Dancing With Myself

Oh, Oh I’m dancing with my-self-elf … That’s Billy Idol for those not in the know. Yes, I’m over here singing (quietly) to my-self-elf, oh, oh!

Happy Saturday, friends and family! It’s a mellow day at the homestead, and that’s probably a good thing. We’ve had a hectic couple of weeks. We had birthdays, haunted houses, hack sessions that were sanctioned, hack sessions that probably weren’t sanctioned and we’re ignoring that fact, and cooking. Lots and lots of cooking.

It’s nice to turn that off for now and talk about things that only go on in my world and no one else’s. What am I talking about? Day 6 of the #PNIWritingChallenge, of course!

How do you picture your muse?

Edited in side note: As I’ve worked on this post, I had to come back to the question and let everyone know this is more difficult than I thought that it would be. I’m dying over here trying to figure out how to explain something to other people that I’ve never sat down and explained to myself. We’re all learning today. End side note.

It’s only recently that I’ve begun talking to other authors about their work, their process, and their personalities in general. By recently I mean two years or so.

What I’ve discovered intrigues me. Many authors have actual images they use of their characters or muse. It’s like the authors went through stock photos or magazines or something else and discovered their characters.

They print the pictures out, stick them on a cork board or white board, and they go to town with their writing. I see them posted all the time on Facebook and author blogs.

I can’t do that. I honestly have no idea what my characters or my muse look like. I mean, yeah, I give my readers descriptions of my characters but I don’t have these locked in my head. I don’t know if Anna has a dimple in her chin or other specific details like that.

When discussing the covers for Freedom’s Treasure and At Wit’s End, I gave the designers basic instructions. “She’s blonde, he’s dark, they live in the woods (or NYC in At Wit’s End). Go!”

And my muse, the actual subject of this posting? Well, she’s like a stranger I’ve never met but I’m quite familiar with the voice from many a late night chat.

I should be familiar with that voice. It’s mine.

I’m not a visual person – or at least not when it comes to my stuff. It’s all locked away in the chaotic wonderland that is my brain. It often feels like traversing a maze at times, an ever changing, growing maze.

Do you know how hard it is to explain your headspace to other people? I don’t suggest trying it. Dizziness is setting in …

Okay, there are four sections/parts/personalities that I deal with. It’s almost all voices and not images until the actual writing of the story.

Part three is easiest to explain so I’ll start there. When I’m at the keyboard and the story is flowing I do not see the screen or keyboard. Instead it’s like a movie with no film or screen and my job is to make my fingers move fast enough to capture at least the spirit of each scene and then flesh it out later on. For all I know my eyes are closed and my fingers are thrashing the keyboard in muscle memory.

Part one is the inspiration, so yes, I guess the muse. I call her (me) the What-If Lady. A typical conversation goes something like this:

WIL (For What If Lady): What if a guy murdered his neighbor?

Me: Sounds like something we see in the news. Often.

WIL: Well, yes, but what if it was because of a property dispute?

Me: …

WIL: Stick with me now. What if it started small – a badly built driveway – and escalated.

Me: I’m going to need more than that, please.

WIL: It starts out as pranks. Broken glass in the badly designed driveway, for instance.

ME: Oh, shit, right? And then the other guy steals firewood?

WIL: I don’t know that I’d call that escalation, but you get the idea.

Me: Well obviously since you are me.

WIL: Right? And how cute are we today?

Me: Very. What else do I need to know about this?

WIL: What if it’s something we can title Good Fences?

Me: Oh my god, you’re brilliant. I’m on it.

***

As I work on the assorted story lines, WIL comes back and helps with the contemplation of scenes. “What if the guy is up in a tree stand and watching their neighbor through a sniper rifle scope?”

WIL doesn’t technically help with the actual writing of the story, more the background details and basic inspiration. It’s obviously an integral part of the process.

Part two comes from the characters themselves. I can’t describe my muses or characters right away, but I can tell you what they sound like. They have individual voices that I hear all. the. time.

If I didn’t have such a tight grip on my sanity, I’d be locked away somewhere and babbling about voices in my head telling me things that I shouldn’t know. A television show or movie that’s never been filmed …

I’ve heard these voices for most of my life. It can be disconcerting. They pop up at the oddest times. Once I’ve written their story, however, they quiet down and take their seats in the peanut gallery. They wait there in case WIL has future ideas for them – and she usually does. I have many, many sequel ideas.

Part four is the one I’ve only ever explained to one person and that would be My Companion. I don’t know if he totally gets it, but he does. I think.

Sherlock, Hannibal Lecter, and I have something in common. Well, several somethings, but I’m only thinking of one at the moment.

Sherlock (the BBC version played by Benedict Cumberbatch) has a memory palace. He goes there to flip through his knowledge and figure out clues.

Hannibal Lecter also has a memory palace. I can’t remember which book it’s described in, but Harris did one hell of a job with it. Hannibal can go from room to room and relive memories; music, art, and on and on. It’s a good trait for Hannibal to have considering how much of his life has been spent locked away in cells with little outside entertainment.

palace

My version is not a memory palace. It’s a library. It has taken about a decade to develop this personal library and I’m still smoothing out the rough edges; adding stacks and reading rooms and the like.

cards.jpeg

I had to do something. All of the random thoughts, knowledge, characters, and story ideas were overwhelming me. I started compartmentalizing everything and locking the keywords down in my mental card catalog. I prefer the old school for this. The feel of the index cards in a card catalog will always trump the click of a CTRL + F computer search.

My brain works as a sponge and I have no idea of all of the knowledge I actually hold. I answer questions on Jeopardy! that I didn’t know I knew. Like that. My sister’s friend said it best one day. “You know at least a little bit about everything.”

Say I need to know something about Baldwin, a memory from my childhood that is pertinent to one of the stories, such as information about the Blessing of the Bikes or Trout-A-Rama. I close my eyes, find the appropriate drawer and open it. I flip through cards until I find the right one. There’s a very large sub-grouping under the Baldwin tag so I have to go more detailed than that.

Once I “pull” the right card, all the information that I have about that subject is spread out before me, in a visual text method. When I’m finished, I file the card away and the information leaves my head until I need it again.

When we play trivia at the bars, same thing.

DJ: “What author wrote blah blah blah?”

Me: Be right back. *Closes eyes, pulls card, answer springs forth* It was Melville.

Between My Companion and myself, we do pretty well at trivia nights, as long as we go easy on the beer. Then we get impulsive with our answers.

***

I may have thought about this challenge too much. I probably could have gotten away with, “My  muse is about 5′ 5″, weighs in at 102 pounds. She has short (normally) brown hair with streaks of grey, and blue eyes. Her legs are long, her torso is short, and she’s a mouthy wench,” but I’m not sure that would have been fair to you the reader, or to the #PNIWritingChallenge.

The word challenge is right there in the description so it’s not fair of me to take the easy road. I’m not sure everyone needed a tour of my memory library, however.

Generally this is where I ask the readers a question so …

What inspires you?

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