Musing — a Blast From the past from May 2011

*No, not abandoning Elf Blood, but I might have to take a week, after I finish Through Fire, race through it, write it through, then post it in installments — I might even be evil and offer you advance peek for a couple of dollars 😉 — I find that writing a novel in my work a day and two chapters of two different novels a weekend is driving me NUTS.  It’s like having one arm too many, if that makes any sense.  Anyway, I don’t expect to be absent for more than a week or two, but DO indulge me.*

Yesterday I answered a series of interview questions for Literary Lunes Magazine. This happened with a lot of other “business catching up” which had to be done before I go to Portugal, since there I’ll only have intermittent internet access, when I visit my brother’s house. My mom appears to think the internet is the work of the devil or something.

Anyway, among those interviews there was one I’ve never been asked, and which UTTERLY baffled me. “What is you muse?”

I had no idea how to answer that, so I went flip – which, you know, is what I do when I have no clue what people are talking about. I said if I had a muse, she’d wear a toga and lift aloft a clothes iron, because I do most of my ideation while ironing or doing other boring, routine tasks.

I’m still bothered by what they mean. Perhaps they asked “who” (I don’t remember) but that only makes it more baffling. When I wrote poetry, this was easy, since I usually wrote series of poems to someone, normally my crush of the time. (Sigh. Time is the enemy of us all. The young man I wrote 200 sonnets for between the ages of 14 and 18 is now completely bald and looks… well, nothing like he used to. This hurts more than aging personally. Who was it who said something about time making a mockery of our loves?)

But I don’t write poetry and I don’t write straight romance (I don’t write gay romance, either – I mean, as you know very well that I don’t write romance on its own, not as part of a bigger plot.) So the question of a muse doesn’t arise. Or does it?

Of course I fall a little in love with my characters, but not that sort of love. It’s more the love of parent for child, or the love of creator for creation.

Sometimes a book does center around one character, though. It’s not – I think – so much a matter of “love” or even “muse” but more a matter of following the pain. I write to the pain. I go where the pain is.

I think this is because I write to resolve pain – to resolve conflicts within myself that can’t be resolved any other way, starting, inevitably, with the fight between mind and body, but twisting to a lot of other things. And if you’re scratching your head and wondering what I mean by pain – to take an example, I know that I’m not the only one who left her native land behind. Half the members of the Mad Genius Club have. And I’ll admit I wanted to be here, and I’m happy where I live and with my family and friends here. But at the same time, every time I go back, I remember I severed a piece of myself and left it behind – a whole parallel history that was more likely to happen, the person I’d be if I’d married someone there and lived there. It hurts a little not to be able to be in two places at once, no matter how much you love where you are.

But I’m not alone. Even if you never left your birth place and your birth family, I bet the world has changed so much around you that your childhood is as irretrievably lost as my own. It’s part of being a physical, mortal creature caught in the coils of advancing time. No human being deserves that, and all of us live through it. And there’s no way to resolve it, to come to terms with it. Except through art. At least for me. And my art is mostly my writing (the rest being on the lines of a hobby.)

So I go where the pain is. I find the pain in the character, the situation, the world, and the tension that comes from that pain, and I go in and wind the plot around the pain till catharsis happens.

This is the closest thing to a “muse” I can admit to, and it makes me sound like I keep a closet full of whips and chains. (I don’t, though the cats sometimes make me wish for a whip and a chair. Yeah, I know they’d just play with the leather strips.)

So what do you think they meant by “muse”? It made me feel completely out of step, like there was an entire world of writing out there that I not only didn’t know, but couldn’t fathom. After twenty six years of writing, that is a pretty scary idea.

Does everyone but me have a muse? What is a muse in this context? Do you have one?

*Crossposted at According To Hoyt *

63 thoughts on “Musing — a Blast From the past from May 2011

  1. I think that to have been the sort of question people who are not serious, professional writers think important. If the questioner was a girl she would wear long paisley cotton dresses, no make-up and her hair would be straight and long; if a guy he would be thin with a wispy incomplete beard and wear jeans and a sport coat over a t-shirt.

    From my admittedly limited observations of professional authors’ relationships with their “muse” the image I have is of a coquettish dominatrix, simultaneously coy and driving. I daresay the honest ones would say “my muse is named ‘pay to the order of …’ “

    1. OT, but I’ve been watching the old Upstairs Downstairs TV episodes, and these people you describe sound just like the infuriating Miss Elizabeth’s Socialist friends who lured her into shame … !

    2. Yeah, my muse is the one who urges me on to explain historical events to readers who weren’t perhaps very interested in history, but who then discovered (sometimes through my books, most often through others writing in that genre – that things that happened in history were astonishing, amazing, and dramatic beyond the powers of an author to create.

      Aside from all that, though – my muse is the little spirit which sends the message – “You’ve got money!”

    1. Well, there is Anoia, goddess of things that get stuck in drawers…
      But you are talking about the sort of muse or house-hold spirit that manifests itself in scratchy tags on the inside of slacks and shirts, the eternal squaak of out of alignment door hinges and the drawers that have slides made out of cross-grained wood, aren’t you; the sort of minor aggravation that makes you say, “I should do something about that next time I’m not covered in cake batter/chasing cats/washing salsa off the walls/getting out the door five minutes late to go to work”

  2. I have several anti-muses. People who make me forget what I’m doing. Katarina Witt. Lynda Carter. Sophia Loren. Anouk Aimee. And all the other beautiful women whose pictures I use in my laptop wallpaper rotation. [/flippant]

    Muses? Don’t got one. Nothing and nobody has ever made me want to write poems or elegies or novels. William Butler Yeats, in talking of why a pilot flies, described it as “a lonely impulse of delight”. That about describes why I write, and there is no external impetus. I write because I can.

  3. We will be reading ConVent by Kate Paulk in April. And, of course, are still reading The White Company.

    1. Good. I’ve got it in my kindle and started it over lunch. It reads nicely, and I suspect I’m going to be amused.

  4. I think I totally get writing to the pain. Aristotle’s theory of art was that it was to experience horrible things, at a safe distance, so that the audience could prepare themselves for if they ever had to deal with the reality.

    The only extension I’ve seen to it is that it is also about experiencing the beautiful things that you had never known could exist.

    Everything that has even moved me has been one of those two, even if the author never intended it to be art.

  5. Sometimes I tell people that my muse is a slim, pre-Raphaelite lass in white — with no wings, of course, because they interfere with rolling on the floor with laughter. In fact, she generally comes up under the subject of her laughter. There is no better way to convince someone that a writing technique won’t for you than to tell them, “My muse thinks you’re hilarious.”

  6. I’ve been wondering if Elf Blood, Rogue Magic et al. might not be burning the candle at too many ends.

    Generating and processing ideas is a trainable habit. Enjoyable ideas are amusing, and reward working on them.

    I have three problems with the classical Greek idea of the muses. One, the portfolios don’t correspond fully to all the areas I work in, and would like to work in. Two, as a strict monotheist, I do not appease spirits. Three, it does not seem a practical or desirable way of getting work done.

    My writing is already excessively reliant on inspiration, mood, and the heat of the moment.

    If you’ll excuse me, now that the other machine has gathered more data, I need to work on a request for technical support, and maybe eat.

    1. I’ve not the leisure this afternoon to research it, but is it likely that the muses are close relatives of the Erinyes? Half-sisters or, at least, first cousins, I suspect.

      1. Yes, at least in spirit. The “Kindly Ones” have been hitting me with story ideas recently, while I’m trying to work on something else.

      2. Per wiki, both have versions where they are offspring of Uranus. Furthermore, apparently there was a version where there were three muses.

    2. Re: Christianity, of course the Holy Spirit and the Word supersede any minor spirits. But there was always a fair amount of associating Jewish and Christian prophets and evangelists with the old bardic gifts of the Roman vates. And of course the Christian bards of Wales were much concerned with God’s gift of awen, just as the Christian Irish filidh spent a fair amount of time considering Poetry as a prophetic, morality- and land-preserving gift from God.

      1. Virgil wrote about the birth of a marvelous, miraculous child about the time of the birth of Jesus. All through the Middle Ages this was believed to a prophetic poem, probably inspired through the sibylline books.

  7. I started writing to vent during my proto-Goth phase as a teenager: I couldn’t protect myself, but I could write characters who fought back. Then I wrote to capture what aviation meant to me and to lock the memories onto the page (and screen). Then I returned to grad school and started venting again. I guess if I had a Greek-style muse, it would be Athena, as goddess of defensive warfare. Clio is her obnoxious, demanding, detail-oriented assistant.

  8. It’s a brain processing/spirituality issue. Some have characters who talk to them or daemons/muses who ‘ll talk to them. Some have friends or lovers or other living inspirations, whether or not they talk. And some just make stuff up in the silence of their own heads.

    1. well, I’ve been known to bother Dan or the critique coven when I need to plot — but I wouldn’t call them muses. Sometimes I amuses them, though…

    2. Um, yes. I was not exactly pleased to have Matthias Corvinus show up in the back seat of my pickup as I was parking at the library this past Monday, inquiring when he would get his book. Especially since I was dropping off a list of ILL book requests so I could research a different book! On the gripping hand, one does not argue with Matthias Corvinus, at least not without being heavily armed.

      1. I was in the … I was sitting down, minding my own business, and suddenly this bad dude was in my head going “The world celebrates great prison breaks.” And I was going “WTF, dude, I have a shifter’s novel due!” and he was like “Um… no givee brainee back till you writee my story.”

  9. There is a muse of history, which even very early was written in prose, and a muse of astronomy, which was written in mathematics. There isn’t a muse of prose fiction, but there are muses of tragedy, comedy, and epic, and I think most stories fall under one of those three heads.

    And we can always make up additional muses if we need them. I am favored by the muse of roleplaying games and sometimes by the muse of dialectic.

    1. The muse that covers Electrical Engineering inspiration would be the Muse of Dielectric, then?

    2. Actually, it looks like the Muses were an undifferentiated mass until the Hellenistic period, when they got sorted out into names and functions. Perhaps they got them wrong. . . .

        1. Oh, yes. But they were just nine muses hanging about together, inspiring folks. Pythagoras, after all, sacrificed a hundred white oxen to the muses (in general) in thanksgiving after he devised the Pythagorean theorem.

            1. Well, yeah, steak. It was a religious duty to eat sacrificial meat. Even the Pythagoreans, who were vegetarians, would eat that meat. Hence the ugliness in Maccabees.

              1. I thought that one of the major reasons for sacrificing animals was to feed the priests?

        2. There are folks who claim the Muses were one entity, but the Greeks (in their patriarchal mysogynistic way*) divided them into nine weaker entities in a “divide and conquer” move.
          * May be a clue as to which “folks” offer this claim…

          1. Just a little hint. . . .

            I’ve seen quite a bit of it. Goddesses in Everywoman and Gods In Everyman are somewhat useful for the writing in that she describes archetypal characters that I can use to variegate the cast of characters — always a trick — but yeesh, what pseudo-history of religion she spouts.

  10. Heinlein always claimed that his muse was the perpetual conflict between his bank account and current and future obligations. But as true fans all know the good Admiral generally had his tongue firmly planted in one or the other cheek.
    Fans of John Ringo are of the mind that his muse is both a practical joker and an ice queen given that she seems to kick into high gear only in the winter months. Bet it drove Jim and now Toni crazy.
    My personal muse is on extended leave on a tropical beach in some undisclosed location. She does periodically do a drive by generally middle of the night, or when I’m in the shower, or most often distracted by something most critical and demanding of my full attention. Miserable unreliable wench! But I have learned over the years to heed those seemingly random flashes of inspiration. They generally pan out if seldom in the way you would expect at first glance.

  11. Well, if you considered that the Romans grasp of the causes of unseen phenomena was cocked toward external, unseen spirits and gods, rather than the subconscious, or brain chemistry and wiring, then the concept of a separate Muse makes perfect sense. My Muse is all the inarticulate subconscious workings of my brain, operating or vanishing with sleep deprivation, decongestants, carbs, alcohol, caffeine, illnesses . . .

    My imagination can conjure up a character leaning over my shoulder and tsking, and telling me he would never let himself be trapped like that, but that just means I did a really good job of characterization and have an over revved imagination. The Muse (surely Urania for SF writers) is no more real for me than it was for the Romans. But I realize that and cheerfully indulge my whimsy, imagining the whips and spurs she threatens me with.

  12. If your muse is what makes you write, I’m very worried that right now my muse might be Larry Correia. I’ve no idea what he looks like in real life, but I’ve got a really terrible picture of him in my head right now as some sort of drill sergeant in a tutu saying, “What kind of artsy-fartsy BS excuses are you making up now?”

    1. I’ve hears that he looks something like Owen Pitt. There might be a pic of him on his blog Monster Hunter Nation.

      1. Go to YouTube and search for Larry Correia. There are a number of videos starring him. Mostly about writing, which makes it even better! Although I don’t think there is one of him in a tutu…

      2. He kinda looks like a petite David Weber. Or a little like me only skinnier and in much better shape.

        1. My older son looks like Larry’s kid. (Larry and I have a lot of the same names in our ancestry, so I’m going to assume we’re related five or six times over. His wife recognized my sons from the resemblance. :-P) IF Robert achieves his goal of becoming a surgeon, he’s going to scare a lot of people. “Hi, may name is Og. I’ll be your surgeon. Don’t be worried. I use the finest stone knives.”

          1. Since you brought it up, from Wiki:
            “For specialist purposes glass knives are still made and used today, particularly for cutting thin sections for electron microscopy in a technique known as microtomy. Freshly cut blades are always used since the sharpness of the edge is very great. These knives are made from high-quality manufactured glass, however, not from natural raw materials such as chert or obsidian. Surgical knives made from obsidian are still used in some delicate surgeries.”

            1. some of the guys who’ve used them claim an obsidian arrowhead works better at bringing down game than steal as it does more damage as it is moving around in the wound channel, so the animal is dispatched faster.

            2. My grandfather worked with a doctor that I believe started it, or at least one of the guys who started it. (For this, I totally believe multiple parallel evolution.)

              They hunted arrowheads together back when it was legal, and my grandfather collected what he called bragging heads. ( They’re smaller than a kid’s fingernail– the theories hold they were for birds or bugs, or the ever popular “religious purposes;” my family’s theory is that folks were sitting around making arrowheads and guys would go “oh, yeah, you think that’s good? Watch THIS!”

              And for those familiar with my “dogs were domesticated because puppies are cute and Chicks Dig Cute Stuff” theory of gifts, this is kinda a theme. 😀

  13. The closest thing I had to a muse was my First Character. He was also my first crush. Then there was poetry dedicated to the pain of awful relationships.

  14. Muse is those things in life that make me go “What The….” to the point that I’m driven to figure it out.

    The down side because of the way the world is I’m easily distracted.

  15. I once associated regularly with a writer who claimed that her muse had the gall to pack up and move to Tahiti or someplace similarly situated — and then assisted on calling in based on THAT local daylight. (Good as anything else to explain why some of the “best” writing sessions were at odd hours of the evening / night…)

    I’m still a poet (“comes with the territory”), but muse or no muse, INSPIRATION is as often a matter of PERSPIRATION as it is any other thing or person.

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