Just Wait

Do you ever get stuck in the middle of writing something? Pressed for time, stressed, frustrated and wish you could just summon the muse and order up an idea?

The following is kind of a follow up to a piece of flash fiction I wrote awhile back, Conversations With a Muse. This post spurred a train of thought that led to many things, but mostly the idea of what it would be like to have a muse to chat with, and after writing that one I had some distinct ideas about what mine would be like.

A few days ago I got stuck writing a critical turning point of my book, so I started thinking about what my muse would say if I tried to order up an idea. It went something like this…

***

“What good is hopen window snowaving a muse if inspiration is only ever random?” I wonder out loud, staring at the snow-capped row of houses in the distance. I’ve been sitting at my desk, not writing for an hour. The wintry air coming through the half-open window has turned my fingers to ice (I often write with the window open, even in winter. I have a theory that stale air leads to stale thoughts) and now typing at the keyboard is literally, physically painful.

I’m stuck in a critical scene of the book I’m working on. I know something crucial happens at this point, my main character sees a ghost- or something akin to a ghost, and those are the only details I know for certain. I seem to be missing the serendipitous knowing of details that will make the scene flow into the story. I’ve been listening to ethereal violin music and reading Poe and chapters from ghost stories all morning, no luck. It’s obvious this solution is not currently firing somewhere in the synapses inside my brain.

I need a muse.

“You know it doesn’t work that way,” a musical voice says, seeming to come from above and below and behind. “You don’t just call us up, order up an idea and that’s it. If that’s what you want go ask a human.”

“Christopher, you scared the hell out of me. I thought you only showed up at night. Where are you anyway?”

“I show up when I want to show up. I’m seen when I want to be seen.”

“Yeah,” I huff. “I know. But since you’re here maybe you could give it a whirl.”

“I’m not an accountant. You don’t just call me up, I provide the service you want and then we both go on our way.” I can’t see him but I can hear that his words are soaked in a smirk.

“Why not?”

“Well, if you want to get technical, if we…do business like humans do, you’d have to pay me. And believe me honey, you couldn’t afford it.”

“Yes, you’re very valuable. Also hilarious.” I try to mirror his sarcasm but mine only comes out half as effective. “So…if you can’t help me why are you here?”

“Listen. Art is born of inspiration. And inspiration can’t become art unless it’s pure.”

“Wait. What? What does that even mean?”

“Gaaahh, you humans can be so thick. Alright because I know there’s talent in that head of yours…somewhere, I’ll spell it out.” He clears his throat. “If you don’t have the answer yet, it’s for a reason.”

“But— I only have so much time to write. I have kids, remember?”

“Just be quiet. For an hour. For a day. A week even. Just be still and patient and wait. And hey, here’s something innovative: Listen.

“That’s it? That’s your answer? Just wait?”

“That’s it. Brilliant, no?”

The voice fades to a whisper and the room is quiet again. The only sound is the swooshing of an occasional car maneuvering the slush-soaked road behind my house. I sigh, close my laptop, climb into bed and close my eyes.

And I wait.

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Fragment Friday – The Flappers

Happy Friday Firefans,

I wrote this piece  a couple Octobers ago, in response to a writing prompt Lori gave me. I pulled it out of the dusty archives of my computer and read it again, (forced myself not to edit or think about how much better I could write it now) and had a snicker at my original idea for a surprise ending.- which later I decided I didn’t like and changed. The ending isn’t here,  because I thought I would let you tell me how you think it should end! I’m still open for suggestions.

In any case I hope it gets you in a spooky mood just in time for a lovely October weekend.

Till next time,

~C

The Pink Flappers

Rain pelted down in sheets and rolling thunder boomed as I peered out the small, diamond-shaped sections of clear glass framed in the wooden front door. There was no hope of getting Mamie to come and pick me up in her Coup Deville with weather like this going on out there. She was skittish of driving even in sunshine, in daylight wearing her flat soled shoes and her Daddy’s blessing.  I sighed sorrowfully. Ella Fitzgerald’s sweet voice rang through the kitchen, across the foyer and down into my soul “I’m growing so tired of living alone, I lie awake all night and cry. Nobody loves me, that’s why. “

“Now what’ve I done with my pink flappers?” I yelled into the sitting room, to no-one in particular. My flappers, my favorite high-heeled pink shoes with wispy, sparklingPink flappers fur around the toes, I knew would boost my spirits and pull me out of my stormy day gloom. My mother had coined their nickname when she’d said I looked like a cheap flapper when I pulled them out of the bag I’d brought home from the consignment store. In defiance, I wore them every day after that.  What they lacked in class they made up for in confidence. I liked them a little more every time I slid the pink tufts of fur over my feet.  Besides the heels made my legs look longer, curvier, and somehow, they miraculously made me an amazing dancer. Boys were even starting to fight for me as their partner on Saturday nights at the Metro, the public dance hall on the edge of town. My mother thought my pink fluffy flappers made me look cheap- but when I wore them I felt like a modern-day Cinderella.

I pushed aside a dusty curtain hanging from the arch of the living room window. Not there. I bent down and stretched my neck sideways to peek underneath the oval glass inside the coffee table. Not there. Hadn’t I kicked them off here, last night, in the foyer? It had been dark, it was after 2 a.m. when I crept in like a thief in the night, hoping no-one was up waiting with listening ears.  I knew I’d catch hell if Dorie heard me come in and ratted me out. I could have taken them up to my room in a sleepy, party-dazed stupor and forgotten. So I crept up one flight of creaky wooden stairs to have a look. As I rounded the second story corner to my room, I noticed my sister’s door slightly open and I’ll be damned if those pink shoes weren’t lying right there at the end of her bed.

“Dorie!” I screamed. A stoic silence came from her room. So I blasted open the door hoping she’d be there on her bed and I’d startle her, reading her silly teen magazines.  But her room was empty, no trace of her except for her pale pink raincoat lying in a sad, dripping heap on the upholstered chair in the corner. The sight of it, for some reason made me glum, and my anger dwindled. I swiped my shoes from the floor and went out quietly, closing the door behind me. I stood in the hallway outside the second-story bedrooms balancing on one foot, then the other as I pulled on my beloved shoes. I continued down the hall to the small bathroom I shared with my sister, my flappers clicking cheerfully on the wood floor. My mood lightened a little. I pulled open the bottom vanity drawer and searched for my new tube of bright red lipstick I’d hidden last week. I dug for what seemed like forever through the drawer, but all I found were discarded plastic eye-shadow containers and lids from lost tubes of lip liner.

“Darn it all,” I said reaching one more time into the furthest reaches of the drawer. What could be more annoying than losing two of my favorite things in less than 10 minutes? But I was determined to force myself into a better mood so I found a tube of rose-colored lipstick instead and leaned in close to the mirror, slowly tracing the outline of my lips. I smacked my lips in satisfaction. Pink lipstick couldn’t hurt. Suddenly, as I stood there studying myself in the mirror, a noiseless shadow passed in the hall. I peeked out, hoping to catch Dorie sneaking into her room and give her a piece of my mind about stealing my shoes.  But she wasn’t there. I stretched my neck to see her bedroom doorway, still half open.  As I straightened my back and turned to face the mirror, suddenly a figure appeared behind me: A little creep a head shorter than me with her back to the mirror, her long, black hair hanging in damp clumps against her back. I jumped a little and shrieked, still looking at the creepy, faceless reflection of stringy black hair.

“Good hell, Dorie! That’s just plain not funny!” My sister said nothing, but slowly turned toward the mirror. Black streams of mascara dripped down her pale face, streaking her delicate cheekbones. Her wet clothes clung to her shivering body. She stared stoically into the mirror. I shuddered involuntarily at her wraithlike image.

“What’s wrong love?” I said, gathering my wits, and turned to face her. And for a moment I thought I had lost my mind, or was in the midst of a fervid dream, or had one too many margaritas at the dance hall last night…because she was gone.

A shiver of fear passed through my bones. What on earth? I glanced around the bathroom one more time and out into the hall to make sure no one had been trying to play a trick on me. All I heard were a few notes of jazz drifting up from the kitchen radio. How had she disappeared from my sight so quickly? Or had I imagined it? Maybe this moody October storm was getting to me a little more than I thought.

I looked back into the mirror with some trepidation, and saw that the color had drained from my face. My ashen skin and the bewildered look on my face reminded me of the uncanny appearance of my sister, and it forced me to look away. Suddenly I felt very alone. I decided to go down to the kitchen, where I knew Mama was pressing dough for pot pies or brewing a giant pot of beef stew. The kitchen windows would be all steamed up and dripping with condensation. The warmth and homey aroma of dinner cooking would seep into my cold soul and then I’d feel better. I flipped off the bathroom light and clicked downstairs without looking over my shoulder.

In the kitchen, all the lights were on; the white one hanging over the kitchen table, the small Stove-and-windowone over the stove, even the lamp in the corner where Dad had spent most evenings reading the newspaper before he died. A pot of cold unboiled, water sat on the stove. A single silver spoon rested on the counter nearby.  But there was nothing in the oven, no ingredients had been strewn out over the counter, and my Mother was nowhere to be seen. The only sign of life was the radio, playing a spirited trumpet player’s version of “It had to be you.”

I rubbed at the goosebumps on my arms and decided to make myself a cup of tea. I pulled my stash of Lavender chamomile tea bags from the cupboard over the counter and pulled Mama’s teapot from the cupboard beside the stove. I peered through rows of mismatched drinking glasses to find the delicate, fluted teacup painted with violets that Dorie and I always fought over. I sort of wished she was here now, arguing that she had as much right to my Grandmother’s tea set as I did; that I always assumed I had more rights because I was the older sister. As I thought about her, and the strange state I had seen her in earlier, I glanced again around the kitchen and saw something that took my breath away. All of the cupboard doors were open. Had they been that way when I walked in, and if so why hadn’t I noticed?

Again, I looked around for Dorie- who had been known in her younger days for playing practical jokes. She wasn’t there, the kitchen was completely empty. In fact, as I looked around again, something other than the room’s sheer emptiness that struck me. It was cold and…lifeless.  The kitchen seemed completely devoid of human touch- as if no human soul had lingered there for days, weeks even.

I turned on the stove and sunk down into Daddy’s old chair with a sigh. I knew there had to be an explanation for the unusual events of the afternoon, but for some reason my mind just couldn’t conjure up what it might be. In fact, when I tried to remember whether I had even seen Mama that morning, I couldn’t remember. Had I woke up as usual and took the bus to my typing class at the community college? Or was it Saturday? Had my sister, Mama and I eaten our usual wheat-scones and orange-spice tea around the table at breakfast, or maybe I had overslept and crept down in my bathrobe and slippers. I had no recollection of the morning. The last thing I remembered was looking for my shoes in the foyer.’

What was wrong with me? Was I losing my mind? I sat there in my late Daddy’s leather chair for what seemed like an eternity, trying to untangle the murky events in my subconscious.

Top Ten Prompts to Inspire Creative Writing

If you’re a writer, an artist, musician or creative soul of any kind you’ve probably had those days when you just can’t produce anything worth… anything. The harder you try, the less effective you become and you get yourself into a ridiculously concrete mental block. It’s tough to pull yourself out of this phenomenon, and many times the feeling has negative effects in the rest of your life too.

As writers, we’ve found that completing writing prompts not only helps us get a fresh perspective in our writing, they open our minds in a myriad of other ways. The mental fog clears, and suddenly there are windows where there were once only walls.

These prompts our a few of our group’s favorites– and a few have even turned into some of our most beloved pieces. Give them a try, let us know how it goes, and we might even feature your response as a guest post!

Happy writing,

~C

10- They told her not to open the box…

9- You’re walking along a crowded street and an old woman hands you a brown paper bag. You take it from her and feel that it’s slightly weighted by whatever is inside. She smiles and disappears into the crowd. What is inside the bag, and what does it mean to you?

8-  This picture:

St. Etienne - Muse

7- Think of a character, either from a story you’re writing or a book you’ve read.  He/she has a favorite pair of shoes. Why are they special? Where did they come from? Where does he/she wear them? What stories go along with those shoes?

6- You wake up locked inside a closed coffin. Explain your initial reaction, how you attempt to escape, and what you remember about how you got there.

5- Find and buy (or take a picture of) an object at a thrift store, and write a short story or a scene around it. Below are some examples of objects we’ve used:

Vintage radiovintage gray tub

red high heelsrose colored glasses

4- You and your friends take a three mile hike up to a campsite and you’re sitting around the fire toasting marshmallows. Out of the blue one of your friends reveals a secret that turns your pleasant camping trip into a total nightmare…

3- Write a few paragraphs explaining how this picture came about, or what it represents:(image courtesy of www.vladstudio.com)

2- Write a story from the perspective of the family pet. The family is bringing home a new baby, going through a divorce, recently lost a loved one, the children are starting school, or they are moving across the country.

1- As a person or thing that inspires all your creativity and new ideas, your muse has been trying to contact you. Write a conversation between you and your muse. There are no limitations as to what he/she/it is, appears, or looks like. What does your muse want you to know? What is your reaction?

The End of Summer

This one is going to be short. Every member of the group is going through, what can only be described as, “The End of Summer.” We’re getting our children back to school, we’re writing schedules and organizing our homes to support the added burdens on our time. Some of us are starting school ourselves and realigning our lives to fit the time for further education.

It has been an eye opening summer. I think that this group will look back at it as the “Summer of Magic.” There has been a great deal of adventure and some heartache, but all of us have experienced a growth within our soul that can only happen in the shadows of fragrant summer nights and in the wilting heat of a hot summer day. Details are coming, and we will divulge all we have learned, but for now we are weary. Our spirits have been stretched to their limits and it’s time to let all of those things distil within us so that we can share them with you.

But I will tell you this:

  • People are amazing and kind.
  • Friends are found in the most unexpected places.
  • Hugs are healing.
  • Marriages can be saved.
  • Old friends can be found.
  • New friends can understand the core of you at your first meeting.
  • Death isn’t the end.
  • Love really is the answer to almost everything.
  • Summer nights are magical and fleeting.

And you, Dear Reader, are loved.

Thank you to everyone who has stuck by us through this interesting time. (especially two husbands who would prefer to remain in the shadows throughout the pages of this blog.) Thank you to all of our readers and followers.

And personally, I would like to thank the other women in this group. I love you and you have helped me to grow in ways I would have never imagined.

2013-07-22 21.32.42

Moxie Monday – Becoming the Stereotype

Why is it that writers have a reputation for being scattered? Tortured, isolated, weird… even crazy?

I have been writing professionally and otherwise for years. Anyone who knows me will attest that I’m really not this way at all. I’m a pretty organized and tidy person. I’m fairly social, have friends of all types in various places. And well, yeah, I’m weird. But no weirder than any individual in her own unique humanness. weird writer

Since starting this group with my co-bloggers, I’ve met writers of all kinds. Some of them have been odd and scattered, live like hermits and spend sleepless night torturing themselves over things that only exist inside their heads. Yeah, we do that sometimes. But guess what? It isn’t just writers baby.  That personality type fans across the spectrum of people in all types of careers.

(Right now there are messy accountants. tortured homemakers, weird city planners closing their eyes and saying, “Thank You.”)

So how come writers get the stigma?

I’ll tell you why. Let me illustrate with the events of the past week.

I had plans to finish my longstanding book this summer. I’ve had the story in my head nearly 8 years. It’s something I’ve coined as “bigger than me.” Meaning, I was given the gift a great idea, and need to do the story justice in writing it well. It has driven me to take classes, read books, basically fine-tune my skills as a writer. It’s because of those things that I’ve taken several breaks from actually writing it. I’ve come a long way, and this spring I deemed the summer of 2013 as “The One.” The summer I would finally finish writing my book.

Like most writers, I’m constantly juggling three or four (or more) new ideas in the back of my mind. My Muse is pretty prolific in the offering up of new and beautiful things that inspire me to put pen to paper (or…fingers to keyboard.) It’s all very lovely, and it leads to some pretty major distraction. But I had a plan. I sat down late one night and made a list:

Stories That Have Been in My Head Since the Dawn of Time That I Plan to Write.

There were thirteen. It was a little jarring. I felt a little like a schizophrenic patient whose psychiatrist has just discerned all her various personalities. But no, even this didn’t send me reeling into that dark writer stereotype.???????????????????????????????

I bought six thousand notebooks. (Okay, well like fifteen) I made some nifty labels that represented each of my ideas,  told myself I had a handle on my Multiple Story Disorder. Every time a new idea came into my head, I’d simply write it down in the appropriate notebook. It worked beautifully.

I was on a roll. I pulled on my big girl pants and went back to the outline for my current project. I tightened it, improved it, and forged forward. I filled a couple of plot-holes. I even wrote three new scenes. Nothing was going to stop me now! Yes. This was shaping up to become The Summer.

And then the Muse asked me to dance.

I wrote something for the blog, just off the top of my head. I wrote it so flippantly, it practically didn’t even cross into the conscious part of my mind. But an idea emerged from the words I’d written that was downright life-changing.

Over the course of the next few days I realized what I wrote was not just fiction. It had deeper meaning. It was a story, pieces of my past that I had long tucked away. Parts of me left undiscovered. A story that begged to be explored, learned and eventually retold.
As soon as the idea became clear, I knew it was something that shook my very foundation as a writer, as a person. It was what I needed to write this summer.

tortured writerDespite my social personality, my organized outlook, all the beautifully detailed plans I had to finish my book, I became all the ugly writer stereotype. I stayed up all night jotting down memories and sorting out scenes in my head from over 20 years ago. I’d torture myself, second guessing whether I should even be writing this story, and how much of it was truth. I turned down friendly offers from friends so that I could spend my spare time writing. My normally tidy house became a neglected wreck, and the creativity I use to run my household and manage to work a little on the side was all spent on channeling this new story.  (Luckily, I have been blessed with an extremely understanding husband and fairly adaptable kids. And I’m self-employed, so no chance of getting fired.)

So there it is. I proved the stereotype. As a writer, for an entire week I was scattered, tortured, isolated, weird and crazy. I’m not always that way. Not often, even. But such as it is.

Writers don’t want to be type-cast any more than any human being does. But sometimes, we do it anyway. We’re willing to pigeonhole ourselves into the label, participate in the behaviors that “define us.” Because writers, like other artists (the ones who truly care,) will do whatever is necessary, stereotypes or no, to produce something meaningful.

That blog post brought Writing the Fire more publicity than anything else we’ve ever posted here. The things that came out of my mind as a result of it are some of the most powerful things I have ever written. And yeah, I was (and am) a little bit crazy in the process. But lets face it, sometimes it takes torture to get truth. Isolation to get creativity.

Crazy to get art.

Till Next Time,

~C

PS: If you liked this post, head on over to The Muses Library. It’s an invaluable resource if you’d like to learn more about, indeed why writers are crazy.

Conversations With a Muse

Awakened…

It’s midnight, pitch black and humid inside my bedroom. I have finally found the solace of deep, dreamless sleep when I’m pulled into consciousness by a faint whispering. I stir.

“What are you doing up, baby,” I say, assuming it’s one of my girls. “Bad dream?” With my eyes still closed, I reach out my hand to pat a little blonde head.  There’s no one there, so I force my eyelids open. It’s dark, but I can see a tall, thin figure perched on the end of my bed. He’s wearing…a top hat?

“It’s me,” the figure says. “But you can call me baby, sweetie.”

“Ahhh. Chris… I might have known. Hold on.” Careful not to wake my husband, I open my nightstand drawer and pull out a small notebook and a book light.

“Not Chris, Christopher,” he says, enunciating all the consonants. “Remember?”

“Right. Sorry. Christopher. Whadya got?”

“Saint Christopher, actually,” he says casually.

Saint?” I laugh. “Okay…you…your kind are beautiful creatures. And I guess it’s possible someone might mistake you for an angel, in the dark, having had something serious poured in her drink. But I’d hardly call you a saint. Anyway, do you even know who Saint Christopher is?”

“Of course dear,” he says, buffing his nails against his chest. “It’s me.”

“You know I think if you did a little research you’d find the irony…You know what, forget it. I’m not going to argue this at…” I glance at my digital clock on the nightstand “12:02 am. You can pretend you’re a saint if you want. But I am not calling you Saint Christopher.”

Finally my eyes adjust to the dim light and I see that Chris—er, Christopher is dressed in turn of the century equestrian clothes: tight, forest-green pants, a derby, leather riding boots that come to just above the knee. I raise an eyebrow. He smirks at me.

“You love it, right?” he says, lifting his hat from his head and grinning. I squint and shake my head.

“I don’t—“

“Mmm hmm,” he interrupts, pursing his lips. “Don’t think I don’t know about your love of horses. Not to mention your secret obsession for ridiculously tight boots. It’s just too bad it doesn’t work on them.”

“What? What doesn’t work?”

“Whispering,” he says, rolling his eyes. I shake my head at him in confusion. He sighs and clicks his tongue impatiently. “You can’t muse a horse.” He slides off the foot board and leans against it. I tilt my head and survey him. Somehow, even ridiculous in 18th century equestrian gear, Chris manages to look fashionable. “It works on dogs sometimes,” he says. “Cats yield varied and erratic results. But horses are like stubborn old men. They always think they know better.”

”You tried to…give a horse an idea?” I can’t stop the corner of my mouth from turning up into a half smile. I snicker.

“Listen, Miss Judgmental in ripped yoga pants and….my good Hell, is that your husband’s old t-shirt?” I glance down at my pajama selection and shrug. He cringes and goes on. “The point is, don’t judge me. I had a vision: A majestic black horse cantering  in the wind at night. A poem, or a story beginning, whatever…figuring that out is your forte. Anyway it sounded simply fabulous. So I wanted to try it out before I whispered it.”

“That does sound lovely,” I say, scrawling notes across an empty line in my notebook.

“Wait,” he says, moving next to the bed and pushing my notebook down. “Close your eyes.” He kneels in front of me in the dim light and for a small moment we look at one another. I see sparks of color erupting inside the sapphire blue rings of his eyes. Tiny torrents of light, gold, pink, and yellow and I wonder if this is what ideas look like. I wonder if he can feel them. I wonder what it means to be a Muse, and if that strange sadness I sense in him has anything to do with his career choice. Or if it was a choice at all…

“I said, close your eyes.”

“Sorry.” I lower my eyelids and I’m met with a rush of cool night air. The pounding of hooves on earth drowns out the beating of my own heart. I’m riding without a saddle, barefoot and clutching fistfuls of the creature’s jet-black mane, strands of which are whipping against my forearms. The horse slows to a canter and I slide off, stand beside him and run my hands along his muscular neck. His silken hair shines almost blue in the moonlight.

I’m drawn to the creature, Ilh_040Goliath can’t stop touching him. I’m beckoned by the diamonds sparkling in the velvet, black sky and the way the grass casts snakelike shadows onto my bare feet. I want to stay. I want to live here, fall into this world and never look back. But reality lies in waiting. I know it will call for me once it realizes I am gone. And eventually, I will call for it too. I open my eyes.

“Wow…that was—“

“Acceptable,” he sighs.  “Adequate. But it could have been brilliant. Sadly this getup was wasted on the likes of His Majesty in the manure pile out in the back field. Some creatures simply weren’t made to appreciate artistic inspiration.”

“I know why she goes riding,” I say quietly, picking up my notebook and pen.

“Oh? There’s a she?” Chris smiles knowingly and backs away from my bedside, leans against my desk.

“Yes, a young girl. She sneaks out of her house at night and rides because it’s the only way she can’t hear her heart pounding. She’s haunted by…something. I don’t know yet.”

“I’ll work on it for you,” he says.

“Thanks,” I say, and smile. He smiles back. We have a mutual, unspoken understanding. The magic of being mused doesn’t stop at one suggestion. It’s the merging of enchanting ideas with familiar emotion, the melding of imagination and truth. I close the notebook and lay it on the nightstand.

“What are you doing?” Chris says. “We aren’t done.”

“Listen, Chris. Christopher. I really appreciate all of this effort, but it’s after midnight. My kids are going to get me up early. And anyway I think I got the gist of what—“

“What…the horse in the field? That wasn’t it. What do you take me for, a dolt?”

“I don’t—“

“Get comfortable sweetie, I have the story idea of a lifetime for you.” He sinks to the floor and leans comfortably against the pillows I’ve tossed from my bed.

“I’m already writing the story idea of a lifetime, rememb—“

“It starts like this…He’s a man with a gypsy soul who trains horses, and he’s a ghost. But not in the usual way…

hand writing darkish