Tag Archives: muse

When your muse goes rogue

The last couple of months have been more than interesting in the old proverbial way. But, until recently, I’d still managed to get some writing done. Not nearly as much as I would have liked and, as a result, I’m behind on a couple of deadlines. Add in the hard drive that died and is being resuscitated and, well, frustration has been the emotion of the week. But now that things appear to be getting back to normal, Myrtle the Muse has decided that she wants to be more difficult than usual and my writing life has fallen down the well and into a Twilight Zone version of Wonderland.

I’d finally finished Nocturnal Challenge, the fourth books and fifth title in my Nocturnal Lives series. If I had to pick one character of all those I’ve written who I really like, it would be Mackenzie Santos from that series. Mac is stubborn, flawed and trying to figure out how to live in a world that suddenly isn’t quite what she always thought it to be. She can also be a pushy bitch in my head when she thinks I’m not giving her and her cohorts enough of my attention — as in whenever I’m writing anything else.

Normally, the Nocturnal Lives books are relatively easy writes. But not Challenge. Part of the “challenge” — pun intended — is that the world for not just Mac but for everyone is about to change and the events in this book will play a big role in what happens. Part of it is that one of the major supporting characters is basically off-screen for the entire book, so some of the byplay that has been so important in the previous books isn’t there.

The real challenge, however, has been Myrtle the Muse. She has been playing games with this book from the very beginning. She messed with my normal writing routine. Usually I write front to back. Not this time. Oh no, Myrtle demanded I write the opening couple of chapters, the last third (maybe a bit more) of the book and then go back and write the middle. I. DO. NOT. LIKE. THIS. Not that Myrtle cared.

When I finished Challenge, I put it aside. I had this nagging feeling that something wasn’t right but I couldn’t put my finger on it. So I practiced what I preach. I put it away until I could look at it with fresh eyes. The problem with that is it gave Myrtle more time to figure out ways to screw with me.

Imagine my surprise — and anger, frustration and outright disbelief — when I picked Challenge up over the weekend and started reading it. Everything about it screamed “WRONG!” It was more than my usual dose of self-doubt. The muse that shall no longer be named (TMTSNLBN)– yes, I’m that mad at her — was having all sorts of fun messing with my head.

You see, after three novels and a novella in the universe, all written in third person, TMTSNLBN had decided it would be really cool if I wrote Challenge in first person. Forget about the more than 80,000 words I’d already written. I would be sooooo easy to go back and write it in first person. Do it all from Mac’s point of view. Forget about the fact the other books were written in third person.

Head, meet desk. Repeat.

I talked with my mentor and alpha readers. They were as confused by TMTSNLBN as was I. So I tried what TMTSNLBN wanted. I tried first person. Not only no but NO! It doesn’t work. Maybe if this were the first book in the series but not the fourth. So I’ve told TMTSNLBN that she is in a time out. I’ve printed out the manuscript as it and am going at it the only way I know how — with a figurative shovel.

In other words, I’ve told my muse that she is just that, a muse, not the final arbiter of all that I write. I’ve also reminded her that I know about her warped sense of humor and that I, too, look at a calendar and I’m not about to fall for her early Halloween joke. (Okay, I really do know that my muse is only an extension of my mind and not a real person. It would be easier if she were. Then I could toss her out the front door and refuse her calls.)

The point of all this is that sometimes, for whatever reason, we get sidetracked. It can be the popcorn kitten issue where everything except what you are working on looks like it would be fun to write. It can be your subconscious telling you that you are about to go off the rails if you don’t go back and fix something. It can be, as I suspect this is, a subconscious fear because you are taking your characters into unknown territory after they have gotten comfortable where they are.

My solution has been to give myself not only a daily schedule of what I expect to do but a deadline for when I plan to put the book up for pre-order. The only thing that will impact that schedule is if, when I get the recovered hard disc back, I discover I lost the one major editing job hanging over me. If that is the case, the weekend will be spent redoing it because it is very late now.

In the meantime, push through. That’s what I keep telling myself. The work computer is back together. The geek guys at the local shop have been trying to salvage my old HD. Writing, such as it is, is starting up again. Now to get back into a regular schedule and get a few deadlines met.

And, most importantly, figure out how to stop TMTSNLBN from going rogue again.

Dueling Stories

The other day, CJ teased Joe in the comments of Joe’s post about how she had just written a scene where Abe Lincoln was involved in a light saber fight just before the Enola Gay took off. Reading that comment this morning — yes, yes, I’m behind on everything right now. I blame the weather and the fact that I’ve had to pull up carpet and try to dry out several rooms of the house more times than I care to remember over the last two weeks. — I wondered when the two of them became mind readers. While that particular scene isn’t one I would ever have thought of, it is a great illustration of where my head has been since finishing my last project.

Usually, before I finish one project, I have another on the mental draft board, ready to go. Actually, I generally have the next two to three projects lined up. Now, they don’t always go in the order I initially envision, but it is usually one of the two or three I’ve been plotting out and/or researching that moves to the head of the line.

cover1 (1)Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1) threw that process out the window. What I didn’t know was it would slam the window shut and try to lock it. You see, I hadn’t planned on writing Sword. At least not anytime in the near future. But, Myrtle the Muse had other ideas and she beat me about the figurative head and shoulders until I gave in and wrote the book. I may have muttered — okay, I screamed and whined and did more than a bit of cursing  — but I gave in, assuming that I’d be able to get back to my schedule as soon as I pushed out the book.

Fast forward to a month or so ago. Sword was finished and off to my editor. I sat down and looked at my notes for both Honor from Ashes, the third book in the Honor and Duty series, and Nocturnal Challenge, the fourth book in the Nocturnal Lives series. My gut was telling me I needed to push out Challenge. It had been back burnered for a bit and the plot was finally coming together in my head.

Except — and you knew there had to be an except, right? — Myrtle the Muse had decided she liked playing with my head. Nooooo, she wasn’t ready for me to move on to another series. She wanted me to at least map out not just the sequel to Sword but the book after that. The dull thudding you heard a week ago was me pounding my head against the wall. There was an accompanying wail of “Why me?”.

Ah, but Myrtle the Muse is nothing if not fickle. After plotting out the next two books, nothing extensive but getting down a few notes on the main plot arc and some world building notes, good ole Myrtle decided that I wouldn’t work on those just yet. Head, meet desk.

Now I have three books in my head, all demanding my attention and a Muse that has decided to go digging through my subconscious looking for something else to bring forth to torment me. Myrtle is an evil Muse and gets off on making my life more difficult than it needs to be.

Seriously, even though I have three strong plots running through my head, I finally figured out what has been stopping me. It isn’t the pretty patterns of my screensaver that comes on if I let the laptop sit too long without doing something. It isn’t even writer’s block. I could write either of the three books right now but they would be far from my best work because I’m not in the right mental space for them at the moment.

No, it is simply that I have put out three (four?) fairly serious novels in a row and I need to do something lighter, dare I say fluffier, right now. (AJ, quit bouncing up and down and high-fiving Jess or I’ll think you are responsible for all the craziness Myrtle the Muse has been putting me through!) So, with the house to myself yesterday, I turned off the internet, streamed a bunch of stuff off Netflix that could run as background noise without distracting me, and gave Myrtle my head. The result was almost 15,000 words on Skeletons in the Closet.  What that means, other than the fact it means AJ and Jess will quit asking me if I’m working on the darned thing, is I have this very strong mix of Texas/Deep South voice in my head, so strong nothing else will get written until this is done.

Or until I kill Myrtle the Muse because it is all her fault.

And, just so you can see how strong Lexie Smithson happens to be, and how screwed up her family life is, here is a short snippet (unedited and from the opening of the novel).

In the beginning . . . .

All my life, my mama’s tried to raise me to be a proper lady.  No, that’s not quite right.  She’s tried to raise me to be a proper SOUTHERN lady, full of refinement and grace, dressed in lace and delicate pastels.  To hear her talk, it’s been a futile effort that’s caused her more than her fair share of gray hair.  And, where the lace and pastels are concerned, she’s right.  Still, she’s managed to get me to say, “yes, ma’am,” and “no, sir”.  For the most part, I’m respectful of my elders, even when they don’t deserve it.  I even wear clean underwear whenever I leave the house – usually without any extraneous holes in it – because Mama is convinced some rampaging bus will find me and strike me down, necessitating a trip to the emergency room.

I swear, I think it’s her life’s dream that it will actually happen.  You see, in her world, a trip to the ER has only one ending.  The handsome, rich and oh-so-conveniently single doctor who saves my life will fall madly in love with me.  What she seems to forget is that in a bus vs. me battle, the bus will always win.  So, unless the doctor is also a re-animator, he’d be falling for a corpse and, well, ewwwwww!

Besides, having somehow managed to survive a close encounter of the nearly fatal kind, the last thing I’d be interested in is finding a man to settle down and raise a passel of kids with.  Not that it would deter Mama one little bit.  Hell, she’d probably arrive at the ER with her minister firmly in tow, a marriage license burning a hole in her hand bag, all ready to fill in the blanks and make me a married woman.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, my mama rarely lets reality interfere with her plans.

Don’t get me wrong.  I can deal with Mama’s plans and manipulations.  I’ve spent a lifetime figuring out how.  All I have to do is make sure I look both ways before crossing the street.  Of course, the odds of a bus hitting me here in Misty Creek are about as good as the odds of Hell freezing over.  So I figure I’m safe – at least for the time being.

Knock on wood.

Because sure as my name’s Lexie Smithson, the minute I get married and move out, Mama will be packing her bags to join me.  It won’t matter if I want her to or not.  All she’d care about is finally being able to get away from Papa and the rest of the family.  It wouldn’t even matter that I’m the least favorite of her kids.  Like I said, reality rarely interferes with my mama’s plans.

Of course, I am an ungrateful and unobliging child.  I’ve no more found a bus to hit me than I’ve been able to keep the family skeletons in the closet.  The former I have no control over and the latter, well, I swear I don’t mean to let them out.  At least not usually.  It’s just that they make so much noise, what with all their moaning and the rattling of their bones.  Sometimes I just can’t help it.

It doesn’t help that it always seems to happen at the worst possible time.  Like when Mama’s women’s group was meeting in our parlor last Sunday after church.  Mama had just served the iced tea and lemon pound cake.  She’d even managed to make the house smell more like a garden than a funeral parlor.  Everything had been as close to perfect as was ever possible in our place.

Then Aunt Minnie decided she just had to join in on the fun.

Now I ask you, was it my fault she wanted to be a part of the meeting?  She’d been a member of that women’s group since the very first meeting more than twenty years ago.  Everyone there knew her.  Just as Mama knew she was there – how could you forget?  Besides, all Aunt Minnie had wanted was to find out what the no-account scoundrel of an ex-husband of her had been doing with the new church secretary.  Really.

I swear, those women sure did over-react when Aunt Minnie rattled in and sat on the settee next to Miss Pearl.  You’d have thought Miss Pearl had seen a ghost the way she shrieked and then fainted dead away.  Okay, maybe Aunt Minnie smelled a bit.  But we’d buried her in her best Sunday-go-to-meeting dress and it was just as pretty that afternoon as it had been at her funeral six months ago.  Mr. Perez, the local undertaker, had even been by just the day before to give Aunt Minnie one of her treatments.  So she looked pretty much like she had before she passed.  Sure, her skin sagged a bit more than it used to and she had a slightly yellow tinge, but that was all.  Really.

Besides, old Missus McIntyre was wearing enough lilac scent to cover the smell.

There’s more. Heaven help me, there is more. And Lexie is proving that, despite all her mother’s training and hope, she is not a proper Southern lady. Not the way she has elbowed every other story out of the way so I will finally write hers. Now she is demanding I get my second cup of coffee of the morning and get back to work on her story. I’ve spent enough time working on something else.  😉

Early morning thoughts

cover1 (1)This week was a flurry of work as I did the final pass of edits on my latest novel before getting it to my editor. For me, editing is always the most difficult part of the writing process because it is when you have to look at your work with a dispassionate eye and be brutally honest about it. Like a number of other authors I know, once I finish this step in the process, I am convinced that this is the worst thing I have ever written and my editor has to threaten to come beat me just to get me to send it to her. That’s been especially true with this particular project.

I have joked with my fellow Twisted Writers, and others, that I’ve never met a genre I didn’t like. So far, I have published novels that run the gamut from romantic suspense to military science fiction/space opera to urban fantasy police procedurals to paranormal romance. If I were to pull out all the different things I’ve written over the years and have tossed under the bed and into the back of the closet, there would be mysteries and even a western. I remember doing what would be called fanfic today of a Terry Brooks novel which was, iirc, a take off on Lord of the Rings. But I had never before written traditional fantasy with an eye to publishing it.

Nor had I planned to.

But my muse is a crafty witch (yes, yes, I used a different word but I’m trying to be nice here) and an evil one as well. When I should have been focusing on getting the next urban fantasy novel, Nocturnal Challenge, written, Myrtle the Muse hit me over the head with a true fantasy novel, Sword of Arelion. A mix of sword & sorcery and heroic fantasy, Myrtle the Muse reminded me of a “book” I wrote years and years ago, long before I was doing this for a living, and said that was the one I needed to write now.

To give you an idea how long ago it had been since I had last thought about the book, it was on floppy discs, or so I thought. I knew I didn’t have it on any of my current backups and they go through a series of at least five different laptops and desktop units. (Well, I did have the first two chapters in an old rtf file but that was all.) So, I had to dig up an external floppy disk reader and go through the few disks I still had. Nope, not there. The dratted thing was on 3″ disks from my first “computer”, an old Amstrad unit. Sooo…, other than a few pages here and there that I found in the dreck pile under the bed, I had nothing to go by other than memory.

Which was probably a very good thing. After seeing the quality — or lack thereof — of my work back then, I probably would have run into the night screaming.

So, cocky that I had the answer to Myrtle the Muse, I told her I couldn’t write the fantasy. I had three other novels I needed to push out before the end of the year. I didn’t really remember everything that happened in the novel and, without the earlier version, I simply didn’t have the time or the desire to try to recreate it. So, go get a cuppa and let me get back to Nocturnal Challenge.

Except Myrtle the Muse is a cantankerous witch as well. She crossed her arms, shook her head and grinned. Nope. She wasn’t going to change her mind and I had to obey. After all, I am just the write. She is the muse and that means I have to do what she says. When I tried to get stubborn, she promised me scotch and chocolate if I did as she said. When I refused to fall for that — and it is very hard to turn down good scotch and chocolate — she started playing dirty. She wouldn’t let any of my other work come through.

I finally gave up and wrote the book. And, as my first readers and editor will tell you, I have whined and whinged and complained all along the way. Well, I think there was one night I kind of sort of liked it. But I think I was feverish that night. Now I’m waiting, scared to death, to hear what I figure is the inevitable — that the book sucks eggs. The rational part of me says it probably doesn’t but the fear is there.

What will I do if I do find out my fears are true? Well, after threatening a bonfire — which used to be what I did with something I wrote and then decided I didn’t like — I will have to sit down and see if the thing is salvageable. If it is, I will work on it and try to bring it up to the standard it needs to be to be released out into the public. If it isn’t, I will have to look at the reasons why and use this as a learning lesson.

Why?

Because writing is a craft we are always learning and always honing. If any of us ever get to the point where we think we have nothing else to learn, then it is time to walk away and find something else to do.

Pardon me now while I hide under the sink and braid my hair. Oh, and if anyone has an answer for why Myrtle the Muse is such an evil creature, please let me know. Maybe I can use it to deter her the next time she decides I need to write something I’ve never done before. At least I’ve got a really nifty cover thanks to mentor and friend, Sarah A. Hoyt and Dollarphotoclub.com