands. The bird was so enamored of the flowers that it brushed my hands and wrists in it’s boldness. Jon and I took our daughter, Trinity, and my sister, Pilar on vacation. It was a glorious trip, and I’ll blog about it eventually, but tonight I want to introduce you to Jess, my new media minion. The job title came out of some brainstorming and was mostly her idea, which says something about how fun she’s going to be on the job. But why do I need a media minion, at all?

One of the most valuable thing any writer has is their muse. Contrary to the television show, “Castle”, most writers don’t have flesh and blood muses. When I say, muse, I mean the creative spark, that part of us that sees the real world and translates it into a fiction. The care and feeding of an artist’s muse means different things to different people, because the “muse” is as variable as the writers themselves. What is happy activity that will send one writer to their keyboard eager to create, may drain another and leave them empty of words, ideas, or just stopped dead in the water. Some writers are extroverts and love people and activity. Some writers love work in hotel rooms, or on trains, and some need the same room, the same desk, and the same everything day in and day out. Some writers listen to music, others need dead silence, and sometimes those needs change from book to book. Charles Dickens supposedly served drinks at his parties with one hand and wrote with the other. That level of activity while I tried to create would have driven me mad, but Dickens & his muse must have thrived on it. I need a certain amount of quiet time to stare into space, and let myself think. I knew too much in person socialization stole that solitude, but what I’m beginning to wonder is does electronic socialization do the same thing?

I love interacting with all of you online, but even happy interactions may be messing with the alone time I need in my head. I need to be thinking about the current book I’m writing, but I often find myself thinking, “That would make a great Facebook post,” or “Hmm . . . what should I blog about next?” or “How do I get that down to a 140 characters for Twitter?” I’m beginning to wonder if my subconscious is being sidetracked from creating stories so that it can manage my social media. I remembered on our vacation that getting out of the house, and seeing new things can feed my muse and refresh my subconscious, but talking about it online as soon as I have an experience maybe sapping the “magic” out of an event for me as a writer. It’s almost as if writing it online takes the impetus away from me wanting to translate things into fiction.

Now my real life is not a one to one translation to my fiction, but the experiences I had on vacation fed parts of me that had been starving for awhile. I can’t explain it precisely, but I’ve been needing to go to the woods, the wilderness, for awhile. It feeds something in me as a person, and that part gives energy to my writing. But thinking about sharing that experience online, before it’s had time to sink into my subconscious and sit for awhile in the quiet, I think is hurting part of my creative process. So, I’ve decided to get off line for awhile, but I didn’t want to leave you guys hanging, so Jess’s job as a media minion was born.

I’ll still be blogging. My posts to Facebook will either be texted, or emailed, to Jess for her to post for me, but they will still be my posts. Or Jess will be posting as herself. She will also be wandering around Facebook to answer your questions and being far more social than I have time, or inclination to be in the new Facebook landscape. She’ll be running her answers by me & Jon, but I’m hoping you’ll give her a warm welcome & appreciate her input. Twitter is actually the most problematic, because I actually enjoy and understand Twitter more. I may try to stay on Twitter for awhile, but if I feel that it actually is still distracting me from my writing, then that may have to change, too.

The first novel I wrote was typed on a computer, and I’ve finally really embraced the technology. I’m typing this on my iPad, and I feel naked without my iPhone. I’ve started to enjoy it all, but I’ve become less productive as a writer as I’ve become more productive in posting on line, so time to back up and put the actual writing first, and the social posting second. I need to hike in the mountains and truly be in the moment, absorbing it and letting it sink deep into my subconscious like a rock thrown into a still pool. I need to let the ripples flow out and see what muck and mire that metaphorical “rock” stirs up. I need to do all that before I think, “I’ve got to tweet this, or Facebook this, or blog this,” I need to think of my fiction first, not my social media. Thanks for your patience while I try this little experiment. I’ll see you on Twitter, at least for awhile, and you’ll still get to read the blogs, but for the rest I’m saving it for my muse, for me, for my family, and for the new adventures to come.

Post Book Blues, or I finished my novel, now what?

Restless as hell. Don’t want to watch anymore TV, movies, even the great book I’m reading is just irritating. If we have anymore sex we’re both going to have rubby spots. Somewhere around day three after I finish a book, I get so restless I’m almost angry. It just seems to be part of my process of post-book down time. It doesn’t matter where I go, I’ve tried the ocean, heck I’ve gone to Disney World, and still this awful restlessness takes possession of me.
The day I wrote, The End, on the newest Merry Gentry novel, A Shiver of Light, I was on such a writer’s high, it was awesome! When the high left, the tiredness hit like it always does. First full day of not writing the book, was a day of my mood going up, and down – up and down. This mood swing is also just part of the post-book process for me. I know it and I don’t let the sad rain all over everyone. I know what is happening and I just ask my husband, Jon, “Happy, sad, happy, sad; do I always do this?”
Jon says, “Yes.”
The only thing I didn’t do per usual was I didn’t have a whole day of what I call, “The little lost lamb day,” where I wander around the house, or wherever drifting from room to room, or yard, as if I don’t know where I’m going, or what I’m doing, which is pretty accurate. Months, or a year, or more, of concentrating on this one project and suddenly it’s gone. The structure to my day, the thing that consumed me for so long and it’s done, and I’m at loose ends. I think the reason that I didn’t have as much of the “lost lamb” day is that this book was so emotionally draining I was happy to be done, and happy to begin to rest up before edits come back from New York.
Now, I’m tired, but don’t want to sleep, as I said at the beginning I don’t want to do any of the things I was looking forward to catching up on, or I’ve done them for three days and enough is enough.
I’ve tried leaving as soon as I finish a book and going some place warm with an ocean view, but I still go through the same post-book process. I’m just restless and angry staring off at amazing Caribbean blue water and palm trees, instead of St. Louis in the winter. It usually just pisses me off that I’m someplace great and still can’t be happy. But I’ve finally embraced the truth, that all this emotional angst is part of me coming down from writing a novel. I wish I was one of those writers that doesn’t go through all this, but a writer doesn’t choose their creative process, anymore than they choose what ideas come to them. J. K. Rowling says in the Harry Potter books, “The wand chooses the wizard.” Well, the idea chooses the writer.
I think the same is true of how our entire creative process works, from how we gather ourselves to write a novel, to the writing of it, and the celebrating and grieving process after it’s written. Some of us struggle to get enough ideas to write, others of us have more ideas than any one lifetime can allow us to write. Some need silence and solitude to work, others need a busy cafe around them, and still others do solitude with music blasting; we are all as different as our stories.
Now, I’m going to take this restless, cranky mood and get on the treadmill, because until I work some of this energy out I won’t sleep. I almost went to gym today, but was afraid I wouldn’t concentrate well enough for weights. Next time I’ll listen to myself and do gym sooner, but for right now treadmill. Gotta walk some of this off.

Do I write my books Long Hand?

I wrote 6 pages on Affliction today. Got up to get fresh tea & had a brand new idea. Made note of it in my iPhone, because I had close at hand, if you don’t write ideas you forget them. No, really, you do. You forget them faster & more completely if you think, “This is such a great idea, I’ll never forget it.” You are now doomed to forget this idea instantly, unless you write it down.

So, I made a note & went about my day. Then later on couch resting since I’m still fighting a cold, I decided to buy my holiday ring tone from iTunes. (For those who will ask, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch) I also remembered the note I’d made earlier. I read it over liked it & brought it up on my iPad which was handy.

I now have a page of a brand new short story. All because I wrote down the idea as it came, so I wouldn’t forget & because I admit that modern technology makes it amazingly easy to share ideas over different devices. I’m actually doing most of my notes & ideas on my iPhone, or sticky notes, & starting a lot of stories & even books on the iPad. Main computer is a PC & is for main books, or once it gets over a certain page count & I know this book is actually taking off.

I’ll finish Affliction first, but I have this short story & a novelette started on my iPad. So for those who ask, if I wrote long hand, um, no, technology rocks my muse & me.

Merry Gentry novel, or the next one

I have blogged about what Merry and I are doing about the next Merry novel. I’ve twitted and I could have sworn FB posted about it, but one more time.

I didn’t abandon the Merry series, she and I fought the good fight for nearly six months. She didn’t like my plot for the next book because it screwed up her happily-ever-after. She is demanding a book plot that doesn’t make her now happy life into a misery. She stopped cooperating as a character and I missed a book deadline for the first time in twenty years of writing. I backed off, and let my stubborn Merry have some space, as I’ve moved off to play with Anita and even brand new stories, Merry has slowly begun to deign to talk to me again. I am hopeful that she and I will reach a compromise.

I just need to tip-toe through the minefield so that I have an interesting book that ties up lose ends from Divine Misdemeanors , but doesn’t blow up Merry’s life with Doyle, Frost, the new babies, and everyone else. If nothing bad happens to anyone it’s not a book, it’s a very long vignette – like a day in the life of. Story needs conflict; Merry needs her happy life, and therein lies my dilemma.

Of Rabbits, and Wolves . . .

I had this great idea for a scene. It was action packed, played off of a horror movie trope, but turned it on it’s ear, and was just a fun, gory, frightening idea with great visuals. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? I thought so, for three days I thought so, and this morning my plan was to barrel through the scene, to force my way through it, because I’d been stuck on it for at least three days. I’d been going great guns on the new Anita Blake novel, and then this week I hit a bump in the road. Then the bump turned out to be more like a bolder that had fallen on the engine of my momentum. I was dead in the road, stuck on the verge of this really cool scene, and I couldn’t understand why my forward progress had stopped. What was wrong with me? Now, admittedly, there’s been a lot of real life stuff to deal with this week. I blamed that, honestly, I blamed people, events, real life for knocking over my ivory tower and miring me in the mundane mud, but this morning as I tried to force my way through the scene I realized something. I realized why I’d been stuck on the edge of this scene for days.

It wasn’t the right scene. It was a path and it led somewhere, but it would have taken me down a tangental path, at best, and at worst I’d have days of writing that I’d have to throw out. I used to believe that writing the crap out cleared out the log jam of ideas so I could write, and sometimes it does, but sometimes it’s just a rabbit hole and it doesn’t lead to Wonderland. Emma Bull was the first writer that I ever heard use the term rabbit hole for a idea, scene, or plot thread, that seemed like a good idea, but ultimate led nowhere, or worse yet, derailed your book, so that you’d have to back track and find where you got lost. Some of these ideas, plot points, are just what the doctor ordered, they are unexpected rabbit holes, but they lead to Wonderland, and make the book richer, more fun, more vibrant, etc . . . Those kind of offshoots are miracles given up by the Muses, but a lot of rabbit holes lead into the dark, and eventually trap you with no way out for your plot, and no choice but to backtrack until you find your way out. You then throw out all those pages and get back on your main plot path. The trouble is that one rabbit hole looks much like another. As a writer, you don’t know if it’s just a black hole in the ground that leads nowhere useful, or a black hole in the ground that leads to marvelous things, places, sights, sounds, tastes, that will make the book come to life. From the outside all rabbit holes are dark, mysterious, and full of potential. Sometimes you have to go down the rabbit hole to figure out which kind it is, sometimes I am going at such a break neck pace, that I don’t realize it’s a rabbit hole until I’m lost in the dark. And sometimes, like this time, I get stuck on tiptoe trying to jump into the hole, but my subconscious keeps poking me, trying to tell me something. It took three days for me to listen and understand that no matter how cool the scene was going to be it didn’t belong here and would derail my plot. This was not the plot I was looking for, and I needed to move on.

If I was less stubborn I would have understood and given up, moved on, days ago, but if I was less stubborn I wouldn’t be the writer, or even person, that I am. It takes a certain cantankerousness to reach the level of productivity and success that I have as a writer, so I appreciate the value of a good stubborn mood, but sometimes it works against me, not for me. I was in love with the idea of this scene, but Anita Blake, my main character was not. Now she doesn’t always enjoy all the plots and scenes in a book, some of them are pretty hard on her psyche, and heart, and this scene would have been, too, but it wasn’t the wear and tear on her soul that Anita was balking at, it was that the scene didn’t ring true. It wasn’t what she’d do, or the world would do, or . . . It wasn’t right, and she knew it, and I knew it, but I had to fight to keep the scene for three days, before I could finally realize that some things you fight for, and some things you don’t really want in the first place, but once set on a goal it’s hard for me to turn aside from it. Again, stubbornness can be a blessing, and a curse.

One way to be sure that the scene was a rabbit hole to nowhere, is that as soon as I let go of it, the next character to be on stage stepped up, the next part of the plot is clear again. I can see my way through the forest, and I’ve found the path again. I can see the edge of the clearing, and the path runs straight and true, no rabbits in sight. But wait, what’s that on the path? Is it a wolf? A wolf carrying a basket of goodies and a red cloak? I think it is . . . but what kind of wolf is it? Will it show me a true shortcut through my plot, so I gain all the days and page production that I lost in the blind rabbit hole, or will this wolf just gobble me up, along with my plot? Sometimes being seduced by the wolf means you get a basket of goodies, a cloak, and a shortcut through the forest, and sometimes it’s more like being seduced by a serial killer. It all goes so well at the beginning, but when it’s too late to back out, too late to find your plot path in time to make your deadline, only then do you realize how big his teeth are, and how sharp his claws. Wolves are made up of issues, real ones, that you, the writer, has in your head, and your heart. They can be the fuel that helps you ride a glorious rush of inspiration, or that cheap gasoline that works for awhile, but in the end wrecks your engine, and leaves you stranded by the roadside with no help in sight. I find that the really harsh deadlines can populate my metaphorical forest with a lot of wolves. Basket of yummy goodies, or eaten alive? Treat, or trick?

Nope, nope, I can’t afford to have my plot gobbled up right now, my deadline is too close. It’s a trick; get an axe!