Yo! Muse!

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O Muses, O high genius, aid me now!
O memory that engraved the things I saw,
Here shall your worth be manifest to all!
— Dante, The Divine Comedy

By PJ Parrish

If you are like me, you take your inspiration wherever — and whenever — you can get it. Writing is not easy. (Warning: tortured metaphor ahead).

Writing is like sailing a Hobie Cat in the ocean in the middle of a squall. I know because I used to sail Hobies during my first marriage, which is probably why it didn’t last. The marriage, not the Hobie. The day is always sunny when you launch your Hobie from the beach and you’re all aglow with hardy-har-har-endorphins. So it is when you sit down and type CHAPTER ONE.

Then the storm hits and there you are, hanging onto a 16-foot piece of fiberglas and vinyl, hoping lightening doesn’t hit the mast and fry your ass. You are out there alone in the storm, out of sight of land, riding the waves and the troughs, hoping you can make it home. You might even throw up. This is usually around CHAPTER TWENTY for me.

End of metaphor.

I often wonder what keeps writers writing. Tyranny of the contract deadline? Blind faith? The idea that if you don’t you might have to do real physical labor for a living, like paint houses? All of those work for me. But sometimes, the only thing that keeps me going is a visit from my muse.

Now, let’s get one thing clear here. I don’t believe in WAITING for a muse to show up. I get really impatient with writers who claim they can’t write until they feel inspired because frankly, 90 percent of this gig is writing DESPITE the fact your brain is as dry as Waffle House toast. (or as soggy, depending on which Waffle House you frequent. The last one I was in was off the Valdosta Ga. I-95 exit in 1976 and the toast was so dry it stands today as my singular metaphor for stagnant creativity).

But I do believe that sometimes — usually when your brain is preoccupied with other stuff — something creeps into the cortex and quietly hands you a gift. And these little gifts are what get you through.

There are nine muses in mythology, who were supposed to be the origin of all artistic inspiration. They were Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polymnia, Terpsichore, Urania and Thalia. (I always thought it was cool that Dobie Gillis’s unobtainable ideal woman was named Thalia — the muse of comedy). The muses ruled over such things as dance, music, history, even astronomy. No muses for crime writers, unless you count Calliope for epic poetry but I think James Lee Burke has her on permanent retainer.

I don’t have just one muse. I’ve figured out I have a couple who specialize in particular parts of my writing. And they never come around when I am at the computer. Never get a whiff of them when I am actually in writing mode itself. They are like cats. They only come around on their own terms.

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First, there’s my dialogue muse. I call him J.J. because he sounds like Burt Lancaster’s gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker in “The Sweet Smell of Success.” Always chewing at my ear saying oily things like, “I’d hate to take a bite out of you, you’re a cookie full of arsenic.” J.J. comes to visit me only when I am jogging. Never on the threadmill, mind you, only outdoors. J.J. makes my skin crawl, but man, can this guy write dialogue.

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Then there’s my narrative muse. I call him Cat Man because he slips in on silent paws, sings in a fey whisper and only visits me just as morning has broken. He looks like Cat Stevens, but the old hot young version not the later one. Cat Man comes around about dawn, just as I am waking up as if from death itself. See, my husband’s insomnia means we sleep with blackout drapes, a white-noise machine and the A/C turned so cold the bedroom is like a crypt. So when I wake up, it is with a gauzy gray aureole rimming the drapes, icy air swirling around my nose and a soft swoooshing in my ears. And there is Cat Man, spinning a long segment of sensual exposition that salvages my stagnant plot. I have learned to lay there, very still, until he is done with his song, because if I get up and try to write it down, he vanishes. Praise for the singing, praise for the morning, praise of the springing, fresh from the word.

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And then there is my third muse. She’s my favorite. Her name is Flo because her voice sounds like that waitress who worked in Mel’s Diner on the old “Alice” sitcom. You know, like the door of a rusted Gremlin. Flo is my muse of getting real. Her Greek name is Nike (the goddess of victory) and her slogan is “Just Do It.” Because whenever those other two guys fail me, whenever they don’t show up, Flo is there. She is the muse who knows that the only way I am going to get the book finished is through plain old hard work. Like Nike, Flo has wings. They symbolize the fleeting nature of victory. Or, as Flo often tell me, “Honey, if you don’t get off your ass and just write the damn thing, you’re going to lose your contract and you’ll have to paint houses for a living.”

I’d be lost without her. Who — or what? — keeps you going?

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Reader Friday: Meet our Muses

Last Tuesday we put out a request for pictures of your muses–we asked to see the people, spirits, or things that inspire you to keep filling the blank page with words.

We received some great results! Here they are, in no particular order:

Dave Williams: Twin Muses

Dave writes, “Besides my dog Merry Christmas, I can’t forget Davyn and Claira, our new twin grandbabies. I don’t get much writing done when they are here, but watching them study the world around them, stare wide-eyed at new things, and grin from ear to ear every time I see them inspires the heck out of me. Everything is new, everything is an adventure, and everything is grist for their little mills.And they make me want to write books that I can read to them as they grow up, so I can pass on my love of books and storytelling to them.”
Wait…you have two precious little angels to inspire you, and a dog named Merry Christmas? Major cuteness, Dave!
BK Jackson: Sunrise in the Desert 
BK sent us a spectacular photo of his desert-spirit muse. 

“My muse, Arizona, has many wonderful facets,” he wrote. “Here’s just one example of her splendor.  No wonder she inspires me.”
Donna Galanti: Star
Donna snapped a photo of her muse, Star the cat. 
“He must write with me every day,” she wrote us. “Star whips his tail at me to write if I stop typing. He even has the nerve to chew on my reference books as I write reminding me to write better. Plus he steals the best window view to stop me from daydreaming. But he keeps me here with my butt in the chair, where I should be. And that is a good muse. (plus see what good company he keeps next to my go-to writing resource as I fast draft a new novel!) 
Basil Sands: All in the Family

“Everyone joined in for the fun,” he wrote. “My wife Mia and my two younger boys.  The two lovely virtual muses settled their differences for long enough to smile for a snapshot, it’s slightly blurry but they are after all imaginary friends who primarily reside in my mind.” (For the back story on Basil’s virtual muses, see Tuesday’s comments!)  

Terri Lynn Coop: Scruffy

Terri sent us a picture of her canine muse, Scruffy. 
“This is Scruffy after a hard day of being my amusement, inspiration, first reader (he’s a great listener), and getting me out from behind the computer for walks,” she wrote. 
Sounds like Scruffy earned his nap, Terri!  
Clare Langley-Hawthorne: Hamish
Clare’s muse is her elegant collie, Hamish.
Joe Moore:  Patio the cat
Joe’s muse is Patio, who is “determined to sleep his life away,” according to Joe.
James Scott Bell: John D. MacDonald
Jim has an illustrious muse: the writer John D. MacDonald, shown here typing away at his desk.
Nancy Cohen: Items of Inspiration
Nancy sent a photo of her collection of things that inspire her. 
“There are troll dolls for my current series based on Norse mythology, a porcelain head of a lady supposed to look like my hairdresser sleuth, a Bad Hair Day mug, and assorted computer oriented knickknacks,” she wrote. “I keep CDs up there but don’t play music when I write. I like silence.”
Jordan Dane: Sancho 

“This is ONE of my rescues – Sancho,” she writes. “We have two dogs and two cats, all from shelters. But this guy makes me laugh every day. He loves sprawling on his belly and ‘snakes’ off the sofa.  Epic cuteness.”

Thanks everyone for sending in your pictures, and feel free to add more about them in the comments. And let us know if we missed anyone’s photo.
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